My friend and co-worker Laura Pitney joins me again as we answer another of your questions. This time, we’re talking about how to have a smooth morning of lessons.
Here’s the question that we want to discuss today:
I would love to see some ideas of how to practically get lessons done in the morning, especially when you have a busy household. It seems like our school day drags on due to unproductive mornings. Also, it seems like a lot of outings, field trips, check-ups, etc., are done in the mornings partly because of timing and because of littles napping after lunch. I’d love to hear your thoughts on addressing all of those not-so-normal days.
Here’s how our discussion of this question went.
Laura: Well, when I listen to that question, I feel like there’s two questions in there. The part it addressed, just having a busy household and unproductive mornings. And then the second part being all these unscheduled or unpredictable outside activities that tend to interrupt what you had planned. So when I think of unproductive mornings, the first thing I think of is that means somebody’s sick or something has gone wrong that has completely interrupted our morning. But I don’t think that’s what she was talking about. I think she was kind of implying that we just have a busy house and we have a lot to do and how do I get it all done to where I don’t feel like I’m wasting the day?
Sonya: I get the impression she has a lot of children.
Laura: That’s definitely what I was thinking.
Sonya: There’s a lot of plates to spin in that situation.
Laura: For sure. I feel like it’s one of those things we know, but it’s a whole different ballgame when we have to do it. And it starts with us and planning ahead and having a plan. I understand that when you have a busy household with lots of kids, lots of adventures happen right before you’re ready to start school or right after. So my first thing I would say maybe to check is to make sure you do have a plan or some kind of school schedule. And if you have a busy household, utilize those children. So if it’s family time, I have assigned seats. It alleviates arguing. Everybody knows where to sit. We don’t have to debate. Whether it’s at our school table or the kitchen table or the living room, they just know where to go. So it alleviates that arguing and debating or “she sat by you yesterday, it’s my turn to sit by Mommy.”
Sonya: Which saves precious moments.
Laura: Oh, for sure, and my sanity.
Sonya: Putting on that referee shirt takes a lot of time.
Laura: Scheduling is important. So when I say to utilize the children you have, there’s certain subjects, obviously, that you can do together as a family. So if you have a toddler underfoot, meaning maybe a two-year-old, and then you have a four-year-old that’s not yet school age but they want to tag along, maybe have them sit with certain other siblings during the family read-aloud or maybe have a blanket on the floor for the little ones underfoot, where they can play with something quietly or look at a book quietly but they’re not allowed to get off the quilt, and the big kids have their assigned seats on the couch.
Sonya: Let me touch on that for a moment. That’s something you’d have to practice with that little one.
Laura: Yes, blanket time. It’s a beautiful thing.
Sonya: Yes, blanket training is what I think of it as, where you practice having this child play on the blanket. And, if I can just elaborate for a minute, I would start it with mom on the blanket and just have them play for just a couple of minutes and then do that for a few days, until the child gets the hang of it, that he’s expected to stay on the blanket. And then maybe there are special toys he’s playing with and maybe you’re going to start then weaning your presence away but you’re not going to leave the room. Maybe you’re just going to sit a couple of feet away. You just gradually work up to where you’re sitting on the couch, he’s on the blanket, and then as he gets used to it, you’re going to increase the time limit just a little bit more, until we get to what you’re talking about.
Laura: And that’s a great idea. It’s so important to teach your little ones boundaries, and as they earn your trust and gain that responsibility, then you can widen their boundaries, so to speak. So the blanket might end up just being the living room floor, that kind of thing. Boundaries with little ones are important. One thing that has helped me, especially having school-aged kids and under-school-aged kids was I had stations all through my house and so, again, it was training them outside of school hours but applying that training during school hours. So we had a kitchen toy section to where I would say, “Okay, I’m going to sit down and do a reading lesson with my older one. You may go have kitchen toy time.” And so they could only go play in that designated corner with the kitchen toys. And then I might say, “Okay, you did a great job. Now I’m going to do a math lesson and you can go have book time on your bed.” So it was almost like a rotation of one-on-one time with me as mommy, as teacher, but I knew where the other kids were and what they were doing. So think about your house. Think about certain toys or blocks or magnets that are safe for that aged kid, that you can specifically say, “go do this while I have one-on-one time with this kid.” So scheduling, utilizing the kids you have, stations in your house. It’s just taking a step back, using what you have. Use the older children to have some time with the younger ones. Obviously, they have school responsibilities as well so that doesn’t always work.
So utilize your children that you have. Utilize your home, the spaces in your home. Be organized with your toys so that it’s not a free-for-all. It’s, “let me get this special thing down that you can have school time with,” or a high chair at the school table with some manipulatives while you do some kind of copywork or a lesson with the kid. I think that’s, to me, the biggest thing I see when somebody tells me, “I have a crazy morning schedule and there’s always interruptions.”
Another thought is to have certain spines in your day. So let’s say we start out right after breakfast and everything goes out the door. It’s just crazy. And I’m like, “this last hour was a complete waste, just because of all the interruptions and the craziness.” 10:00 snack rolls around. Reset. We made it to snack. That last hour was not successful. Let’s make sure everybody’s fed and nourished so that they’re at least not grumpy because of that reason. And then it’s like a reset. So then you have snack time until lunch and new start, best effort during that time block.
Sonya: So you’re not writing off the whole morning as a waste.
Laura: Correct, so a mental reset for you to make it to those, I guess, “time blocks,” so to speak. Some minds work that way, where they like the time blocks, if that makes sense. That’s beneficial for me, to know that if it was a wash, I’m going to reset and get on the train again, despite what had happened.
Sonya: Those are great ideas. I would also encourage, as you said, having a plan. I think it helps a lot if I just take 10 or 15 minutes the night before and go over the plan in my head and make sure I have what I need so it’s not like, “oh, hang on just a minute, I have to go get such and such.” And when you come back, they’ve scattered.
Laura: And that definitely applies, I think, with the older kids because if you have older kids that really do work independently on a lot of their things, they may have a question or two. So if they can ask you the question the day before or the night before about their lesson the next day, that’ll alleviate some of the questions they may have to interrupt you for when you’re working with the younger ones.
Sonya: And that’s going to help them set up that habit of looking ahead. Great idea.
Laura: I have implemented that this year to where I feel like I can ask my older kids, “okay, what do you need from me to be ready for tomorrow?” And that has helped so much because otherwise they’re asking questions when I’m trying to work with the younger ones.
Sonya: Do you ask that of them right before bed or at the end of schoolwork? When do you usually touch base like that?
Laura: I usually have about 30 minutes with my older kids in the afternoons for anything I need to go over with them, anything they need to discuss with me, and any prep work we need to do for the next day. So I have that time scheduled before I say school day is over because as soon as I say school day is over, it is over. I’m not going back. I just know that of myself, that I’m not disciplined enough to do it at bedtime because I just want to go to bed.
Sonya: And that works well for you. That’s great. Okay, let’s address the other part of the question. What about all of these outside activities? I don’t want to just say activities because, you know, doctor appointments are not something you just usually say, “Hey, let’s go do that.” How do we balance those outside activities, plus she has littles who need a nap in the afternoons. Any thoughts on that?
Laura: A couple things come to mind. I feel like at some point as a homeschool mom, there’s this mental switch that has to go on, that schooling your children is your job. Sometimes that happens right away. Sometimes it happens later. I feel like mine’s kind of happened this year just because of having the older kids and realizing the workload that they carry.
Sonya: And you’ve been doing this for how long?
Laura: About eight years now. So at whatever point that happens, when your mind switches to, “this is my job, I have to do this wholeheartedly to invest in my children,” it helps you really guard your hours at home. And so for a while, what I did was any outside activities had to happen on Friday or Tuesday. Anything I had to voluntarily sign up for or commit to, outside of, say, piano lessons or ballet or sports—doctor’s appointments or visits with an elderly lady at our church, I would purposely say, “Okay, Fridays are my scheduling day. I will save all those appointments and try to get all those appointments on a specific day of the week.” That way only one day is interrupted versus sprinkled on the other days.
Sonya: And even if there’s just one little appointment, it still derails the whole morning.
Laura: For sure. And I have a friend who she will not commit to anything before 12:00. That is her way of keeping herself disciplined and I think that works well for her. Now the problem is babies that nap.
Sonya: I was going to say, does your friend have babies?
Laura: She doesn’t now but she used to, and that’s the hardest thing to figure out. I wish I had better advice, other than maybe limiting your outside activities to where, this season of life, I have a baby that naps from one to three, whatever the afternoon looks like. So maybe instead of having a whole lot of things, maybe say only two mornings we’re going to be outside the home, or one morning. So give yourself a limit that you try your best to stick to and, of course, there are exceptions. I think giving yourself permission to say no or meet certain parameters, that’s okay. I think we have to do that. We have to guard our family time and guard our school time. For some of us, we never grow out of the babies napping because we have lots of children. But for a while, I feel like if you can just set some rules and try your best to stick with them or say you’ll do it after nap time or see if grandma can come one day a week and sit during nap time.
Sonya: Or if grandma isn’t near, maybe a lady in your church or some other person, a friend.
Laura: A mother’s helper?
Sonya: Maybe you can trade off with the friend. I did that when my kids were little. I would watch her kids on certain days so she could have some time to run errands and then she would watch my kids. Something like that, but it all takes planning ahead.
Laura: It does and that’s the hard part is it falls back on us. I feel like some moms are better planners and it comes naturally to them and it’s easy for them to plan and schedule. And then other moms, it’s a struggle where they have these visions of things they want to accomplish or want to do but they just don’t know where to get started. I think the focus needs to be what’s best for your children, what’s best for you, and figure out what needs to be on the table and then decide what doesn’t need to be there, at least until you get comfortable with that and then you can start adding stuff. But I think it’s a constant juggling act and you may have your act together this month and next month it looks totally different because something changed. So I just think, like you said, it’s just being conscious of scheduling and planning and setting rules for yourself and for your family and trying your best to stick with that.
Sonya: I think simplifying is a huge help. We don’t realize how busy we really are. I think the tricky thing is that all of these other things that are wanting our attention, that want to get on our calendar are not bad in and of themselves.
Laura: Most of the time they’re not.
Sonya: They’re good things. The point is we have to recognize when we’ve crossed that line into overload, where we can no longer do what our first calling is, which is making sure that the kids are getting their schoolwork at home.
Laura: A quick thought about that is a lot of times, we don’t see that in ourself. We don’t see when we are maxed out or we’ve overcommitted and so asking your spouse to kind of keep a check on you about your mental state. And our appearance says a lot. If you’re frazzled and haven’t taken a shower for a week, there might be some unbalance, right?
Sonya: Might be out of balance.
Laura: Or asking a good friend. I feel like the Lord has blessed me to have good friends around me that encourage me but also point out some things like, “Laura, you’re overcommitting. I feel like you’re losing it. You need to take a step back.” It’s hard to hear but it’s what I need and I’m thankful for that. So I would encourage this mom and whatever other moms might be in this situation to ask their spouse, ask some friends, ask their mom. A lot of times, your mom still knows what’s going on. Find that close person in your life to maybe help you stay accountable to your overload because we can’t function well if we’re overloaded.
Sonya: Yes, and we can plan all we want to but if we’re overloaded, those plans are going to just go crazy more often than not anyway.
Laura: We’re not giving our children our best.
Sonya: And that’s the key. Showing them, modeling for them what a balanced life looks like.
Laura: And it’s okay to say no. I just said that out loud. It’s okay to say no.
Sonya: I know one mom who said, “This year, I’ve made a switch. It’s not just it’s okay to say no. I’m going to look at any outside opportunity and if it’s not a resounding yes, an enthusiastic yes, then it’s going to be an automatic no.” Because so many times, we look at it, and it’s like, “I could. It’s not a bad thing so yeah, let’s add that.” And that’s the way to overload. So it doesn’t matter what time of the school year you decide to simplify and make these choices. You are not handcuffed. I mean yes, maybe you paid a deposit but don’t let that handcuff you, or if you think it’s important to follow through on your commitments that you’ve already made, think ahead now. Remember how this feels and think ahead toward next year. What is it you want your homeschool to look like? And you can arrange your life so it does look like that. But you have to make those decisions and do it on purpose.
Laura: Yes, that’s the key.
Sonya: It’s not going to just happen.
Laura: It’s always changing all the time so I think to be purposeful is the key.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have any ideas that could help a busy household have a smooth morning of lessons? Or what about those not-so-normal days? How can we help curb those outside activities that are always calling to us, always wanting to get on our schedules? Leave a comment and share your idea. We’d love to hear from you. And if you have a question that you’d like us to discuss, put that in the comments, too. Let’s get your questions answered.