Homeschooler at Heart

My oldest is a first grader in public school.  I am as happy as I can imagine myself being with her school, and she is a very good student.  She is eager to please, a good reader, and generally obedient.  Sort of built to be a student.  The kind of child who most homeschooling parents will say can do well in school, but that their child needs special attention at home.  She is absolutely NOT gifted, merely bright. She has plenty of friends and gets along well with her teachers.  And yet…

She is gone from 8:30, when I drop her off, until 4:20 when she gets off the bus.  Two days a week she has an activity after school, either ballet or religious education.  On those days she gets home around 6.

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The hours that she is is home she drives me a little nuts.  I’m not sure if this is built up energy from being forced to sit all day, negative influences from her peers, or just her age, but even since she has started school I have noticed a huge drop in her behavior at home.  She is perfect for her teachers, and behaves well when bribed, but I see a lot of her natural goodness fading.

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She does occasionally not want to go to school, and will pretend to have an earache or stomachache to get out of it.  It makes me wonder if something is going on that she is not telling me about, which makes me wonder why I am sending her away all day to such a big unknown at such a young age.

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I have hinted somewhat at the idea of homeschooling to my husband, who is firmly against it.  He thinks it is important for her to have relationships outside the home, that she would be bored all day, that children need a regular influence outside of their mother.  And it is true, I suppose.  I suspect he is just afraid people would think he was weird and that both of our families would be horrified (which is also true).  If it were the norm, he would love it.

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And in a way, I believe in public schools.  I was very happy at mine, and appreciate the relationships I had with my elementary school teachers.  I wonder if it is different because I was at a magnet school that had the best teachers in the county.  I truly loved many of my teachers and remember things that they taught me to this day.  Also my parents are a little weird and I definitely needed some outside influences.  For many, many children, public school is their best and only chance at success.

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And still, my heart longs for slow mornings, for library time spent reading classics instead of Magic Animal Friends, for lunches at home, activities done during the day instead of some time around dinner and dark.  I would love to get the best of my children’s day, not just time to supervise dinner, homework, and bed.  I would love to have no questions about what goes on during eight hours of the day, and know that my daughter is being treated kindly and being kind herself.

I know what type of homeschooler I would be. (Charlotte Mason.)  And what math work books I would use (Singapore, and I torture the poor little tyke with it in the summer.)  This year would we would be studying Ancient Rome, because she is showing natural interest in it, and learning to use a telescope to observe planets and constellations.  She also likes the presidents, and learning about wars, so we could be learning Revolutionary War history.  We would have a big history timeline that was added to bit by bit (she has a small one now), and would spend a lot of time outside, and doing legos and puzzles, and have ballet during the day at the homeschool class.  And swim lessons during the day, and piano lessons during the day, no more rushed and horrible evenings of changing in a hurry, shoving a dinner down our throats.  Afternoons would be for reading, chores, and outside time.

It will never happen.  But I will always be a homeschooler at heart.


First Frost, and Family

It is necessary to have house guests a few times a year to get your husband to do projects that you have been fruitlessly asking for for months.  Our house is up on a steep hill, and to get to the gardens and play area you had to walk down a muddy hill.  Magically, the day before our Thanksgiving guests arrived…

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Steps!

(That wine barrel looks so authentic with the label still on it. And I guess I am growing kindling?)

I dug and stored the dahlias for the first time this year.  It was wonderfully thrilling pulling up the huge tubers, drying them, and storing them in shredded newspaper in the basement.  It felt so good to do what all the gardening articles say.  Perhaps next I will sharpen my tools and store them in oiled sand.

Hummingbird feeders have been cleaned and put away, and garlic planted where my old compost pile was.  A new pile has been started where it will be easier to turn with the tractor.

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The other thing I have been asking for, to no avail, since we moved in was something for our foyer.  And lo and behold…

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It was the most amazing moment of my life.  It came from a Pottery Barn outlet that just opened nearby.  And the rug came from upstairs.

Ellie loved having some new visitors for Thanksgiving

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And with their arrival came a lot of baking.

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(Sandwich rolls, molasses cookie dough for the freezer, bread for toast. Hole is from oven probe.)

And then more on Thanksgiving itself.

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(Butter horn rolls from Bread Machine Magic. Forgot to photograph the pies that I painstakingly latticed!)

I started Christmas decorating, just a little each day, taking up what I can carry each time I happen to to go down to the basement.  I have taken out my gingerbread and peppermint coffee syrups, put out pine scented candles, switched out hand towels and soap.  A lot of my artificial greenery looks tacky to me now, so it is still down there, but I will probably just give it away.  I will cut real greenery when we get closer.  I want to keep the last week of Advent, and Christmas itself, special.

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(All homes should have a Christmas village, obviously, and it must be the first thing to go up each year.)

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(Walmart canisters are beautiful in a group of three.)

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I made the velvet pillow covers.  They are envelope style backs with cording.  The fabric is Olive Green Cotton Velvet from fabric.com.  It shed everywhere while I was working with it, but it is very soft and perfect for a throw pillow cover.

The cross stitched one I made last year for the kids.

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An extra pillow to warm up a dining room chair.

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Christmas baby!

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And a couple treats for teachers, these are King Arthur’s Gingerbread Bundt Cake baked in their Bundt quartet pan.  We had enough batter for three, and ate one ourselves.  It was a delicious recipe!

And now a bit of a break.  There is still a long way to go!  I will focus on cozy and winter for a while, not Christmas quite yet!


Fixing What Bothers You

I love staying home and caring for kids and the house,  but sometimes I feel myself going a little nuts with small frustrations.  In some ways the kids get easier as they get older, and in some ways harder.   Everything become physically easier but a tougher battle of wills, as food pickiness, homework resistance, and laziness emerge.  You can no longer excuse their bad behavior with their age, and this makes them more frustrating.  You are expected to feed all members of the household and clean up after them when they are perfectly capable of doing it.  And yet… you are a housewife.  Isn’t that what you are here for?  And so on.  Small annoyances.  You can fix them.

I read somewhere to make a list of what bothers you and see if there aren’t solutions.  Think of what advice you would give a friend with these complaints.  It sounded like a very silly exercise, but I did it.

Here is my list.

  1.  Kids don’t clean up after themselves and waste art supplies and create piles of paper.
  2. The kids stain their clothes and are ruining them and they have to last for three girls.
  3. I hate making lunches when everyone is home.
  4. My husband piles his stuff up on the kitchen counter even though we have a mudroom.

So, on to the solutions.  They have an art cabinet in the breakfast room that was getting cleaned out and then messed up constantly.  I look everything out, labeled it, and told them everything must go in the correct box before they go up for baths.  They figured it out pretty quickly.  Having things labeled has made all the difference.  They produce a stack of art every day, and every  night I go through it, tossing most of it and keeping select pieces to go in their art folders that live in the drawer above this cabinet.

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To keep them from staining clothes, I put a bundle of already stained or torn clothing in the mudroom and they must change into this before playing outside.  Maddie has to change into an old shirt before eating because she is destroying all of her clothing with hot sauce.

To deal with lunches, I have started having more ready to eat foods available so people can help themselves on the weekends instead of asking me “what’s for lunch?” and driving me batty.  On kitchen days I cut up veggies and make a tuna or chicken salad, I boil eggs, make sandwich rolls to pop in the freezer, mix up salad dressing, and pre cook bacon so those of us on low carb diets can still eat something quick.

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For the age old kitchen counter piling problem.  This is a problem I need to work on on my end, having some patience with someone who has just come home from a long day at work.  I also added the basket on the very left to at least corral the papers.

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Then I got distracted and rearranged the open cabinet.  I am slowly realizing I despise color. There was a pretty red bowl in this shelf before but it was too… red.  It is a cabinet, and now everything is beige or white.

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So beige. So dusty.  I just dusted two days ago.

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So beige!  Is this an acceptable decorating style?  I want to add white.  Brightness but no color.

I have ONE burgundy sunflower plant still blooming.

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Colors are acceptable here.

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What a masterpiece!


A present before dying

I have a half brother who is dying of melanoma, who has been for years and years, and is in the final stages.  His organs are failing and his body is swelling.  He sent my father an email, the most bleak thing you have ever read, describing how he cant eat or drink without vomiting, can’t move his toes because they are so swollen, and is so exhausted he can only move a few steps at a time.  He is in the hospital now, getting a catheter to relieve the swelling, and then hopefully will go home to be comfortable.

I’ve been reading Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes, which bemoans the current state of America.  It cries out against cohabitation, childlessness, materialism, so much of what young people are today.  And while I read it I was nodding and feeling smug, a housewife with three children, preserving the “traditional” ways.  And now, knowing that my poor brother is one of those people, it just seems so full of hate.  He was not  raised to be religious, he is married but chose not to have children, and always enjoyed traveling, going out to eat, going out to bars, etc.  He is one of the friendliest, most generous people you could ever know.

His parents divorced when he was ten and his father married my mother.  We did not grow up together, so he is more like a cousin than a brother to me, and we were never that close.  He lives far away, there was a big age difference, we have nothing in common.  We have visited each other occasionally, and he has always been very nice to me.  He met my first child but none of the others, and we have not seen each other in five years.

So.  How to handle the fact that he will be gone soon?  Do I visit him?  Arrive on his doorstep with my three little kids and say “Hi, heard you are dying, we are here to visit you?”  Seems fake, and morbid, and insensitive.  But to not visit?  Is that worse?  I wish he lived closer so I could come clean his house from top to bottom, come by once a week to do his laundry and bring fresh flowers, cook whatever he thought he could eat that day.  And if he lived closer, we would not have such a distant relationship.  But if we lived in a society more attached to home, maybe his parents would still be married, and he never would have bought a boat and been out in the sun so much he got melanoma, and I would never have been born at all.

I am thinking I will send him a gift, so he knows I am thinking of him.  Slippers I think, or a blanket.  I wanted to do a teddy bear but I think that might be weird.  I wonder if it would be nice to include something religious.  As far as I know he is not a believer.  I would love to send a copy of Mere Christianity, but I doubt it he would read it.  I don’t want to be pushy.  I believe that there is a path to heaven for non believers.  But I wonder if faith, or stronger faith if he has some already, would comfort him.  I am a convert, and I feel like if someone sent me Bible verses before I was a believer I would find it annoying and absurd, like a nosy person telling me they will pray for me.  But C.S. Lewis… so intelligent, so convincing.   It might work.  It is not really my place, and then again it is.

Do you reach a point before dying where you are in such physical pain that you almost don’t mind?  Are you on painkillers and sleeping medications so much that you don’t fully grasp what is happening?  Maybe some of the time, but I imagine that there are long nights where you are alone with your thoughts, wondering what is next for you.  Would you be comforted to know that there is a God who made you and loves you, who is desperate for you to turn to him in your final days?  Would you want to be convinced of that in some way so you could have it to hold on to?  Or are you mad at God for allowing you to die young, for never being able to be a retired man on a cruise ship or a golf course, mad that you never had children and your old friends from restaurants and bars forgot you long ago?

I don’t know.  I am sending something on Monday.  Maybe I will look for passages in the book that I could highlight and mark with sticky notes.  And I will at least send the slippers.  And I will not tell him I will pray for him.  But I will still pray.


Banana Muffins with Caramel Icing

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Maddie turned six this week, and instead of a party she wanted a day at Busch Gardens.  So she just had a special dinner of Chinese food and ice cream cake, two big purple and pink bouquets of flowers from the garden, and a beautifully decorated dining room designed by her cousin.

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She didn’t ask for anything except a fidget spinner, which her dad refuses to buy because they are ridiculous.  But she was happy with her surprises: books, a Moana lego set, and two new puzzles.

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(The fireplace hearth turned out to be the perfect spot; they fit fully assembled and can stay out a few days to be admired.)

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A good big sister, and mom to her own baby in the corner.

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(Don’t a few dahlias make every garden bouquet that much more special?)

She does not love sweets, and will eat very few treats that I bake.  She is the only person on earth who does not like chocolate chip cookies.  But this is one sweet she is always excited for, so I made it for her breakfast.  They are sweet, delicious, and quick.  They are good without the icing, but it is so simple that it is worth the effort, even in the morning.

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Banana Muffins with Caramel Icing:

For the muffins:

1/4 cup shortening

1 cup white sugar

1 t. vanilla

1 t. baking soda

1 egg

3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed

1 1/2 cups of  flour

1/4 t. salt

For the icing:

2 T. butter

1 T. milk

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup powdered sugar

  1.  Cream shortening and sugar in electric mixer until fluffy.  Beat in egg, bananas, and vanilla.  Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, adding to creamed mixture until just moistened.
  2. Fill paper lined muffin cups 3/4 full (should fill 12).  Bake at 350 for 22 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove to cool on wire rack.
  3. To make icing, melt butter in a small saucepan.  Add brown sugar and milk, bring to a boil.  Cool slightly.   Whisk in confectioners sugar.  Drizzle over muffins.

Heath Bar Chocolate Chip Blondies

 

Almost two months of summer left, and it already feels like it is ending.  Today is one of those low humidity, not too hot, rare for Virginia perfect summer days.  More like how our fall weather is, but without school and early sunsets.  Most of our 53 windows are open and a breeze is blowing through every room.

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The garden is moving into late summer, as the more fall colored sunflowers start to bloom, like Autumn Beauty, Chianti, and the second planting of Jua Maya

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The first batch of Silver Queen corn is getting cut down this afternoon, with fall sugar snap peas, scallions, spinach, and cilantro going in its place. We had a cool and rainy day yesterday, which seemed to remind everyone summer won’t be here forever.

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We baked this yummy treat together last week.  It will be a good one for lunch boxes and cooler days:

Toffee Chip Blondies

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-1 cup butter, melted

-1 3/4 cups light brown sugar

-2 eggs

-2 t. vanilla

-2 cups flour

–1/2 t. salt

-1 package of chocolate chips (12 oz)

-1 cup Heath bits

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Line 9 x 13 casserole pan with foil, heavy duty if you have it, with enough overhang to make little foil handles.  Butter the foil.
  2. Using electric mixer, combine melted butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla, beat until well combined.  Add flour and salt, beat for just a few seconds until flour is incorporated.  Gently stir in chocolate chips and Heath bits.
  3. Pour batter into pan, bake for 25 minutes.  The bars will cool to doneness and will look underbaked at first.  Allow to cool in the pan, removing with foil handles when completely cooled and ready to cut.

Marble Cake

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Our awful heat wave finally broke and we have been able to go outside again.  Windows open in the morning, time reading on the porch, garden work without feeling like you might actually die.  It is so nice.

This recipe is from Taste of Home, called Marvelous Marble Cake.  It was a lot of work (done 99% by my niece, INCLUDING THE DISHES!) and is VERY sweet.  I wouldn’t make it again but it will certainly get eaten.

 


What I Wish I Had Known About Cloth Diapers From the Beginning

 

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When I was pregnant with Maddie, my first baby, I knew I wanted to cloth diaper.  I didn’t know anyone else who did it.  I’m not even sure how I heard about it.  Probably some weird eco-friendly baby guide.  I registered for pocket diapers, a brand called Oh Katy which is since out of business but very similar to Fuzzibuns and other popular pockets on the market today.  No one bought them for me.  Everyone thought I was weird.  I got them for myself after she was born.  I congratulated myself on my thriftiness and how hard I was working to save our family money.

Well.

My husband hated them, thought they stunk up the laundry room and refused to use them, (not that he used disposables either).  They could be folded up to fit a tiny baby but the folds made them bulky and her clothes didn’t fit right and I could barely buckle her into a car seat.  At about nine months they started leaking around the legs and had to have the elastic redone.  I have no idea how to do such a thing, so my mom worked on them for me, taking them two at a time to her house.  The microfiber seemed stinky even after a ton of hot washes, and yes I used the expensive Charlie’s Soap detergent and dried them outside.

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I switched to disposables for overnight, and for outings, and then eventually switched altogether after her first birthday.

Now on my third cloth diaper baby I wish I had known what I know now.

1. Prefolds until potty training

They are so much better than the microfiber pockets. No stuffing, no snaps, no stickiness after washing and much less leaking.  You will need different sizes of diapers and covers, but it is still less expensive than a whole suite of one size diapers that still don’t fit a newborn.  I still have the first diapers.  They still look great except for the leg elastic.  I will use them during potty training when their leakiness will be an advantage.

2. Use powdered Tide

I spent four years (two years for each of my first two babies) buying Charlie’s Soap which did pretty much nothing special.  I had read that not using an approved detergent such as Charlie’s or Green Mountain would void the warranty.  The warranty?  Were they thousands of dollars? Were they going  to spontaneously combust?  I just can’t fathom making a warranty claim on a diaper.  And not only was the the Charlie’s soap expensive, it did not clean nearly as well as Tide.  They spend millions on developing enzymes and cleaning agents.  It is going to clean better than an all natural powder.

3.  Use Dawn and bleach sparingly

I strip with Dawn once every other month or so.  This means washing with a tiny squirt of Dawn in the washing machine and then washing three times in hot water with no soap to rinse all the residue out.  The Dawn helps strip the diapers of any built up detergent residue that can hurt how absorbent the diapers are.

I use a splash of bleach only if I am washing on a cloudy or rainy day.  Otherwise I dry in the sun to bleach out stains (yes this really and truly works), freshen, and disinfect anything that escaped the hot water and detergent.

Doing these three things changed everything about cloth diapering for me.

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I love them now.  It’s not just the money saving aspect.  I love the routine of caring for them and I  think they look cute.  They are very little work for a lot of reward.

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Simple Sunday Roast Chicken

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It has been a quiet summer so far, relaxing at home, swimming in our water trough “pool”, taking out of focus pictures, etc.  My niece is visiting for six weeks and has been a great help around the house keeping the older girls entertained.

I have been trying to be careful to serve simple food since I know she is a little picky.  I already have three other picky eaters so adding another is a challenge.  I serve everything family style on big platters so she can take or leave whatever she would like.  This was a meal that pleased everyone and was easy for Sunday.   No last minute rushing, no sweating over the cooktop.

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First the chicken is rinsed, brought to room temp, and patted dry.  Then it is rubbed with kosher salt.  I make a mix of softened butter, onion powder, parsley, pepper, and thyme, and rub that on the skin.  It is baked at 350 on the convection roast setting for an hour and a half.  Easy as can be, no real recipe needed.  Whatever herbs and spices you have and your family likes will be fine.  If you don’t have a roasting pan, use a 9X13 casserole dish.  If you don’t have a convection oven, just keep checking the internal temp until it is 160 and the skin is browned.

I served it with a BLT salad (just a chopped salad with romaine, diced tomato, crumbled bacon, and ranch),  corn on the cob from the garden, and French rolls since Matt will only eat roast chicken as a chicken sandwich.

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The roll recipe comes from Bread Machine Magic.  The recipe is called “Authentic French Bread”, divided into rolls and baked for only 12 minutes.

It was a nice meal that could be prepared earlier in the day.  All that had to be done at the last minute was the corn, which is just steamed for four minutes in hot water, and to toss the salad with ranch.  Roast chicken is one of those things that looks impressive, but is a million times less work than a casserole or pasta dish.  Perfect for a Sunday.


 

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I have always been a big believer in schedules for children.  I worked at a daycare in the afternoons while I was in college, and without some sort of schedule it was pure mayhem.

So I started schedules early with all three babies, and have always had good sleepers.  I’m sure some of it is luck, but they have all done 10 hour stretches at night at about six or seven weeks old.  It makes all the difference for your mood and being productive during the day.  They would eat every three hours, have a VERY short wake time afterwards, like under an hour (as newborns, it lengthened as they got older), and then go down for a nap.  At four months they should be eating only every four hours, with a two hour wake time and two hour nap.

Right now the baby eats at 7, 10, 1, 4 and then snacks throughout the evening to store up for the night.  She is generally fussy from 5 to when she goes down for the night, but I wear her in a carrier while I make dinner and clean up, sometimes taking her with me to do evening chores outside.  At this age I do not let her cry more than a few minutes if she is settling down for a nap.  Normally if you put your baby down before they are over tired (which is less than hour after waking up when they are very young) there will not be much crying.  If she is having a hard time settling, I rock her for a bit and put her back down.

One thing I am not so good about is a schedule for the older children, and for myself.  This summer I am really working on it.  I bought the Kindle edition of the book Home Plain and Simple, by Kim Brenneman.  It is a new version of her book, Large Family Logistics.  I am not sure how it differs from the original other than the title.  I am guessing it was retitled to appeal to a larger audience.  I only have three children far and still found it very helpful.

It is is helping me fine tune my own cleaning schedule (in fact I have totally overhauled it), and giving me a lot of encouragement and concrete ideas for the older children’s schedule, which I sorely needed.

The days for the older children now look like this:

6:30-7:00 wake up (they do this on their own and if they sleep in a bit I don’t mind)

Breakfast

Get dressed, free play/ coloring

9:00 “school” work (one worksheet or page of handwriting practice)

Free play, usually spent with their kittens outside, at their sandbox, or coloring

11:30 lunch

Afternoon chores

Read aloud time

1:30 Quiet hour (they go upstairs and are not allowed to call to me unless someone is hurt)

2:30 Outside/ swimming/ TV show during bad weather

5:00 Dinner

7:00 Baths, bedtime story, bed

Some people think having a schedule is a lot of work.  I find that not having one is a lot of work.  You are always wondering what to do next, dealing with whining children, and feeling out of control.  If we deviate from this for a special occasion I try not to get worked up.  The schedule serves you, you don’t serve the schedule.

What the book has changed most for me is my housekeeping schedule.  Instead of making a to do list the night before of random tasks, each day of the week has a focus.  I will post more about it later.  A lot of housekeeping tasks were being neglected but now everything has an assigned time.  I will post about it next time.

 

Schedules, Even in Summer