Afternoon School ~ A spring schedule

In an effort to survive March I made some changes to our daily routine. Almost every February and/or March (that I can remember of recent memory) I make changes to our New Year's routine when we hit the winter doldrums.

morning coffee

Inevitably, a scheduling or schooling idea that looks good on paper doesn't play out so well in real life. Usually, I plan for more than I am capable of achieving and I have to re-adjust my expectations. And very often I simply get tired of day-in, day-out routines and need to change things around to stay inspired. I'm guessing a few of you can relate.

I introduced a change last month that I've never tried before - afternoon homeschooling.

We are interest-led homeschoolers and we allow our children a large degree of freedom to pursue what they want to learn. This is not hands-off for us. There's a lot of parental assistance that accompanies this type of learning.

Also, in the elementary years there are a few foundational skills - reading, writing and math - that we actively teach our children. These activities: the hands-on assistance for interest-led projects, time for skill building, and the inspired mama-led learning is what our designated "school time" looks like.

kids playing on wood floor

Mostly, it's the time I set aside in my day to focus on our kids' education. I am thinking about our kids' learning almost all the time. It's my responsibility and passion. But there are certain times that I stop the other activities I'm doing to actively teach and facilitate - this is our "school time".

There is so much reading, discussion, and life learning activity that happens outside of our designated "school time" that the term seems somewhat artificial. But in our home everyone knows what "school time" means. The kids expect there will be some combination of reading, writing, math, maybe science or history. There could be games, stories, or poetry. It's never the same each day.

This routine has always happened in the mornings. Not every morning, we average about 3 days a week for "school" and we take complete breaks often, but morning was the time for it.

Last month, for the first time in our homeschooling history, I changed this routine.

walking along petite cascapedia river

I started exercising every day and decided the best time for me to do that was mid-morning. (This reflects a general trend last month of recognizing my physical, emotional, and mental needs and taking care of those first. And if that meant no school in the mornings, then so be it.)

Damien is also more available in the morning than he is in the afternoon and evening (the times of day he does his main income earning work). I have enjoyed loosening the tight grip on my mornings, which used to be my workhorse, so I can spend more time with my husband. Going for walks together, chatting on the couch leisurely instead of me stressing out about "getting things done" and cranking through my morning routine.

My morning has shifted from "check, check, check" my way through the list to "what feels like the right thing to be doing right now?"

I find I don't even have to plan as vigilantly in the morning either because I'm not hitting the ground running, so to speak, with our schedule first thing. This frees up a bit of my early morning time, so I can make a fire if I want, or sleep in if I need it.

I am writing simpler to-do lists these days also. Little paper notes (how old school) in a sweet little notebook that Miriam, from the Netherlands, sent me. I still do most of my note keeping and planning in Evernote but a switch to simpler to-do lists is a nice change.

paper to-do list

My needs required a new schedule; but the kids' changing needs also demanded a new routine. As they grow their sleep cycles are changing. And everything I've read about teenagers staying up late and getting up late has come to pass in my own home.

Our old schedule was based on a 7:30ish rising time. 7:30 just ain't happening anymore.

I have no problems with the kids staying up late and sleeping in, as long as we can still get our stuff done (throughout the course of the whole day). And get it done without too much angst.

The kids' later bedtime, and subsequent later rising time, was resulting in too much morning angst. I was stressed about getting the kids up by a certain time so we could "do our routine". But the routine was not serving us anymore so it was time to change it.

Our mornings are slower now and I don't have the stress of unrealistic expectations and ill-fitting schedules.

girl petting cat

I changed the chore system also so that everyone can work independently and at their own pace. (Chores used to be more shared.) The kids love this change. I had no idea how ready they were for this next level of independence.

So now my mornings go something like this: I get up and putter, start laundry if a load needs washing. Earlier this month I was lighting a fire, though that's starting to change.

Most days I read my Bible and usually try to grab hold of one particular verse that speaks to me and try to carry that with me through the day. I may read my e-mail, I may not. If I feel I might get stressed by reading it, I don't. I'll save it for later in the morning, to read after I've had some creative writing time or taken care of a few household tasks.

I do my writing with not quite the same intensity I used to. I was burning out writing alone in my room (I'm an extrovert). Now I like to sit with the family and be available to chat, but not too much. As it is, the kids are bed for most of this time anyway.

Saint Edgar gazebo

At some point the kids get up and do their thing - breakfast and chores. Mid-morning is when we exercise, the whole fam-damnly. Sometimes together, sometimes on our own.

In between and after exercising I fit in my major homemaking tasks for the day. Early in the week these are food related tasks - menu planning and grocery list stuff. Later in the week my attention turns to cleaning, organizing, home management, or creative projects.

This leaves school stuff for the afternoon. I'm not sure how long this will last. When the weather truly feels like spring we will take a break to revel in the outdoors which usually includes a large dose of science exploration and nature study. And then of course during summer everything is up for negotiation. So we'll see how it all works out.

mourning cloak butterfly

But for now it's working well.

Have you ever switched your school routine from morning to afternoons or vice versa? Or maybe you scatter your school activities through out the whole day? Feel free to share.

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  • Michelle

    Michelle on April 24, 2013, 1:13 p.m.

    I, like you, like to get the bulk of the school work done in the morning. This is proving difficult now that we have one foot in this house and one foot in our new farm. I feel like I am not doing a great job of anything because there is so much to do! If I let Athena play or start a project in the morning I find it terribly hard to get her focused on what needs to be done. When she isn't focused then I wonder how much she is really learning anyway. I have yet to find a way to homeschool effectively and do all there is to do with building a new home. Sigh. We'll figure it out, I am sure but right now feels a little overwhelming for me. :)


    • renee

      renee on April 24, 2013, 1:18 p.m.

      Maybe building a new home and a farm (woot for you!) can be the homeschooling right now? So much to be learned in that process.


      • Wendi

        Wendi on April 25, 2013, 7:10 p.m.

        I totally agree. We built our home with our own hands, and while I still tried to keep up with the basics (which for me is Math, language and reading aloud)  the rest of our schooling was 'home building'. That may sound like cheating the kids of their education to some, but I found it to be an excellent education. We just took the books to the job site. 

        I'm still quite proud that my teenage daughter knows more about how a house goes together than most grown men!


  • JennO

    JennO on April 24, 2013, 1:38 p.m.

    Transitioning from high school has had its rewards, but not without its  bumps and bruises. Now I realize how much this process has changed, not only as they grew, through timing, courses, style, and interests...but it changed me. In the end I have found that I was the one who was learning that obscure concept of "what homeschooling looks like for us". A constant, everchanging, living thing...and we (mom & dad) are masters at adapting. That could be our greatest lesson.


    • renee

      renee on April 24, 2013, 1:45 p.m.

      Honestly, Jenn, I think that what we learn as homeschooling parents through the years of homeschooling our kids is as important as our kids' education. It's one of the gifts of homeschooling. The embracing of new ideas and letting go of others, the personal growth we experience through learning as a family is the point, not the just the side benefit. 

      This is a message I want to share with more homeschooling families - it's as much about your education as a parent, as it is about your child learning the abc's.


      • JennO

        JennO on April 24, 2013, 3:08 p.m.


        You inspired me to write/ramble on about this amazing process. Of course I gave you credit...or is fitting :)

        Peace to you. 


  • kyndale

    kyndale on April 24, 2013, 3:17 p.m.

    We are mainly a morning homeschool family.  Just because I feel like if we don't get it done, then we never will in the afternoon.  In the morning, I am much more patient (!) and fresh for being creative with school.  Although I've run into the same problem with getting exercise, especially in the winter.  Now, that summer is coming, I can get up early and walk or try and run.  But, then it's summer!  Our schedules are always changing too.  But, I feel like our schedules and focus are very similar.  I'm not as organized as you but I'd like to be.  Maybe a list like yours would help!  


    • renee

      renee on April 24, 2013, 3:44 p.m.

      Oh Hon, I think you should just be happy and comfortable with who you are, and not worry about "being as organized" as me or anyone else. I'm not terribly spontaneous. So what. I also panic easily, speak loudly (it's almost comical), need to verbally process a whole heck of a lot, and this probably causes my family some measure of angst (oh, here goes mom again!), I'm not very tactful. There's a lot of other things I'm not good at either, I just happen to focus on those things I do well. I feel better about myself that way (smile). And you know what, our families love us just the way we are. Exactly the way we love them! 

      I have always felt that you and I homeschool quite similarly, which is why we connect so well. That, and you and I have the same heart for our children and our home. You're my tribe (smile).


  • Kelley

    Kelley on April 24, 2013, 4:47 p.m.

    Our routine changes with the seasons and depends a lot on the weather. When it's hot in the afternoon, we get outdoors in the morning and do reading and projects indoors in the afternoon. When it's cold outdoors, we do snuggling and reading, art, and other indoor projects in the morning and get outdoors in the afternoon. When it's perfectly gorgeous in the spring and fall, we are outdoors all day long then we snuggle up and read together before bed. When you said that you do nature study when the weather is nice, I can relate to that. When the weather is gorgeous, we are outdoors all day and may not pick up a book again until that ideal weather season passes.

    We have definitely altered our daily routine to accomodate changing sleep schedules. If I think more in terms of keeping a rhythm rather than a schedule, it is easier for me to make this adjustment. We may not always start at the same time, we may not even do things in the same order, but the same basic things happen each week (playing, learning, cleaning, outdoor time, etc).


  • Kika

    Kika on April 24, 2013, 6:02 p.m.

    Because our afternoons tend to be taken up by swimming, skating, piano lessons, basketball practices, visits with friends and outings in warmer seasons, we do need to get our more formal learning done in the mornings. Also, on my stay at home days I prefer to do extra baking/food prep stuff or organizational tasks (ex. menu plans/budgeting) in the afternoons. Re: extra sleep for teens, some days, or occasionally a full week, I tell my older daughter to just sleep in or take a week off if she's getting a bit rundown. She's someone who loves being out of the house 'doing' every single day - wants to take on the whole world all at once - but if I don't help her set limits can run herself ragged.

    This year I've spent very little time actually 'teaching' my kids anyways. My 13 yr old plugs along mostly independantly (ocassionaly she needs some input regarding an essay or a math question) and my youngest and I each choose 2 activities for her that she works on from about 9-11 most mornings. So these days, for example,  I might choose math and spelling and she might choose reading time and Herb Fairies. Pretty relaxed but I am amazed at how much she has grown and learned this year without too much fuss:)



  • Sarah m

    Sarah m on April 24, 2013, 9:41 p.m.

    I am such a morning person, to where I am totally wiped out by 7PM and ready to be in my pjs for the rest of the night! I feel when I make my kids do their formal school work (so little, really!) a few times a week in the morning, it's a struggle and it's not enjoyable for anyone. As much as I hate having a really wonky schedule, when I fit it in day by day according to when I notice my kids 'down time', everyone seems to enjoy it and it gets done much more quickly with little nagging on my part. I find this is mostly once my kids have had a good hour or so to "stretch their legs" with play, or with running around outside somewhere. I also think that if we're just doing it 'to get it done' it's not the point, either. It's a tough  balance that I have not arrived at yet. 

    When your kids were little, did they moan and groan quite often to have the morning (or any) structure of school (formal math and reading)? My daughter loves "doing school" other than history reading (it's advanced for her, but my son loves it, so she is off playing somewhere) so it's more of a challenge for my son who gets grumbly all the time about it. I hate having the 'if you went to school you'd have to sit for about 5 hours a day doing this!", but that is the reality. I suspect it is a confidence issue, but of course I try to make it fun, but we have lots of conversations about practicing and working at all things in life to learn how to do them better. 

    Sarah M


    • renee

      renee on April 24, 2013, 11:46 p.m.

      Dear Sarah, you asked so I'll be honest with you. My children did not moan and groan quite often about morning school. That's not to say they didn't m&g but if they did, I didn't continue long term with what we were doing. I looked for solutions. 

      Firstly, similarly to you, our "formal" school routine (sit down or sit together type learning) was limited to:

      read alouds - which everyone loved and which was the bedrock of our elementary learning. Most of our learning time was engaged in this. Read alouds covered our history, science, and a lot of the kids' at-the-time interests. a bit of math practice, that didn't start in earnest till the kids were 7 or so. Brienne started earlier (to be like her siblings but she could always drop it if she wanted, and many times she did). reading lessons and practice - this actually wasn't part of morning school for the first few years because Damien taught Celine to read after he got home from work and tried with the other two, but that didn't go so well (smile). They were much slower to learn than Celine and needed much more time of pre-reading before they were ready. Brienne didn't become a confident reader till she was well into her 9th year. Laurent is only now becoming a more confident, independent reader - he's 12.   writing. I really want to write about this on the blog, to share what I learned over the years for elementary writing (what worked for me and what didn't) and how to inspire not require writing in your home. But for now let's just say this is the area I had to let go of the most, in terms of my expectations, because this is where most of the moaning and groaning happened.

      So, to your question. If my children started moaning and groaning here's how I handled it:

      I looked at the material - was it boring, uninspiring, over their heads. I looked at the time I was requiring them to be engaged with that material. Usually moaning and groaning corresponded with lessons that were too long. My lesson philosophy is short and sweet. Were they simply not ready for that material yet - in the case of reading, my younger two just weren't ready when Celine was. Their moaning and groaning meant "stop and wait".

      In the case of math, which is a requirement in our elementary years, meaning I require the children to practice math - moaning and groaning usually corresponded to practice sessions that were too long. A delivery style that didn't work with their learning modalities and, in the case of my younger two, learning in isolation.

      So here's what I've done for math:

      super short lessons (15 minutes - we use a timer) mostly all year long, except during breaks I group B&L together. My younger two like doing all their work together so they do their math together also. They figure out the answers together, the whole shebang.

      ​(you might be able to apply this to your situation)

      And sometimes moaning and groaning meant I had to drop whatever was causing the tension, let it go and come back to it later when my child was ready or I was able to infuse the learning with my own enthusiasm and fresh ideas, or leave it forever and ever amen. Life is too short to fight with your young ones (or old ones) about school work.

      This is not to say you can't guide and direct your children's learning (this is where I deviate from the unschoolers) but there are ways to do that and have the whole family enthused - you and the kids (and that don't involve bribery - which I don't believe in.)

      In short, moaning & groaning and overall lack of inspiration and enthusiasm made me re-evaluate the materials and the methods - to find something that worked.

      And I will say this. I don't think young elementary ages - 5, 6, 7 - should be moaning and groaning about school work. What I mean by that is if that's happening your children simply might not be ready, especially boys. And it's really ok to wait (smile).

      Now chores - those are a completely different matter, and I won't address that here, not enough time. (This is where I really deviate from the unschoolers because in our home chores are mandatory and all hands on deck.)

      Also, if you want to talk about this more, as related to your situation I'm available for coaching (smile).


      • Sarah m

        Sarah m on April 25, 2013, 4:45 a.m.

        This is all so, so helpful and I thank you for taking the time to write that all out. I think more ideas and questions answered over the phone would be really helpful. Now, how do I go about that? :)

        I really have gone back and forth on thinking I've overloaded the kids to then thinking "sheesh, we hardly do anything", and I think the past few months I've lost the confidence and umph I normally have. I am still very passionate about homeschooling, but it would seem we're in a bit of a funk...

        I am definitely going to try the timer thing. Learning to read, my son really struggles (haven't even tried with my daughter) and gets frustrated, but does get better with practice. He's not confident at all, but he writes all the time, on his etch-a-sketch and on our large white board eisel. I've even shown him how to write comics, which he loves, so I find it funny that he's writing phonetically but not at all happy with reading himself. He could listen to me read for over an hour at a time. Loves that. We do a lot of that. It's the only time my kids will cuddle with me! :) 

        Sarah M


      • Lisa

        Lisa on April 29, 2013, 8:39 p.m.

        I just loved reading this. Thank you for sharing. I can relate to the moaning and groaning and I think your insight onto WHY it's happening is just super. 


  • Alaina

    Alaina on April 25, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

    I like this- how you change things up when its not working for you anymore.

    I've tried different things but I am still trying to figure out what works.  For me, the issue is that my kids are more spaced apart in ages- and the toddler well she keeps changing faster than I can figure things out!  I was getting a chunk of my oldest's "school" stuff done during the toddler's nap but now, I can't do that since the toddler is mostly transitioned to one nap.  I am still figuring out what this all looks like in my family.  


    • Dee

      Dee on May 5, 2013, 7:59 a.m.

      I am on a similar path. I have a 6yo and a 11mo. I am not sure how this will look when the little one becomes a toddler. I am hoping sensory bins will save me - and edible paint!  I would love to hear how other moms deal with toddlers and then older children who want to do say, science experiments and other things that little hands shouldn't touch.


  • Deborah

    Deborah on April 25, 2013, 4:05 a.m.

    I really like doing the majority of our home schooling in the afternoon. Our routine changes more frequently than I would like, but what we have right now seems to be working well. I've been trying to get the housework out of the way in the morning, and this is also when my boys do their chores. I also try to exercise in the morning, and the boys definitely have some “active” time. Then in the afternoon we can settle down into the more academic part of our day. Of course, it doesn't always work like that, but it is nice when it does!


  • Rana

    Rana on May 4, 2013, 2:50 p.m.

    I am a morning lessons mama.  If we don't take care of the bulk of our lessons in the morning it will not get done.  It's just how I'm wired.  I'm an INFJ, btw thanks for sharing your type post.  We spend the rest of the day outside or doing hands on projects.  Plus we are all early birds so we might as well do our "head" work first and then move to "heart",and "hands" afterwards.


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