We've long since settled into a general daily MO which manages to be both flexible and consistent. If this sounds as though we're living a paradox every day . . . well, that would be literary of us, and it might well be true.
I've managed to be more organized this year -- as in not losing the read-aloud books under the sofa and not wiping from my mind's whiteboard all memory of the hands-on science stuff I bought -- thanks in large part to Jennifer McIntosh's "Morning Basket" system, which I've adopted and adapted for our purposes. Like Jen, I like to start our day with everyone gathered; everyone is a word which here usually means the two younger children, ages 8 and 9, and I. The teenager at home is on his own schedule, which involves a long morning run before he either settles down to work or goes off to the college with his father for a Tuesday-Thursday World War II history class. But more about him later.
Our morning basket, actually a sturdy red plastic bin, holds more items than we could ever use in a given week, so that we can move in and out of books and activities in an informal rotation, as seems right for a given time, without actually putting something away for good. For example, we spent about six weeks working intensively in several volumes of the excellent Draw Write Now series before hitting at least a temporary saturation point; now I'm keeping them on hand in our basket to pull out again at need. I also keep a boxed science kit, the Magic Schoolbus Human Body kit, ready to use. We do the bulk of our science and nature study through reading and real-life observation, but every several weeks it's nice to have a hands-on experiment at the ready, with materials.
Most importantly, though, the morning basket holds the read-aloud component of our school day. We begin our day on the couch with books; we do most of our learning through literature, and after prayers, we move through a series of read-alouds which cover religion, history, geography, and science (and sometimes math), as well as "literature," per se.
By this point in the year, I've simplified our daily reading schedule somewhat, mostly because in browsing our shelves I rediscovered several books that I'd overlooked, or thought too advanced for us, when I was doing my planning for the year, but that struck me, on finding them again, as must-reads-right-now. We do two history tracks, old world and new world; for most of the year we've done history in alternating weeks, but right now what's working is to cover ancient history and science in the morning, then use lunchtime for our new-world-history read-aloud.
So our morning goes like this:
Morning Basket Time
1. Morning Prayer, including a sung hymn for the season. I keep prayer books and a copy of the St. Michael Hymnal in the morning basket -- not losing the prayer books under the sofa all the time has made an enormous difference in the level of our discipline, let me tell you. Our hymn this week is "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," sung to the tune "Llanfair."
2. A read-aloud for religion. Currently we're trying to finish Marigold Hunt's Saint Patrick's Summer before my 8-year-old's First Communion in two weeks, so that's become a daily, rather than a weekly, read. I have the children narrate, or retell in their own words, what we've read, and we discuss any questions which might have been raised while we were reading.
3. A chapter in our current ancient-history book, Herodotus and the Road to History. Again, I have the children narrate.
4. A chapter, or partial chapter (some are longer and denser than others) in Archimedes and the Door of Science, which is serving us for both history and science. Again, we narrate and discuss. Eventually we'll segue into written narrations, as a bridge into more formal work in composition, but oral narrations serve us well now as a discipline for listening, understanding, and rendering into words what we've just taken in.
If it seems we've been sitting too long, or the children are on listening overload, as happens some days, we might take a break from one reading or the other and do a hands-on science experiment using our Magic Schoolbus kit.
Morning Basket time lasts roughly an hour. From here we move to what I euphemistically call . . .
It's a euphemism because people in my house tend not to work at tables. The 8-year-old's preferred work space of the moment, in fact, is under the drop-leaf table under the study window. The 9-year-old likes to work on the couch, with his books on a lap desk.
We spend half an hour to forty-five minutes on table work: math, handwriting, grammar and composition (accomplished both by workbooks -- we like the Catholic Heritage Curricula Language of God series, as well as Draw Write Now -- and by independent projects like cartoon-drawing and -writing). The 8-year-old is working on her religious award in American Heritage Girls, so she uses this time to work in that workbook as well.
My kids have mostly tended to be the kind of readers you don't have to make read. Still, I like to have a time -- ten minutes at the end of the school day -- when everyone's settled down with a book while I make lunch. Sometimes I assign the independent-reading book -- if a given person seems to be in a rut of reading, say, the same Star Wars novelette over and over in his free time -- but more often I let them choose their reading (here's where I really didn't follow my ambitious plans for the year so much). The 8-year-old has been essaying the first Harry Potter book, a page at a time; the 9-year-old has been reading a book called The Fallacy Detective.
I like to read aloud to the kids while they're eating lunch. This is typically when we read things like Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare or one of the "twins" series by Lucy Fitch Perkins, but right now we're reading our new-world-history book, Madeleine Takes Command.
This is a flexible, easy schedule, not tied -- as you might have noticed -- to actual times of the day. We tend to begin school around ten or ten-thirty, whether we've gone to daily Mass at 8 a.m. or not, which means that we finish around noon. The children then have the afternoon free for chores and play, both of which I also consider to be not add-ons but integral parts of their education. They're allowed very limited computer play time (mostly educational apps and online games), but spend most of the afternoon, especially this time of year, outside on bikes and scooters, playing in our old garage, or walking to friends' houses in the neighborhood to play.
Later . . .
After dinner, we have a bedtime read-aloud and pray Compline. And thaaaaat's our school day, beginning to end.
I've been working on plans for next year, using this basic, useful, adaptable schedule as a template. Here's our proposed reading list by subject; here's how I visualize our days, though I'm still trying to hammer out in my mind what to read exactly when, if you know what I mean.
My lesson-planning style is sketchy, I guess, as you can see -- I think I actually wrote out these "plans" for last week on Thursday, so this was more of a log than a plan . . . I find, though, that if I made myself a to-do list, then the books get read and the written work gets done, and the learning happens without my having to teach so much as just serving the list. If that makes sense . . .
I'll devote another post to my 14-year-old, who is his own animal entirely, but meanwhile, if you'd like a peek at what he'll be doing next year, here's the first semester laid out by weeks. For teenagers I do plan in greater detail, because the plan, with the books, is their teacher. I hand it all to them, and they're off to the races. At least . . . well, my 18-year-old is off to the college races, and has thanked me for having made her read The Iliad in the 9th grade, so I'm thinking this stuff does work . . .