As a homeschooling mom of 5 who also owns and operates my own business, my days are busy. I often get asked how I manage it all, and my answer is that a daily routine is absolutely critical. In this article, I share my tips for homeschooling and working at home, our homeschool schedule, as well as tips for entertaining toddlers, adding movement to the day, and implementing some FUN activities!
This post was sponsored by my friends at Vitamix. As always, all opinions are my own.
Working at home while homeschooling five kids is my normal, daily life. I started my own business four years ago, which I now run daily out of my home. I oversee employees, create content, manage partnerships, etc. Plus, I homeschool my five kids and have since my oldest was three years old - 6 years ago.
Since most of the world now has the work-at-home, educate-at-home dichotomy as their new normal, I thought it would be helpful to share how we manage the work at home while homeschooling life the best we can.
You can do this - Encouragement
I want to start with a word of encouragement. The work-and-teach-at-home life isn't the easiest, especially if it's not your normal. It's ok to give yourself grace and recognize it is hard. But I promise it is possible to survive - and even thrive - if this is your current situation. I strongly believe every mother is the most fit to be her child's primary teacher, more than anyone else with a degree could ever be. You know your babies and care about their education and far more than any teacher ever will.
Do I have a lot of hobbies? Nope. But I love getting to be with my kids all day every day (well, most of the time). They are my priority, and when I stay grounded in that perspective that's when I gain the most joy in pouring myself out for them daily.
Homeschool isn't 8 AM - 3 PM
Do not feel pressure to give your kids direct instruction from 8-3 (or whatever time they would normally be in school). My oldest is only 9, but she is currently completing 4th/5th grade material and we finish school by lunch (at least all the direct instruction).
Remember, much of your kids' typical day at school is filled with things like recess, lunch/snack breaks, independent work, art electives, gym class, etc. In our homeschool schedule preschool is 20 minutes a day, Kindergarten 30-45 minutes, and it increases as they get older. My 6 year old requires about 1 hour of direct instruction every day, and my 9 year old receives up to about 2-3.
Carve out time for yourself
It's not selfish to need some self-care in order to be the best mom you can be. I get up at 5 AM every day just to have some alone time. I workout, shower, eat breakfast, drink my coffee and get some work done before my kids get out of bed at 7:30.
I consider this my "battery charging" time. Is it ideal to get up so early? No, but when you work at home and homeschool lots of kids, you do what you can whenever you can.
This also includes nap and rest time in the afternoon. From 2-4 my three little girls nap and my two older kids finish independent schoolwork and play together. During this time is when I get most of my work done. It also gives me a break to recharge for the rest of the day. Since I am an introvert by nature, I really need this quiet in the afternoon to stay sane, so I've worked it into our day.
On a day that I wasn't feeling so warm and fuzzy about homeschooling, I had a good friend encourage me that I just need to stay one day ahead of my kids. I don't need to sit down and plan out the next year of homeschooling in one fell swoop (although I do this now). I just need to know what I'm doing tomorrow.
So every day, once we finish a subject, I look ahead at the next day and make sure I am ready. I write out sentences for them to diagram, gather math materials (no one wants to spend 30 minutes looking for lost linking cubes haha), look over the spelling lessons, etc. Knowing I have everything I need to teach ready to go for the next day is so helpful!
Set daily expectations
I have set daily expectations for our kids to help minimize the amount of discipline I have to dole out every day. I'll give you a list of some of them!
- No toys before homeschool. If the older kids pull out legos, pearler beads, coloring supplies, etc. they are doomed to be distracted and difficult to motivate to start school. Since they know the rule is no toys in the mornings, they hurry up and get cracking on school so they can get to playtime faster!
- Math is always first. The kids know that we always do our math lessons first. So they have parts of the daily lesson they can begin before I get downstairs (after taking care of the baby). Checking the temperature, putting the date up on the calendar, and for my oldest, watching her math instructional videos.
- Clean the homeschool table when we're finished. Every homeschool day ends with a clear homeschool table. This ensures that when we wake up the next morning, we won't have to waste valuable time cleaning up before starting school.
- No TV. I know it may seem extreme, and I'm not knocking anyone for turning to The Magic School Bus for a much-needed break, but as a rule, I don't turn on the TV during the weekdays. I have found that when my kids know I will say "No" to TV, they don't ask. Instead, they color, play outside, play "house", etc. which I far prefer! And then if it's a crummy day outside and we finish school early, if I do let them watch a show it's an extra special treat.
Complete difficult & critical tasks first
When it comes to our homeschool schedule, we start the day with the most rigorous, time-consuming lessons and complete them in order from the most difficult to the easiest to complete. I also rank them in order of importance, so if for any reason we cannot complete our studies that day (it happens), the most important lessons are done before we break until the next day.
For us, this means we begin every day with calendar and math. Then we move onto English and reading. After those subjects are completed we begin to tackle the lesser and more fun lessons, spelling, handwriting, science, etc.
Add movement into your day
If we are all in a funk or I can tell the kids or I am getting impatient, then I break from our homeschool schedule for some physical activity (call it PE class)! If it's nice, that means going for a walk/bike ride usually. I've also had us go for family jogs around the block.
If the weather isn't great, we do short Fitness Blender workout videos. The kids LOVE them and so do I! I pick 5-10 minute videos and we complete them together. It's so fun watching a 2-year old try to do jumping jacks or burpees!
The point of this break is to stretch our legs, release some endorphins and re-center our minds and attitudes. It usually works wonders for us!
Create a routine
I'm not talking about a pretty chart that sets unrealistic expectations and unattainable goals. I'm talking about a daily homeschool schedule that works for you and your family. Kids thrive on routine. If they know what to expect in a day it gives them a sense of security and normalcy. Plus, moms need routine too. I need to know that my kids will nap/rest for a specific time in the afternoon so I can recharge my batteries, get work done, cook dinner, etc.
Here is what a normal day looks like for us:
The Parts of our day
I'll go into a little more detail about each part of our homeschool schedule and how I manage it:
I wake up with (or before) the sun to get some "me" time. This includes working out, eating breakfast, showering, drinking coffee and getting some work done all before my kids wake up at 7:30 AM. As an introvert, I need my time in the morning to charge my batteries for a day of being "on." (more on this later).
Kids' morning routine
The kids wake up at 7:30 AM. We have set this as their "get out of bed" time and Ritch and I taught them to obey that rule (it takes effort, but it's worth it). We bought this Grow Clock which we set to turn yellow with a sun icon which lets them know when they are allowed to get out of bed. Often they wake up before 7:30 and snuggle and read to each other before coming down the stairs.
As soon as they get up, the older kids have a chore they are in charge of completing. Emptying the dishwasher, opening the blinds, filling up the kids' water bottles, etc. They do this and then we all eat breakfast.
Every morning, depending on what time the kids' actually come down the stairs, I give them a "start-time" for school. I let them know they need to have their materials out ready for instruction usually sometime between 8:15 and 8:45.
At noon, we break for lunch no matter what. If someone is in the middle of a math lesson or writing spelling words, we hard-stop school and break to eat. Kids don't learn well on empty stomachs, so I try to make sure to feed them a nutritious lunch. Then after they help me clean up they either go back downstairs to complete their independent work, or they get to play!
After school is over, the kids are always eager to play. If it's nice outside (read: above freezing) we go out and play. If not, the kids usually play "house", cards, LEGO's, etc.
This is my solace during the day. I get my kids on a schedule from a very early age to nap from 2-4 ish. That way all the little ones go down at the same time, which is glorious.
My rule is that once a child can read for 30-60 minutes, they can stop napping and switch to quiet time. The oldest two read from 2-3, and then play together without the interruptions of the younger girls until we start cooking dinner around 4 PM.
Daddy comes home
This is the glorious moment when I can relax and take a few minutes to really check-out of "mom/teacher" mode, knowing my husband is here and will handle all the poopy diapers, sibling arguments, etc. I often disappear to my closet for a few minutes just to take a quick break before I come out and enjoy family time until it's time to go to sleep!
Let your kids be themselves
One of the beautiful aspects of homeschooling is there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. All five of my kids are so different from each other, and when you are the teacher you have the power to tailor education to their very specific needs.
From the ways they learn to pace and style, you have the freedom to determine what works best for each child and implement those strategies. Some fun examples from our classroom include: Gabe loves completing his schoolwork standing up, so I let him. Naomi prefers to dress like a princess every day, and I say, "Go ahead, Your Majesty." Bethany is convinced she completes more math problems correctly while listening to Mariah Carey, so I give her my AirPods and let her do her thing.
Plan one fun activity every day
I'm talking about adding one low-key activity to your homeschool schedule that preserves sanity for you and your kids. If you have the energy to plan intricate art projects or hands-on activities then by-all-means go for it. But I find that after 4 hours of school I'm ready to lessen my involvement in the kids' activities. Here are some ideas:
- Exercise. When it's nice we go for a walk/bike ride outside (pretty much every day). When it's not so nice, we do short fitnessblender.com workout videos (which are free), and the kids love them. It's a high priority for me that every day includes movement of some sort. Think of it as PE!
- Color. I keep a supply of fresh coloring books to pull out for rainy days. A new coloring book can provide hours of entertainment.
- Dance parties. Music is a mood-changer in our house. There isn't a mood that can't be cured by blasting Mariah (or for the kids, Frozen 2) and dancing around the living room.
- Painting. Sometimes when I'm feeling extra fun I pull out the smocks and paints and let the kids create. This is messy but so worth it, especially if you have days when you cannot leave the house.
Cook and Bake
You knew this was coming right? One of our favorite past times is to create delicious food together. I wrote an entire post on cooking with kids, and now is a great time to make happy memories in the kitchen. In that post I list many recipes that are great to try with kids, but here are some of our favorites that my two oldest kids (7 & 9) make by themselves, and some that we all make together.
- To use of leftover bananas: Best banana bread or Paleo Banana Bread for a healthier version. Or this Banana Cake!
- Cookies: Chocolate Chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, double chocolate cookies, peanut butter cookies, etc.
- Homemade Pizza sauce and pizza dough
- Cinnamon Rolls
- Homemade Mac and Cheese
- Healthy No-Bake Cookies
- Puppy Chow - my all-time favorite treat to make and eat.
Use different kitchen tools
One way I love spicing up our time in the kitchen is teaching the kids how to use different kitchen appliances and tools. They love feeling like a grown-up using a standing mixer, food processor, blender, can opener, knives, vegetable peelers, potato mashers, cheese graters, etc. If you take the time to teach them how to use these tools, you will be amazed at what they can do!
If you've been around here a while then you know my favorite kitchen tool is my Vitamix. We create many healthy and easy recipes together using our blender! The kids absolutely love it and so do I! Here are some of our favorite Vitamix Recipes:
- Smoothies. I drink a smoothie every single day, and my kids often ask for one for breakfast too! Here are some of our favorites: the best green smoothie, strawberry banana smoothie, chocolate peanut butters smoothie, pineapple smoothie, and this mango smoothie!
- Homemade nut butter. Making your own nut butter is an incredibly easy and fun project to do with kids! Try this homemade peanut butter or this vanilla almond butter!
- Smoothie bowls. Like a smoothie but tastes like ice cream and eaten with a spoon and topped with all the yummy toppings!
- Muffins. We love a good muffin loaded with sneaky veggies! Try these paleo zucchini muffins, blender spinach muffins and these double chocolate zucchini muffins.
- Healthy Desserts. We make our fair share of healthy treats in the Vitamix! You'll love these black bean brownies, healthy peanut butter blondies, and this chocolate hummus!
How to handle toddlers and babies
This is THE question I get asked all the time! What do you do with the littlest members of the family while you're teaching the others? The answer is: it changes every day. However, I have found that consistency is key. I teach my kids early on how to play independently while school is in session.
But honestly, most of the time my babies/toddlers are just there. They crawl around, sit on my lap, play with rulers, etc. One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that we are all in it together. So I try to let the youngest kids be as involved as possible. I also believe their minds are like sponges. So the more the younger kids are around during school time, the more likely they are to learn some of what I am teaching the older kids.
Here are some of my best tips for dealing with dem babies!
Give them time before school
If you take five minutes and read them a book, snuggle, play a card game, etc. with the little ones before you start homeschool, their tank gets filled up and they are more likely to play on their own for a while.
Quiet, tabletop activities
I try to find ways to let Mara (our 2-year old) play at the table quietly, here are some suggestions:
- Coloring books and crayons
- Counting bears, buttons, linking cubes. etc. My kids love to play with math manipulatives when they are 18M-3
- sticker books
Ask for help
Sometimes I have to wave the white flag and admit when I need my husband to step in and help before I lose my marbles. The way I see it, if he's working from home he can pause and help because we need to be a team to get through this. And even when he's not home, sometimes just texting him and letting him know I'm not OK today helps. Sometime's he'll come home early or come help with the kids if I really need to tap out.
Also, reaching out to other moms in the same situation is critical. Let them know how you're feeling and I'm guessing you will find camaraderie in the shared experiences.
I hope this post has been helpful! If you have any questions I did not answer, please ask in the comments below!