Mom School: Prototyping a Schedule that Works for My Son and Me (UPDATE!)

Meghan Raftery

Meghan Raftery is a freelance instructional designer for K-12 public schools, nonprofit organizations and the private sector in addition to managing edjacent.org, an Educator Design Collaborative. She leads professional development throughout the country and in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia with a special interest in authentic learning, community partnerships and school redesign. She is also a wife, mother and bookseller in an airstream trailer bookshop called Read Books VB.


The outbreak of COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity for me to combine my personal and professional lives in a fun little thought experiment:

How can I create the ideal personalized learning scenario for Jude that honors what I believe as an educator and what my son needs and wants as a learner?

My son Jude attends a wonderful neighborhood school in a privileged community with friends and teachers who love him and care for him. He adores school and excels academically. As an advocate for authentic education and school redesign, I make an extra effort at home to help Jude understand that learning is not contained within the walls of a school. My husband and I supplement our son’s learning with a variety of teachable moments, cultural experiences, rich discussion and impromptu research to make sure he values learning for its own sake and understands that part of his role in the world and in our family is to learn as much as he can to give it back to others. With these goals in mind, I set out to co-create a homeschool scenario that marries the best of his in-school experience with the values of our family.

To begin with, I have a few advantages:

  1. My classroom has exactly 1 student.
  2. There are no rules, boundaries or expectations for us as we learn. We get to decide what, where, when and how to learn.
  3. I could not care more deeply about Jude’s success and Jude loves and trusts me completely. Love and trust are essential to creating a classroom environment where risk-taking is possible.
  4. I have years of experience in pedagogy, instructional design and teaching. I also deeply know my son as a whole person, more than anyone else in the entire world. Like many educators suddenly teaching my child at home, I have an uncommon advantage when it comes to providing instruction for a single child my skills and deep knowledge.
  5. We have access to an abundance of resources and an established history of intellectual risk-taking while co-creating learning experiences in a variety of topics and interests.

Clearly this is no ordinary learning environment or context. This is an opportunity to push the boundaries of what excellent teaching and learning can look like. I decided to set a few ground rules for myself as the instructor:

  1. Resist the temptation to consult academic standards and other typical public school documents- I want to focus on what my son and I agree are the most important and interesting things to learn, regardless of what is expected of an American first grader in March.
  2. Balance what I think might be good for my son as a parent and educator and what he wants to learn about. Try to make sure at least 50% of our time is spent on what I think is important and 50% of our time on what he thinks is important.
  3. Use the entire day as a learning opportunity, but do not use the entire day as school. Practice active reflection to show that every learning goal is worthy, not just the academic ones.

To begin with, I created a schedule for our school days:

Wakeup-10:00 AM Obligations and Healthy Habits

During this time, we will focus on routines that help us stay healthy and organized. Jude will learn to make his own healthy breakfast, choose his own clothes based on the weather and our plans for the day, complete a chore (we made a list with one chore for each day of the week), practice piano and complete his required school work. Jude sometimes has difficulty staying on track when completely tasks that do not challenge him intellectually, so we agreed to work together to learn some routines and practices that can make this kind of “easy” work manageable and even enjoyable.

After 10 days, we have had a chance to prototype and redesign our schedule together, now that we know our schools will be closed for the remainder of the year. Below is a summary of our schedule for days 1-10, with our redesign for days 11-20.

Days 1-10 Days 11-20
Wakeup-10:00 AM Obligations and Healthy Habits Wakeup- 9:00 AM Morning Routine
During this time, we will focus on routines that help us stay healthy and organized. Jude will learn to make his own healthy breakfast, choose his own clothes based on the weather and our plans for the day, complete a chore (we made a list with one chore for each day of the week), practice piano and complete his required school work. Jude sometimes has difficulty staying on track when completely tasks that do not challenge him intellectually, so we agreed to work together to learn some routines and practices that can make this kind of “easy” work manageable and even enjoyable. Jude quickly mastered his daily routine. He wakes up earlier than he used to and generally completes his tasks independently and without a list by 8:00. His teacher reads aloud to the kids every night, but it tends to be after Jude is asleep so he likes to start the day with a morning read aloud and checks his class flipgrid to see what his classmates posted the day before. Jude is proud of his independence (including learning to use the toaster oven to make breakfast for himself and his younger brother) and I am enjoying some quiet free time in the morning while he completes his routine.
Jude’s 10 day goal for this time: clip his own fingernails (Apparently this one has been important to him for some time!) To start Jude’s day on the right foot, we are introducing a daily Habit of Mind using a free trial from wondergrovelearn.net/videos. So far, this has been a great way for us to set the tone for the day. We are watching each video through once before we decide how this will be part of our goal setting.
10:00-11:00 Research and Writing 9:00-11:00 Research and Writing
Jude is insatiably curious, but as is the case with many first grade boys, he does not have a deep love of writing. We talk (and nag, if I’m being honest) about the importance of writing in life, especially for scientists, Jude’s chose future profession, but he still complains his hand hurts and his mind wanders. This part of our day will be equal parts chasing curiosity and habits of mind, especially persistence. Honoring our 50/50 rule, we will alternate what topics we research and write about every other day. I will write while he writes and we will talk about our research and writing. I plan to create a research question each day for him to share with friends and family via FlipGrid. (Anyone who would like to participate can find us at https://flipgrid.com/rafteryglobalgoals. Send me a direct message on Twitter @meg5han for the password!) Writing has been a struggle! I taught Jude about Mark Twain’s “Eat the frog first” philosophy so we decided he needs an early start on writing when he has the most energy. He has scripted assignments from his school, but I am hoping to cultivate a love of writing that makes this time a bit less painful.

We did not anticipate how popular flipgrid would become for Jude and his classmates! They all record responses like they are Youtube stars. We are using this to our advantage during research and writing time. Jude chooses a topic to research on Youtube or using sites provided by his school, then creates a short journal entry with a topic sentence, 3 important facts and a concluding sentence. We are calling these “scripts”. After he writes his script, he records it as a video. We talk about how to be informative and entertaining. He is even experimenting with visuals!

Jude’s 10 day goal for this time: learn to use all the words in the gold column of his rainbow words list properly in his writing (He generated this goal and although it was a bit too far on the traditional school side of my tolerance, I bit my tongue) Jude mastered his gold words and added ones he struggled with to the dictionary his class uses for writing. For the next ten days, we are loosening up on this goal and trying to focus on enjoying writing instead of viewing this part of the day as a chore. This longer block now includes a screen-free snack break when he needs it.
11:00-12:00 Nature, Exercise, Imagination 11:00-12:00 Nature, Exercise, Imagination
We made a list of indoor and outdoor activities that we already enjoy for good and bad weather. We decided not to schedule these activities ahead of time, instead opting to choose what we feel like we most need for this unplugged time. I explained how important it is to free your mind and move your body when learning and we agreed this will be a screen-free time for both of us and if we need some time apart, this may be a good time to separate. This has been a great addition to our schedule! Jude and his brother invented a variety of games and activities for this time, which include a lot of building and composing music on the piano (they are making a movie soundtrack!). Jude is also revisiting an old favorite activity: creating brackets for “eliminations” of his stuffed animals, colored pencils, any objects he can find.
Jude’s 10 day goal for this time: learn to ride a 2-wheeler bike (Ambitious- but I’m all for it!) Rain and pollen delayed this goal, but he does practice daily with his training wheels. Bike riding is one of the few things he can do with friends at this time, so it is motivating to see his classmates ride by which will hopefully increase his motivation!
12:00-1:00 Free Choice 12:00-1:00 Free Choice
This time will be completely free and will include lunch time. I agreed I would make Jude’s lunch and he can choose anything during this time, including screen time, once he had eaten all or most of a healthy lunch. I have decided we will focus this time on choosing healthy and balanced food, eating mindfully and stopping when he feels full. We don’t talk much about his lunch time and I want to use this time to check in. Other than eating lunch, this time is an extension of Nature, Exercise and Imagination. It has been nice to see how often Jude reaches for a book or plays an active game instead of asking for screen time. We have also enjoyed cooking together as a family and talking about what foods are healthiest and why.
Jude’s 10 day goal for this time: try a brand-new food every day We decided to extend our brand-new food goal, but we did decide to try to focus on fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables instead of junk food!
1:00-2:00 Project Time 1:00-2:00 Project Time
We are lucky enough to have many generous friends and relatives who know Jude well. He has a surplus of science, cooking, creativity and building toys and games that are unopened. We are going to try a new one each day. We are still working on the project pile- some things took multiple days and Jude’s brother has a birthday coming up which means even more projects!
Jude’s 10 day goal for this time: stay patient when something is challenging. No yelling or giving up. We are maintaining this goal. Jude has increased his tolerance for frustration, but depending on the project we still have some room to grow here!
2:00-3:00 Nature, Exercise and Imagination 2:00-4:00 Academic Choice
I told Jude he could repeat any section from the day and he chose this one. Be still my heart! Jude’s 10 day goal for this time: learn a new song on the piano and the drums New assignments have come in from school so Jude needed to add some academic time to his schedule. He alternates two days worth of reading and writing assignments with two days worth of math and science assignments. He can achieve most of this independently and this two hour window provides an opportunity for me to get some work done as well.
3:00-4:00 Snack/Clever
Jude’s school has provided a variety of high-quality digital resources. We agreed this time would be spent using those resources to do some reading, research and note-taking on the topics he chose to research. We will focus on how he can use the resources provided to find ways to meaningfully engage with topics he is curious about, even when the teacher does not identify those topics for him.
Jude’s 10 day goal for this time (chosen by Mom): stay on task and do not get upset when it is time to stop using the computer We are maintaining this goal, focusing on staying on task. Sometimes Jude gets his work done with as much as an hour to spare which is a good motivator for him to keep on task!
4:00-5:00 Brother Time 4:00-5:00 Brother Time
While Jude will likely be spending time with his brother Pete throughout the day, we decided to dedicate this time to playing something his brother wants to do. They will practice taekwondo during this time also. We love Brother Time! Jude’s taekwondo and piano teachers are now providing virtual lessons so this is a practice and learning time- it is one of our favorite times of day!
Jude’s 10 day goal for this time: give Pete 1 compliment to make him feel good. (swoon!) Jude is working toward his next lesson series in piano and his red belt in taekwondo. It brings comfort to continue working toward goals that were important before school and activities closed.
5:00-6:30 Dinner, Shower, Read Aloud 5:00-6:30 Dinner, Shower, Read Aloud
Jude’s brother made his 10 day goal “learn to cook” so he will be making dinner with us each night. Jude gets a break on this one! Our typical night time routine is to read aloud- right now we are working on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the Magic Tree House series. This is pure entertainment, no goal-setting reading time. Previously a hectic time full of activities and rushing, we are enjoying a more peaceful evening routine. We cook and eat together, shower and set the schedule for the next day (we are using this template from Best Self Journal). We are still reading Harry Potter and Magic Tree House together and Jude is reading a Goosebumps book to his brother.
6:30-8:00 Quiet Free Time 6:30-8:00 Quiet Free Time
We agreed Jude could practice staying up until 8:00, a bedtime he has been coveting. As long as he goes to bed without a fuss, we consider this a trial period for his new bedtime. Jude has certainly earned his new bedtime, but he rarely makes it to 8:00! Most nights he is fast asleep with his iPad or a book on his chest by 7:30.

Like many others learning to homeschool and work at the same time, we have had to adjust our expectations and routine. Now that Virginia schools are closed for the year, we do have to constantly consider what is important for Jude in terms of school obligations and keeping up and what is best for our family. I’m working a little less, or perhaps more productively in smaller windows of time, and we are spending a lot of time together. We have scrapped the schedule completely twice so we could take a day to rest and spend time alone or doing unstructured activities.

We set out to create a routine that represented the ultimate quest for personalized learning: what does Jude want/need to learn about for a fixed period of time when there are no rules or boundaries, except those that we created? Now that the time period is extended, we are settling into a routine that works for our family and fulfills Jude’s obligations for his school.

On Saturday morning this week, we told the kids the day was theirs. After sleeping in myself, I woke to find them both working away in our laundry room turned classroom! I hope Jude continues to view learning as a choice, even on the weekend!

3 thoughts on “Mom School: Prototyping a Schedule that Works for My Son and Me (UPDATE!)”

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I am a former elementary school teacher with a passion for learning about learning. When my oldest (now 8) was born, i decided to stay home but ever since my boys started school I have been curious about homeschooling. They have been at our public school (grades 3 and 1 this year) here in N.C. The hardest thing about school has been that they don’t enjoy it. I want them to love learning as much as I do and so far, they just love recess. My hope is that they will be lifelong learners – curious and confident. Anyway, because of that i have spent many hours trying to decide if homeschooling is for us. I’m grateful for this experiment and for resources like yours. I’d love to chat with you about how you help your son stay curious and inspired. Already my kids are bucking “homeschool” even though i have made it very curiosity-based and mostly we play games, go on adventures, play outside, and make stuff. Also, how does one get a free trial subscription to wondergrove? I don’t see anything on their site.

    1. Hi Andrea,
      Terry Thoren from WondergroveMedia is offering a three month free trial of the entire Habits of Mind Animations library for all teachers, parents and students. When you use the 16 Habits of Mind Instructional Animations you also receive OVER 350 printable extension lessons focusing on language arts, math, active learning, and even fun to read comic books! Check it out — wondergrovelearn.net/freehom
      Hope that helps!
      Allison

    2. Thank you for your comment, Andrea! I am sorry I am just seeing this now and I am glad Allison connected you to the Wondergrove site. I’d be happy to chat with you some time! I am sure I can learn as much from you as you can from me! My email is rafterymeghan@gmail.com. Good luck to you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.