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The Gotcher Family’s Homeschool “Day in the Life”

4 Feb

By Renée Gotcher

This week I’m participating in Q&A Friday at Simple Homeschool, and this week’s topic is Your Homeschool “Day in the Life.” I had planned to write earlier this week but a little bout of illness went through the family, so I am literally writing about today. Funny thing is, I couldn’t have picked a better day: Although today didn’t exactly reflect a “typical” day in our homeschooling life, it did reflect many of the reasons we’ve come to LOVE our homeschooling life.

I’m the mother of three girls ages eleven, nine and four, and we’re halfway through our second year of homeschooling. Aside from homeschooling full time, I also run a part-time beauty consulting business and fledgling writing business (including writing and editing this blog with my sister and two sisters in law). My husband travels a lot for work, and those weeks are definitely my biggest challenge. But the trade-off is that he works from his home office upstairs the rest of the time. We enjoy eating lunch together, giving him mini-presentations of finished work throughout the day, and I occasionally pop-in on him for some adult conversation when I’m having “a moment” of my own. For that, I’m very grateful!

We’ve done a little bit of everything schedule-wise since we began homeschooling shortly after moving to Castle Rock, Colo., in 2010. Right now, I would say that we follow a daily “agenda” rather than a formal schedule, and days vary based on participation with our local homeschool group’s enrichment activities, my ladies bible study at church, field trips, and these days, sneaking away to ski when the freshly powdered slopes are beckoning. I realized that any day is just as good as the next to reflect a “day in the life” for us, because our homeschooling journey is very much a day-to-day adventure, with some weekly and daily routines sprinkled in.

So here’s a peek into our fabulous Friday.

Sometime early this morning… I woke to the glowing white light of a rising sun behind a thick Colorado snowstorm. We were due to have blizzard conditions today, and I couldn’t wait to peek through the sliver in the drapes beaming brightly to see how much snow had accumulated in our yard overnight. Not surprisingly, the answer was a lot!

I love a good snow day, but I’m not one to jump up and start shoveling at the crack of dawn. So I rolled over and blissfully returned to sleep for another hour or so. Snow days are usually sleep-in days in our family.

Sometime later this morning… I woke to the sounds of a neighbor’s snow blower buzzing and the scraping of the shovel as my husband cleared out our driveway. I knew he’d be hitting the shower soon, so I got up to take mine and rouse the girls out of their sound slumber. Snow days are also pajama days, so the girls bundled up in fluffy robes and came downstairs — frazzled morning hair and all — to eat before doing anything else.

Breakfast is a simple affair: Cereal, oatmeal, or a granola yogurt parfait, and coffee for mom and dad. We occasionally do pancake Fridays, but today it was a quick bowl of cereal so we could get on with our day — and the fun that was waiting outside in the pristine snow drifts.

For a brief moment, I contemplated calling a full-fledged snow day, which usually means movies and/or board game marathons by the fire and lots of snow play with the neighborhood kids. But since we’d already taken Monday off this week to ski, I told the girls we’d do one project and save the snow day fun for after lunch.

One “agenda” item that has become a regular part of our daily routine is family devotion time. This January, I started using Bruce Wilkinson’s “Family Walk” 52-Week Devotional. Each week is broken into five daily devotions based on a theme and Bible memory verse of the week. We gather around the couch, read the devotional story of the day, followed by a scripture reading (my 11-year-old Audrey and 9-year-old Claire take turns), discussion questions and prayer.

This week our topic has been “leisure” — who knew the Bible had something to say about leisure? It’s been really interesting, to say the least, and seemed especially fitting today because this was going to be a great opportunity to practice one of the principles we’ve learned: To embrace the gift of each day by simply enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.

After devotions… we start what I would call “table time” — simply because we gather around the large front room dining table (which also gets the best natural light) to do school work together. Right now we’re wrapping up a history unit on Ancient Mesopotamia using Heart of Wisdom’s Internet-linked Mesopotamia Unit Study. It’s taken us longer than I was planning, but I’m trying to go with the flow — something that I wanted to change from our experience last year — because my girls love history and want to savor it a bit with extra projects, movies, Internet research and reading.

While I work on unit studies with Audrey and Claire, my 4-year-old Elise (our little entertainer) usually hangs out and does whatever she is interested in. If there’s a coloring page or printout associated with the unit, I’ll give her the same sheet and let her do what she wants with it. Sometimes she hangs on every word of a group reading and neatly colors in the lines of the printout. Other times, she’ll bring down her dolls and role play with them under the table, or persistently ask if she can use my laptop to play with her Webkinz. Today, I gave in and let her play while I helped the other girls get started on their work.

My eldest two are creating lapbooks to showcase personally chosen highlights from the journey back in time to Ancient Mesopotamia. All of my girls love anything that involves scrapbook paper, stickers, coloring utensils and glue, so the decision to hold off on the snow day was immediately accepted. Even Elise wanted to get involved, helping the girls select coordinating paper patterns and choose templates for each feature in their lapbooks. They quickly dove into the cutting and pasting and crafting.

We just celebrated Audrey’s birthday this month, and one of her gifts from us (money well spent!) was a new desk for her bedroom. The new desk has become invaluable for the times when sibling rivalry arises during table time. Both Audrey and Claire are competitive and sometimes critical of each other — a habit that I’m praying for wisdom to break — but today proved no different than any given day. As soon as they began to argue over who was using which template and why they couldn’t just share, I packed up Audrey’s paper and sent her to her beautiful new desk to “spread out” her stuff and work privately.

She was happy, Claire was happy, peace was restored, and quickly, much progress was made on the lapbooks.

Before I knew it, the lunch hour had come and gone… again! It’s not uncommon for us to completely miss a typical noon-time lunch because the girls are so engrossed with their work. Today, they were being particularly meticulous with the lapbooks, so I finally called a “time out” for lunch.

One thing I’ve tried to do to make lunch time more simple is cook extra at dinnertime so we can warm up leftovers. My husband has never been a big fan of leftovers, but I love the concept — especially when it means we can have a filling, well-rounded meal the next day in just a few warm-up minutes. So whenever possible, we make a double batch and enjoy the leftovers at lunch.

We warmed up last night’s chili, but it turned out there wasn’t quite enough to fill everyone’s tummy. For those moments, I resort to a quick fix like Annie’s Mac & Cheese or — I’ll admit it — Ramen noodles. What can I say, the girls love it and it takes just three minutes to cook! Today, it was Ramen to the rescue.

After lunch… the girls surprisingly asked to resume working on their lapbooks — even after one of the neighborhood girls came to the door requesting their participation in the snow-cave building taking place on our corner. This is one of those moments when I know that I love homeschooling: The girls genuinely love to learn! To see them put off snow play because they are captivated by their school work is priceless.

On a “typical” day, we usually shift into individual work after lunch. I spend time with each of the girls working on math, language arts, and other grade-specific work, while they individually complete reading, writing or math assignments. I also do more hands-on work with my preschooler Elise, which includes reading and math lessons, games and projects. I’m currently using “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” and Math-U-See’s Primer — when she’s willing — along with letter/number coloring books, cutting projects, card games, etc.

About an hour later… the girls were done with the “first half” of lapbook-making and ready to call it a day. I was so glad, because I personally couldn’t wait to get outside and start having some snow day fun myself. So we bundled up and took a short hike around the corner to pick up another homeschooling friend.

Along the way, we spotted an unexpected gift: We were being watched by two cautious does standing in the greenbelt beyond our cul-de-sac, peeking around a fence. We paused to savor this quiet moment meant just for us, watching God’s graceful creatures watching us, then proceeded back home to join in the construction of snow caves and sled runs.

For me, being in the presence of the pure white, sparkling snow crystals, the blanket of quiet over serene streets, watching chunky flakes drift slowly, then quickly, then slowly again, over and over, is like heaven on earth. I am still not sure how this California girl turned into a Rocky Mountain snow lover, but I am really grateful to not only love it, but live in it!

Another reason why I love homeschooling: The freedom to shape our schedule around the things we love, the things that bring us joy and family togetherness. Whether it’s enjoying a productive snow day on our own terms, escaping to the mountains on a traffic-free weekday to hit the slopes or take a hike, spending more time on the subjects that capture my girls’ imaginations, or starting every day with God’s word, we homeschoolers have the freedom to make those choices for our families.

Yes, it’s a lot of work — I get that comment a lot from both my working mom and stay-at-home mom friends. And truth be told, I agree with them: It’s work! I’m not doing much else right now when it comes to my businesses, and I’m no Martha Stewart around the house. However, I am one of those people who would rather do one thing well than many things mediocre. That one thing for me right now is homeschooling.

I believe God has called me to make homeschooling my mission, and I’m willing to do the work — and make the necessary sacrifices — for the privilege of having days like today. It’s a responsibility like no other, but His blessings are new every morning. Days like today may not be typical, but they are full of blessings. Great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.

This post is part of a reader feedback link-up at Simple Homeschool’s “Day in the Life” series. See “Q&A Friday: YOUR Homeschool Day in the Life” for insight from other homeschooling moms across the country on this topic! We are also linked up with The Homeschool Chick’s Homeschool Mother’s Journal and “Day in the Life” Thursdays on So You Call Yourself a Homeschooler?


Guided Free Time

27 Oct

By Rosanna Ward

TV is a big trap for free time, but kids can still be less than productive without guidance.

When I was homeschooled, I remember having a lot of free time. After our school work was done, Dad would pretty much leave us on our own. We didn’t have cable TV, the Internet, cell phones, or other forms of electronic entertainment to distract us, and I spent much of my free time reading, but I wouldn’t say that we used all of our free time very well, either.

For the most part, we were creative. For example, my brother Kenny and I would use strings to rig up pretty much everything in the house. Once, we had a string that we could pull to open the refrigerator, then another to open the produce drawer, and another to pull out the grapes. Back then, you could dial your phone number and add two numbers, then hang up and it would call your own house back. So we rigged it up in such a way that we could dial that number, then hang up it without being seen when someone walked in the room, and then it would ring, but nobody would be there. We really thought this was cool.

However boredom led to less productive activities. For example, I wasn’t adverse to picking on my little sister when I was bored. Kenny and I were experts at hide and seek, only we wouldn’t come out when Elizabeth was “it” until she started crying. And one of the more dangerous things we did was create “concoctions” in empty bottles. We would add a bit of everything and anything we could find in the house — ketchup, Pinesol, vinegar, lotion, etc. — and somehow we manged to never blow anything up or create poisonous fumes. So even though most of what we did was creative and harmless, I think that looking back, we had way too much unguided free time.

So when I first started homeschooling my girls, I knew that I didn’t want my girls fooling around a lot of time like I did when I was a kid. And I quickly realized that because our “school” days didn’t take nearly as long as a conventional school day, there would be a lot of free time.

There are great benefits to this freedom, like no early morning school buses to catch and the fact that on busy days — when we had swim lessons, library time or errands to run — there was plenty of time for it. But the downside, I knew I wanted to address the “free time” question. Thankfully, my girls didn’t watch TV, but they were masters at spending a long time doing absolutely nothing. Virginia liked to sleep (she got that from me), and Hannah would just disappear into her room.

Free time with a purpose starts with identifying “worthwhile endeavors”

I quickly came up with a list of approved activities the girls could do in their free time during official school hours (from 9am to 3pm). The list included: reading, writing, educational movies, artwork, crafts, cleaning, cooking, playing in the backyard, K’Nex, scrapbooking, and playing with their baby brother (Joel at the time). I added things to this list as time went along, but you get the point. I called it their list of “worthwhile endeavors.” After we moved into our current home and the girls reached their teen years, we sort of slacked off from the list — especially when the girls got their cell phones and now laptops. However, I wish I would have stuck with it.

So now I am in the process of starting this for my son Joel. He is in the first grade, and his official school work takes only about one hour a day. That leaves a lot of time to fool around. As you probably know, making a list of productive activities isn’t the hard part — enforcing it is. Thankfully, my house is full of great things for little boys to do. We have Legos, K’Nex, play dough, paint, drawing supplies, lots of books, educational movies (plus Netflix), train sets, and so much more.

I really want to instill the value of creative play during free time for my boys (Joel is six, and Leif just turned one). I am planning to add science toys, things they can take apart, construction sets, etc., to the options for free time. I am very hopeful that with a little effort on my part, I can get Joel to spend his free time playing without even realizing that he is learning.

— Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are currently homeschooled. Her oldest daughter is a homeschool graduate, and her youngest son is a toddler. Rosanna is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for six years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy, and currently resides in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

Play is Child’s Work

20 Sep

By Rosanna Ward

Elizabeth’s post about toys got me thinking about the things we use in our home to help teach our children. I realized that our children probably learn more through play than they do from filling in blanks in a workbook. I look back at our homeschool experience and see this played out time and time again.

There were many times when getting my girls to actually retain instruction was frustrating to them, as well as myself. I found that by turning those lessons into actions, they understood, memorized and retained information more readily.

Trampoline Fun

The trampoline was probably our very best investment. Yes, the trampoline! The trampoline is my children’s favorite “toy.” They not only jump on it, but they hang out with their friends and even sleep there. A few years ago we discovered the joy of jumping while memorizing the countries of Africa. I figured out that I could use jumping on the trampoline (or jumping rope) as a good activity to do while reciting things we were trying to memorize. It really works!

I also take the kids outside and use chalk to write their lessons. The large movement seems to help my kids — Joel especially — focus and remember.

With our older girls, we used money a lot as manipulatives. Money also worked great when explaining negative and positive problems. As small business owner’s kids, they understood how money worked at an early age.

With Joel, starting at the beginning, I also use matchbox cars, M&Ms, rubber sort toys and more to teach basic math skills. Joel is now at the age where we utilize a box I created of “science” stuff: Experiment supplies and things he can take apart, like old radios.

With all my kids, I have also found that K’NEX, Legos, Erector Sets, and other building sets are great educational toys. Last year when studying the Industrial Revolution, we had a contest to see who could invent the coolest invention using K’NEX. I’ve discovered that a great place to find educational toys online is  www.mindware.com.

Sugar cube pyramid

I am a huge fan of unit studies. And since I am a history nut, our units are always centered around historical eras. It is fun to be able to do playful activities that go along with the things we are reading about. When we studied Egypt, we made sugar cube (and Lego) pyramids. When we studied the Vikings, we made Potato Pancakes. We recently made Jamestown replicas. The list goes on and on. The kids seem to not only enjoy learning this way, but they also remember what they’ve learned longer.

Another resource I use quite regularly are movies. We check out a lot of movies from the library and also watch movies on Netflix. When we studied World War II, we watched “The Hiding Place.” During the Industrial Revolution study, we watched a movie about George Muller. I take my children’s ages into account when choosing movies: My teen daughters watch movies my little boys do not. We also like the Drive Thru History and Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution DVD sets.

When it comes to educating your child, I think it is important to think outside the box. One of my goals as a teacher is for my children to learn to love learning and to be lifelong learners, and this can be helped along by adding “play” to their school “work.” There is a German proverb that says, “You can do anything with children if only you play with them.” I agree!

— Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of almost 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are currently homeschooled. Her oldest daughter has graduated, and her youngest son is a toddler. She is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for six years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy, and currently resides in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

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