That's right Kelly, I'm just gonna go ahead and copy your post. But with my own spin! And really, I've been meaning to write this post anyway...
SO! What's working?
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Mater Amabilis - Catholic Charlotte Mason. I know a lot of Charlotte Mason-y folks who use Ambleside Online and love it, but there are a LOT of beautiful living books with serious anti-Catholic bias, and the MA folks vet them out and choose books that are a better fit for our homeschool.
IT IS FREE. You buy the books, you follow whatever schedule works for you (and it can be the schedule that they suggest, or you can go rogue or loosey goosey and not worry about it), and you don't have to deal with workbook page after workbook page of busy work that is really, let's face it, just handwriting practice.
You can read a really helpful overview of the Charlotte Mason method here - "living books" and "narration" are the big buzz-words!
Combining subjects - We have a lot of kids, all fairly close together in age. I was overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to keep on top of a million different science/history/math/literature/religion curricula whenever they were all being formally schooled. But then I realized... These don't need to be separate from one another! So while John Paul (2nd grade) is the only one of compulsory school age right now, the four older kids ALL listen to our history, literature, and religion readings. They all do "science" together (as much as we actually do it - most of our "science" is just observing the natural world), and I'm planning on keeping it this way and just cycling through so that everything gets hit at some point in their education. It makes the prospect of homeschooling all 6+ of our kids a heck of a lot less daunting!
Checklists - John Paul needs to have a fair amount of control over his schedule, and neither of us does well with rigid schedules that don't allow for wiggle room. So, inspired by Dwija, we've been going the checklist route rather than the schedule route. There's still a certain number of subjects that need to get accomplished every day, but John Paul gets to choose the order, and which books we're using that day. He has some say as to what he's going to do for dictation or copywork (sometimes - often I just tell him what to do, because we're also still working on forming good habits in respecting authority), and he's pretty self-directed when it comes to math as well.
Outside time - Everybody is much more pleasant when they spend time outdoors every day. It's easier some days than others - when the weather is nice, the kids are usually outdoors for 3, 4, 5+ hours. Imagine the blissful silence that I get to enjoy while nursing the baby inside? It's fantastic.
They generally pop back in every once in a while to tell me that THE FIRST GRAPE HYACINTH IS BLOOMING!!! Or THE FIRST CROCUS IS BLOOMING!!! Or LOOK AT THIS COOL ROCK! I FOUND THIS STICK! THIS MOSS LOOKS LIKE A SPONGE AND YOU CAN USE IT TO WASH DISHES!!! And it's amazing. We just got these posters and laminated them (did you KNOW laminators are really cheap? We got ours ages ago but this model is super-affordable and gets great reviews) and the kids have been poring over them, spotting things they've noticed in our woods.
Getting done early - This kind of goes along with outside time, because if we don't get done early (by about 10 or 11, and really we're only "doing school" for about 1.5 hours/day), John Paul disappears outside for hours, or the girls are gone and miss the readings while I make John Paul stay inside. Right now everyone is waking up so early that I can often knock out a few subjects before 8:30!
Four-day school weeks - Five days is a lot of days to be doing school every week, especially when your oldest kid is only 7 and you really barely need to be doing any school anyway... So we take Fridays off (unless we skipped another day, in which case we finish up on Fridays), and it's glorious. A lot of the time even if we've taken another day off, we try to double up our readings to make up for it so that we can still have Friday off. It makes it feel a lot more Friday-ish, and a lot less like any other day of the week!
Toddler-occupying tasks - The #1 way to occupy the toddler while we get school done is to have my mom take him outside. But that's not exactly an option for most people! Right now he's doing really well if I...
- Set up a water pouring station for him, either on the porch or on the bathroom floor (with a towel underneath)
- Get out some Montessori-style works, like bean spooning or rice pouring
- Pull out some "exciting" activities he can do at the table - he loves the Water Wows, See and Spell, pattern blocks, counting bears, math manipulatives...
- Give him something to eat (bonus points if it takes a long time, like a clementine he will peel himself)
- Give him "jobs" that involve going upstairs and looking for something that I know will take him a long time to find
- Put out some "special" legos for him to make cars and buildings out of
I don't really like doing school while he naps - then I feel like it's wasting my only potential quiet time of the day! So we try to get done before he naps, and still manage to get things done pretty well now that he's 2 and can do more things without ripping the school books out of my hands and screaming.
We're pretty relaxed homeschoolers right now - I know lots of people who do better with lesson plans laid out for them and scripts to help them teach... But this works for us! Check out more Quick Takes at Kelly's!