a homeschool life conversation with jesika harmon
We are the Harmons! Robbie, aka the Principal who the students actually want to get sent to visit; Jesika, aka the teacher/mom who some days flies by the seat of her pants; Bree, aka the sweet 9 year old who loves everything art, history and music, and not so much anything math this year; Gabe, aka the 7 year old who rolls his eyes at reading unless it has to do with animals and college sports teams; McKay, aka the 5 year old who is trying to find his place as the third child and has all the sport/math/reading talent as his older siblings but kindawants to be different; and Quinn, aka the 3 year old ballerina who reminds mom that she has to do “her math and grammar” every day too.
Why do you homeschool?
Homeschooling came as a surprise for us. The seeds had been planted in my heart since my oldest was a toddler through meeting and becoming friends with other homeschooling mothers, but it wasn’t until she was finishing second grade and my son was in kindergarten that we felt strongly that this was the right path for us. There were many reasons, but the most poignant was that we just didn’t feel like our children had their core established enough to be with peers more than they were with mom and dad. By core I mean those beliefs that guide your choices and actions. That strong core that helps you be a leader when others aren’t making good choices, and that helps you choose the right and be the kind of person you know you should be. Our oldest especially was being heavily influenced by her peers and she was choosing to follow rather than be a leader, and we wanted to make sure she knew who she was before she got to the crazy middle school years when peer influences would be so much stronger! And at the end of the day, we just felt like God was telling us this was the right thing for our family at this time.
What does your morning routine look like?
Unfortunately I don’t have kids who sleep in (that may change in high school? Please!) so our mornings start early. I get up around 5:30 to exercise and do scripture study, kids start coming out around 6:30 and they begin their morning chores of making beds, getting dressed brushing teeth, saying prayers, and for the older two piano practicing and cello practice for #3. I go between helping with practicing, getting ready (some days) and making breakfast. We have breakfast with daddy at 7:30 where we also do our family scripture reading. After breakfast I finish helping with practicing/getting ready and preparing for what comes next. There is also a lot of rough housing and playing around during that time! We start school around 8:30.
How do you do meals on a typical homeschool day?
Meals are usually a family affair. I always have a helper or two making the smoothie or toasting the toast at breakfast, peeling carrots or cucumbers to go along with lunch, or setting the table at dinner. Sometimes I will do dinner in the crock pot during our morning break, but we are finished with school work in plenty of time for me to fix dinner around 5 to be ready to eat at 6. At least once a week I double a recipe (like soup or chili) to have leftovers for evenings when we have sports practices/scouts/tumbling/etc…
What does your school planning involve?
The beginning of the school year I look at every subject and see what I think I want us to complete. I make lists for books and supplies to check out or purchase, and map out details for when I am going to teach what. Then I sit down with my children all together, each with our own calendars, and we plan some fun stuff. Crazy hair day, pajama day, Tuesday treat day…they love this. Then during the year I plan specifically for the week on Sunday evenings (but I am trying to move that to Thursdays…just hasn’t worked yet!), and then every night I look at the next day and print out and gather necessary materials. For field trips with friends we planned at the beginning of the school year, but some happen spontaneously.
I did learn though after our first year that it’s ok for plans to change. I was doing a reading program (that I love and did with my older two children) with my kindergartener, and while he was fine doing it during the Pre-K year, for some reason once we hit kindergarten it became a huge battle. So instead of just doing reading lessons we started doing other things, like writing and reading words written in sugar (we will start with a word and then he will write as many words as we can think of that rhyme with it…a great way to practice different sounds!), I had to change it up a bit and give him a little more say in how we practice reading and he has responded really well.
How do you teach different ages/different needs?
I have a curriculum called Latter-day Learning that I use for History, Geography, Science, Art, Music and Literature that has beautiful lessons that are taught in a family school format. So it is something that we all do together, but then the assignments they get at the end of the s are age appropriate. So while my 9 year old may be doing some research on the climate of a European region of choice and writing a one page essay, my 7 year old will be answering questions about the region he chose based off of research we did together, and then my kindergartener will be cutting and stapling together weather cards and copying the words at the top, “rain,” “snow,” “sun…”
This format has inspired me in other subjects. It is easy to think of different age appropriate assignments that go along with whatever we are learning.
For Math and Grammar I have curriculums for their different ages that I do with them one on one while the others babysit eachother.
How do you handle kids acting out, complaining, or not wanting to do schoolwork?
This probably sounds crazy, but I make them call me, “Miss Jesika.” So both of my older two took dance from me when they were fouryears old. They had to call me Miss Jesika in class just like the other children did. Since my children have all gone to school at some point (my oldestwent to public school for 3 years, second went for Kindergarten, and my younger two have gone elsewhere for preschool) as well as going to Sunday school classes, they have all had teachers other than mom, which I think is important. When I know they are acting in a way they would never act for another teacher, “Miss Jesika” seems appropriate. And it’s funny, but they hate calling me that, so it usually solves the problem pretty quickly.
What is the general schedule of your day?
Our days have a similar flow every day, but we switch off doing some subjects depending on the day.
5 min. Morning meeting (where we say the pledge, recite the poem or scripture we are working on for the month, sing a song, and say an opening prayer.)
The rest depends on the day of the week:
15 min. Journal write -three times a week
1 hour. Family lesson (for History, Literature, Science, Art, Music, and Geography) -twice a week
30 min. Mid-morning break for snack and play time–daily.
30 min approx. One-on-one Math –daily.This is where I sit with one child and teach them a lesson and give them their homework. (The other children “babysit” each other during this time and get paid a small amount each week for good babysitting.)
One-on-one Grammar Lessons –twice a week. (here they memorize poems, practice sentence structure, and spelling)
20 min. Spanish Lessons on the computer –twice a week.
20 min. Typing practice (for the older two) – twice a week.
Field Trips are planned with friends usually once a month (sometimes more)
Friday Fun-day (I let the children help plan a fun activity for every Friday. A hike, an art project, a visit to a new park or venue, etc…)
Individual reading time –daily
Read-A-Loud together -daily
All these times are approximate…and it is mixed in with a lot of play time! And now that our Arizona weather is cooling off we are doing more outside time! Sometimes we will do our read aloud outside, sometimes we will do recess at a park, and sometimes we just go out and play.
How do you keep your house clean/laundry done?
The children are in charge of keeping their rooms clean and each have jobs around the house as well. Daily jobs are: Unloading is done by my 5 year old with the 3 year old doing the silverware (with mom’s help), garbage is taken out by my 7 year old, and my 9 year old sweeps. They are in charge of washing their dish and silverware after each meal and usually use that same dish the entire day. They each have a water bottle they use for water for meals and throughout the day. So I am just left with some loading, and wiping down the counters. (And touch up washing of 5 year old dishes)
Friday’s they deep clean their room, then help with the bathroom sinks, mirrors, garbages, and shoe organizing. These jobs rotate between the children each week. So I do the toilets and floors, and help with their things as needed. We all do it together and usually turn on a musical of some sort (think “Oklahoma,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Wicked”…) and sing and dance while we work! Once a month I do the entire house (or when I am lucky get some cleaning ladies to come! Honestly it is such a blessing and my husband loves when we can do it. It is such a gift to me, especially since I have been homeschooling.) Then I assign the children other jobs like windows and organizing the toy room!
Laundry…ehhem…just gets done when it gets done! I usually do a ton of loads all day, then clean laundry gets piled up on the guest room bed, and the kids and I sit in there one afternoon after school and they sort and fold their clothes while watching a movie.
What are your daily essentials (must-do daily things)?
Morning prayer and scripture study. I have to start my day with God or the day is just not the same!
Exercise. I get up early before the kids are awake and love this time to sweat.
Healthy food and limited sugar…when my kids eat better I like to be around them more! They are less hyper and better behaved.
Music. Music breaks during the day do a lot for my psyche and mood! I don’t always remember this, but am happier when I do!
What helps you know what to leave undone?
I try and tell myself that my children are what is most important. I have chosen to homeschool because I want to build my relationships with them. If things are taking away from them, then it can wait. I won’t ever get this time with them back. My husband really helps pick up the slack.
What helps you on a hard day?
Taking a minute alone. A quick prayer.Taking a deep breath.Apologizing to my children. Making sure I am eating enough!(“Hanger” is a real thing!)
What makes a really great day?
Laughing with my children. When we are laughing I know things are going well!
What do you do to rejuvenate yourself?
I need to work on this one. (My husband tells me so!) But a weekend off always does wonders towards the next week. Especially if there is a date night involved.
What are your long-term education goals for your family?
My long term goal for my children is for them to know how to learn and to enjoy it. I want them to have the skills to do what they need to do (like long math assignments and research papers), to be able to seek out more of what they love (whether it be science, or new literature, or art), and to know that with God they have the ability to become whatever they want to be. I am just taking the homeschooling thing a year at a time. I believe that both homeschool, and “public” school can teach my children important lessons. I want to be open to the different opportunities for developing their minds and giving them the best education possible. I love that homeschooling gets to be part of it for us.
What do you love most about homeschooling?
Having time with my children. Getting to really know who they are as people. Knowing exactly what they are learning. Bringing God into their secular education.
Anything else you can include that you think would be helpful.
I have learned that flexibility makes things much less stressful! Last year was so wonderful. I truly LOVED it. This year when school started we had relatives (with two young children) living with us for the first two months while their home was being built, then after they left I found out I was pregnant. Both events have thrown a HUGE wrench into our homeschooling schedulethis year. But I have tried to give myself grace…like on days that we don’t get to grammar because I am sick on the couch, we read extra and I have them narrate and write downwords they don’t know to look up. Or when I lose patience (because sadly my patience is so thin when I am expecting) and I apologize and talk to my children about how mommy needs repentance too, I try and remember that it is a blessing for them to see how mom is human. She makes mistakes and that is why we all need Jesus. That is an important lesson, more important than a spelling worksheet that day. My children have been serving me in new ways and have been taking care of each other more as I have been sick, and I am praying that this time of perhaps not our best “scholastic time” will still prove to be a great time of learningfor our family.
Jesika likes running, dancing, and reading, loves laughing, popcorn, and being outdoors, and lives for date nights, sunshine, and His grace. Connect with Jesika on Instagram @jesika_harmon.