Tag Archives: preschool

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?


Friday Flashback: (Sort of) Getting in the Groove

13 Jan

By Renée Gotcher

This week I’m participating with a homeschool blog link-up called “The Homeschool Mother’s Journal” hosted by The Homeschool Chick. This week I was all prepared to get back into the groove of our weekly homeschool flow. We almost got there… but as usual, I’m discovering that there’s no such thing as a “well-planned day” in our house (see my Quote of the Week from last week). Here’s what we did accomplish:

In our homeschool this week… speaking of a “well-planned day,” one of the things I did to prepare for this week was pass along my Well-Planned Day Organizer (with seven blank months left to use) to another homeschooling mom and create a new weekly planning page from scratch. Although I loved the beautifully organized pages and planning tools included in my Well-Planned Day Organizer — and found it very helpful last year — I realized quickly into the new school year that it didn’t really fit my new curriculum plan and other changes I have made in the daily flow of teaching my 5th, 3rd and preschool-age daughters.

One reason is that we’re not covering all subjects everyday and doing more in the form of unit studies — which include a lot of core skills work like spelling, vocabulary, reading and writing within the unit study. Another reason is that I wanted to try a new “daily agenda” approach that my sister-in-law Rosanna suggested in her post about time management a few months ago. The idea is that rather than schedule all the bits and parts of each day, I would establish a school day routine — like a daily agenda — that was predictable but still flexible.

I took a quick scan of the Web to see if anyone had already created my perfect planner page, but soon decided it would be easier to just design something on my own to visually capture the new daily structure I saw in my head. Here’s what I came up with:

The plan is that each day, our routine will start with family devotion time right after breakfast (I do my personal devotions first thing in the morning). Then we spend the morning flowing between group work and individual work as it makes sense based on the current unit studies. I’ve been keeping the unit studies to two at a time: Currently, they are Bible history & ancient history, with each child having assignments on their individual lists as well as group activities that relate to our unit.

Then it’s lunch time, followed by lunch clean-up (the girls have assigned tasks) and activity time (which can be outdoor play, a scheduled PE class, or another special activity). The last hour of our school day is when my eldest two complete their individual work and my four-year-old pulls out some educational fun (a craft kit, coloring book, cut-out project, etc.) while I do about an hour of work for my business and/or on our blog.

Then the evening is available for dinner, free time, one home task to accomplish before bed (rotating assigned chores), and some family fun at home or an outside evening activity — like a Mom’s Night Out for me or event for the kids such as Awana.

That’s the plan. So far, it’s a good start. This week, we only had three days that flowed this way. Tuesday was challenging because the Tuesday morning women’s bible study at my church is back in session, and it’s a topic I don’t want to miss (Revelations). That day, we only had time for a math lesson and some language arts after lunch. On Thursday we took an early “holiday” day off and went skiing, since my husband will be out of town all of next week for work and we won’t be taking Monday off.

One thing I am enjoying about this approach is that I don’t feel like I have a huge to-do list in front of me each day just waiting for those empty check boxes to be crossed out. I also feel like I’m getting more accomplished: Instead of staring at a bunch of empty rows of subjects that aren’t being covered every day, I see a list of components that can be easily moved around from day to day when necessary. (If this seems like a planner page you might want to use, here’s a generic PDF version of it: WeeklyAgendaGeneric.)

I’m hopeful that soon the girls will start to feel a familiar rhythm, but right now, they still give me that “I’m done, now what?” stare after completing each assignment. However one routine that has become a daily habit is family devotion time right after breakfast: Since our 25 days of (almost) daily Jesse Tree devotions completed in December (see my post about new Christmas traditions), the girls have come to expect that 15 minutes or so of devotional and prayer time together.

My favorite thing this week was… realizing how much my four-year-old Elise has been absorbing through being around her older sisters while I am teaching them. Earlier this year, she watched me teach our nine-year-old Claire about “Decimal Street” from Math-U-See to fully grasp place value for triple-digit math problems. At the time, Elise picked up the blocks when we were done and proceeded to imitate Claire’s actions in matching the hundreds, tens, and units blocks into their “places” based on the numbered flash cards. I was impressed, but I figured she had just remembered what she saw Claire do and didn’t really understand.

This week, I was surprised to find our next lesson in Elise’s Math-U-See Primer book was about Decimal Street. She had only recently mastered her 0-9 number identification & counting, so I didn’t think tens and hundreds would come so soon. However Elise immediately demonstrated to me that she understood the concept of place values as we started filling our “houses” with the right number of hundreds, tens and unit blocks to create the three-digit numbers. And she had no trouble calling the completed number by the right name (ie. 863 is “eight-hundred-sixty-three”).

There’s something so awe-inspiring about being able to witness an “a-ha” learning moment with your child. It’s like watching them take that first step or say their first word all over again. Those moments are such a treasure, and I look forward to having many more of them with all my girls as we continue our homeschooling journey together.

Photos of the week… come from our family day off on the slopes of Breckenridge. Wednesday’s four fresh inches of snow were a’ callin’ — and we had to answer the call. And for added fun, we got to be part of the world’s largest “Tebow-ing” flash mob to show our support for the inspiring Tim Tebow (a homeschool graduate!) and the playoff success of our Broncos football team. I feel so blessed and grateful that we got a chance to sneak away and enjoy God’s glorious creation together on such a beautiful day while getting some exercise and making some special memories.

My girls and I with the Breckenridge Mascot Ripperoo

Tebow-ing in support of our favorite quarterback Tim Tebow and Saturday’s big game: (We’re in the far right corner next to the Breck sign and the guy with the sunglasses)

We didn’t quite get into a groove, but we did make some headway in getting back on track this week — as well as having some good family fun. I also feel confident about the direction I am taking with our daily agenda, so we’ll see how it holds up in the weeks to come. What about you: Are you back in the groove with your school routine? Are you still taking a vacation — or still trying to recover from it? Let us know what’s going on in your homeschool this week, we’d love to hear about it!

— 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.

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