How can I best structure our homeschooling day with my large family?

Dear Carrie

How can I best structure our homeschooling day with my large family?

I need help with how to structure our day in our Heart of Dakota homeschooling. My children are ages 13 (MTMM), 10 (CTC), 8 (Bigger), 6 (Beyond), 3 (wild toddler), and baby (nursing). We get up around 7 AM and try to have a 20 minute “meeting” to sing a worship song, review/discuss memory verses, and pray together. This tends to go long, and some of the children are grumpy. Then, we have breakfast, which is chaotic and takes 45 minutes to an hour. I really lose the focus of the littles at this point. After breakfast, my olders start their independent work. The middle, in Bigger, does math, cursive, sometimes spelling, and practices piano. I work with my 6 yo and sometimes the 3 yo.

I need to structure my 6 yo’s homeschooling and my 3 yo’s day better.

I have all the 6 yo’s hardest things first – not the best way to structure her day. We do math, copywork, spelling, and reading (TRL). TRL is pretty hard now. Generally we have to have a pep talk to get it done. Copywork takes her a long time. In that first block with my 6 yo I also do poetry and Bible. These are easy for her, and she likes them. I also take a 15 minute break to nurse the baby and put her down for her nap. Sometimes my 3 yo is just racing around with a car and making a lot of noise. I should probably find some guidelines for him, so he is not so disruptive. If I get distracted, my 6 yo often runs off or starts doing something else. Then, I have to find her or call her back, which frustrates me greatly.

I need to structure my second block of time and my oldest daughter’s day differently.

For my second block of time, I work with the 8 yo. I nurse baby again. Before lunch, I try to work with my oldest, who I’ve had to remind to get back to work often by then. (Granted, she has a very long independent block; I’m sure I’d find it difficult to work that long without a break or distraction. Not the best structure for her either!) Lunch is chaotic and long. After lunch I finish with the oldest, then the 6 yo, then the 8yo – mostly read-alouds. Baby often interrupts, as well as the other children. Focus is a problem throughout the day. When it is sunny and 70 degrees and knowing cold weather lies ahead, sometimes I just say “forget it” and don’t finish the rest of the day. I know I’m in an intensive time, but thanks for any help or encouragement you can give!


“Ms. Please Help Me Structure My Homeschooling Day Better”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Structure My Homeschooling Day Better,”

You have such a busy household that it is no wonder that you are finding it a challenge to school right now! Especially as you are starting new guides and also happen to be doing Beyond and Bigger at the same time (not to mention nursing a babe with a busy 3 year-old in tow)! I know that we can talk through some things that will help you find a pace that works for you. Not all of our suggestions may work, but hopefully you will find a few ideas that will be of help.

 Some Suggested Changes in Structure for Your 6 Year Old

I have a few suggested changes in structure for your 6 year-old. First, I’d shift to half-speed Beyond for while. She is on the youngest age range and is struggling a bit with the workload. Shifting to half-speed would help both you and the 6 year-old. It will also enable you to spread out your 6 year old’s tougher subjects over 2 days. I would do phonics daily. However, I’d shift to doing a very short phonics session (7-10 minutes daily). Since she’s balking at The Reading Lesson right now, you can just write the words from The Reading Lesson on a markerboard one at a time to be read. Or, you can do just half a page of each day (covering up the rest of the page, so it is less daunting). Keeping the sessions short and sweet will help make phonics less stressful right now.

Changing the Structure of Your Day by Choosing a Realistic Start Time

Second, I would change the structure of your day by choosing a start time for your teaching part of the day that is realistic. So, for example if you set your start time at 9:00 or 9:30 AM, then you won’t feel like you are behind when you do begin. Also, if your kiddos enjoy sleeping in, a later start time will allow for this. We still start my youngest child at 9:20 AM even now! That is my first formal teaching time of the day, which works for me as I am not a morning person. We do have our older kiddos begin on their own earlier, which you could definitely consider doing with your older children.

Thoughts on How to Structure Your Older Children’s Day

Our two oldest sons begin at 7:15 AM, with our third oldest son beginning at 7:45 AM. We eat breakfast at 9:00 AM, meaning breakfast prep begins around 8:30 or 8:40 AM. Our older kiddos enjoy their quiet work time before everyone else gets up. They do the same assigned independent subjects during their time each morning. This way I know what to expect they will have done and what will be left to do. When it is time for breakfast, they come and eat quickly and then return right away to their subjects. Two of my boys also do 45 minutes to 1 hour of assigned subjects for school the evening before from 8:00-9:00 PM at night. This really helps them feel like they are ahead going into the next day. They do the same assigned subjects each evening. You could consider doing this as well.

Thoughts on How to Structure Your Early Morning and Breakfast Time

Third, I would suggest a structure change of removing your group meeting time. You mentioned that this morning time often goes longer than planned and that you lose the little ones’ focus. With this in mind, I would instead make breakfast as short and succinct as possible. Assign your older kiddos breakfast clean-up chores to do while you begin working with your 3 year-old right after breakfast. I would do 15 minutes of Little Hands to Heaven (only doing half of the boxes each day). This will fill your 3 year-old’s need for attention right away after breakfast (while your olders are cleaning up). Your 8 year-old could also be getting out all needed books in preparation for you to do the left side of Bigger Hearts.

Thoughts on How to Structure Your Time with Your 8 Year-Old

After that 15 minutes with your 3 year-old, I’d structure time for either your 6 year-old or your oldest to play with the 3 year-old for 30 minutes, while you work with your 8 year-old. During this 30 minute time with your 8 year-old, I’d do as much of the left side of Bigger Hearts as possible, placing last anything on the left side he could continue doing on his own after you need to move on to teach another. After that, your 3 year-old could have 30 minutes to either watch an instructional DVD or play alone in a room nearby with quiet toys and books. He could have a quiet, calming music CD playing. A small snack may help too. During this time you could work with your oldest child to check his/her work and go over anything needed from your teaching in order to move forward.

How to Structure Some More Meeting Times and Recess

After this, I’d structure a time to have either the 8 year-old or your oldest play with the 3 year-old for 30 minutes. During this time, I’d meet with the 6 year-old to do either the left or right side of Beyond. I’d alternate left and right sides by day, since this child would be doing Beyond half-speed. During this time, the child not playing with the 3 year-old would do independent work from her guide. Next, I’d have a 30 minute group recess where they all play together. This would be your time to regroup, throw in a load of laundry, pick up, correct schoolwork, glance at dinner prep. etc. When recess is over,I’d have the child who has not yet played with the 3-year old do that for 30 minutes while you go back to working 30 more minutes with your Bigger Hearts child.

A Possible Structure for the Day After Lunch

After lunch, you could have phonics with your 6 year-old while your 8-year old works on math/cursive/copywork etc. nearby. Your three-year old could either be watching an instructional video or playing with toys or doing computer (whichever task wasn’t done in the morning). Then, I’d have one more session each with your 8 year-old and oldest child to finish out their work, and you are done! (This is assuming that the CTC child has worked earlier in the morning and/or the evening before on her school.)  Then, all could have another 30 minute recess together while you regroup.

Choosing a Structure That Focuses on the 3 Year-Old for 30 Minutes at a Time

As you can see from what I’ve shared above, I’m putting the focus on a structure that includes scheduling the 3 year-old’s day in 30 minute increments. While this seems crazy when you have so many other kiddos to be teaching, it does make sense to spend time planning around the 3 year-old. This is because a 3 year-old can derail a school day more quickly than anything else. This is usually where one of the huge stressors in homeschooling comes from! Honestly, babies are easier to morph into the mix than a wild 3 year-old!

A Structure That Takes Advantage of the Beginning of the Day’s Initial Energy and Attention Levels

You can also see from what I’ve shared above that within a few hours of starting your day you can have taught most of the left side of Bigger and much of Beyond. Likewise, you can also have checked on your older child’s work to propel that child forward. By touching base with each kiddo for 30 minutes and by planning for your 3 year-old, your day will start better. Plus, by getting started right away with individual students, rather than by trying to keep their attention as a group, you take advantage of your energy right away too in getting everyone going on their guides.

Just Some Brainstorming Ideas to Start Realistically and Strong in the Morning

Anyway, this is just to get you brainstorming about ways to start realistically and strong in the morning. Your actual schedule may differ as you know your kiddos best.   I am hoping that these ideas are an encouragement to you, as I know the load can be heavy. We all need encouragement to persevere in this calling. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Since it is not, we need the Lord, and we need one another along this path. I am so thankful for all of you, who share from your hearts as we journey together.


Enjoy interest-led learning within the structure of daily plans!

From Our House to Yours

Why homeschool? Enjoy interest-led learning within the structure of daily plans!

What are each of your children interested in? When they have free time, what do they like to do? Chances are, if you have multiple children, each will be motivated by different individual interests. Why is this important? Well, when we take into account children’s interests, their motivation naturally increases. Simply put, interest-led learning takes into account children’s interests and creates opportunities for those interests to be part of learning. At Heart of Dakota, we like to create opportunities for children to enjoy interest-led learning. However, we also like to balance this within the structure of daily plans. Children can have some say in what they choose to do, but parents can also have structure that ensures children are still learning what they need to. This is the best of both worlds!

We provide opportunities for interest-led learning by offering book choices!

One easy way to provide opportunities for interest-led learning is by offering our children book choices. At Heart of Dakota, we offer book choices within Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR). Students can choose their own books, or they can choose from our DITHOR book packages. They can even substitute several books within a package if they prefer. However, book selections are made within the structure of DITHOR’s genres. This helps children read from every genre and learn each story element, while still letting the reading be interest-led. We also offer book choices with the Storytime read-alouds in our guides. Students can choose books for parents to read aloud to them in our guides that have Storytime plans based on genres. Or, students can peruse our classic, boy, girl, and history-based read aloud options, and choose from those sets.

We provide opportunities for interest-led learning by offering multiple levels of resources! 

Another easy way to provide opportunities for interest-led learning is by offering multiple levels of resources. Some children prefer books with more pictures and less text, and some prefer less pictures and more text. For example, Little Hands to Heaven has multiple Bibles, devotionals, and science books that can be used. Likewise, starting with Bigger Hearts…, we have easier books to read aloud (Deluxe Package) or harder books for children to read independently (Extension Package). Each of these options still fit within the structure of the plans by making sure children are learning what they should each year.

We provide opportunities for interest-led learning by offering project choices! 

Different children enjoy different types of projects. We provide project choices in DITHOR’s genre kickoffs and in DITHOR’s genre projects. Children can choose among Godly character-based projects, book-based projects or group projects. Likewise, we provide for creativity and individuality in history projects and art projects. Children are not confined to create copycat history or art projects. Rather, they are encouraged to put their own personality into each of their projects, which makes for excellent interest-led learning. High school courses, such as Total Health, continue to provide opportunities for interest-led learning by giving multiple project options. Nothing motivates teenagers more than having a say in what they do!

We provide opportunities for interest-led learning by offering boy/girl choices!

Boys and girls often have different topics of interest. At Heart of Dakota, we embrace this by offering DITHOR book sets that are boy or girl interest focused. We also offer multiple devotional and Bible study choices that are focused on boy and girl interests. In high school literature, boy and girl options are given for book selections. Likewise, we offer boy and girl living book choices in high school as well. Sometimes children prefer a mix of boy and girl book choices. We have structured lesson plans that still allow for flexibility, so these can be swapped out if desired (i.e. World Geography’s substitution notes for Boy/Girl set literature).

We provide opportunities for interest-led learning by using portfolio-based assessments!

One final way we provide opportunities for interest-led learning is by using portfolio-based assessments. We encourage children to express their individuality by planning open-ended assignments. For example, we assign what should be drawn, in general, for timeline entries. But, we leave room for creative interpretation. So, we might assign children to draw and color a sword for the Battle of Salamis, but we expect each child’s sword to look different from another’s. Likewise, we might children  to write a 10-13 sentence narration in response to their history reading. But, we encourage children to choose their own details to include in their narration.

In Closing…

So, in closing, one reason we like to homeschool is we can easily provide opportunities for interest-led learning. First, we can offer book choices. Second, we can offer project choices. Third, we can offer boy/girl interest choices. Finally, we can offer portfolio-based assessment. At Heart of Dakota, we believe in offering interest-led learning opportunities within the structure of daily plans. We like this balance of providing time for interest to lead the learning and of planning time for skills to lead the learning. I think you will enjoy this balance too!

In Christ,