How We Homeschool: A Day In The Life with a Pre-K Kiddo, A Toddler, and Baby on the Way
This article contains affiliate links to products I have personally used and loved. If you purchase using one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
We’re three weeks into full-time homeschooling (again), and we’re in a pretty good groove these days. I thought folks might be curious to see what a “typical” homeschool day looks like around here.
One thing I’m loving, especially as I’m currently pregnant, is there is no rush to wake up and get moving in the morning. When we had the morning school rush, I could never take the luxury of sleeping in if the kids happened to be sleeping in as well.
Right now, our kids go to bed around 7:30 pm. The toddler happily reads books in her room until we get her around 7:15 am the next day. (Amazing, right? We’re so lucky.)
My oldest wakes up anywhere from 6:30 to 7:00 am, and she goes downstairs to watch cartoons until the rest of the family comes down. I’m usually up around 7, and I just throw on yoga pants and brush my teeth before I’m ready to go down to face the day.
I let the kids watch TV while I have a cup of coffee and read emails and handle anything pressing in my inbox. We break for breakfast around 8 am.
Do I love all the morning TV? Meh. It’s not ideal. But the fact that my oldest can go and get herself settled in downstairs while the rest of us wake up is bleeping fantastic.
I signal the start of breakfast by turning on music. I make a playlist every week based on our weekly theme, and we listen to this playlist all week long during meals and in the car.
The first few songs on the playlist are more interactive (nursery rhymes or clapping songs), so we listen to those while I get food on the table. I usually ask my older kiddo to “teach” the toddler the song, which keeps them both occupied.
As we eat, I read 3-5 picture books or poems. We talk about the books, discuss vocabulary, practice finding the letter of the week, and rehearse various social-emotional skills through role-play while eating. Honestly, since this is just pre-k, we finish half our daily to-do list just over breakfast.
It’s also nice because we can linger and dig into the books without feeling rushed to get to school in the morning. I also find that reading books keeps my kids sitting at the table much longer than they would normally.
We were doing morning basket even while my oldest attended regular school, but it was necessarily truncated because of schedule limitations. But we really love this morning routine. Regardless of what we do school-wise in the future, I can’t imagine ever giving up this habit of listening to music to wake us up and sharing books over breakfast.
I plan three or four other activities in the morning as part of “school” but we usually go off-track almost immediately, and I’m okay with that.
I usually have a logic activity planned after Morning Basket: I rotate between a few pages from Developing The Early Learner (Monday), puzzles (Tuesday), an activity from Socks are Like Pants or Moebius Noodles (Thursday), and a SmartGame (Friday). (Wednesdays are our flex day or field trip day.)
About half the time, she’ll be into whatever activity I have ready. Usually, though, she runs from the breakfast table with some “great idea” for something she wants to build or create or play. That’s cool with me.
This week, we’re studying failure and resilience as part of our Torchlight Pre-K curriculum. Our Morning Basket this week included After the Fall, The Most Magnificent Thing, and Izzy Gizmo (all of which are excellent and I highly recommend adding to your library). After reading these books over the last two days, my kid declared that she felt inspired to make her own invention.
She wandered to the art cupboard and came back with modeling clay, pipe cleaners, sparkly glue, paint, and a hot glue gun. I had no idea what she had in mind, and I doubt she did either when she started.
An hour later, she had made “a jungle tree”. I helped her with some of the cutting and the hot glue, but she did the rest herself.
I did have an art project in mind from Art Lab For Kids, but I was happy to set this aside in favor of letting her do her own thing.
Next, I had a science experiment planned where we would explore icebergs through sensory play.
Conveniently, my kid asked to “make a penguin set-up” in the bathtub, so I was able to easily and quickly adapt the science experiment to be bathtub-friendly.
I had frozen a few “icebergs” in tupperware the night before, and I literally just poured a bunch of ice cubes and icebergs into the tub and let both kids play for 45 minutes. Sure, we talked about why ice floats and we observed how most of the iceberg was under the water and we talked about how penguins stay warm in cold water. But mom also got to sit down and scroll through her phone after the first ten minutes, aka #parentingwin.
All of these questions and observations built on several experiments and books we read last week about penguins and Antarctica, so it was really more reinforcement of the ideas we’re already discussing than anything new. She’s really embraced this penguin unit study so we’ve just been going with it — she’s probably taken ten “penguin baths” in the last week. At one point, she covered the entire bathroom floor in white towels to recreate snow. (And then we did a very important lesson on LAUNDRY.)
I don’t plan all of this. We read a few books, I have a few science experiments planned (these all came from our January Ivy Kids Kit box), and she comes up with the rest.
It’s self-directed learning at it’s very best, and she LOVES it.
After her penguin bath, the toddler went to the park with our wonderful nanny while I brought out our math lesson for the day.
But my kiddo wasn’t really feeling the math just yet and asked if she could make her own lesson plan instead. Sure, why not?
She basically recreated an Ivy Kids Kit box, complete with her own version of the instructions sheet. When she asked me to help her find activities to put inside her box, I coincidentally suggested her logic workbook and an art project. (Cue evil homeschool-mom laugh here.) Then, she “taught” me her logic lesson from Developing the Early Learner.
After we did a few pages from her workbook together, she asked me to color with her. Ughhhhhh, I hate coloring.
Instead, I sat with her while she colored and I read one of our longer read-alouds while she worked. We are supplementing Torchlight with the Bookshark Pre-K read-alouds. The Torchlight books are wonderful: modern, diverse, and thematically interesting. But they’re all picture books, and I wanted to bring in some more challenging stories (aka longer, fewer pictures).
The Bookshark Pre-K read-alouds are sometimes problematic because of their content and vocabulary, but in general, they work for us.
She got really into today’s story (the original “Flat Stanley” as featured in the anthology, You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You), and we had lots of opportunities to pause and talk about character motives, weird vocabulary, and other interesting components of the story. It was pleasant to sit and read, to eat a snack when we were hungry, and to take our time with the story without feeling rushed.
I flip-flop her math and phonics lessons every other day. We did phonics yesterday, so today I brought out the math book. We really love TG&TB Math K curriculum — I can’t rave about it enough. If only it were secular, it would be perfect, but it’s been easy to modify so far.
Every math lesson starts with a brief warm-up. We do the calendar for the day, sing the days-of-the-week song, and practice writing the date (I write, she watches). Then we practice counting (today was counting up to 22). Then we do our “Shape Shuffle,” where she randomly picks a shape card from the stack and we color on a bar graph for whatever shape we picked. Last, we work on place value by coloring in a square in the place value chart (also number 22 for today).
That is a ton of stuff to cover before we even get to the main lesson!
Main Math Lesson
Today we practiced odd and even numbers. I am just blown away that my four-year-old already grasps this topic, and I give credit to TG&TB for teaching it so clearly.
After the 10 minute lesson and a few minutes playing a dice game to practice the concept, she could recognize odd and even numbers of any size without manipulatives. We had fun coming up with ridiculously large numbers, and she correctly identified them as odd or even (is “ONE TRILLION AND FIVE” an odd or even number?” or “Here, I’m going to write a big number, is it odd or even? 576,853 is…odd! That’s right!).
There was a worksheet to practice the concept further, but I felt like she got the idea so I tucked it aside to do tomorrow if we feel like it.
At that point, we had been sitting for a really long time (longer than we usually do, to be honest). She was starting to act cranky, so we took a break to FaceTime Nana & Pop-Pop and just relax.
My toddler came home and we started preparing lunch. I felt like we had done a ton of work for the day and I was happy to end all lessons, but my oldest requested MORE BOOKS.
We had had a dentist appointment the day before and hadn’t quite finished all our books from Monday, so I just grabbed those and read to the kids while they ate lunch.
At one point, my oldest burst out, “I HAVE AN IDEA.” She then described how she wanted to create a rainstorm in the house by painting “the noodles I like” (aka, rigatoni) blue, threading string through them, and hanging them from the ceiling, and “also let’s get cotton balls to be the snow.”
I have no clue where she got this idea — it isn’t based on anything we’ve done together — but now I know what art project we’ll be doing tomorrow (after I run out for the rigatoni).
The toddler naps after lunch from about 1 -3 pm, and I’m usually tapped out when it comes to on-call parenting by this point of the day.
Yes, it’s an honor to be there while my kid makes so many discoveries and learns so many interesting things, but it also VERY emotionally intense for me. My oldest craves direct attention and struggles to do activities independently. We have to pause approximately 37 times every minute to address some tangent of hers, or to get the wiggles out, or to “try again” when she needs an attitude check. I constantly have to stay on my toes, adjusting lesson plans, finding ways to keep her engaged. It’s exhausting.
So, yes, I might let my oldest have a little screen time around now with Reading Eggs, which she really enjoys. I usually cap it at about 20 minutes, and I use this to eat my own lunch and zone out for a bit.
After screen time and lunch, I head up to my bedroom to eek out a few hours of work (I’m currently editing a book). Our nanny takes my oldest outside to play while my toddler naps.
All the other neighborhood kids are usually trickling home from school around now, and I work REALLY hard to keep our afternoons free so she can participate in unstructured kid play for the rest of the day.
Right now, we only do one extracurricular a week (horseback riding), and I’ve scheduled those lessons for the morning so that her afternoon is free to just play and be social with other kids.
Since it’s Guatemala and it’s beautiful year-round, the kids will happily run around one of the many parks in our neighborhood or perhaps go swimming for a few hours. She’s outside every day from around 1 – 4:30 pm.
I get the baby up around 3 and we have some time together in the late afternoon. I use this time to do some tidying or dinner prep. As much as I know I should use this time to play one-on-one with my youngest, I’m really bad about getting on the floor and just playing. I am awesome at structured art projects or science experiments, but I suck at the endless rounds of peek-a-book or pretend kitchen.
At 4:30 pm, I cut myself off from whatever I’m doing and make myself go outside. If if I’m feeling super pregnant (aka lazy), I sit outside in a lawn chair while the kids run around with the neighbors in our shared driveway.
If I can muster the energy, I take us all on a walk around the neighborhood. I really really really try to make this happen, as it’s the only exercise I’m doing right now and I always feel so much better afterward.
Dinner & Bedtime
I make 75% of dinner early in the afternoon so it usually only takes 15 minutes or so to pull the rest of it together after we come inside.
When my oldest was in regular school, we felt pressured to eat dinner early so we had time to do baths and get everyone to bed “on time”. That pressure is largely gone now.
After coming home from the park or our walk around 5:30, my husband finishes making dinner (I sit and watch, ha) while the kids watch TV. We eat as a family around 6 pm.
After dinner, I monitor bath time while my husband cleans the kitchen and makes the sippy cups for the morning. After he comes upstairs and the kids are in their pajamas, we do “special time” in the playroom for twenty minutes or so.
Then, one of us starts the toddler’s bedtime routine around 7 pm. The other adult takes the older kiddo into her room around 7:15 pm to start reading books. If all goes well, they’re both down by 7:30 pm.
Grown-up Time/Morning Prep
I might take five minutes to prep my morning basket for the next day or to pull out the supplies I need for a particular science experiment. Usually, I’m too lazy.
I spend an hour or two every weekend making my weekly lesson plan, so there’s very little for me to do during the week. I have a shelf in our dining room where I put all the books we need for the week, so it’s no big deal to just grab a book from the shelf and move it to the morning basket. Over the weekend, I flag all the pages we’re going to read with post-its. I also print out any worksheets we need for the week ahead of time.
I could use the evening to be productive, but…meh. We usually watch a few shows on Netflix and I head upstairs around 9:15 pm. I read for 45 minutes or so, journal for a few minutes, and then I’m usually conked out by 10 pm.
Yup, I have a four-year-old and a toddler, and I get nine hours of sleep a night. I am living the dream.
A Note On Help
I couldn’t do this without the help I get from my husband, my nanny, and our housekeeper.
First, my husband is a full equal partner who comes home every day from work and does most of the evening cooking and dinner clean-up, as well as being fully hands-on with bedtime. On weekends, he does the grocery shopping and any Mr. Fix-It jobs that need to be done. I am in charge of budgeting, meal planning and daily meal prep, doctor appointments/kid schedules, and house organization/daily tidying, (and homeschooling, duh).
We also specifically moved overseas so that we could live in a community with lots of kids, lots of outdoor time, and where we could afford help.
My nanny does all the dishes after breakfast/lunch/meal prep and she does most of the laundry. She also helps with the mundane daily cleaning, like wiping down counters and sweeping the floor. (This allows me to focus on tidying that only I can do, like managing the influx of papers, bills, and kid artwork, keeping track of outgrown clothes, and maintaining a toy rotation in the playroom, etc.)
I also have a housekeeper who comes twice a week and does the deep cleaning. I could not get as much sleep as I do or take the time to work every afternoon while my toddler naps without their help. Point blank. If you’re homeschooling or you have young kids AND you are in a position where you have to do your own housework, then you have my permission to flip me the bird right now.
I used to live that life, where I had to do it all, when we were in Boston. I felt ragged all the time, like I was never doing enough in parenting, in my work, around the house. We chose this life here in Guatemala and we made big sacrifices to get to this particular country where we could have this lifestyle. But that’s a different post for another day 🙂
What’s Going Well in our Pre-K Homeschool Day
I’m pretty happy with our daily flow right now.
I love how much art, science, and reading we do every day. I love that she’s outside for hours every day. I love our relaxed mornings, and I love the freedom we have to explore random interests.
I love how easy it is to teach practical skills like cooking, self-care, and emotional regulation, just through simple daily life.
I love that my girls get so much time together. I love watching the oldest teach her baby sister her colors or her shapes or how to sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.” I think this sort of family connection is one of the biggest benefits to this schooling choice.
Most of all, I love the self-directed learning. You want to spend three weeks going all-in on penguins? Let’s do it. Have a burning passion to understand how bones work? We can explore that to your heart’s content.
It’s an adventure every day to see what she’ll decide to make or create. Facepaint herself to look like a unicorn? Build boats out of modeling clay to float her animals across the “lake”? Or make an airplane out of a leftover cardboard box? Every day it’s something different, and I LOVE that we have the freedom to just embrace those creative bursts.
Homeschooling has also forced me to slow down. I have to repeatedly tell myself that my own projects are off-limits until after the toddler goes down for a nap in the afternoon. Aside from meal prep and getting everyone dressed for the day, I don’t check email or try to do any of my own projects during “school time” (every day from about 8 am until 1 pm).
What We Could Do Better
My biggest complaint right now is the TV. There might be as much as 90 minutes in the morning, plus another half hour after lunch, and another 30-60 minutes in the evening, depending on when we get dinner on the table. It never feels like a lot in the moment, but when I look back at the day, it makes me cringe.
I think our math and phonics might be a touch overkill, but I still worry about “keeping up” and I want to make sure she’ll be able to integrate into regular one day, if we want to. I only plan two lessons a week from our phonics and math books, and I try to stay relaxed about finishing the lessons, but still…she’s four.
I also think my energy and attitude could improve. If I were in a formal classroom, I know I would be enthusiastic and bouncy. But because it’s my own kid and I’m wearing three-day-old leggings, I can kind of drag through lessons. I resort to begging (“Just do 10 minutes of school with me and then you can have a popsicle!”). I don’t always feel like I’m giving her the best of me, just because we’re ALWAYS TOGETHER.
I do wish my oldest had more social play during the day — I can tell she craves the sort of role play and dramatic play that you can really only get in groups of peer-group-based kids. I wish there was a homeschool co-op nearby, but there’s not.
Last, I worry CONSTANTLY that my toddler gets the short end of the stick. She’s old enough now (22 months) where she can hang out for the first part of an art or science lesson, but then she gets bored and starts wreaking havoc, and then the nanny steps in to take her to the playroom or to go outside. My oldest gets at least three hours of mommy-time every day, while the toddler mostly just comes along for the ride. It’s my biggest source of mom-guilt at the moment.
What’s Next in Our Homeschool
I’d like to start working in more hands-on music. After this baby comes, I’m thinking about starting piano lessons. I wish there was a preschool-music class in the area, but there just aren’t any options outside of traditional schools in Guatemala.
Once my toddler hits 2.5, I will start looking at special activities to do with her every day. We started Mother Goose Time when my oldest turned 2.5, and we loved it. But I have to think whether I want to run two curriculums simultaneously, or just find other ways to carve out special time with her. By the time she’s 2.5, her baby brother will have joined us, so I have to be realistic about my time.
I don’t know when or if we’ll return to traditional school. The oldest is due to start kindergarten in the fall, and there’s a great kinder program available with Spanish immersion, a huge nature playground, tons of extracurriculars, and lots of kids to play with. It would answer a lot of the “downfalls” of our homeschool program (while introducing pitfalls of its own). We’ll see.
For now, we’re operating one week at a time. It’s working. For now.