Optimizing & Simplfying


The great thing about homeschooling is the freedom, right? It's totally up to me how I want to order our life. I often think about great it would be to be the kind of mom that makes amazing from-scratch dinners every night or the kind of mom that sews homemade Halloween costumes ever year. But, when it comes down to it, how do I really want my kids to see me? I want them to remember their mother as...calm. Which is really the exact opposite of how I felt this spring. 

I feel like being calm is fifty percent cultivating a peaceful, patient attitude through prayer and fifty percent setting yourself up for success by being organized and not overcommitting. So, my first step in optimizing and simplifying my life was to quit a bunch of volunteer stuff. Of course, deciding to homeschool means I won't have to fulfill hours at school, but I also had a few volunteer commitments at the parish (ironing the altar linens, helping coordinate small groups) that I knew it was time to step down from. Man, I really had a hard time learning this lesson! This summer I immediately created two more volunteer commitments for myself, hosting a Blessed Conversations study group at home one evening a week and a park date for the parish playgroup one morning a week. Having standing events to see friends was great, but hosting both was just too much. Going into this school year I am promising myself that Adam and I are absolutely only going to help with one thing each (American Heritage Girls for me, children's choir for him) and that we really have to resist any other opportunities or ideas.

When I started researching all the wonderful homeschool curriculum choices available, I knew the simplest choice for this year would be to stick to a boxed curriculum. I looked into the various Catholic options and was sold on Mother of Divine Grace because it's only 32 weeks, whereas the other options were 36 weeks. Adam and I asked each other what we valued the most in our daughters' education at this point in time - his answer was poetry and mine was time to read beautiful books. Mother of Divine Grace will fulfill both of those requirements easily and, for first grade, clock in at only an hour a day, four days a week.

Since Claire and Maggie were expecting to attend school and preschool this year, I wanted to participate in a coop to capture some of that school experience. Friends had told me about coops at two different parishes, but they are both a half hour away. Researching a little more, I discovered a coop at a Protestant church five minutes from home. Perfect! It's apparently the largest homeschool coop in the area, so there are plenty of classes to choose from. I originally thought I'd have us stay for three classes - some combination of PE, art, science and foreign language. But when we toured, I realized that even though they have a play area for little ones, it would be too difficult for me to watch George and Betsy there for three hours. Two hours, with lunch in the middle, seemed much more manageable and should fit into George's nap schedule nicely. Both girls are taking an art class, while Claire is also taking tumbling and Maggie is taking "joy of books" (basically preschool circle time). For my job requirement, I'm just helping out in the nursery with Betsy and George for the first hour we're there.

I'm so thankful Claire got into the tumbling class at the coop because she really wanted to do gymnastics, which Maggie had absolutely no interest in. They agreed on trying ballet and I was able to find a class nearby that they could both attend - it's for ages five and six but you only have to be five by the end of the calendar year. There are three classical ballet studios near us. This one is the best (it's run by the city's ballet company) and seemed the easiest in terms of them being in class together, but it's also in an area where there's a ton of construction and, therefore, really not a lot of parking. I should have thought through that aspect before enrolling them, but we can always change things up after the first quarter if it's too much. I keep reminding myself how much more stressful it would be if we had to come straight from school pick up!

As soon as we stopped paying school tuition, we hired a house cleaner and a yard service to come twice a month. We got the cleaning recommendation from a friend and hired two teenagers from church to help with the yard. Together, this is less than half the cost of sending one child to our parish school and has made our life significantly easier. The house cleaner is going to come while we're at coop, which with homeschooling is really the only time we're scheduled to be out of the house long enough.

After I used up the last of my Scrip grocery gift cards from the school, I started ordering my groceries online and doing curbside pick-up. I'm thinking delivery might make more sense long term though. I also wanted to simplify making the grocery order and, of course, the actual meal so I decided to try creating a two-week meal plan for summer (April-September) and winter (October-March). I don't have the winter plan finalized yet, but for the summer we've been eating:

Every Week: pizza, hamburgers, grilled chicken, boxed macaroni for the kids and pot stickers for the grown-ups.
Every Other Week: grilled flank steak, grilled pork chops, tacos, tortellini, sausage & polenta, barbecue chicken sandwiches.

Adam's been grilling the hamburgers, chicken and either steak or pork chops over the weekend, which makes dinner even easier during the week. Once a week, we feed the kids Annie's mac & cheese and then have pot stickers while watching a movie. We do change it up a few times a month if we are entertaining or celebrating a special occasion, like this weekend paella is on the menu for St. Beatrice's feast day.

One thing we're still trying to figure out is what we'd like babysitting help to look like. We'd definitely like to allocate more funds to babysitting than we've be able to in the past. George is in a pretty difficult stage to get to bed at night (he really only takes bottles for Adam...maybe) so evenings are out for the time being. Our main babysitter for the last several years, a dear friend, had her own baby in June! And my sister lives in Seattle now and doesn't have a car. We have another friend who just finished grad school and is looking for work, so she's been babysitting for us pretty frequently but that will (hopefully!) be a very temporary thing. Over the summer, we've had two sisters from church babysit a few afternoons. They are homeschooled, so they have some weekday availability, but I'm not sure if that will line up with when we're free.

Basically, do I want to try to go out one afternoon a week? Would I have time for that with prepping dinner and extracurriculars? Do we want to have a standing weekend date night/afternoon instead? Do we want to do a little bit of both? I know for sure it'd be really nice to have a longer list of babysitters to call.

Our weekly schedule will look like this:
Sunday - Children's Choir after Mass
Monday - Coop (house cleaning every other week)
Tuesday - Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
Wednesday - American Heritage Girls (after dinner every other week)
Thursday - Ballet Lessons
Friday - CYO Cross Country (Sept-Oct), Ice Skating (Nov-Dec), Swim Lessons in the spring?

My general plan for each day is to try to get as much schoolwork as possible completed during George's morning nap. I put him down around 9:00 and he sleeps until at least 10:00, but often until 11:00. Since our coop doesn't start until 11:00 on Mondays, I'm planning to do a little bit of schoolwork beforehand, just for Claire. A math lesson for sure and hopefully some of the once-a-week subjects like geography, science, and art appreciation. The other four days of the week, we'll start by combining Claire and Maggie's religion lessons - scripture and catechism. I'll have Claire do some handwriting practice and look over her assigned easy reader while I work with Maggie on her simple preschool lessons. Maggie will then be free to go play with Betsy while I continue working with Claire. Adam's going to teach their music lesson (a new hymn every two weeks) at some point - either during breakfast or dinner or right before he leaves for work.

I'm not sure what we'll do if we haven't finished school by the time George is up from his nap. Probably sometimes power through and finish, sometimes pick it back up again during afternoon nap, and sometimes just call it quits for the day. I'm fully expecting school to take longer than 32 weeks (my goal is just to be done by the end of June) so if we don't get to everything everyday, that's perfectly okay. I read somewhere that a key to homeschooling with babies around is to never let them know that they can stop take morning naps. When George stops sleeping in the morning, I'm planning to just give him some books and toys in his crib and keep him confined for at least forty-five minutes until he can play as independently as Betsy can. And if Betsy doesn't want to play independently or sit at the table with us and color, she will be having a little morning quiet time in the girls' room.

Right now I'm thinking we'll probably leave the house most days around lunch time because twelve hundred square feet just isn't very big! I definitely want to make it to the library once a week and I just ordered all the kids rain pants so they'll still be able to have fun at the park when the play equipment is all wet. I'm sure we'll have lunch with Adam at work once in a while and there just so happens to be a Chick-fil-A next to the grocery store with curbside pick-up. I also have a dear friend homeschooling four children the same ages as mine who I'm hoping to have frequent play dates with. We shall see! At the very least we will go for walks around the neighborhood and play in the backyard. In light of homeschooling and kicking the kids outside for "recess," we added a climbing dome and a baby swing this summer.

I'm prepared to tweak much of this during the school year and I'm expecting that next school year could be entirely different. We might try a different curriculum, a different coop, different sports. Maybe we won't be homeschooling at all. Who knows?! 


You are awesome.