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A Day at Our House: Classical Education (Plus Baby)

Picture of Susan Wise Bauer
Susan Wise Bauer

Fall of 2000: a day with a fourth and second grader, a four-year-old and a newborn.

7:30 AM. I wake up because my husband has brought me a cup of coffee and a hungry baby. This the only way I get out of bed in the morning these days, what with feeding new baby Emily at 11 PM and again at 2:30. She’s slept since 2:30, though, so I’m feeling semi-human. I sit up and drink my coffee while feeding the baby, while Peter gets ready for work. Today is my “long day” with the children. Peter and I both work; we used to divide each day in half, but since the new baby’s arrival we have divided our weeks so that I have the children from dawn to dusk on Mondays and Wednesdays, while he has them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays we split in half; he works in the morning, I work in the afternoons. Since Peter is schooling the boys in math, reading, and art, he does double math and reading lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

8 AM. Peter leaves. He has a meeting at 8 PM that won’t be over until midnight, so I don’t expect to see him for the rest of the day. I get up, change the baby’s diaper, and put her on my bed while I dress. I can hear the boys rattling around in their room; they know they’re not supposed to emerge (except for necessary bathroom visits) until I come get them. When I’m dressed, I go in with the baby on one arm and tell Christopher (9) and Ben (7) to get dressed. I put out Daniel’s clothes; he’s four and going through a serious do-it-myself phase.

8:15. Christopher and Ben are running around in their underwear and giggling. Daniel has his sweatpants on upside down with both feet sticking out of the waistband. “Something is wrong here,” he says. I tell Christopher and Ben to STOP TALKING UNTIL ALL THEIR CLOTHES ARE ON and reverse Daniel’s sweatpants.

8:30 Breakfast; Emily was happy to lie on her mat and look at her mirror this morning, so everyone gets scrambled eggs and toast. On mornings when she’s fussy, they tend to get cereal with a spoonful of peanut butter for protein (disgusting, but effective).

8:55 I tell Christopher and Ben to STOP TALKING UNTIL THEIR BREAKFAST IS GONE because we are due to start school at 9 AM.

9 AM. No one is finished eating. I am now carrying Emily on my shoulder. She spits up all down my back, so I go change my shirt.

9:15 We start school. I have a chart for each of the older boys. Christopher’s says: Morning – Spelling, Grammar, Writing Strands, History, Piano Practice. Afternoon – Science, Latin, Penmanship, Extra Reading. Ben’s says: Morning – Spelling, English for the Thoughtful Child, History, Piano Practice, Phonics Pathways. Afternoon – Science, Spanish, Penmanship, Extra Reading. We vary the order in which we do these subjects, but I try to check them all off each day. I tell them that they can pick their first subject and I’ll pick the second. Christopher decides to start with grammar; Ben wants to practice his piano. Christopher’s grammar is about principle parts. Ben starts playing the piano, which makes the principle parts even hard to understand, so I tell him to go and play with Daniel until I’ve talked through Christopher’s grammar lesson. They disappear into the boys’ room. Christopher and I slog through the present and present participle. Emily starts screaming. We take the book over to the sofa and I finish explaining past and past participle while she nurses.

9:20 Christopher is doing his grammar exercises; he usually does two pages per day. I call Ben out to do his piano lesson. Emily is still nursing, so I tell Daniel to bring me a book. I read to him while Ben plays. This raises the noise level in the house to something approaching an airport runway. “I can’t think!” Christopher says. I tell him to take his grammar book into his room to finish.

9:30 Ben is finished with his piano (ten minutes is about all I can keep him interested in). I take Emily to the table to burp her, pour Daniel a bowl of Grape Nuts (it takes him FOREVER to eat Grape Nuts), and start explaining Ben’s spelling rule. Emily begins to scream, Daniel dumps out the Grape-Nuts, and Christopher appears in tears because he can’t figure out his next exercise. I tell Ben to get the vacuum cleaner, Christopher to take a break, and Daniel to stop yelling over the spilled cereal. I sit down and rock Emily until she drifts off to sleep, while Christopher vacuums and Daniel winds himself up in the vacuum hose and yells, “A snake! A snake is biting me!”

9:45. Emily’s in bed. I re-explain principle parts to Christopher and give him a handful of chocolate chips to keep him going. Everyone now wants chocolate chips, so I give Daniel a little cupful of them and tell him to go eat them in his “fort” (behind his bed). I put Ben’s beside his spelling book and tell him he can have one after each spelling word that he writes.

10 AM Emily is grousing again. I know she’s not ready to get up, so I decide to wait a couple of minutes and see whether she’ll go back to sleep. This drives Ben crazy. “Mom,” he keeps saying, “the baby is crying!” I get out his Phonics Pathways and tell him to think about his phonics instead. He’s reading me two pages a day, as a review of phonics and spelling rules. He reads the first two lines and then stops. “Mom,” he says seriously, “are you sure you know how to take care of a baby?”

10:10 Emily stops crying thirty seconds before I’m ready to go get her. When I look in at her, she’s sound asleep. I check Christopher’s grammar and give him his spelling book. Today he’s doing the second half of a lesson, so I don’t have to explain anything. I start a pot of coffee, sit Ben in front of his penmanship, and go to check on Daniel. He’s covered with chocolate, (so is his sheet) but he’s happy, so I don’t wipe him off. (I ignore the sheet, on the theory that it’s been hit with worse.)

10:30 We take a snack and coffee outside for the men working on the sawmill (I take the baby monitor with me.) Christopher and Ben go off to play. In five minutes they reappear with Ben weeping. “Christopher says he has to clean the bunny cage before he can play with me!” Ben wails. “Christopher, play with Ben first.” “But he wants to play that we’re sweet kittens playing in the woods,” Christopher says. “Why can’t you play sweet kittens?” I ask. “Because it’s stupid,” he says, “and I want to pretend that we’re raptors.” “Go play kittens for ten minutes,” I say, “and then clean the bunny cage.”

11 AM Break is over. I collect Daniel, who has been in the sawdust pile and now has sawdust sticking to the chocolate on his face. When I call Christopher inside, he says, “But I have to clean the bunny cage.” “What have you been doing all this time?” I ask. “Playing sweet kittens,” he says. Ben adds, “Sweet kittens being hunted by raptors.”

11:05 Christopher is upset because I told him not to check on the bunny until lunch time (“If you don’t do it when I tell you to, you’ll have to wait until your next break”) and he is now convinced that the bunny is dying of thirst. Emily is awake and crying. I sit down to feed Emily again and read Daniel another book while Ben plays with Legos.

11:30 Emily is happy, so I put everyone on the sofa and start history. Today we’re working on our Presidents Memorization Project – we color pictures of two presidents from the Bellerophon coloring book, Christopher looks them up in the encyclopedia and writes down two interesting facts about each president, and we all chant the presidents in order. We’re up to Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren. I tell Christopher and Ben to STOP TALKING UNTIL THEIR PICTURES ARE COLORED.

12:00 I fix lunch one-handed and call everyone to the table.

12:30 I tell Christopher and Ben to STOP TALKING UNTIL THEIR FOOD IS ALL GONE because they still have work to do before rest time.

12:45. I put Emily in her cradle and clear away lunch half-eaten. Ben bursts into tears because he isn’t finished. Christopher asks for dessert. I tell Ben to sit on his bed, Christopher that he can’t have any dessert, and Daniel to go potty. Emily is screaming. “Emily is screaming!” Ben yells from his bed. “Do I have to do my Writing Strands?” Christopher asks. “My pants are a little bit wet,” Daniel shouts from the bathroom. I yell at the top of my lungs, “Everybody be quiet before I lose my mind!” There is a short silence. Daniel says politely, from the bathroom, “You don’t have to be so loud, Mommy.”

12:50 Daniel has dry pants, Ben is copying three exclamations from his English for the Thoughtful Child Book, and I’m explaining Christopher’s Writing Strands exercise to him. He takes it off to do it in his room. I correct Ben’s penmanship and send him and Daniel to bed for mandatory rest time. Daniel is listening to “How to Eat Fried Worms” on his tape recorder; Ben is listening to “The Dark Is Rising” and playing with Legos. Christopher brings me his writing exercise. I tell him to save his piano lesson until after rest time.

1 PM. I leave the baby monitor with my mother (her house is attached to ours) and go for a walk.

2 PM. I get back from my walk and answer a couple of e-mails before Emily wakes up and wants to be fed.

3 PM. The boys get up. I’ve learned not to try to leap directly into school after nap time; I let them eat cookies and play for a little while until they start to bicker. “School time!” I say, and send Christopher to play his piano. I give Daniel scissors and colored paper, and he promptly begins to make a phenomenal mess all over the kitchen floor. Ben reads to me from his current “Extra Reading” book – a book that goes along with history or science (Peter does their imaginative reading with them on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Today he’s reading Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? I sit down to listen, but Emily cries, so I get up and walk around the kitchen while Ben reads. Halfway through the first page, Emily dirties her diaper, my shirt, her blanket, and her sleeper. Ben follows me into our bedroom, still reading, while Christopher bangs out “The Bells” for the fourth time, Daniel sings along, I change the diaper, and Emily screams. The noise level has once again reached airport level. I say, in an unnaturally calm voice, “Ben, could you please stop reading to me until I’m finished with Emily’s diaper?”

3:30. Emily doesn’t want to be put down. I had intended to do another Latin lesson with Christopher today, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve HAD it, so I tell him to review his vocabulary cards and then send all of them outside to run around while I start supper.

3:45 I give up on supper and rock Emily.

4 PM I’m still rocking Emily. The boys come back in. “Go outside some more,” I say.

4:15 I nurse Emily again.

4:30 Still rocking Emily. The boys come in again. I tell Christopher to read Daniel a book and Ben to get his penmanship book out.

4:45 Emily is asleep. I threaten everyone with instant death if they wake her up. They think this is funny and start to howl with laughter at the top of their lungs. Emily cries. I go in the bathroom, shut the door, and count to twenty. Daniel sticks his fingers under the door and says, “Look, Daniel fingers!”

5 PM. I decide that we should all walk down to the mailbox instead of trying to do science. I give Mom the monitor again, and we borrow three flashlights from her (it’s already dark, and I have no batteries. Ever.) The mailbox is a quarter of a mile away, and the night is beautiful. By the time we get back I feel better. I fix everybody sandwiches and potato chips for supper. (They think this is great).

5:50 I tell Christopher and Benjamin to STOP TALKING AND EAT or I will take their potato chips away. They cram all the chips into their mouths. I decide that we will save manners lessons until Emily is older.

6 PM. Emily wakes up. I get out the Science in a Nutshell kit that we’re doing (Gears) and give everyone gears, then sit down and nurse Emily while we go through the project. Christopher loves to keep his Science Journal, but Ben has to be prompted for every question and answer. I’m still writing them down for him, since his penmanship is very slow and difficult; today my hands are full, so I tell him he gets the day off from recording his experiments. Daniel puts gear stickers on his head and says, “Look, I’m a gear machine.”

7 PM I tell Ben that we’re not doing Spanish (again). “We never get to Spanish,” he says. This is unfortunately true. Maybe I’ll outsource it to a neighbor next year. I check the lists; Christopher didn’t do his cursive practice, but I decide that his life will be complete without it. I tell the boys to get their pajamas on and clean up their room while I rock Emily, who is screaming (again).

7:15 Emily gets happy and everyone wants to hold her. We take turns while I read to Daniel.

7:30 Daniel goes to bed. I play Uno with Christopher and Ben while Emily sits on my lap.

8 PM. I read Ben a book and put him in bed. I rock Emily back to sleep while Christopher sits on the sofa and reads.

8:30 I send Christopher to bed and put Emily in her cradle. She immediately wakes up and howls. Eventually I pick her up and pretend I’m doing aerobics, which sends back to sleep. I put her back down and sneak out of the room.

9 PM Boy, it would be nice to go to bed.

9:30 Lights out for the boys. Daniel is asleep; I pray with the two older boys, listen to Christopher’s worries, and answer twelve questions from Ben. I know Emily will be up to eat again soon, so I decide to work on e-mail again until she wakes up.

AND A FINAL NOTE TO THIS PAGE, added June, 2001: WE DID HAVE A GOOD TIME THIS DAY! We played Uno, messed around with gears, went for a great walk in the dark, dug in the sawdust and read three books that kept the boys enthralled. It was ALSO frantic and tiring; that’s real life with four children under nine.

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Susan Wise Bauer

Susan Wise Bauer is an educator, writer, and historian. She is the co-author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (now in its fourth edition), and the author of (among others) The Well- Educated Mind, The Story of Western Science, the Story of the World series, the History of the World series, the elementary series Writing With Ease, and the pre-rhetoric series Writing With Skill. Susan was home educated through high school and has taught all four of her children at home. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English language and literature, an M.Div., and a Ph.D. in the history of American religion from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where she taught writing and literature for over fifteen years.

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