The typical day this last term started with the alarm ringing at 5am, and a hand reaching over, turning it off, and cozying back under the pillow. If we’re going to cover the average and the typical rather than the planned or ideal or best day, that’s where we must begin.
The typical day opened with my reluctant rising at 6:50-7:10, dressing, addressing and dressing children, pulling out breakfast, starting my own eggs and coffee, and doing my best to stay cheerful rather than get nitpicky and critical with the kids. Spills wiped up, email checked, husband kissed and sent off with a solid lunch, corrections doled out, prayers made, the day begins. The children do not eat with their table manners; they poke each other, make faces, tell jokes, complain, or play “Guess what country I am thinking of” while staring at the map of the world on the wall in the dining room — RATHER than eat their breakfast. That sounds great, and I tell myself it’s great, but have you ever had to listen in for more than 2 minutes of a child-created and child-run guessing game? Oy. Well, anyway, they are supposed to be eating, not talking. Eating, not playing. Eating, not touching each other.
After breakfast ends either by finishing or by fiat, it is chore time. I turn on our composer music. Hans wipes down the bathrooms, Jaeger unloads the dishwasher, Ilse clears and wipes down the table, and I make my bed and start the laundry and put away breakfast stuff. And I check my email. And I check my Google Reader. And it’s usually 7:50 instead of 7:30 when this is all happening.
So, at 8:15 instead of 8 sharp, typically I am found ringing the bell to call the children from the four corners and printing off either a drill sheet or a Calculadder sheet or inserting the DVD for math, and as smoothly as I can, I get the boys started in on their math. Then I settle Ilse down with an activity or coloring page. Then I sigh and laugh and poke at Knox, wondering what in the world he’s going to do today. He is technically too heavy for the pack-n-play, and when he’s in it, he shakes, rattles, and rolls. He’ll end up breaking it for sure if I stuck with that plan. And at this point he’s already been in his booster for breakfast for 30 minutes and is not keen on getting back in. So I give him a children’s chair and the children’s table and try to get him enamored of blocks or letter magnets or tractors. He thinks that’s great until I start moving away. What he really wants is to be at the bar in the tall chairs with the big boys. With a pencil. Lead is tasty.
So I juggle Knox, manage Ilse, and keep the older boys on task. When they’ve finished their sheet, they hand it to me, I correct it with my red pencil. Any backwards numbers are circled and any wrong answers are checked. They have to then correct them and turn it back in to me. If they corrected it, I write a C over the check and a C at the top for “Corrected” and file it. If they had none wrong and none backwards, I write 100% at the top and file it. If they got 100% and did it in a timely fashion without using the blocks, they also get a “pass” to the next lesson. They usually finish math in 10-20 minutes, and I have 30 allocated. So, usually we’re back on schedule when math is over.
Then it’s Circle Time. What has worked best is to hold Knox on my lap and let Circle Time also be his cuddle time. After all, part of the point of Circle Time is for us all to enjoy it as a family. If he gets grabby-grabby and throws a fit over not being able to get into my markers or drink my coffee or tear my notebook pages, and a swat and a restoration doesn’t fix it, then he is banished to bed for Circle Time. Fussy babies go to bed. We start off by listening to a section of Psalm 119, then I pray. Then each child takes a turn praying, and Knox loves to be included. I give him his lines, he folds his hands and grunts, then grins when I say, “Amen!” The content of our prayers for school are primarily thanksgiving, that helps our attitude more than simply asking for a good attitude. Then we sing the Doxology and Gloria Patri — and Knox joins in with the tune but not words — then half the time we remember to say the Apostle’s Creed. Then I pull out our mottoes and we all chant them. Then I pull out Young Peacemakers and I read one page and we discuss it. Then we open our memory binders and sing our term’s hymn (I am sitting next to the computer and turn on our digital accompaniment), and then one review hymn (also with accompaniment). Then we go through our binder memory work, reading aloud together from the catechism, our term’s passage and Psalm, one review passage, and one review Psalm. Then I turn on our memory play list for the songs — Follow the Line (Christ’s genealogy set to music), a grammar chant (Shurley), two Geography Songs, and a Timeline song. Ending on the upbeat musical note has helped the kids enjoy this time much more; it has improved the mood substantially. Sometimes Jaeger and Ilse get out of their chairs and gallop around.
Next I pull out Covenantal Catechism. On Mondays we read the Bible passage, on Tuesdays we narrate the Bible reading then read the lesson, Wednesday we skip it, Thursday we go over the review and discussion questions, and Friday the boys draw a picture about the lesson.
Then I should pull out penmanship. When I do, I give them their sheet to trace (this is remedial penmanship), set the timer for 5 minutes, and see what they can do correctly for 5 minutes, putting myself on repeat: “Start at the top” “Down, up, and around” “Are you making the same shape?” “Start at the top” “Down, up, and around” “Start at the top.” The timer goes off and we are all relieved. Then I should pull out spelling. The boys get dry-erase boards, because it makes erasing easier (they have to immediately erase a wrong word and write it correctly) and it makes them happy. It doesn’t make me happy, but oh well. I give them both spelling words at the same time. It takes about 10-15 minutes to do half a lesson with one student, and about 15-20 to do them both at the same time. So doing them both at the same time makes me happy.
Then what I should do next is gather them all on the couch and read aloud, but I am always left feeling like I need a breather. So the typical day involved me sending the boys down to begin their independent work or sending them out for a 5-10 minute outdoor recess then to independent work. Then after moving the laundry to the dryer, chatting a bit online, or some other little change of activity, I sit with Ilse and read to her while Knox wonders around and on top of us.
By the time I’m done with Ilse, the boys are waiting in the wings and I listen to their narrations. Then they go back and I start some food prep or get on the computer or I set myself up on the couch with my crochet. I listen to another round of narrations. I field complaints and tell them to buck up. I call out, “Hey, where are you? Is your work done?” I say, “Can I see your work and your checklist?” I say, “Looks like you still need to ___.” I also handle interpersonal conflict about distracting noise-making, talking, not finding books, and the like. At some point I say, “Ok. Come sit, let’s read.” We read a chapter of history, then I ask one or both to tell me about something from the chapter, then we read a chapter of geography, and either I ask them to tell me about their favorite part or I ask them to ask a question. A few times we even looked up pictures and videos online to help us understand. Then Hans reads a few pages from The Big Book of Virtues, then Jaeger reads an Aesop’s fable. I whited out the morals on Aesop and so after Jaeger has read it I ask Hans what he thinks the lesson of the story is. Apparently the lesson from the boy and the nuts is that you should not try to grab nuts from a jar. Insightful. Then I read a poem or two or three, then a fairy tale or picture book, then I ask them what they remember from the previous episode of our current play (usually precious little), then I read a couple more pages from Nesbit’s Shakespeare. Knox is often loud or crying for half our reading time, and often I have to send Ilse to her room for whining, because it’s the boys’ turn next to me on the couch. The little ones do not generally appreciate this.
Then the boys finish up their independent work and I get a large drink of water and tell myself that’s refreshing enough, and that I don’t need to go hide in my room for half an hour. No, take a deep breath, I can handle lunch. I can. I can. I have a plan. Pull out tortillas and shredded cheese and make quesadillas and tell the children that this is lunch and if they complain about it they may have none.
And that is that.
Until it’s after lunch and I realize we didn’t do Latin. So after the fog has cleared and everyone is down for naps, I sigh, retrieve Hans, and we do Latin for 20-30 minutes. Then we’re done.
This, of course, is a typical day in which everything gets done, which was not actually typical. It’s a rare day that something — usually penmanship, spelling, and reading a fairy tale — doesn’t get cut. See that tactful use of the passive tense? I don’t know how it happens, personally.
It might not be how I would script the day, nor how I envision it when I am making the lists and dreaming, but it’s how we roll. My general principle is to handle correction immediately and get it righted rather than deferred, whether it be a math mistake, a spelling error, an attitude problem, a fussy baby, a disobedient action, or quarrelsome brothers. This makes for frequent interruptions, everyone having to make space and time for everyone else; it makes for loud mornings and it makes for a depleted feeling mommy. But it’s a good life. Life in the rock tumbler. Life in the pressure cooker. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out this reality is actually better than any script I could dream up.