I’ve written lots of theoretical home schooling posts before (see here, here, here, and here), but sometimes we just need a little practical help. So that’s what I’ve got for you today: two practices that are saving my sanity right now. Maybe they can help you, too.
I first heard of looping from Sarah Mackenzie (here and here). In a nutshell, loop scheduling is a technique that can be used for subjects you need to get done regularly but that don’t have to be completed every single day. (That means math is a subject that should never be looped!) Classic looping examples come from the fine arts – things like picture study, composer study, and poetry reading. It can also be applied to various housework tasks.
When I first heard of looping, I didn’t think the concept applied to me, so I ignored it and moved on. Then this year happened. I now have a 7th grader, a 5th grader, a 3rd grader, and a 1st grader. That’s a lot of grade levels to manage. And it’s a lot of language arts — if you, like me, think each child needs to do reading, spelling, phonics, handwriting, composition, grammar, and vocabulary each day.
The hours required to do that many subjects within a subject was eating up our days. And I constantly felt like a failure, as we simply could not finish every single piece of language study every day. Nobody had ever told me that all my children needed to do every language art every day, but somewhere along the way I internalized the expectation.
Then I started remembering my own middle school education. I only had language arts for one hour per day, plus homework. But that wouldn’t add up to 3 or 4 hours per child per day (HALF our home school day), even in middle school. It would be 1 or 2, max.
Then I remembered some more: we studied language arts in units. We’d have a poetry unit, then a grammar unit, then a literature unit, then a composition unit. We didn’t do all the things all at once.
I started thinking I needed to apply this to our home school. I started thinking in terms of units. If we’re deep in an intensive writing unit that already takes a couple of hours a day, it’s just torture to add the stress of separate spelling and grammar and vocabulary lessons at the same time. Why not finish the writing unit and then move on to the nitty-gritty of grammar or spelling?
And why had I not thought of this possibility before?
Later I spoke with my husband – who was himself homeschooled – about these things. He agreed that my expectations had been ridiculously high and supported my effort to find more reasonable expectations.
Then I spoke with my Home School Mom Friends, and they reminded me that my “new” approach had a name – it’s called Looping.
So that’s what we do now. We loop our language arts, and everybody is much happier and less stressed.
***We do not loop reading. Reading – both reading aloud together and reading silently alone — is the foundation of our education, and they happen every day. ***
I’m a type-A, perfectionistic, over-achieving person with a bent towards workaholism. In the past, therefore, whenever we had any down time in the home school day (immediately after lunch, for example, or when all my kids were working on individual assignments), I tried to fill that time with other work: emails, blog posts, life planning, ministry event planning. I wanted to squeeze every available second out of my day.
This posed a problem for me, however, because in entering another world, I was drawn away from my home world. Once I entered the world of outside work, it was hard to shift my mind back into whatever school question (or sibling squabble question) was being asked. And an open computer is a distinct sign to children that you are not available to them.
My thoughts and attention ended up being divided, and I never felt like I finished any one thing. I was trying to become more efficient but ended up being less efficient. (Additionally there’s the black hole of social media, surrounding which I deceive myself about how productive I’m really being.) I was perpetually exhausted in this kind of non-boundaried life. And I think my kids were getting less of me than they deserved.
So during school hours, I started committing not to open the computer in order to “be more efficient.” I decided to read picture books to my youngest during that time. Or read something from my long list of books I’m always trying to get to but am too tired to read by the end of the day. When a child comes to you with a math question or a life question, it’s much easier to put away a paper book than it is to put away a screen.
I call these times the Lulls. They are the lulls in the day that I used to try to fill with more work. Now I stay present and fill them with my own education or enjoyment, and I feel less harried. Before, I was always trying to rush through school work so I could get to my “other work.” Now I don’t rush. Now the school day is more peaceful. And it’s all because I use my Lulls differently.
I should also mention that different days have different Lulls. If my older children are all doing a review assignment in math, I have much more Lull time. But if they each need to learn something new (or on the days we attend co-op), I have less Lull time. But that’s OK. The Lull time isn’t meant to be productive. I’m not trying to “get work done.” I’m merely trying to be more focused and effective in filling the time gaps.
So here’s how to apply the sanity-saving practices of Loops and Lulls to your day:
Loops: Follow those links up above to Sarah Mackenzie’s Loop Scheduling instructions. Spend some time figuring out which of your subjects a) don’t need to be done each day or b) already aren’t getting done each day. Place them on a list and cycle through them one by one. All your looped subjects will now be getting done on a regular basis, and you’ll feel less guilt and less pressure.
Lulls: Commit not to do other work while you’re teaching your kids. This is hard, I know. We want to get as much done as possible each day — “redeem the time” and all that. But focusing on school work alone helps your day go much more smoothly and, in the end, helps you be more efficient and less stressed out.
Happy Home Educating!