This is the third year that I’m participating in the “homeschool day-in-the-life” linkup at Simple Homeschool. When I reflect back on previous years, I’m stunned at the Lord’s work in our lives. Homeschooling was never the plan. But God steered us this way, and the process has shaped and molded our family so unexpectedly, the way a lump of clay twists beneath a sculptor’s palms in awkward curves before it evolves into something beautiful.
I awaken at 5:30 am to work on my laptop in the quiet before dawn. My husband is usually up around this time before he heads off to work, but right now he’s out of town. I work on a medical editing assignment and an article for about an hour, then hear Pip (6) singing to himself in his room. That he’s happily singing, and that he slept until 6:30, represent huge areas of progress from just a year prior. Pip has SPD, and until recently was chronically sleep deprived and irritable. The sound of his clock and the feel of his mattress kept him awake all night, until just 6 months ago. The singing I hear now, as dawn leaks through the window, is another example of God’s grace in the everyday.
The kids play together while I get ready. Thankfully, Pip and Bean (3.5) have become best friends, and the day always starts with elaborate pretend play. This morning their scenarios involve a heap of stuffed animals and plastic plates. And a Tila action figure riding a tyrannosaurus.
Getting dressed is always a trial for Pip, and today, as usual, it requires multiple reminders, and then a complete reset beneath his weighted blanket. He struggles to stay focused, and also just hates the feel of clothing, so the very basic stuff of getting ready is always arduous. We try again after a snack, something to drink, and a big hug. His chosen uniform — which he wears every single day — consists of sweatpants, a compression shirt, and a hat. Thankfully, we don’t deal with indecision about what to wear.
The kids have morning chores before we sit down for “Breakfast and Books.” Bean always feeds the cats and puts out napkins before I even ask, and spends the next hour coloring or drawing on her own. Pip’s routine is more involved, because he needs to start the day with activities from his sensory diet. We installed gymnastics rings in our basement this winter, which has been a huge help in getting him the vestibular and proprioceptive input he needs throughout the day to function. Previously, we relied on playgrounds and a rock climbing gym, and success depended heavily on weather and crowds, respectively.
Pip needs a lot of input this morning, after a busy weekend that included braving a pancake restaurant for his birthday (another win, as restaurants are notoriously hard for him). He swings and flips on his rings for a full half hour before he feels right. Then he does his own chores for the morning: measuring and mixing ingredients for his oatmeal, cutting up our fruit, setting the table. (Yes, I let him use a small paring knife, carefully, under my close supervision. . . because the more he does on his own, the more confident he feels to tackle life.)
Breakfast and Books is the part of our day closest to traditional “school.” I laughed recently when a friend asked Pip and Bean what they liked best about school, because the usually talkative kids responded blankly. As “school” is woven into everything we do, they didn’t understand the question. Learning is a lifestyle, not a prescribed phenomenon confined to certain hours of the day.
Every morning over breakfast we do our devotions, usually from God’s Love for You or The Jesus Storybook Bible . Then we focus on math. I read a page from the Bedtime Math books every morning because it’s something all three of us can do together — Bean does the “little kid” questions, using peanuts to figure out the answer, while Pip tackles the more advanced questions. Then we do a chapter of a math book geared toward Pip, usually from Beast Academy or Life of Fred. Pip’s also enjoyed Mathological Liar cases. We try to keep math rooted in stories and games, and do very little drilling.
Math is one of those subjects that highlights how precious homeschooling has been for our family. Pip is very advanced in math, but his processing differences and dysgraphia would have masked that ability from most teachers in the classroom, simply because they’d be juggling a multitude of other kids and wouldn’t have time to tease out the issues. I first realized his asynchrony when I showed him a page of math problems beneath his ability, and found he couldn’t answer the first question. I realized he was struggling not with the math itself, but with visual overwhelm and distraction from all the problems on the page. When I covered up all equations except the one of interest, he answered it, without hesitation, off the top of his head. His fine motor delays also made written problems a chore, which would deeply frustrate him because he knew the answers, but his hands wouldn’t comply.
Math has thus revolved around mental math, and talking about problems aloud. Pip has learned to break numbers into their place values to do complex operations in his head, including long division. He’s taught himself how to convert fractions. He makes up algebraic equations using tub magnets at bath time, and has flummoxed more than one friend at church by suddenly blurting out an exponent computation that he’s mused about in his head. He’s a kindergartner who’s diving hungrily — and with joy — into 5th grade concepts. . . which would have been impossible in mainstream school, because he struggles to write and becomes overwhelmed with the visual clutter of worksheets.
Yet more grace. Thanks be to God!
Other topics we explore over breakfast include geography (currently we read about a country every day from this book, and locate them on our world map placemats), art history (Bean loves to learn about paintings, and every morning picks a reading from this book), and music. Right now we’re finishing up Jazz Month at SQUILT, and so we listen to a song by Benny Goodman and try to pick out the different instruments. During some months, we’ll throw some fun foreign language study into our morning routine as well.
Today we’re finishing up our investigations into one of Pip’s exploration questions: “Which species of dinosaurs lived on each continent?” We read from a dinosaur atlas to find out. Exploration questions are basically a list of 3-5 items the kids want to explore each month, to supplement our usual morning routine. I encourage them to frame the topics as questions, to get their scientific juices flowing. The other questions they’ve formulated for the month are, “What happened during the Ice Age?” and “How do birds’ wings work?”
After breakfast the kids play some more while I clean up. If the kids are really involved in creative play, I’ll let them go for as long as they want. One of the lovely things about homeschooling is that allows them to be kids, and the richness of the bond they develop as brother and sister can be more valuable than anything I shove at them.
Today, they’ve branched off independently, so after cleanup I have some one-on-one time with Bean, while Pip writes a thank-you card to a relative for some birthday presents. We do some reading practice, which at this stage is very laid back and tailored to her style. Pip learned to read using an adapted approach to The Ordinary Parents’ Guide to Teaching Reading, but Bean’s learning style is much more active. Games are a huge part of learning for her. Today we play a memory game with words that she sounds out, and then she reads a couple pages of a Primary Phonics Storybook, and gleefully colors each page once she completes it. Then we play Sum Swamp, and she figures out the answers using manipulatives.
Around 11 am, it’s time to head out for Pip’s OT. He has occupational therapy for his SPD twice weekly, once in a private session, once in a group. This is a huge development for him, as he’s not been able to tolerate a group session until now. He also has rock climbing lessons once weekly, which has been a great confidence boost for him (and Bean loves to tag along). I drop Bean off at her godmother’s house for a visit, and then Pip works for an hour with his therapist on executive functioning skills. He’s doing so well with his sensory diet, that he needs very little physical work during our OT sessions now, and we’ve progressed to focus on other skills.
After OT, we return for lunch. During lunch we usually read from a children’s novel; this month, it’s Peter Pan. Other titles the kids have loved this past year have been Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and pretty much everything by Roald Dahl.
After lunch, Bean asks to “water the snow.” She’s been curious about what would happen if she were to pour warm water onto the snow with a watering can. She tests it out, while Pip steeps himself in a project with his Snap Circuits, and I make a few phone calls to help out a sick friend.
Eventually Bean makes it back inside, and the two kids decide to go fishing with magnets, drawing inspiration from our recent reading of this book. They tie yarn to a circular magnet, fill a bucket with junk, and see what they catch. Paperclips win by a landslide.
Around 3 pm it’s Quiet Time, which I enforce for about 90 minutes daily. The kids can read or play whatever they like, as long as it’s independently. This is also my time to cram in some work. Despite encouraged quiet, interruptions still inevitably happen, so I’m usually preparing my Bible study lessons during this time (I don’t write well with interruptions).
After Quiet Time, Pip needs more therapy on the gymnastics rings, and I start dinner. The kids help take down the recycling and set the table. After about a gazillion reminders, they also clean up their toys from the day. Bean spots a herd of deer munching our rhododendrons in the dwindling light outside, and as we watch them, the kids bring up moments from our recent reading of Bambi.
Over dinner Pip asks to listen to Frank Sinatra’s Bim Bam Baby. Bean wants to listen to the March of the Toy Soldiers from The Nutcracker. We compromise and do both songs in tandem. After dinner, we spot the supermoon out the window, and the kids grab binoculars to investigate. Pip says of the moonlight spilling through the trees, “It’s so bright, almost like dawn.” I point out Orion rising above treeline, and mention Betelgeuse at his shoulder, Rigel at his knee, and the nebula within his sword. We pull out a couple of space atlases and pore over them before we finish the day. Bean asks to read some more books about the moon. We will, but it’s late. It will wait until tomorrow. I pull a stack from the shelves and leave them on the kitchen table for the morning.
The evening is a tumbling affair of exhaustion and constant reminders, and I raise my voice more than once. And then regret it. Eventually both kids are bathed, dressed, and snuggled next to me. Bean asks me to read Amelia Bedelia. Pip patiently listens, then reads some funny poems aloud to us from A Pizza the Size of the Sun. He asks what the word “orthodox” means, and once again I marvel, and thank the Lord for drawing us to homeschooling. For bringing laughter to this little boy, where there was once so much anxiety and panic. For enfolding us all in joy and excitement and a sense of belonging, of growth, of togetherness.
I tuck the kids in, and all is quiet, with dark descending. I stay up too late, trying to tuck away work that the crevices of the day didn’t allow. I revel in the peace. Where for so long there had been angst, and worry, and confusion, and exhaustion. . . there is now peace. And gratitude. Thanks for this lifestyle I never sought, to which God has guided us. Gratitude for this approach to living that focuses on learning gently. Gratitude for the chance to ease these blossoming image bearers into the lives God meant for them to live, to nurture them, and to witness them flourishing into the people He intends them to be.