The One Where We Revise Our Precious Routine and Live To Tell About It

I’m not big on schedules, but for me (and the Agents) routine is life. We’re not so much clock-watchers as we are creatures of habit. When our rhythm is thrown off, everyone feels it. Even the cat. (Seriously. We joke all the time that he keeps us on target because he has come to expect things to be a certain way.) 

For the past few years we’ve had a pretty sweet pattern down for school (and everything else). And until recently it worked swimmingly. But, then it didn't.

My lovely students with our new droid friend

In our “old” way of planning, we spread school out into “morning school” and “afternoon school” (which I’ve posted about here). We needed a long break between “sessions” because too much all at once was overwhelming. The girls and I also read a few books each day that their little brother wouldn’t have been ready for while he played alone or had some Kindle time. I would additionally spend part of each day listening to my youngest student read out loud, since he was just learning. 

We also had a system where we did certain subjects three days a week and others only two days a week. Somehow in my mind I had elevated some topics (e.g., science, history, geography) to higher importance over other subjects (e.g., health, art, music); hence the disparity in days covered. I’m not really sure why I did this; I’m guessing it has to do with the fact that it was always done that way when I was in school. 

Several changes in the last few months, however, have prompted us to re-evaluate. The Agents are older now; we’re in a new area with more to do (so we—gasp—actually leave the house a few days a week); at least one student is doing more independent work; everyone is reading well on their own; and attention spans have increased all around.

At the zoo on Christmas day

While we still do math and language arts every day—their choice; I offered to change up this part of our day as well and they all declined—we now do half of our other subjects Mondays and Wednesdays and half Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday is catch-up day, and if we are all “caught up” we simply spend more time reading and playing or maybe linger at the playground.

So, sort of a four-day week, but really just a more efficient plan with built-in wiggle room.

Our Monday/Wednesday subjects are Spanish, Mythology (this year’s focus is Egyptian), World Religions (currently Sikhism), Geography (making our way through Where On Earth?), and World History (we’re up to the early 1600s and focusing right now on Edo Japan).

On Tuesdays and Thursdays we cover art and music (this week it’s Mary Cassatt and Clara Schumann), health (right now it’s the muscular system), biographies (famous explorers at the moment), and science (we’re finishing up Women in Science). 

We are also re-watching a few favorites in the evenings: Liberty’s Kids (so, our formal US History plan is temporarily on hold) and Cosmos (because, awesomeness).

At the movies on Christmas eve

We’ve also changed the way we structure our days. Basically, we have three scenarios:
  1. We are staying in all day and we’ve had an early start. On these days, we’re typically done with everything before lunchtime.
  2. We are staying in all day and we’ve procrastinated and/or just couldn’t get it together. On these days we do “table work” (math and language arts) before lunch; take about an hour to prepare, eat, and clean up lunch; and then finish afterward.
  3. We go out in the morning (groceries, museum, library, playdate, whatever). On these days we start after lunch and work straight through until we’ve finished.
In all three cases, we are now almost always completely done with school work no later than 2:00-2:30 p.m., and if we aren't we just add whatever is left to our to do list for Friday.

Other parts of our daily routine have remained relatively stable, although it seems we're erring on the side of the-earlier-the-better with most activities. I’m still awake before everyone else, usually by 6:00. (Thanks, Cat.) We generally have breakfast around 9:00 or 9:30, lunch around 12:00 or 12:30, and dinner at 5:00. Now that it’s dark ridiculously early, outside time is no later than 3:30-4:00, and we head up to bath time shortly after dinner (by 6:15 most nights). Post-bath we enjoy some quality Netflix and snacking. We all go to bed at the same time, rarely later than 9:30-9:45. 

My feline alarm clock
One recent change we’ve implemented—and by implemented I mean we’ve done it once but have good intentions—is Science Sunday. Because we’ve had zero luck finding an activity we’re excited about on Sunday mornings (a post for another day) we’ve decided to use that time to explore the many educational opportunities close to us (zoo, museums, etc.). Since we’ve also had no real luck with homeschooling groups, either, I’m ultimately hoping I can convince some of my local secular friends (i.e., the few that aren’t busy with church)  to join us as well.

How We Do Christmas

When Agent E was about three and a half we were watching some children’s Christmas special (I don’t even remember what it was) that portrayed the whole be good, Santa’s watching you, woo hoo presents, reindeer fly around the world in one night thing. When it was over, she turned to me and scoffed, “That doesn’t really happen, does it? It’s all pretend, right? That can’t happen.” 

A skeptic from the get-go, that one.

Current tree and stockings and present set up.
Note that everything is up high.

So needless to say, we never did the Santa thing with the Agents. It just seemed like a lot of unnecessary work, TBH. We treat Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. the same as any other myths. They know they’re just stories that some people have fun with—but we choose not to. It’s not really a big deal to them.

Speaking of stories, during December we’ll read about Christmas, winter, the solstice, and pagan traditions. A Solstice Tree for Jenny is one of our favorites. We'll re-read the story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus from the Bible as well. Agent J is not impressed with the wise men and their choice of gifts. (She suggested they could have brought something useful, like dinner for Mary or a blanket for the baby.) 

If you prefer videos to books, Adam Ruins Everything: The Drunken, Pagan History of Christmas is a must watch. Seth Andrews (aka, The Thinking Atheist) has a pretty good summary video, too. 

Giant inflatable Yoda. Because, why not?

We still do presents. But they know they are all from us. And they often help pick them out. 

Every year I think oh, I won’t spend that much on the Agents at Christmas and every year I end up spending more than I intend to—although I think I stay reined in fairly well. And when I read blog posts and friends’ comments about how much they spend on Christmas—even folks who claim to “keep things simple”—I realize that maybe we are more conservative in our holiday purchasing than I thought.

This year I just flat out asked them if they would rather sort out and donate some older toys, and then get a few new ones, or just hang onto their old toys a little longer, and they chose the latter. So, no new "toys" for this year, although I was really tempted by some of the cool Lego sets. 

Each Agent has a stocking with a few small items (a book and journal for the girls, a couple of CDs for Agent A, Tsum Tsums and Ufufys for all—because they collect them and they’re a wee bit obsessed).

I also ordered some books/workbooks we will be using for school in the next few months, but now they are “gifts” simply because unwrapping stuff is fun.

Random flashback to celebrating Xmas 2012,
aboard the Disney Fantasy.

We picked up some new gel pens and markers (at Costco, and they were with me because it wasn’t something available online). While we were there they also each picked out a box set of books (so again not a surprise, but whatever). Agent E chose the Nancy Drew books 1-10; Agent J chose a 15-book set of Beverly Cleary titles; and Agent E went with a Star Wars/Pete the Cat combo. (Since his choices were less expensive he got two.)

At least two Agents are getting new jammies. And I have a shiny new coffee mug.

The only thing they will be opening that they truly have no idea I ordered is Star Wars Rebels on DVD. (It’s not on Netflix, and the DVDs were cheaper than ordering it on Amazon Prime.) We recently had season three out of the library, and they all loved it—even Agent A, who usually doesn’t pay much attention to such things. They’ll enjoy binge watching together.

We put up a tree, albeit a tiny two-foot one on top of the art cabinet. And it has all Star Wars ornaments. Because, Star Wars. The rest of our decorations are pretty minimal. We now have a cat who messes with stuff, so we definitely simplified this year. We might make cookies at some point. Oh, and we stopped at Bath and Body Works to pick up fancy soaps so now all the sinks smell like peppermint or vanilla. 

Current favorite photo of Oscar Darwin, 
The Cat Who Messes With Stuff.

It probably goes without saying that no creepy elves grace our home.

Christmas eve we have big plans to eat donuts for breakfast and then head to the movie theater for the earliest showing of Episode VIII. Then come home and open presents. And probably eat more donuts.

Christmas day will be pretty much like every other day, except we won't do school.

Are we doing it right?