Rhythms, Routines, Rituals

Rhythms, routines, and rituals help us stay centered and on track as homeschooling parents. They enable our children to relax and feel secure because they know what to expect each day. A thoughtful routine allows us to focus our energy in one area at a time, knowing that other essential areas will not be neglected. Establishing a rhythm removes some of the guesswork, giving us a ready answer to the question, “What comes next?”

It may take some time to uncover the rhythms, routines, and rituals that work best for your family. Once you have some ideas, post them someplace visible in a form that everyone can understand (with simple words or pictures for younger children) so that the whole family knows what to expect.

Here are some ideas as you seek to find and refine the rhythm that works for you:

Morning: 

Observing daily rituals and following a routine helps to center and calm us as we begin the day. It can be as simple as first opening the curtains to let in the morning sun, feeding the cat, preparing a cup of something delicious, and then sitting down in a favorite chair for a contemplative moment before the day’s work begins.

Modeling a morning rhythm for our children by having one for ourselves is a powerful example. Some children wake slowly, while others greet the day with every ounce of exuberance. How can you support your child’s inner rhythm and incorporate it into your expectations for the day?

Circle time is a time-honored tradition in Waldorf-inspired education and is part of Oak Meadow’s curriculum for younger learners. Some families begin with an opening verse, read a poem, share a song, do a fingerplay or game, and end with a closing verse. For some families, this will feel just right. For others, circle time may need to feel very different — shorter and more active, or more fluid and less structured, or with completely different elements. The exact content is less important than the act of sharing a ritual to focus your attention together as you start your day. Some families incorporate stretching or yoga into their morning circle. Some find other ways of sharing and connection. With some trial and error, you will figure out what works for your family.

Daily and Weekly: 

What is your family’s energy like on Mondays? Some families like to jump in and start the week with a burst of fresh motivation. Others regularly need post-weekend transition time and hit their peak productivity mid-week. Does it work best for you to work intensely and then rest thoroughly, or sprinkle learning and play together in a more spontaneous way?

Three young children reading on floorDaily routines are one way to ensure that everything gets done and nothing is forgotten, which can be a great help when there are many tasks and needs to keep track of. Housework can be done with the children’s help. When everyone is working together as a team, it can help motivate participants who might be reluctant.

If your family is quite busy with outside activities during the week, consider blocking off one day each week in which you all stay home. If there is a day when nobody has to go anywhere, it allows the opportunity for uninterrupted down time and relaxation. You might even declare this a “pajama day” to honor children who prefer their pajamas and would love a celebrated reason to stay in them once in awhile.

Are your weekends different from your weekdays? Do you have any recurring components to your weekend, such as a late brunch, a family activity, or the observance of faith traditions? If your week already has a predictable basic rhythm, start with that and build around it.

Homework, Housework: 

When are your children most focused and ready to learn? When do they seem to need rest or down time? When do they burst with physical energy and need to play outside? When are they drawn to be quietly independent?

Keep a thoughtful eye on the emotional state of the household and be willing to be flexible. You might find that the order of activities matters most, rather than the exact start time of a recurring activity. The best routines are the ones that can sway and stretch as needed to accommodate the shifting needs of the family.

Oak Meadow’s curriculum is designed with flexibility in mind. One lesson can be completed in a week if desired, but there are other approaches that also work well. Some families spread lessons in all subjects evenly through the week. Others choose to do “block scheduling,” which might mean focusing on one subject per day or one subject per term. One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling is its inherent adaptability to the needs of those involved.

If you have multiple children, you may need to arrange your day so that they get your one-on-one attention at different times. You may be able to arrange for older children (or another helper) to engage with one child while you work with another.

Can weekly chores be scheduled for a predictable day? It may work best to start (or end) your week with a family effort to tidy up the house. It can be helpful to pin a weekly activity to a particular day (such as Tidy-Up Tuesday). Another example of a chore that can be simplified with a recurring weekly theme is meal planning. The less time you have to spend thinking about what comes next, the more easily you can dive in and accomplish it.

Evening: 

sisters studying togetherDo you have a ritual for gathering the family for dinner? This might mean having children take turns setting the table, lighting a candle once everyone is present, and observing a quiet moment of gratitude before beginning the meal. Some families enjoy a tradition of word or number games over dinner, and others take turns telling what they learned or enjoyed about their day. Even young children can take pride in helping to clear the table after the meal.

In the evening, do you foster a sense of calm as the day winds down? What would that look like in your home? In some families, evening can be somewhat chaotic, with a parent arriving home from work, older children going to and from evening activities, a kitchen flurry that hopefully results in a good dinner, and everyone’s energy in fragments after the long day. As parents, we steer the family ship. Ending the day on a calm shore is a gift we give our children and ourselves.

Making It Happen: 

Experiment with what you imagine might work for your family, observe the results, and make adjustments through trial and error. Ask your children for their ideas and suggestions. If you get stuck, consider a Homeschool Support consultation with Oak Meadow’s experienced teacher.

There are no right or wrong ways to do this. Continue to embrace the things that work, and gently let go of the things that don’t. By incorporating routines and rhythm into our homeschooling lives, we help ourselves and our families remain centered and keep our homeschool plans running smoothly throughout the year.

14 Tips for Working from Home and Homeschooling

Working from home while homeschooling at the same time, even with children who are older and fairly independent, can be a challenge. There are as many ways to work-and-homeschool as there are different kinds of families. Here are some tips and tricks:

1. Maximize Flexibility

When possible, organize your work around your family’s needs and child care opportunities. Save less critical tasks for times when distraction is likely, and reserve more high-stakes assignments for when you are distraction-free. If you share parenting and homeschooling responsibilities with a spouse, divide and conquer – one works while the other parents, and vice versa.

2. Embrace a Relaxed Homeschooling Style

Roll with whatever each day might bring. Time often feels short when you’re working and homeschooling. If things don’t go the way you planned, make the most of what you are able to accomplish and pick up any dropped threads the following day.

3. Expect The Unexpected

Oak Meadow budding scientists doing experiment Take regular breaks from your work to check on your child and assess how things are going. Expect interruptions and unanticipated shifts in priorities. The hot water heater will leak and the dog will get sick and the entire bin of beads will get tipped over and you’ll discover you’re out of easy lunch options — all in the same day. A big deadline will get moved up, your wifi will mysteriously stop working, and your inbox will be flooded with “ASAP” requests. Breathe, prioritize, give your child a big hug, and do the best you can. Some days will be harder, but some days will feel easier, too.

4. Manage Interruptions Proactively

How can family members best communicate with you to minimize distraction while you are working? For older children, a spiral notebook can be turned into an “Ask Me Later” book, where questions and thoughts can be written and kept safe until work time is over and you are able to address them. Teach them your parameters for urgent vs. non-urgent situations, and give them a helpful way to remember when it is okay to interrupt you during a focused work period. Remind everyone of how you would prefer they get your attention if it is unavoidable. (Stand at the door and wait for your attention? Say “Excuse me…” Write a note on a slip of paper and hand it to you?) Of course, in a true emergency, all rules go out the window. Help your children understand how to tell when it really is a true emergency!

5. Offer Your Attention & Presence Whenever You Can

When you are not working, be as fully present as possible with your children. Let them know that they are the priority during your non-work times, and make the most of it for everyone involved. Celebrate when you are done working for the day. Put away your phone and laptop, and go about the very important business of reconnecting as a family.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Calendars, homeschool planners, chore charts, and reminder lists can help ensure that everyone knows what to expect each day. At breakfast or dinner, check in about the upcoming day’s plan so that everyone is on the same page about what needs to happen. Review the times when an adult will be available to help them and when they will need to be on their own. Discuss which tasks are expected to be done independently, without much or any adult help, and which may need a collaborative effort. Be clear about your expectations and encourage suggestions from all family members about how to make things go even more smoothly the following day.

7. Give Your Child Tools To Use When They Must Wait For Your Attention

girl with crown on couch readingBe clear about when you are working and not working. If possible, stick to predictable “work hours.” Set a timer or alarm so your children will know when you will be all theirs once again. Younger children might need a clear visual, such as a specific hat on your head when you are “at work.” Older children might appreciate a list of go-to activities (such as free-reading, art projects, or journaling) to do when can’t move forward without your help or when they are waiting for your attention. Let them know how much you appreciate their patience.

8. Help Children Learn How To Help Themselves

As soon as they have developed the ability to prepare food for themselves as needed, give them access to easy-to-manage breakfast, lunch, and snack food. No-cook options and healthy pre-prepped food are ideal; make them in advance with everyone’s help if possible. Set up routines and systems so your child can independently handle situations like replacing the toilet paper, sharpening a pencil, or feeding the family pet. Encourage siblings to help each other first before calling for your help. Responsive helping skills can take some time to develop, so start now.

9. Divide Household Responsibilities

Everyone can be responsible for something important in a way that balances their capabilities with the needs of the family. Routines and loving reminders help everyone get their jobs done. If something is falling through the cracks, have a family meeting to sort it out and find a solution. If an older child has responsibility for younger child while you are working, factor that in as you find a fair way to balance things.

10. Keep Craft Materials, Games, Books, & Toys Within Easy Reach

Leave OUT the things you want them to access and use, and put AWAY the things you don’t want them helping themselves to or using without supervision. You will learn through trial and error which things need to be stored out of reach until you can help with them. Be sure to have plenty of clean-up tools and materials handy if your children like to create with wild abandon! Plan for family clean-up time each evening to tidy up anything that they weren’t able to handle on their own.

11. Work Smart!

Do your very best to be organized and efficient. Set some time aside each week to plan. Keep an effective planner and a working to-do list (such as a bullet journal). Minimize distractions in all reasonable ways. Plan more work time than you actually need to get the job done. Have a comfortable workspace and an efficient routine for getting back into your work if you’ve been pulled away.

12. Lean On Others

Oak Meadow kids exploring stream, navigating working and homeschoolingNegotiate swaps and playdates with other parents to help create some kid-free time each week that you can use for long stretches of focused work. Look for win-win situations. Two friends and I have a recurring arrangement where one mom teaches three children for a few hours while the others work. A tutor might be a helpful investment. Engage a “mother’s helper” for children too young to be left unsupervised. Drop-off activities for older children can help create pockets of work time. And, of course, naptime for younger children can be a helpful time to get work done.

13. Take Good Care Of Yourself

Put your own well-being high on the list of priorities. Working at home with children around requires a lot of patience and flexibility. Take care of yourself by getting enough exercise, eating right, staying hydrated, and making sleep a priority. Ask for and accept help from others. Take time off to recharge in whatever ways make sense in your situation. Give yourself due consideration!

14. Remember Why You Are Doing This

You have undoubtedly made home learning a priority for good reasons. Revisit those reasons when you are tempted to reconsider. Working from home is not for everyone, but it can make learning at home possible in families where the at-home parent must also be a working parent.

And remember that Oak Meadow’s curriculum is designed to be customized to fit your family, not the other way around. Keep calm, and carry on because you’ve got this!

Finding Community as a Homeschooler

If you are new to homeschooling, at first it may seem like there are no other homeschoolers around at all. But chances are very good that they are just hidden in plain sight!

Families in many areas have established homeschool groups that meet for field trips, projects, playtime, and even parent-run classes. Finding them can be the hardest part. Some homeschool groups maintain a low profile to respect or protect the privacy of their member families, so it can be challenging to make that first connection. But homeschoolers, in general, are very resourceful and well-connected, and once you’ve found one local homeschooling family, you may soon hear about others. Have you wondered about how best to find a homeschool community in your area? Here are some suggestions for where to look:

Ask at the Library

Most homeschooling families develop an active relationship with the local librarian. He or she may be able to connect you with other families.

2018 National Honor Society inductee Katie Pheysey 2Put Out The Word!

Let supportive friends and family know that you’re in search of homeschooling connections. They may not know of any local homeschoolers, but they may know someone whose Aunt Martha has a neighbor whose son homeschools in your town. It’s worth a try.

If you want to go beyond word of mouth, put up posters at the community center, grocery store, town office, or other places where homeschooling parents and children are sure to see them. Your poster could say something as simple as, “Do you homeschool? We’d love to connect!” If your community has an online bulletin board or a local newspaper, you might be able to publish a classified ad or notice. Advertise a playgroup, potluck, or not-back-to-school picnic and see who responds.

Seek Out Kid-Friendly Venues

Family of three children looking at fish in a big aquariumGo to the park, indoor playground, or other local kid-friendly venues during school hours on a school day. If you see another family there with school-aged kids, ask them why theirs are not in school. With luck, their reason will be the same as yours!

You can also visit local learning centers and attractions such as museums, environmental education centers, aquariums, historical sites. They often have special rates or visit times for homeschoolers, so ask their recommendation on how to connect with other homeschooling visitors.

Explore Alternative & Natural Parenting Groups

Although homeschooling is more mainstream than ever, it has roots in the alternative and natural parenting culture. So if you are a secular homeschooler, you might see if you can find likeminded parents through the local natural foods store or parenting groups such as La Leche League. if your homeschooling focus is religious, your faith community is a great place to start.

Go To Your State Or Local Officials

Sympathetic local or state school officials are sometimes empowered to connect homeschooling families with each other. Inquire with whomever is in charge of homeschool enrollment or registration for your locale.

Attend Homeschooling Conventions & Events

Seek out regional homeschooling groups and homeschool conventions, if there are any near you. Attend any local events you can until you’ve made enough connections to sustain you for awhile.

Look Online

There are many groups, boards, pages, lists, and websites devoted to homeschooling (Oak Meadow’s Facebook page is a great place to start!). Some homeschooling support boards are for members only; others are public. Some focus on particular regions. You may find one local to you, or you may need to post something specific asking for responses.

No matter where you’re looking for your homeschool community, jump right in and talk with people wherever you go! You never know where you might make a connection or get some helpful information. Don’t be shy about seeking connection, and be persistent if you don’t find it right away! Being proactive is the best way to find community quickly.

Setting Up Your Homeschool Space

Many new homeschoolers wonder how best to set up their at-home learning space. The possibilities can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips as you envision and establish a practical spot in your home where homeschooling can be comfortable and productive.

Keep an Open Mind

Your homeschooling area doesn’t need to look like a classroom! You will need a work area with a flat surface, comfortable seating, good lighting, and space for storage. Ideally it should be located near wherever the parent or home teacher will be so that they can be available for questions when they are not directly involved in the student’s work. In larger homes, there might be an entire room dedicated to homeschooling. In a smaller home or apartment, the homeschooling space might be a tabletop in the kitchen or dining room.

Find The Right Work Surface

Oak Meadow books, supplies, and workspaceIf possible, dedicate a table or large desk where work can be spread out, left undisturbed, and returned to as needed. If the work surface must meet more than one family need, consider using a table that is only used occasionally or for just one other purpose. With a shared surface, make it a priority to always keep it clean and uncluttered, and develop a family habit to clean up thoroughly between uses.

Prioritize Comfort

Choose a chair that you don’t mind sitting in for a long period of time. Uncomfortable seats make for fidgety students – and parents! Make sure you have enough space and comfortable seating for each student as well as the adult(s) who will be helping them. Consider seating for additional collaborators, too.

Set Up Your Supplies & Materials Nearby

Locate shelves and organizational units nearby so that materials can be kept easily at hand. You’ll want some combination of shelves, drawers, and other storage options to keep supplies organized. You will also need a place to store curriculum, reference books, and library books. An inbox and outbox or a set of dividers can be helpful for sorting work in progress. Lesson books, desk supplies, art supplies, science tools, math manipulatives, and other materials also need storage space.

Consider Aesthetics

Aesthetics are also very important to consider when preparing your homeschooling space. Are the colors pleasing to those who will be using the room most? If you have the option of repainting the walls, choose a restful, peaceful color such as pale green, light blue, or muted lavender. You might find it useful to paint part of one wall with chalkboard paint.

Create a visible homemade art gallery to display current academic work and artistic creations. If possible, choose a wall that is not directly in the learning space, to keep the learning area simple and uncluttered. You might use a large bulletin board or a series of cork wall tiles to define your gallery, or simply choose a wall to decorate and let it declare itself!

Make Clean Up Simple

Oak Meadow student learning to spell with titles outdoorsPlace a trash container and a recycling bin near the workspace to simplify cleanup. A washable plastic tablecloth can be helpful in quickly transforming an academic workspace into an arts-and-crafts space and back again. If budget allows, a prep sink can be a helpful addition for messy experiments and art cleanup.

Keep your homeschooling workspace as free of clutter as possible. If clutter is unavoidable, find ways to trick the eye by hiding it in baskets, wooden crates, or cabinets, behind doors or curtains, or beyond a folding screen. A fabric “skirt” around a side table can hide many things while storing them nearby until they are needed.

Go Outside!

Don’t forget to consider the spaces that are available outdoors! Perhaps there is a porch, gazebo, patio, or garden table that could be used in warm weather. Some of the same principles apply to outdoor learning spaces: comfortable furniture, shelter from the bright sun, and a flat space to work on. A large, flat board can be used as a workspace on grass or inside a tent. A hammock can be the perfect cozy spot for reading and studying. A large basket can be used to store materials and carry them to/from the house. Older homeschoolers might expand their horizons and study at the park, the library, or a local cafe.

Consult Your Student

As you consider how to set up your homeschooling space, ask the student who will be using it what they would find most helpful. Be flexible and allow your learning setup to evolve as you discover what works best. Reassess your space periodically, and make changes and improvements with the input of those who use it most.

Above all, don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect space! Let your heart, creativity, and experience guide you. Homeschooling, like life, is a work in progress.

How To Survive Summer with Kids: 11 Tips from Homeschooling Parents

School’s out! The kids are home for the summer, and suddenly your world has been turned upside down. How will you survive summer with kids home all day? Homeschooling parents do it year-round. But when you’re not used to having kids home all day, it can certainly feel like a shock to the system. Here are eleven tips from homeschoolers to help you get through the summer:

1. Free your children from boredom by encouraging independence

At the start of the summer, ask them to brainstorm a list of things they could try if they get bored. Post it in a handy place. When they complain of boredom, refer them to their list. Create a dog agility course in the backyard! Make a kitty condo by taping boxes together! Set up a cozy reading nook (indoors or out). Build a fort. If all else fails, suggest that they lie flat on their backs, look up at the sky or the ceiling, and wait there until a more interesting option comes to them — something always does.

2. Find a new rhythm during the day

If you live where summers are hot, the sun’s pattern may shape your daily rhythm. Spend time outdoors in the morning and late afternoon. During the middle of the day when the temperature is at its peak, do restful activities in the shade or the cool indoors. Evening can be a lovely time for a daily family walk.

Oak Meadow girl playing with goats - summer activities3. Let your children follow their own bodies’ individual patterns

Let your kids dictate their own schedule for sleeping, waking, being active, or resting (within reason!). Encourage them to listen to how they feel after a late night or an early morning. Challenge them to figure out their own most comfortable daily rhythm and follow it during the summer months, even if the schedule will be less flexible come September.

4. Balance outings with unstructured time at home

During the summer, day camps and other activities can have a big impact on the shape of your days. If your family is extra busy, be sure to make room in your schedule for regular unscheduled time at home as well. If you’re usually at home without much structure, consider designating one or two regular days each week for outings.

5. Lean on the village

Connect with other compatible families and plan regular playdates where one parent gets a break while the other supervises children from both (or multiple) families.

Oak Meadow Family in a yellow kayak - summer activities with kids6. Make regular time to play together as a family

Plan a set time in your day or week when everyone sets aside work responsibilities and obligations, and do something fun that you can agree on. If agreement is hard to come by, take turns choosing a family activity. Make a habit of being present with each other without distractions or multitasking.

7. Keep bins of crafts & puzzles handy

Gather plenty of basic craft supplies, puzzles and games, and set up an area in your home or yard for artistic exploration where children can be as independent as possible and clean-up is relatively easy.

8. Take midweek field trips!

Enjoy local museums, historical sites, libraries, parks, hiking trails, and beaches. Go on a weekday morning when crowds are most manageable. Your local library may have free or discount passes that families can borrow.

Young boy holding a chicken - summer with kids9. Give your children extra responsibilities

— and extra benefits, too. A child who is around more can help out more. Use this opportunity to help them learn how to do useful, routine tasks around the house. Those who prove capable of cleaning up the kitchen might be allowed to experiment on their own with new recipes or culinary inventions. Or turn wood-stacking into a fun race, and end with a bonfire when the stacking is all done. Give your children the opportunity to feel useful, develop skills, and then celebrate a task well done.

10. Take breaks from each other

Adults and caregivers need time “off the clock” where they can turn off their parental radar and recharge. Children benefit from relationships with different adults. If your child’s needs do not allow for separation, invite other adults to come and share the load.

11. Enjoy your time together

Take advantage of opportunities to connect throughout the day. Those moments may happen unexpectedly, so be on the lookout and make the most of them. If your children are more independent, wander around the house or yard occasionally just to find and say hello to them. If they are at an age where they want to be with you every moment, give in to their need and keep them close. September will be here all too quickly, and these moments do not last forever (even if it sometimes feels that way).

Happy summer!
What other suggestions can you add for an enjoyable summer at home with children? Share your thoughts on our Facebook or Instagram.

Decluttering the Homeschool House

Homeschoolers usually spend a significant portion of their days at home. The many hours of projects, crafts, meals, and experiments that happen every day in a homeschooling house can add up to a significant amount of clutter and chaos. What are some ways to keep your home and your family from getting overwhelmed by this?

Consider the favorite spaces your family uses for various activities. Set things up so it is easy to clean up, and start over when space is needed for another project. Make sure there is a storage area nearby for works in progress and a safe spot for anything that might need to air-dry.

Observe the patterns in your house. How are family members using the space? Where do piles of things usually grow? One of the biggest challenges in any house is keeping things up off the floor. Where do things most often get dropped? If you have a perpetual pile that grows unbidden in a particular place, it’s a sure sign that those items need a permanent home nearby. Put baskets for hats and mittens near where coats are hung. Unfinished works of art may need a shelf near the crafts area.

Who is responsible for tidying up and when? Setting aside regular time once or twice each day for routine clean-up can help keep the clutter from growing. You may find it helpful to assign a container to each family member—a basket, bin, or box—where anyone can deposit items belonging to the owner. Put trash and recycling containers in every room where trash is generated.

Make it a habit to weed out and discard unwanted items on an ongoing basis. Things that are broken should be fixed or discarded. Papers can often be recycled. If you feel overwhelmed, just deal with the pile or item that you bump into first—then repeat, repeat, repeat.

If your children have a hard time decluttering, make it a game: “Keep or Don’t Keep?” See how fast you can sort through a pile together. Start with two containers for sorting things into—one “keep” bin and one “toss” bin. Hold up each item in turn and ask dramatically, “Keep? Or don’t keep?” Encourage your child to respond as quickly as possible for each item. Time yourselves if it adds to the excitement. When the pile is gone, you can whisk the “toss” pile out of sight to minimize a change of heart.

Here are some things to consider adding to your home in areas where clutter collects:

  • Hooks to hang things on
  • Shelves to put things on
  • Bins and drawers to put things in
  • Baskets, containers, crates to organize things
  • Furniture with doors and drawers to help to keep clutter hidden

Make sure storage is at the right height for the people who will use it. If you have young children, store off-limits items on the highest shelves or behind cabinet doors and “help-yourself” items, such as toys and basic drawing supplies, within easy reach. Storage that is too difficult to access will not be used; same for storage that is not in the area where its items are most likely to be abandoned. Try to make it as convenient as possible.

Consider turning a closet or cabinet into a storage space for art and craft supplies and other homeschooling materials. Sort by category and assign one bin or box to each category (crayons, ribbons/string, paint, knitting, etc.). Label everything clearly so that everyone can see what to store in each bin without having to open it to check. Use pictures or symbols if you have family members who are very visual or not yet reading.

Cozy nooks for reading and relaxing are important but can invite a state of ongoing disarray. What are your nooks like? Are there pillows? Soft blankets? How do you want things arranged when not in use? What does that look like? Show your children how to stack pillows, fold blankets, and leave things tidy for the next person.
With a proactive approach and some practice, managing clutter can become a regular part of your family’s homeschooling routine. Involve everyone in the family in the process and the results will be worth the effort as you enjoy a calmer, less cluttered home.

Planning for Success: Using a Weekly Planner to Find the Rhythm in Your Homeschooling Life

by DeeDee Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development at Oak Meadow

How many times have you planned your day in your head, only to forget half of what you wanted to do? Or maybe, like me, you make lists — leaving notes here and there all over the house — and then lose track of the lists. Or maybe you have your list but you lose track of the time. For whatever reason, you just simply can’t seem to get it all done. 

When you add homeschooling to the daily mix, the to-do list just grows longer while the pressure to do it all expands until it fills your little corner of the universe. As you juggle science experiments, spelling lists, math practice, research reports, art projects, and all the rest, the responsibility to get it all done can wear you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes even just opening up a curriculum book can feel daunting. If you like to have everything organized and planned in advance, it’s exciting to see all your upcoming lessons in one place. You might tell yourself, “It’s all right here. This is all we have to do!” On the other hand, the little voice in your head might panic at the thought of how much work lies ahead: “We have to do all of this??”  Or perhaps you prefer spontaneity and like to create your own learning path. If so, a curriculum book can feel like a big, scary reminder of all you might be forgetting to do while you are off on your spontaneous adventures.
At some point, most homeschoolers wonder, “How can I get it all done?”

Let the planner do the remembering

Oak Meadow Parent Planner PackageNo matter which end of the organized/spontaneous spectrum you identify with, you can find support and a sense of ease by using a weekly planner. Once you get in the habit of spending a bit of time each week planning and setting a schedule, the weight of all that responsibility is lightened. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important because you’ve already made a plan to include everything you want to get done.

Naturally, despite your best planning, life will intervene with its wonderfully chaotic beauty, and some things will fall by the wayside, but that’s okay. Here’s the real attraction in using a planner: anything you don’t get to in a particular week is simply moved to the top of the list for the following week. No need to feel a sense of failure or guilt or judgement — just turn over a fresh page and write it down again. Voilá!

Making the planner work for you

So what’s the best way to use a planner? That will vary with each person, but here are some tips for getting the most out of your planner.

  1. Begin by getting a sense of the week’s goals. Look over what you would like to accomplish in the coming week in each subject. If you are using a curriculum that is designed in a weekly lesson format, this is pretty easy (for instance, you want to do lesson 5 in each subject this week). If you aren’t working with a weekly format curriculum or you are using many sources, make a list of next steps for each subject.
  2. Prioritize the assignments, activities, and projects for the week. Write down the top priority tasks first, dividing them up according to subject and spacing them over the days of the week. By putting the high priority tasks at the top of the list, they are most likely to get done. Let’s say there’s a book report in English that must be done this week because your student will be beginning a new book next week. The book report will go at the top of the list for English and be scheduled early in the week. This gives some wiggle room if it takes longer than expected. 
  3. Use the planner to chunk up larger projects into smaller tasks. Maybe an animal research paper is on the science list this week. Day 1 can be for locating research materials; Day 2 can be for reading research and taking notes; Day 3 is for organizing the notes and creating a detailed outline with topic sentences for each main idea; Day 4 is for the rough draft; and Day 5 is for revising, editing, and proofing the final version of the report. Each of these tasks will take about the same amount of time, making a big, daunting project suddenly feel doable.
  4. Let your planner help you take an unscheduled day off or take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. If something comes up, or if you and your kids just really need a day without expectations, go for it! That’s one of the greatest joys and benefits of homeschooling. Your planner makes it easy for you to go off and enjoy yourselves, and then get back on track afterwards. Everything is still there. You haven’t “forgotten” anything; you just shift the tasks over one day. 
  5. If you are homeschooling more than one child, use colored pens to easily track each student’s study plan. This lets you see at a glance who will be doing what on a particular day. Seeing everyone’s schedule at once helps you coordinate weekly goals so that visits to the library, nature walks, or one-on-one time with your children all fit together.

More reasons to love your planner
Oak Meadow student doing assignment outside with leavesFeel free to enlist your children’s help in creating the weekly plan. In fact, it’s a good idea. Not only does it give them a sense of ownership and encourage autonomy, it teaches students time management skills. They learn to become aware of how much time is needed for certain activities. They can be involved in breaking tasks into smaller increments, prioritizing what needs doing, and (here’s the fun part) checking off items as each task is completed.

The planner can be a great tool for long range planning. Let’s say you are doing a project on decomposition, and your student has just buried a variety of items in the back yard which will decompose at different rates. In six weeks, your student is supposed to dig them up and observe what happened. Flip forward six weeks in your planner and jot down a note. Now it’s out of your head and you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to dig up the rotting mess (er…I mean, the partially decomposed items).

Finally, you can use the weekly planner to have a strategy session at the beginning of each week. Depending on the ages of your children, you can do this after you’ve already created the schedule for the week, or this strategy session can be when the schedule is created. Going over the schedule at the start of the week helps everyone involved know the game plan and start the week with purpose.

Using a planner doesn’t have to be another dreaded thing you have to find time to do. Once you get comfortable and find a pattern that works for you, the planner will help you prepare for success so you have more free time to enjoy your homeschooling life.

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DeeDee Hughes is the Director of Curriculum Development for Oak Meadow, a distance learning school and publisher of homeschooling curriculum for grades K-12. Oak Meadow offers two planners: a planner for homeschooling parents and a student planner, both of which feature 40 double-page weekly schedules and are not date specific, so they can be started anytime. The Oak Meadow Homeschool Parent Planner includes teaching tips and inspiration from Oak Meadow teachers and learning targets by grades for K-4. The Oak Meadow Student Planner contains handy resources for students such as parts of speech, how to cite sources, and U.S./metric conversion charts, as well as learning targets by subject.
This article originally appeared as a guest post at Only Passionate Curiosity.

10 Reasons Why Oak Meadow May Be the Perfect Fit for You

What are you looking for in a home learning program? Would Oak Meadow be a good match for your family? See if any of the following points resonate with you.

Family practicing the recorder together1. Being actively involved in your child’s learning feels right to you.

You appreciate your child as an individual and enjoy spending time with them. You value the deep connection between you and your child, and you trust that because you are a loving parent, you are naturally well suited to be your child’s home teacher.An Oak Meadow education means that you, the parent, are your child’s primary teacher. As an Oak Meadow parent, you remain closely involved in every step of your child’s learning. When they need help conquering a challenge, you are right there to help them in a way that honors their unique personality. Your loving connection to your child qualifies you as the best expert on their needs.

2. Your child is keen to engage in creative, hands-on learning – and you like it, too.

Learning by doing comes naturally to them, and you enjoy supporting their curiosity and efforts. Oak Meadow encourages students to learn experientially through real-world experiences. Take math skills out into the garden for a carpentry project, visit local historic sites, or go hiking with a sketchbook in hand. The small scale of home learning allows for one-on-one assistance with a wide range of projects. Experiments and creations can be spread out and returned to over and over. Depending on your child’s needs, you can be closely involved, or step back and allow their creativity to bloom with support as needed. The world is your classroom!

3. Your mind is open to a range of effective ways to approach education.

You are eager to figure out how to help your child thrive, even if the solution is unconventional. Perhaps traditional school hasn’t worked out as well as you had hoped, or maybe you just have an intuitive sense that it won’t be a good fit for your unconventional learner. Homeschooling and distance learning can be very helpful options for students who learn outside of the box, and Oak Meadow is easily adaptable for learning differences.

4. You believe nature should be a central theme in children’s learning.

The natural world provides a multitude of catalysts for learning and growing, and it also provides a healthy environment for playing and living. Oak Meadow’s curriculum encourages students to keenly observe and develop a relationship with the natural world. Frequent outdoor play and exploration are encouraged and valued. The relationship between nature and the student is so important that it is a key theme throughout Oak Meadow’s curriculum.

5. You appreciate having the flexibility to adapt lessons to your child’s unique learning needs and interests.

If something isn’t working for you or your child, you will modify it. You use curriculum as a starting point, then let your child’s passions guide your choices within and beyond the given material. We know that every child is unique, and that’s why Oak Meadow’s curriculum is full of various possibilities for all kinds of learners. It’s up to you (and your child’s teacher, if you enroll in distance learning) to pick and choose from the options presented in the lessons. You might need to try different things to figure out what works, but in time, you and your child will both have a better understanding of how they learn best.

6. You believe that learning is a lifestyle that best involves the whole family.

You recognize that the needs of all family members are interwoven, and you choose to create a home life that supports healthy learning and growth for everyone in the family. Students who learn at home have the benefit of a holistic lifestyle where living and learning are totally intertwined. Siblings learn with and from each other, and the bond between family members of all ages is developed and strengthened.

7. You feel that education should address the whole child, not just academic growth.

You honor the importance of your child’s passions, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities and honor the role those things play in your child’s learning. Many educational programs focus on academics without acknowledging the many other important facets of a child’s being. Oak Meadow’s philosophy is all about nurturing learning in a comprehensive way, weaving together the many different kinds of growth and development in a balanced, holistic approach.

8. You have a good sense of when to ask for support, either through enrollment or through our homeschooling support service.

You are willing and able to reach out to others in your community and beyond to widen your child’s learning support system and make use of helpful resources. You know that nobody has all the answers. You trust that you’ll learn what you need to know along the way. The most successful Oak Meadow families are proactive and persistent in reaching out to those who can help them out in various ways on their homeschooling journey.

9. You appreciate the idea of a secular (non-religious) academic curriculum.

If your family opts for religious education, you supplement with faith-based religious curriculum or design your own course of religious instruction that honors your family’s beliefs. Oak Meadow is one of few providers of complete secular homeschooling curriculum. Many families come to us because they are looking for an alternative to the many faith-based programs that are available. Some families choose to supplement our materials with faith-based lessons in order to incorporate spiritual education into their homeschooling experience. Oak Meadow supports the freedom of parents to choose the best way to support their child’s religious and spiritual education.

10. Whether you are looking for a comprehensive homeschooling curriculum or an accredited distance learning school, you value the wisdom Oak Meadow offers from over 40 years of experience in supporting home learners

Oak Meadow’s founder, Lawrence Williams, began with a thoughtful vision for home education that remains an inspiration to all of us at Oak Meadow. Our teachers and counselors are carefully chosen to support Oak Meadow’s philosophy. Many of us have used Oak Meadow materials and services with our own children. We hold ourselves to the same standards we would demand for our own families. Through the years, our program has gone through countless revisions to provide families with the best possible homeschooling and distance learning experiences, and we continue to revise and update our materials on an ongoing basis.

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This article originally appeared in home|school|life magazine in May 2016.

What I wish I’d known before our two decades of homeschooling

by June M. Schulte, former Oak Meadow parent

When we began homeschooling in 1982, our eldest was just over seven years old, the legal age for school in Vermont. Although we were doing a lot with our children – reading aloud, making crafts, singing, dancing and so on – we weren’t quite sure which things might count as education and what was needed that we didn’t even know about. The day we received word from the State that we were okay to homeschool, our five children were ages 7¼, 5¾, 4, 2, and 10 days old. John Holt spoke to homeschoolers nearby that week, and we were encouraged by his words about the natural way children learn by doing.

We had searched for a good curriculum to use, and felt the one which best matched our view was offered by Oak Meadow School. Based on exchanges with cofounders Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, our eldest was placed in second grade and our daughter in first. We also bought the kindergarten curriculum to guide the younger children and, in truth, to reassure us in case our eldest had missed something important. We felt ready and excited.

Execution of the curriculum was another story altogether. Our fifth child was a newborn and a robust 10lb-er; however, he also startled very easily and had rapid respirations for his first two weeks. In years to come, we would discover he had attention inconsistencies, but in those first months of homeschooling, it translated into needing to keep the household relatively quiet (in Winter) so the baby wasn’t over-stimulated. Also, as a nursing mother, I had a series of breast infections not easily quelled with antibiotics, as we eventually discovered there were two germs involved, not one. It was a challenge!

By the time we were sending our first quarter report and samples to Oak Meadow, I was quite concerned, as it seemed to me we had failed miserably. I felt that the most academic thing we had done all season was make a leaf mobile! We had also written a poem about the season, read aloud, sung songs (things that can be done with a babe in arms), and played a lot. But there were few lessons of any kind. At least I had kept a journal of what learning I noticed, and sent it along. I braced myself for the response from Oak Meadow.

What came was a beautifully encouraging letter from Bonnie Williams herself, highlighting the many learning opportunities she found evident in my journal. Being a mother of four, she had read between the lines. She noted that my older children had learned that babies come first, to make their own sandwiches, and to help one another. She assured me that there would yet be plenty of time to accomplish the paperwork in the curriculum and recommended we simply stay with it.

We did, and I am so grateful for that. Bonnie was right. By the end of the year, we had completed the lessons in the curriculum, and our State Certified Teacher (who later opened a Waldorf school) confirmed it, giving me the greatest sense of accomplishment and peace!

Our children are now ages 41½ , 40, 38, 36, and 34. They all made the Dean’s List their first semester of college, graduated, and have been gainfully employed since. They are not social misfits. In fact, our eldest is a company manager, 5th-degree black belt and international TaekwonDo referee, dad, and co-owner of a horse farm with his spouse. Our daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mathematics and is a partner in a worldwide firm, a mom, and owner of a large house in Maine. Our third child has a Ph.D. and is a wildlife biologist who headed up shorebird recovery in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil spill; he is a dad, town selectman, marathon runner, and 3rd-degree black belt who teaches TaekwonDo. Our fourth child has a degree in Computer Science, works in customer support, and founded a non-profit focused on sustainability that grows food for food shelves. Our youngest has a degree in Networking and Website Development and makes websites for a good living; he is a dad, records local bands to get their music out to the public, and owns a house with his spouse.

Moreover, they are happy. They care about the world, the nation, and their local communities. They play with their children and are good friends. The many fears we had in those early days (and along the way) have been allayed. Our six grandchildren, currently age 10 years to 10 months, are intelligent, funny, sweet people.

I wish I could have known at the outset how it would be now. But, really, we just had to take it one day (sometimes one hour!) at a time. I’d say keeping a journal was the most important work I contributed, because it not only recorded the moments for which there was no paperwork, but it helped me notice and appreciate their slow and wonderful flourishing. On the tough days (and there were many), it was sanity-producing to read back over the last month’s journal and know for sure that we were making progress. It was what I drew from to create our end of year reports.

Note to former self: If a child is loved deeply, is given good resources, great art materials, lots of trips to libraries, field trips when possible, hands-on exploration, and heaps of fun, they cannot help but thrive. The curriculum itself is secondary. There is no way we can give a child all the knowledge they will need in life. So we need to teach them, largely by example and conversation, to mull and articulate, to explore, discover, invent, and create; give them the tools for doing their own research, creating their own art, writing their stories, and living as caring citizens. Give your heart to it and don’t second-guess yourself too much. If something isn’t right, trust that you’ll recognize that. Turn a deaf ear to naysayers and listen to other homeschoolers who share your philosophy. Have a small group of homeschoolers you can get together with or at least some homeschooling pen pals (for you as well as the children). You are all going to be just fine.


June Schulte completed her college degree as an off-campus student while homeschooling her children. She applied for and was granted the maximum three semesters of Life Learning credits from Goddard College (known for its progressive approach), earning a B.A. in Home Education and Religious Studies. She then completed a three year Diocesan Study Program as well as some seminary studies. A lifelong contemplative, June also completed the two year Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program, and for 20 years has been meeting with people who are seeking spiritual guidance. Guidance seems to be most of what homeschooling was about for June, and she feels that her children taught her more than she taught them. June and her husband, Bill, have been married 42 years so far, and are the delighted Grammie and Grandad of four granddaughters and two grandsons. As the Irish saying goes, “Children are the Rainbow of Life; Grandchildren are the Pot of Gold!”

When Your Child Is Struggling in School

We’ve all had our struggles, but when it’s your child struggling in school, what can you do? A negative school experience can disrupt your child’s learning, threaten your child’s self-esteem, and create stress for the entire family.

If you’ve tried everything you can think of but things aren’t getting better, consider bringing learning home. Homeschooling and distance learning are both very good educational choices for students whose social, emotional, physical, or intellectual needs are not being met at school. Home learning offers a more personalized and flexible approach that can make for a happier, more effective educational experience for both your child and you. Do you see your child in any of these scenarios?

SOCIAL NEEDS

Students who have been the target of bullying can find it very challenging to feel safe or accepted on the playground, on the bus, and even in the classroom. Home can be a safer and more effective environment for learning and healing.

Mature, developmentally advanced students may have a hard time fitting in with their classmates. They may crave connections with older friends or adults who appreciate subtle references and sophisticated humor. Home learners have the flexibility and time to connect with people of many different ages and backgrounds.

Shy children and those who lag behind their peers socially benefit from developing friendships one-on-one or in smaller, handpicked groups of peers. Home learning provides shelter from social challenges and allows families to foster their own community with others who respect each child’s pace and personality.

EMOTIONAL NEEDS

Students who are easily frustrated in school can benefit from learning at home with one-to-one attention, loving support, and the flexibility to work through stressful moments in healthy, constructive ways such as taking a break, exercising, or calming themselves in whatever way works best for them. 

Low self-esteem can make school a big challenge for those who need extra support and thoughtful guidance. With home learning, students and parents can maximize the chance of success and ensure a positive outcome. Children for whom comparison to their peers is traumatizing find that individual, at-home learning removes social pressure and allows them to focus on their own personal goals and progress.

Children who are highly sensitive benefit from learning in a familiar environment with low stimulation. Removing the stress of home-to-school and classroom-to-classroom transitions allows students to focus their limited reserves on learning instead.

Some children resist authority and need a high level of autonomy to be able to engage in learning activities, which can lead to classroom disruption, noncompliance, and frustration. At home, learning can be as self-driven as the student and parent desire.

PHYSICAL NEEDS

Students who need a lot of physical activity, such as highly active or kinesthetic learners, struggle in classrooms where students are expected to sit quietly most of the time and move around only on a set schedule. Learning at home is a welcome relief for active children who need to pace or hop while integrating new material or take frequent breaks to run around so they can focus effectively at other times.

For students with physical challenges, particularly those with conditions that involve fatigue, navigating a school environment can be exhausting. At home, resting is easy, and lessons can flex to take advantage of “up days” and minimize work on “down days.” Comfort can take priority, and adaptations are much easier to arrange when the parent is the home teacher.

Medical challenges can disrupt learning for a child who is in and out of class often or for long stretches of time due to doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, and periods of convalescence. “Homeschooling” can happen anywhere, not just at home, and how you define the “school year” is up to you.

INTELLECTUAL NEEDS

Students who are academically gifted often yearn for breadth and/or depth beyond the limits of a typical classroom. Home learning has no such limits. These learners can indulge their curiosity as thoroughly as they wish and supplement their learning with hands-on, experiential activities.

The unique needs of intellectually challenged students are also well met at home, where learning can capitalize on their strengths and bolster their weaknesses. Students who haven’t measured up to their classmates in school often experience freedom and relief when they find themselves to be the norm in their own home classroom.

For students who are both gifted and challenged, home learning can bridge a gap that might otherwise be difficult to fit into a single grade level. Some are ready for a high level of academic challenge in one or more subjects but need remedial work in other areas. These needs, which might be cause for concern in school, can be easily met at home, where students can work at an individually appropriate level and pace in each area of study.

SCHOOL CHOICE

When public school options are weak and private school options are unaffordable, what choices remain? With distance learning, you can have a strong academic program without paying private school prices. Or you can choose to homeschool independently and set your own schedule and standards while enjoying as much flexibility as you wish.

Students who have a deep passion for an activity may find that neither public nor private school allows enough flexibility to fit in enough training, practice, and/or pre-professional preparation. Because home learning is flexible, portable, and individual, it allows the freedom for gifted athletes, artists, performers, and others to pursue their dreams without compromising their education.
Families that travel often or live “on the road” benefit from using a continuous family-friendly program that can travel with them wherever they might go.

HOME EDUCATION

Switching gears to learning at home can be a welcome relief. Removing stressors allows students to use their inner resources for learning and growing, not just managing to get through each day.

Begin by exploring an accredited distance-learning school or a highly respected homeschool curriculum program. Families transitioning from school to homeschool can find support from educational counselors, homeschool support professionals, distance-learning teachers, and others. Homeschool organizations and informal homeschool groups also provide connection and community.

When your child is struggling in school, remember that you have options! Home learning may be the perfect choice. Keep your expectations flexible, trust yourself to make good decisions, and let your heart guide you to do what’s best for your child and your family.

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