The Best Homeschool Days Start the Night Before
Sometimes I’m totally on my mom-game, and I wake up an hour or two before the kids. I enjoy my coffee and quiet time then have plenty of time to write down the day’s homeschool assignments. I feel prepared and refreshed for when the kids wake.
These days trick me into thinking that every day will be like this.
Every day is not like this.
Sometimes someone wakes waaaay earlier than usual and my “alone time” becomes “together time”. Sometimes the baby needs me all night long so I am dragging myself out of bed in the morning with the kids.
I’ve learned that I can’t rely on my morning time to organize for the homeschool day.
Which leads us to this post’s one overarching principle: the best homeschool days start the night before.
We’ve all heard that we should lay out our clothes the night before in order to have a smoother morning, but I wonder if we’ve all thought about how this simple practice could lead to a better homeschool day. By organizing our homeschool day and any necessary materials the night before, we can have a much more smooth and efficient morning.
Better Homeschool Day Tip #1: Plan for tomorrow’s activities and homeschool day tonight.
I used to try to plan the whole week out ahead of time, but I found that life would happen and we’d need more time for a certain subject than I anticipated. Or perhaps the opposite would happen, and what I thought would take two or three days only takes one. It invariably led to a weekly homeschool planner with lots of scratch-outs and arrows. I quickly learned that I should just plan a day at a time while keeping the overarching idea of where we’re headed in mind.
So each night I take a few minutes to preview the day ahead. I consult my calendar (and my husband’s since he is working from home these days) and think about how I’ll need to adjust our typical routine to accommodate for meetings or appointments, grocery pickups, etc.
In a nutshell, our homeschool routine is both structured and fluid. The day starts with our Family Bible Class which incorporates our family prayer time. Next comes instrument practice (it will NOT happen otherwise!), then math and grammar classes, which are pretty hands-on for me. Independent work, lunch, and a break come next in whatever order makes sense based on the time. Then, while the little ones nap in the afternoon, we do any other subjects that will require mom to be hands-on for the day.
During my evening planning, I think about what portions of the following day will require specific attention from me, and which things can be done without me. If the homeschool day will be interrupted by an appointment, I may adjust what activities we do or in what order we attack the day.
I fill out the next day’s list for my son so he knows what he will work on throughout the day. I add notes to the subjects in which he will need to see me first rather than attempting to do the work on his own, and I add little circles next to each item (not subject) for him to check off when completed.
Once the planning for the following day is complete, I prepare all my physical materials.
Better Homeschool Day Tip #2: Organize materials for the day ahead before you go to bed.
Not only should you make sure you have the next day’s activities planned, but you should lay out everything you will need for the day. This may seem unnecessary to you, so let me explain.
In education, we spend a lot of time talking about smooth transitions and how important they are to an effective school day. Time lost from disorganized transitions very quickly adds up, and entire days’ worth of learning can be sacrificed.
I think the same thing applies to homeschooling. Have you noticed how much time you spend looking for this book or that worksheet? It can be a major time suck in my day. Then, invariably, while I’m looking for what I need, someone will wander off or get distracted. Then, I have to spend another few minutes corralling them back to where I need them! Before I know it, it’s lunch time and we have not accomplished what I’d planned at all!
Enter: organizing your materials ahead of time.
Now I make two piles (or more if they get to be too tall as my son is getting older!). I pile up all of my son’s required materials. Soon, I want to transition this so that he is gathering up his own materials the night before, but that’s next-level, and we’re not there yet! I place them next to the binder with the day’s plan so that he can quickly size up what his day will look like.
The second pile consists of all of my materials for the day. It’s not just a straight pile, though, which is probably what you’re picturing. (You may also be thinking that here I am talking about time sucks and am telling you the most basic of basic ideas!)
You see, I have several little children in addition to the big one I’m spending the most homeschooling time with, so I can have lots of little interruptions if my husband is in a meeting or the kids are especially needy that day. So, just having my teaching materials in a pile isn’t enough. I lose time finding the correct page, snapping pictures with my ipad, and answering a little’s question/changing a diaper, etc.
Now I find the pages I need the night before. I bookmark them so that I can immediately turn to the appropriate place. I also make sure that I’ve taken pictures of anything I want to project and mark up on the TV so that I am ready to go. Now, instead of my son and I both flipping through trying to find the right page, or getting a better pencil, ruler, math manipulatives, etc, I can quickly grab the toddler a drink or change a diaper while he does what he needs to do to transition to the next subject. When he’s ready, I pull the book off the pile, open it and my ipad, and we’re ready to go.
→ Side note: the iPad is a crucial part of our homeschool instruction. Check out how it has made my instructional time MUCH more effective here.
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In addition to setting out all of the necessary books, notebooks, and binders, I also try to get out any special markers, pens, or math manipulatives that we’ll need. Similarly, I make sure the DVDs are ready to quickly pop into the DVD player if needed.
If I’m creating an anchor chart for a topic or verse I want to focus on, I also do that ahead of time. If you don’t use anchor charts, they’re a great tool that you should strongly consider! Learn more about them here.
If you decide to make anchor charts a part of your homeschool instruction, this is a great option.
I purchased these command hooks to hang my charts on, and they’ve worked great for two years now (and haven’t fallen off the wall yet!).
These markers have worked really well for us, too, and don’t bleed through. The purple one is a great color!
Better Homeschool Day Tip #3: Set up your personal time the night before.
As mentioned before, I am not always able to wake up before the kids. And even if I do wake before they do, there is no guarantee as to how much time I’ll have before a little buddy joins me. Again, the principle of doing whatever I can do the night before to eliminate transition time the following day applies.
The very best thing I do for myself is set the coffee maker up the night before. Yes, I recognize this may be a no-brainer for you, but when I first learned of it, it blew my mind. Coffee is critical to my mornings. And there is nothing better (other than perhaps having a coffee maker that is programmed to start on its own) than waking up and starting my coffee with just the press of a button. No measuring, no cleaning, just brewing.
While it brews, I get my mug and quick breakfast ready. I don’t do big breakfasts first thing and- thank God!!- married a man who likes to cook breakfast. So every day of this Covid time, I have had something more filling once everyone is awake.
I also make sure my Bible, journal, and pen are ready to go so I’m not wasting time looking for them.
These simple steps allow me to more frequently have personal quiet time before little people are awake and needing me.
Having a Better Day Requires Discipline
These tips are not earth shattering. What it really comes down to is thinking through your day and doing anything that can be done ahead of time, ahead of time.
But at an even more important level, the best homeschool days really require discipline. You don’t necessarily have to have consistent routines though having at least a few helps. And you don’t have to treat your homeschool day like a typical school day (and you probably shouldn’t!).
What you do have to do is perhaps even harder. You must have the discipline to set yourself up for success. My hope is that consistently doing these three simple tasks will give you a much better homeschool day so that you can focus on the really important things with your little blessings.
Do you have any tips to add to our list? We’d love to hear them in the comments!