"Willa, it is so funny that your kids zooming through things is what you are figuring out how to fix. Mine are the opposite. It seems like the more I streamline and the less I give them, the longer it seems to take. Even with just math, latin and a little reading we are pushing the morning hours. SIGH! I find that we as a whole (esp. the littles) are so much happier if the bulk is in the morning. But how to do this? I think the first key for us is in waking up! Mine are slow risers. I am thinking of starting to gradually wake them up earlier. We will see if that does it! Are yours early risers?"------------------------------
My reply got so long that I'm putting it as a post -- hope it helps and if it raises any other questions, please ask : ).
My kids get up around 8 am, so no, we aren't really morning people. We usually don't get started till 9 am, though I am trying to set up some preschool activities by about 8:30 so I can spend a little time with the little ones before I start, hem, benignly neglecting them in favor of the older ones.
I fix a solid breakfast, and the kids do their morning chores and sort of play around until I'm ready to start.
I actually do remember pushing the morning hours when mine were all pretty little. Everything went so slooowlly, even when I tried "short lessons". I am not sure what has changed. Perhaps little ones just take longer to gather and settle down, and there are more interruptions. Do you think that is part of it? When I had babies, everything took longer and was physically more complicated. I had to make sure the baby was happy and the toddler wasn't wreaking havoc. That is just part of the joy that I miss of having a crew of young ones. Seriously. We learned so much and our homeschool was so freshened by the presence of the little tiny ones. I didn't always appreciate it at the time, but it was really part of our curriculum, and a significant part too.
One thing that occurred to me - my crew tend to do a lot of work separately since my kids are so far apart in ages. If you do a lot of multi-level teaching, it slows things down in a way because there are more group dynamics and it takes more time to get everything and everyone all together. At least, this has been my experience. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I've noticed it and Laura Berquist mentions it in one of her articles too. I do try to group the *content* of what they're doing -- for example, the two littlest ones might work at the same activities, but at different times during the day.
So one way to speed things up is to tutor one child at a time for a few minutes, giving them a start on some independent work like copywork or drawing or reading or whatever you have going on, and then move to the next one. Then perhaps have the group time just before lunch, when the basics are done.
I don't know if this helps.... Some of my older kids, when they were young, really hated starting off the morning with math and that kind of thing. They woke up slowly and they wanted to play or cuddle, not sit down to arithmetic. So I pretty much had to work in gradually by reading aloud and letting them draw and talk a bit before we started the seatwork, and then it would be lunchtime when we finished. This did have benefits -- they still remember those read alouds and leisurely morning times, and I miss that with the younger set who seem to prefer to get the 3Rs out of the way as fast as possible. Thus, my problem with "too fast".
I'm with you about no serious academics in the afternoon for little ones-- it's never worked well at all for us either. I am too tired, honestly, and they don't want to concentrate. Now, older highschoolers seem to need a couple of hours in the afternoon. Mine would work in the morning, then take a longish lunch break, then do some more work in the middle to late afternoon. This would be in junior and senior years, usually, for my set.
Now that I'm thinking about this, to solve my "too fast" problem, I may try to have some group activities to extend our morning hours -- some equivalent to a "circle time". Maybe gather all together about 11 am and do some freewriting, or reading aloud. ... a Morning Time.
My personal homeschool ideal would be to have a productive 3 hours in the morning (some independent work and some together time) and then start them off, plant seeds for some more leisurely, constructive activities that could occupy them in the afternoon. Then some outside activities or errands later on. Today they are engaged in filming a play -- that is the kind of thing I feel good about. I also feel good when they spend the afternoon outside, or following up on books started in the morning hours, or writing stories or doing handicrafts. Sometimes they finish their academics rapidly and are then at loose ends and squabbling, which frustrates me. Those are the days that I wish I had more planned to round out the day. Realizing this, maybe I ought to have some sort of Plan B -- some kind of flexible project planned for days when the kids aren't inspired to come up with anything on their own. Hmm....
This first month always does seem to be a time to break in gradually and recognize what habits need work and what good things we can build on for that particular year. So one other suggestion I have is to go through your morning with a pencil and notebook handy and make a note of all the glitches -- what's taking long, why, and if it can be readjusted. This seems to help me when I'm stuck.