By Saskia Nilsen RITES learning specialist and education advocate
I homeschooled my son last year due to medical reasons. Here is what I learned about how to schedule the day. I hope some of these ideas will help you structure your day during this difficult time when all our children are at home.
Starting the Day
- Give a 15-minute warning and a five-minute warning to start time and try to keep it consistent each day.
- Start with a fun activity like a board/brain game or a hands-on challenge like indoor gardening, cooking, craft, etc.
- Transition into an academic task after reviewing the schedule for the day.
- I made my schedule out of sticky notes so my son could pick the order of subjects. I often had a choice of tasks within a subject to help him feel involved in the process.
The Structure of Our Day
My son likes to start with science and we would start by reading a science-related article online, researching the science behind it in his textbook. Once a week, we would have a lab related to our topic of the week. I ordered things to dissect from Amazon. We built models of DNA with pipe cleaners. We planted Mendel’s peas and then started each lesson by watering them and charting the growth.
The first subject was followed by a short 5-minute bathroom and/or get-a-drink break.
Then he usually chose to do math next. I had a choice between a worksheet or an online activity, including a video and practice problems. He had to prove he could do the concept by completing five to ten in a row correctly. Then I would do a challenge problem and a word problem with the same concept with him. We often had to jump back and forward in a book to review or skip certain types of problems.
The second subject was followed by a longer active break and a snack. This could 10-20 minutes as needed.
I would transition him back by going to wherever he was and turning on the audible book we were listening to. Then we would go back to our work station and either do reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, handwriting, or writing on a rotating basis. Mondays were usually introducing new vocabulary. We ended the week with a creative free-write in his journal.
My son would usually opt out of this next break because he knew he was almost done with the academic portion of the day...but I would always throw in a short game or brain teaser to mix it up, such as joke of the day or word games like Taboo.
For social studies, he would watch cartoons like Liberty’s Kids, crash course YouTube videos or Discovery Channel history videos. He would either take notes, write a summary or add key events to a notecard timeline that we were posting on the wall. He also participated in a research project of his choice, centered on early technology development in different cultures around the world.
Lunch and Long Break!
By getting our academics done in the morning, I could get my work done in the afternoon and schedule in “Specials.” Every afternoon we would do at least one art, PE, technology, music, cooking, home repair 101, gardening, try a new sport, ride a bike, etc. I would try to add in a therapeutic element to each afternoon session (i.e. gross motor, fine motor, cross-lateral, etc.) to replace some of the services he couldn’t always attend. We made all aspects of our home life a learning experience, and, after a long day, we took breaks or downtime from each other before we switched back to family time.
Every day was not perfect. Some days, we had to throw the schedule out the window. Other days, we didn’t get started until after lunch. A few days, my son refused because he was not feeling well. However, every day, we moved forward, bit by bit.
As much as I tried to make it fun and hands-on, a reward system was key to success. Some kids will work for stickers, some students need little plastic prizes, some students prefer to earn free choice or technology time. My son needed a random intermittent reinforcement system to keep him guessing and excited. After each task, he picked a marble out of a jar and, depending on the color, it gave him points towards a prize or minutes of a preferred activity.
Honestly, it was a stressful time filled with worry. Would he ever get better enough to go back to regular school? Was I doing a good enough job teaching him? How would we make ends meet if I couldn’t work more? But, looking back, I wouldn’t trade the time I got to spend with him for the world. We have inside jokes about science experiments that went wrong. We still enjoy listening to books together. He finds recipes online he wants to try to bake with me. I keep his first attempt at sewing on my dresser as a reminder of our “home economic” lessons. My goal was to keep him learning and we both sure learned a lot!