Homeschooling On The Fly: Learning At Home When Schools Are Closed Indefinitely
I never wanted to be a homeschool teacher. My kiddos have unique needs that I thought might better be served by pros with actual background in how best to teach them. But thanks to our current global health crisis, we – like so many families – suddenly need to start homeschooling. Since so many other families are in the same boat, I thought I’d share our sample homeschool schedule so far for our 5th and 3rd grader.
Originally published March 18, 2020; last updated August 2020.
No, this schedule isn’t perfect by any means – it’s a first stab, and a stab in the dark at that. But kids thrive on structure and knowing what to expect. And mine, in particular, can trash the house faster than you can blink if they DON’T have structure.
So we’re attempting to follow these loose guidelines as we move through our days:
Our Basic Sample Homeschool Schedule
Click HERE if you’d like to download a free, printable, customizable copy of our homeschool schedule template!
Morning: Routines and Lessons
Our homeschooling day begins just like our regular school days – with some basic morning chores and a good breakfast. Because we no longer need to worry about drop-off times or catching the bus, our schedule is a little more relaxed. But it looks something like this:
7-8am Reading time; make bed, get dressed, tidy room (i.e., the things my girls would ordinarily be doing during their first hour awake, though they tend to wake up between 6-6:30 on school days, so they can have free time to read before school)
8:30-11am Learning time
11am-12noon Free time on devices
The key so far, for our kids, is that I am allowing them to do their morning learning time on iPads or my old Macbook Pro. In normal times, we limit their electronic time at home to no more than 30 minutes most days, if that. Their first day home from school during this hiatus, they asked for iPad time; I told them they had to do learning first, for at least twice as long as their free play time.
What does their learning time look like?
Fortunately, we’ve already had exposure to a variety of learning apps, so we’re continuing work with those for starters:
- Xtramath (free on laptops, small 1-time fee for tablets/mobile devices) – 5-minute basic math facts practice for Essie.
- Duolingo (free) – Kimmie is continuing her Spanish study from school on this app; Essie, who has to start learning some basic Korean as part of her new karate lessons, is starting Korean.
- Freckle (free) – differentiated lessons, by grade level and ability, in Math, English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science. Kimmie has been using this app at school, and Essie is now using it as well.
- First In Math (parent subscriptions start at $19.95 per user for 6 months) – More advanced math skills than Xtramath, for grades 1-8.
- ThatQuiz and Kahoot (both free) – Quiz/study programs on a wide range of topics. Kids can also create their own Kahoots.
- Typing.com (free) – basic typing and keyboarding lessons
- Code Monster (free) – online game to teach kids the basics of coding.
A few notes:
Since some of these learning apps suitable for homeschooling schedules were new to me, I had to look into them further:
- For example, Kimmie’s school Freckle account only had math and ELA lessons scheduled by her teachers.
- So I set up a free parent account for “McCowald Homeschool,” added the girls and their grades in, and then began exploring the social studies and science lessons available to their grade levels.
- While some lessons and activities are only available with a premium subscription, there are plenty of homeschool lessons in social studies and homeschool science lessons at the free level for parents to choose from.
Once they’ve done at least two hours of lesson time, the girls are allowed to have free time. They’ve spent this mostly playing Minecraft in creative mode (which is, in and of itself, a creative/engineering activity that also helps build planning and executive-function skills) and reading graphic novels on Epic (free trial, $7.99/month). Epic is a collection of over 35,000 eBooks for kids age 12 and under. Since (unlike Freckle) there aren’t reading-comprehension questions – it’s just ebooks – I’m making them save this for their “free time.”
Afternoon: Specials, Creative Time, and Play-Learning
After our morning’s lessons, we take 30-60 minutes for lunch, depending on how much prep time is involved and who’s making it. (The girls LOVE to “cook”/prepare their own food, but it always takes them longer to prep their own meals and snacks.) During lunch, we review what they worked on during their morning lesson time, and what they learned.
Once we’ve cleaned up from lunch, the homeschool learning continues – the girls just don’t necessarily realize that this is what’s happening! There are lots of ways to foster homeschool learning and creativity through activities that may look like “play.” And we’re making sure to get in their “specials” (physical education, art, and music) from school, too.
Here are some examples of how we’ve filled our afternoon homeschooling schedule so far:
Sunday: Engineering/Creative Play
We’ve adopted Kimmie’s class pet, a gerbil named Cinnamon, for the duration of our shelter-in-place time. Cinnamon has an exercise ball to run around in, but needs a somewhat-contained space in which to do this.
So we put Cinnamon in her ball and brought her out to our three-season room on the back of the house. While Cinnamon rolled around, the girls created “Gerbil Olympics” obstacle courses for her out of Legos.
After that, the girls split their time between building with Legos (one of their favorite free-time activities anyway), creating “leprechaun traps” for St. Patrick’s Day (their first engineering lesson plan, back in preschool), and creating different machines with their electronic snap circuits set.
The girls scripted/rehearsed/performed a play for us, in the form of a five-act “circus.” Essie just started a theater unit in school, so this was a perfect outgrowth of that learning process. Then they took turns playing a two-person strategy game called Spirits of the Wild with Daddy.
Tuesday: Phys Ed/Math
Since Essie’s karate studio is closed indefinitely, her karate master has been putting out videos on the studio’s private Facebook group devoted to techniques and skills practice. So Essie, Kimmie, and I did some karate practice yesterday.
After that, the girls and Daddy went on a bike ride around our neighborhood. When they returned, I told the girls it was game time. Fortunately, several of their favorite board games include math practice (shh!). I expected Essie would lobby hard for cribbage, but instead they chose Prime Climb.
With the chaos of the past week, Kimmie hasn’t been doing her music practice. So I told the girls last night that today was Music Day.
On most school days, Kimmie spends up to an hour practicing first her clarinet lessons, and then her ukelele lessons. Often, she then plays with her bell set, recorder, or drum pad, even though she’s no longer taking percussion or recorder lessons.
While Kimmie works on her formal music lessons from her teachers this afternoon, Essie will work on introductory piano and music theory lessons on Dust Buster 2, then practice playing songs on her recorder.
After that, I’m going to have the girls help me cook dinner tonight. They love to cook with us anyway, and without their regular extracurriculars going on right now, they have more time to help than they do on typical school nights, when homework competes with practices and other activities.
Thursday/Friday: Science, Arts & Crafts, Baking…
- The girls have been begging to do science experiments, so we’ve been looking through their books along these lines for fun and easy things they can do at home.
- I also expect to turn more cooking projects over to them. They’ve been studying their cookbooks eagerly, so we’ll have to see which recipes we can accomplish with what we have on hand in the house. And we’re long overdue for some baking projects – always a great opportunity for kids to study both science (how does bread rise?) and math (fractions, measurements, doubling recipes, etc.)
- I’ve also been encouraging them to do some beading projects with their vast collection of pony beads. So I suspect a bunch of keychains, necklaces, and bracelets are in our future. We can also work on their sewing practice some more.
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- And with spring coming, our gardens desperately need some tending. I expect that weeding and planning out our summer gardens will also be on the agenda in the coming weeks. Since it’s early enough in the season, we might as well start our own plants from seeds this year, rather than planning on getting them from the garden store in a few months. (Assuming we can get our hands on some seeds, that is!)
- And there are always regular weekly chores (e.g., folding/putting away laundry) plus seasonal chores (decluttering, spring cleaning, etc.)…
Saturday: Family time
Saturday is our family sabbath (rest) time. We all take a break from the normal routine on Saturdays anyway, but for the duration we’re going to be more intentional about our family activities on Saturday, weather permitting:
- Since the warmer months are coming anyway, we’re hoping to get a jump start on things like family hikes and bike rides.
- And we’re also planning to have more family-wide movie nights in the living room.
Evening: Dinner, family time, and bedtime routine
We usually eat dinner as a family starting 6-6:30 anyway, so maintaining that part of our normal routine is especially important right now. As I noted above, we hope to get the girls more involved in meal-planning and cooking during the weeks to come.
During our usual family dinner time, we take turns sharing what we each did and learned that day with each other. Even though the close quarters mean we already know what the other is doing, more than usual, it’s still nice to celebrate the things we each learned and accomplished. While I’m sharing my living-room “home office” with the girls now, Daddy is upstairs recording math lectures for his students, who officially resume school online next week. Even though he’s figuring out this online-teaching thing as he goes, he’s still teaching us each night as he shares what he learned that day about the technical side of his new teaching reality.
After dinner, our family routine has long been that the parent who cooked does cleanup, while the other parent puts the girls to bed. We’re therefore continuing the girls’ usual bedtime routines, from bath/teeth/PJs/clean rooms to “together” time. On the nights I put them to bed, we still read together – either Bible study, or classic children’s series. (We’ve recently resumed our reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, which we’re 2/3 of the way through.)
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You may have noticed that our days are both structured, AND unstructured, at the same time.
I’ve tried hard to strike a balance between routine/structure – so the girls know what to expect at any given time – AND unstructured learning time.
- I’ve put their most focused “learning” time in the morning, when they’re at their peak alertness level.
- The afternoons are supposed to look to the girls like “play” time, and I am largely letting them dictate what they do during that time. But there is still a structure, and they are still learning – I’m making sure of it.
The best learning takes place when kids are interested in what they’re doing, and the learning feels like play. And while our mornings are “device time,” the rest of the day is deliberately as device-free as possible.
While I’m hoping for the best, I’m also trying to plan for the possibility that the girls won’t return to regular schooling until fall.
If they were in their normal school environments right now, I’d expect that (with their teachers’ help) they would not only maintain their learning at a basic level, but also grow as learners.
Now that I’m their teacher, I don’t want to fall down on the job in this regard.
Kimmie has already completed several larger research projects in her 5th-grade year at a Montessori school, and Essie has done the same on a smaller scale in her public school’s gifted program.
So tomorrow morning, while they start their lesson time, I’ll do some research on how to guide Kimmie through the 5th grade research mosaic she’s supposed to be starting. Then I’ll look for the rubrics Essie’s teacher is using for the puppet show she’s supposed to be writing as part of her ELA gifted project.
I hope you found this post useful. If you’d like, you can download a FREE printable copy of our makeshift homeschool routine, including a blank version that you can customize for your family, by✅filling out this form:
Do you homeschool already? What tips do you have for all of us newbies?
Or are you also giving yourself a how-to crash-course in this whole process? Anything you’ve found helpful that I’ve missed?
Either way, do please let us know in the comments!
And if you’re struggling to balance homeschooling with your own work-from-home responsibilities, ✅check out this post on how to get stuff done for work even with kids around!
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