Remember how your college professors had posted office hours outside the doors to their offices? You might stop by with a question, but if they weren’t there, you knew when you could get help: during office hours.
Making an application of that concept to how I run our crunch days at home was a light bulb moment for me. It forever changed crunch day.
The night before, I make myself prepare for our home day. I cannot go into my home days without evening preparation and expect them to run smoothly, no matter how good at this I think I am.
I look through assignment sheets and familiarize myself with what we need to get done. For grades two through four, I synthesize and rewrite the assignment sheet into a to-do list that matches my kids’ temperaments and strengths and assign order to their day. I put on the list when they should take breaks. It’s a simple list with check boxes, and it takes me ten minutes.
I set up stations around our homeschool table for my young students. It has their manipulatives and flash cards laid out. It has any games or tools we will be using to reinforce concepts. They can come into the room and see what their day looks like. It’s a “to-do” list for a non-reader.
Again, I have carefully arranged this table with an order in mind. Heavy subject, light subject, break up the handwriting. I have learned by trial and error what works for them and what doesn’t, and I set the table accordingly.
When all of this was taking shape for me, I was convicted by the idea that our mornings needed to start with our hearts orientated toward God and in fellowship with one another. I needed to ask for His strength to do this work and I needed to pray for my kids, in front of my kids.
So, I put together a brief morning liturgy. I called it “devotions” and asked that everyone join me at a specific time. Lest you think this is too high a calling for you, devotions are simple for us. We sing. We read scripture. We practice memory verses. We pray.
After devotions, I quickly check in with my older students and ask them for their work plan. What are they getting started on? What will they need my help with? Then, they leave to work independently for the morning.
While they work independently, the young girls and I are working around the table. The boys are not allowed to interrupt and ask questions. The door to the “office” is closed, but the hours for help are posted.
Because they know they will get office hours with me later in the day, they can move through their assignments and make notes of things they need to do during office hours. There may even be things we specifically decide before crunch day begins that will be saved for office hours like going through a literature assignment together or editing a paper. All corrections are reviewed and handed back during office hours. This way I can make sure they understand why they got a problem wrong, and we can do extra practice together if needed.
With my young children, we work our way around the table, station by station. Everything they need to learn with me or from me is completed in this time. Because I have done all the prep the night before, we move quickly from station to station. I don’t have to walk away from the table to find something I have forgotten and break our momentum.
All of this continues until lunch. One of my older boys will make lunch. Usually, it’s cans of SpaghettiOs or boxes of mac and cheese. It is supposed to be easy, fast, and quick to clean up. Lunch is a good break for all, but it cannot derail the day. I used to spend lunch time correcting papers from the morning and checking email, but I’ve recently felt like it is more important I read out loud to them instead. All of them. Even the teenagers.
After lunch is cleaned up, and I have eaten, office hours begin. Who goes when depends on whose day is light or heavy and who must get to practice. But all of them know they will get one on one time with me in the afternoon or evening. Scheduled, predictable, one on one time with their home teacher, just like I had with my college professor.
Having this structure to our home days has made such a huge difference for me. I am no longer stressed about getting it all done, or about anyone flying under the radar and not getting the help they need. It has freed me up to focus my undivided attention on each of my children at a specific time during the day. I feel less pulled and pushed, stressed and stretched than I did before.
The structure assures me we will get through the day. It may be a long day, but we’ve got a plan. I know that I won’t have to reinvent something every Tuesday to “just get it done.” The structure of office hours has freed me up to see my children as people and not assignment sheets arranged by grade level. I tweak and manage the structure of our day, not my children. Not anymore.
As we bring our children up through this model of education, we are working with them toward achieving independence. We want them to be self-motivated, focused, and responsible for their work. But this doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process. Office hours has been a part of that process for our family.