Homeschool Priorities Part 5: Spend Quality, Stress-free Time Together

a photo from last year – a day spent together

My fifth homeschool priority for my children (at any age) is to spend quality, stress-free time together.  For the purpose of this blog post, I’m mostly referring to the time I spend with my boys during the week while daddy is at work.  Making time for the whole family is another priority, but it’s not hard to manage that, so for now I’ll simply refer to our daily routine.

This is an ongoing goal, and with the ebb and flow of life, it doesn’t always happen.  I try to pace our schedule so that we have plenty of time at home to play, but inevitably there will be weeks when it seems like we’re going somewhere everyday!  It’s very easy to do this.  Consider:

  • at least one play date
  • at least one necessary shopping trip/other errand
  • the 5-year-old’s classes
  • a day out with daddy
  • church
  • not to mention: visits to grandpa’s house, the occasional doctor’s appointment, more errands that need doing, & library visits, which don’t happen enough.
  • You get the picture! I could easily fill our days with places to go.

In addition, with young children, I cannot leave the house more than once a day.  Did I mention we live 20~30 minutes from the nearest grocery store?  Yeah.  That doesn’t help either.  The two-year-old still needs a nap in the afternoon.  And sometimes I do too!

Weekly Schedules~

Life can be hectic sometimes, but when it does, I simply stop planning things to do and take time off.  I’m a homebody at heart, so it’s in my blood to hang out at home.  I don’t need to be on the go all the time, but I do need a balance between being social and having time at home.

I’ve also learned what works for us and what doesn’t.  My eldest son seems more comfortable with one friend his age instead of in a large group.  I used to worry about trying to get involved in some kind of regular homeschooling group, but now I don’t.  Right now, we don’t need that.  I admit that I feel I lose out on connections that way.  I would like to have a wider circle of mama friends to talk to regularly, and I’ve met some really cool women that I’d like to get to know better, but in the end, I know I have to do what’s best for my boys.

We’ve met some boys his age, and I try to schedule a play date with one of them at least every other week, if not every week. This doesn’t always happen because kids get sick and unexpected things pop up, but that’s my goal anyway.

Quality Time~

When we are home, I try to be mindful about spending quality time with the boys.  I have a lot to do around the house, and I have personal goals (like this blog) to keep me distracted, but I’ve put in place a daily schedule that makes it easier for me to know that I have spent quality time throughout the day with the boys.  I may write more about our specific daily and weekly routines in the future, but for now I’ll just say:

In the morning after breakfast, we have together time, which begins with book time.  We each pick one book to read, and sometimes we read more, if we feel like it..   (Since the boys tend to pick the same books over and over this is the best method I have found to make them happy while also making sure they get to read a variety of books.  Not to mention keep my brain from atrophying!)

After book time, we usually do puppet shows, but I don’t push it.  The past few mornings my eldest son has been wanting to build things with popsicle sticks, and this morning we painted our creations!  So as you can see, if the boys are playing well together or occupied in another productive activity, I go with the flow.

And that’s another way I try to create stress-free, quality time….I go with the flow.  Usually it’s best if I just toss my agenda out the window.  Now that my five-year-old is getting older and more imaginative, he is full of ideas, and many of them are excellent, productive ideas!  How can I stop that?

On the flip side, there are days that seem aimless, and if the boys want me to play play play with toys and games that never seem to end, I can feel my patience and enthusiasm waning.  I’m not saying that their play is bad.  No, it’s great.  It’s just not always what this 40-year-old mama wants to be doing.  So if I can kind of steer their day, it helps me stay enthusiastic, gives us plenty of time together which in turns gives me a chance to say, “Now you guys go upstairs and play by yourselves for a little while.”  If I have put in my quality time, I don’t feel guilty about making them play without me.  And it’s good for them too!

I’m also trying be more mindful of the time I spend with my boys.  I’m very much influenced by the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, and I think parenting is wonderful opportunity to practice mindfulness.  (If you want to read more about this, I highly recommend the book Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children by Sarah Napthali.  You don’t have to be Buddhist to get something out of her book.)

As time goes by, I am finding it much easier to let the rest of the world slide by, forget about all the things I want to do, and just soak up my children.  You are two-years-old, and you have the cutest smile.  You are five-years-old, and I love listening to you talk and explain your magical world to me.  I put off things that I have to do, and guess what?  It  gets done anyway.  

Simply put, it takes practice to be a mother, and I guess I’m getting better at it.

This is a topic that I could go on and on about, but I’d rather hear from you.  How do you ensure that you’ll spend quality time with your children when life pulls us along at such a high speed?

Worthy Reads

I’m taking a break from my series about Homeschool Priorities to bring you an installment of Worthy Reads.  This is because my reader has been filling up with interesting articles, and I need to clean it out.

But first, I have to thank Simple Homeschool for including me on their Weekends Links.  What an honor!  I’m especially humbled because I’m so busy with my boys that I don’t get a chance to read other blogs as much as I like, so I really appreciate the shout out.  And for anyone who is a new subscriber, thanks so much for following me.  You really encourage me to keep going.

Here are some Worthy Reads I’ve come across in the last few weeks.  A few of them were passed on to me by my awesome Twitter friends.  Thanks, guys!


In Praise of Homeschools – Excellent argument FOR homeschooling.

Why an innovative educator cares about homeschooling / unschooling and why you might too and

The Innovative Educator’s Guide to Getting Started with Unschooling – This whole blog looks like it’s worth following!

What the U.S. Census says about homeschool families – “A disportionate percentage of homeschooled students are boys — 58 percent, even though boys are a slight minority in the U.S. school population.”

Regarding Boys  (These will also be added to my post Worthy Reads for Raising and Educating Boys, which is my attempt to compile information on this subject.)

Teaching boys to be men – Interesting article about a boy’s school in Kenyan newspaper.  The quote I found most provocative in the article: “Why boys? Though she knows she might sound unpopular, Purity believes that the girl child has been empowered at the expense of the boy.”

Teacher and dad Michael Reist urges retooled approach to raising boys in new book

Anything Boys Can Do…Biology may play only a minor role in the math gender gap: Scientific American


What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success – “Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.”

Why Schools Don’t Value Spatial Reasoning – Very interesting, and I agree with this.  My 2-year-old seems to excel in spatial reasoning, so this topic is of interest to me.

Why Don’t We Value Spatial Intelligence – After reading the article above, I had to go to the article he cited – another good read.


Your Storytelling Brain – a bit of neuroscience related to my favorite topic, storytelling.  My favorite quote: “What stories give us, in the end, is reassurance.”


Why A Teen Who Talks Back May Have a Bright Future – “Effective arguing acted as something of an inoculation against negative peer pressure. Kids who felt confident to express themselves to their parents also felt confident being honest with their friends.”

If you’ve found any worthy reads lately, please leave a link in the comments!

Homeschool Priorities Part 4: Teaching him how to find answers

My third homeschool priority is teaching my children how to find answers to their questions.  Right now this applies to my five-year-old since my two-year-old doesn’t have many questions yet, but he follows along.

This is an idea I have to credit to Lori of Camp Creek Blog and my source for learning about project-based homeschooling.  When I wrote my columns about project-based learning, she emphasized that it’s important to show children how to look for answers, and more importantly, encourage them to ask questions.

I know I encourage my son to ask questions because I never discourage them, and I always give him as detailed an answer as possible.  When I don’t know the answer, I tell him it’s a great question and we’ll have to look it up at such and such time. (He rarely asks a question when it’s convenient to find the answer.)  I tell him, “Keep asking these great questions!”

As Lori suggested, I tried keeping a notepad handy and jotting down his questions, but that just didn’t stick.  It also doesn’t help that he usually asks wonderful questions while I’m driving the car, especially when we’re coming home from someplace and I’m exhausted.  But even if I know we’ll probably forget about it, I always say we can look that up later.  At the very least he knows I honor I his curiosity.

One thing Lori suggests, which is a great idea, but I often forget to do it, is to ask, “Where do you think we could find the answer to that?”  Usually he answers “the computer,” but he did surprise me once by suggesting another resource we had on our shelves: some cards with pictures and facts about animals.

Here are some things I do and plan to do as I move forth and try to keep my memory from lagging!

  • Before going to the library, I ask him what kind of books he might like to check out. He usually picks topics about questions he’s recently asked me. (This attests to the fact that children do have good memories when they are interested in something!)
    • In addition to this, when we’re at the library, I encourage him to ask the librarian for the books he wants.
  • I want him to learn that he can turn to people for answers.  For example:
    • As we begin history lessons (I haven’t done this yet), my son will have a great resource: his father who is a history professor.
    • Currently, my son is fascinated with snakes. One of my best friends is a herpetologist, so I’m going to propose to my son that we write her a letter with a list of questions that he might have. (If this works out, I’ll be sure to blog about it.)
    • As he develops more interests, I hope to tap into our network of friends, relatives or the community, if possible. (This can also be called socializing!)
  • Some of his questions might be answered by acting like a scientist: observing, experimenting, using all of his senses, etc..  That is, whenever possible, I need to remember to help him find other ways of answering questions and not always supply quick answers or resources.
  • In the future, I plan to teach my son what online sources are reputable and to be aware that not everything we read may be accurate.
    • Now as we explore the web together, I’m sorting and bookmarking certain web pages on his computer.  This may help with that.
  • Last but not least, I remind my son about the books and resources we have at home.
    • For example, when he had a question about clouds, I reminded him that we had a book about clouds, and we got it and read it right then.
    • I am not opposed to looking on Netflix and seeing if they have some kind of show or documentary about his topic of choice.  I think educational television is a wonderful resource, especially for auditory/visual learners, which I think applies to my five-year-old.  He amazes me how he’ll sit and watch a long documentary that is intended for an adult audience.  He may not grasp all of it, but his curiosity keeps him interested.

Please give me more ideas.  How do you teach your children how to find answers for themselves?

Homeschool Priorities Part 3: Exploration * Nature

The second priority on my list for my boys at ages 5 and 2 is Exploration and Nature.

I’m not aware of many families who don’t love nature and see the value in getting out into it, but unfortunately there must be some reason that a book like Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv is being written.  No, I have not read that book, but it and many others on this list look intriguing.  I hope to read some of them.

I have always loved nature.  I was lucky to have parents who enjoyed getting out into nature, and with them, I’ve traveled to many national parks in the U.S.  My dad loved boating, so we were often on a lake on weekends too.

My husband grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and he and his friends would play in an alleyway.  He said one of their neighbors would be enraged if any of the kids stepped one foot onto the small square of grass that was his front yard.  Fortunately, I had a nice yard as a child, although I have done my fair share of living in apartments too.

Anyway, my husband and I both fell in love with our yard before we fell in love with the house, although we love it too.  We have less than an acre, but it’s still big by our standards, and it has woods with a variety of trees.  So our nature and exploration starts in our own yard.   

Here are some simple things I do to let my boys explore and appreciate nature:

Most importantly, I hope that I impart the wisdom to respect and take care of nature and be very careful with it.  We follow my son’s knee-high naturalist teacher’s advice when turning over rocks and large branches.  Pull it towards you. If there’s an animal under it, doing this will allow that animal an escape route.  It will also keep you safe!

I used to be wary of letting the boys play with sticks, but then I saw this Ted Talk by Gever Tulley, and it gave me a different perspective.  So I give firm rules about playing with sticks.  (And I keep my eyes on them like glue!)  They can’t get too close to each other when they have a stick, and if they don’t follow this rule, the sticks have to be put down.

Once I needed to channel their energy and the stick toting, so with some fast thinking, I started making this little “shelter,” and the boys helped me gather the sticks and build it.

We are also fortunate that we live in rural Georgia, though we’re between the big city and a college town, which supplies us with a lot of culture and art.  We are two hours from the nearest mountain hiking trails, and we’re five hours from the ocean.  But when we can’t travel, we have Ft. Yargo, The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Sandy Creek Nature Center and many other parks and places to get us outside.

But wait.  I didn’t mean for “Exploration” to only imply exploration of nature.  I let my boys explore everything as long as it’s safe to do so.  When my five-year-old asks me questions about the human body, I get a book about the human body, a human body model and we also look online.  We explore his questions.

When my two-year-old wants to get into the cupboards, I lock the ones that aren’t safe, and I allow him to crawl into the other ones, pull out the pots, bowls, and whatever else might be in there.  I let him explore the world around him.

My husband and I have taken our boys to museums, aquariums, zoos, parks, and wildlife areas as much as we can.  Together we explore what’s out there.

I don’t consider myself an expert on kids; I’m learning this as I go.  But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that kids need freedom to explore, and they need nature.  Even if it’s just a small park with some grass they can roll around in.  But my hope for all children is that they can have the whole world.

I could go on and on about this subject, but I would like to hear from you.  Please tell me what you do to encourage your children to explore the world and get into nature.

Homeschool Priorities Part 2: Imagination * Play * Motion * Literature

scenes from my five-year-old’s puppet show

My first priorities for my sons at the ages of 5 and 2 are: imagination, play, motion and literature.

I grouped imagination/play/motion together because they go hand and hand.  At five-years-old, my son is using his tremendous imagination constantly.  The two-year-old is quite adept at it too. Playing is their number one job.  Right now as I type this, the five-year-old is upstairs with all his stuffed animals.  He has arranged them “just so” on his bed, and he says he’s keeping them warm.

He runs up and down the hallway, and he pretends he’s a horse. He “flies” toys around the house. Outside, he’ll find a strand of wild onion, tell me it’s an “eel” and then go feed it “ants.”

I’m thrilled to see that at five- and two-years-old, my boys are beginning to play together well, creating forts and pretending to be dinosaurs or ocean animals.  (This is also a big relief to me because I’m getting a little more free time to myself.)

Rough and tumble play is a frequent activity in our house.  My boys are always moving, always pretending, and I don’t want to discourage that.  There is clear evidence that children learn through play.  In addition, authors Michael Gurian (The Wonder of Boys) and Steve Biddulph (Raising Boys) both write about how important it is for boys to have plenty of space, and they need to move their bodies.

Biddulph writes in Raising Boys, “Sitting still at a desk for a long time is usually hard and painful for boys (and some girls too).  In early primary school, boys (whose motor nerves are still growing) actually get signals from their body saying,  ‘Move around. Use me.’ To a stressed-out first grade teacher, this looks like misbehavior.”  (This is in a section titled “Starting School: Why Boys Should Start Later.”)

I probably don’t have to convince you how important play and movement is for children (or any of this for that matter), so I’ll leave it at that.  But I will tell you exactly what I’m doing besides giving them ample time to imagine, play and move.  This is where my second priority, Literature, comes in.  The number one “schooling” activity kids this age should be involved in is soaking up books and stories: fiction, non-fiction, oral storytelling, plays, you get the drift.  (The phases of learning mentioned in this post is very intriguing to me, and I want to read more about educational philosophies that support this notion.)

  • We read books often.  If we’re not going anywhere, I have “book time” with both my boys in the mornings, and then we (my husband and I each take one child) usually read one book at bedtime with the five-year-old and look through several picture books with the two-year-old.  We go to the library too, but I’m lucky to have quite a nice collection of children’s books through library sales, so I find we have long stretches of time when we don’t go to the library because we’re busy with other things.

We read storybooks as well as non-fiction.  My five-year-old is very fond of science books about bugs, snakes, the earth or whatnot.

For a long time, I wanted to incorporate another way to foster make-believe with both my boys that I could easily participate in.  I also wanted to create some kind of morning ritual with them.  I wasn’t sure how to do this.  I started “book time” but I wanted more than that.  Then one morning my five-year-old pulled down the finger puppets that were sitting on the top of my bookshelf in the living room.  (They had been there untouched for a long time.)  He wanted to do a puppet show.

  • And that was the beginning of our morning puppet shows.  We all take turns putting on a play, and even my two-year-old will get behind the love seat and put on his own puppet show!  How cool is that?

We don’t do a puppet show every morning.  If we are going somewhere, or if the boys are playing nicely together, I don’t push it, but I do encourage it and ask for a puppet show on a regular basis.   My puppet shows are another outlet for me to impart some wisdom, though mostly I entertain.  (Once I even let their toy alligator try to eat the puppets.  It’s nice for me to have an outlet to do “boy stuff” in a way that suits my energy level.  Afterall, I’m a forty-year-old girl who likes to sit in one place!)

In addition:

My future goals:  In the near future, I hope we can find an art class for the five-year-old.  Long term goals: some kind of art study, music study, and/or creating more elaborate puppet shows.  I’d like to make some puppets or make a puppet stage.

What do you do to stimulate your child’s imagination?  And please come back.  I’ll continue to go over my homeschool priorities in detail.

Setting Our Homeschool Priorities for Two Boys, ages 5 & 2

In my last post I shared our homeschool mission statement and how I brainstormed what was most important to me to teach my children.  But how does that look on a day-to-day basis while my boys are five and two-years-old?  Obviously I’m not going to teach everything all at once.   Instead, I sorted out what my priorities are for them at this time.

I should note that I’m mainly referring to my five-year-old when I talk about specific things I’m teaching.  My two-year-old is happily tagging along and I involve him in what I can.

So what are my priorities for my five-year-old, a.k.a. Kindergartener?  I have read some blogs by homeschoolers with children this age, and it  amazes me what they are doing! I’m impressed how they spend a good portion of their day on “homeschool” whether they use a curriculum or various resources. At first I was inclined to think we weren’t doing enough, but then something occurred to me.  Usually these other families had one or more girls.  Maybe there was a boy in the mix, but there was always a girl. Having two boys, I know there is no way we could sit down and do formal lessons for more than say….twenty minutes (give or take)! Maybe it’s just my two boys, but having read many resources about boys, I’m inclined to believe gender makes a huge difference. Of course, family dynamics can make a difference too, and every family has to figure out what works for them. I made this list for myself to sort out what is most important for my five-year-old at this time. (And, honestly, if I had a girl, I think these would be my priorities too.)

All of these are equally important to me.  Click the links to go to the follow up post on each topic.

  • Imagination/Play/Motion – Let him use his imagination and be in motion as much as he needs to be.   Allowing for a lot of movement and having ample space for that is especially important for boys.
  • Literature – Immerse him in books and storytelling.
  • Exploration/Nature – Let him explore the world and get into nature as much as possible.
  • How to find answers – Encourage him to ask questions and teach him how to find answers.
  • Spend quality, stress-free time together – Use our time wisely.  Don’t over schedule the kids or myself.  Allow for plenty of time at home for free, unstructured playtime.  Allow for quiet time in the afternoons.
  • Teach responsibility/involve him in my work – I explain why we (mom and dad) need to work, why we all need to take care of our (only) home, and I plan to engage him more in the work/hobbies that I enjoy like blogging and photography.

Notice that except for literature, I didn’t mention any academic subjects.  This is because I don’t feel academics should be a priority for a five-year-old.   However, I am teaching my son reading and math right now, and I do think this is important.  These formal lessons are short and slow-paced, and I’ll explain the why, what and how of that in a future post.

And as I mentioned above, I’ll be following up this post with a series on how I accomplish all of these things.  I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and stay tuned!  Thank you for stopping by!

Please tell me what your priorities are for your child whatever his/her age might be. 

Our Homeschool Mission

Several years ago I read the mission of another homeschool family that I admire, and I liked the idea of creating a mission.  I don’t think it’s necessary if that’s not your thing, but for me, it helps me focus on what I want my children to learn.  This is especially important since I’m not depending on a curriculum.

Our mission is fluid.  Since I’m just starting out on this homeschooling journey, I’m not going to say this is what we’ll always do.  I’m sure my sons’ interests will take us on many varied paths.  But right now I need a compass to put me in the starting position.

So, almost two years ago, I began brainstorming about what was important to me to teach my children, and I came up with these lists.  The first list is “the basics” and the second list is what I want to teach or emphasize.  Many of these categories overlap, but I wrote them out as a reminder to myself.

Then I wrote the mission statement.  Yes, it’s a bit wordy and lofty, but like I said, I wanted a compass to guide me as I began to facilitate my children’s education.  Why not have a high ideal?  

Now that my eldest son is five-years-old, I am finally referring to this list and statement as I plan our activities.  I think it’ll help me focus my time and my blog, and maybe it’ll help some of you starting out too.

I begin with the categories of learning.  *Note that according to Georgia Law I’m required to teach the following: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.  The law does not go into further detail about what I have to teach.

Categories of Learning

The Basics:

Mama’s Emphasis/Additions:

  • Storytelling
  • Nature/Animals
  • International Education
  • World Religions Education
  • Spiritual Lessons/Life Missions – I have linked to my PBH page here because I think through this my sons will find their life’s work.
  • Leadership/Good Citizenship
  • Financial Literacy
  • Foreign Language

Without further ado…

Our Mission Statement:

The purpose of our homeschool is to not only teach our children what they need to know to be accepted into an accredited college (if they choose to do so) but to also foster a love of learning and give them a foundation on which to build a fulfilling life of their own.  We want to enable them to find what will make them prosper: spiritually, in their vocation, and for their livelihood.  We want to create strong citizens who have knowledge of the world they live in and a respect for the earth they live on.  We want to show them that learning is a life-long endeavor and that knowledge and experience are steppingstones to wisdom.

…Do you have a mission statement for your homeschool? Please share it with me.

In my next post, I’ll talk about our homeschool priorities for my sons’ current ages/levels: preschool and kindergarten.  And I’ll explain how I plan to go about fulfilling our mission.