Here's some encouragement and tips from my experiences so far:
Tot Trays .... for the little ones, keen to do their own 'school work', there are a lot of good ideas in the pages of this site which I adapted to our needs. Unit studies, lap books, sharing lots of books and fun maths also worked well.
My youngest child was keen to 'play schools', which helped immensely when I wanted to transition the kids back to a routine with more structure after a year of mostly unschooling. Jasi's enthusiasm pulled in her big brother, who by 5 was ready for a break from 'work' and wanted to play non stop! I did question all of my assumptions and expectations, and gave him abundant free time. I chose less structured teaching methods to build his basic skills during that phase. Elijah's bouts of negativity dissolved as there was no pressure, and whilst it wasn't always easy to see 'progress' at the time, now we're entering a new phase again, and seeing the fruit of the learning which did occur.
We now have a timetable and routine as a guide, which helps, but is INCREDIBLY flexible. I won't share it here as there's never a day or week when we actually do what it says!
Here are some of the things we do:
... As a fun way to draw the kids in and grab their attention and set a positive tone, we gather for a quick introduction, interesting and full of tasty, quick bites. For example, we pray (briefly, having usually prayed in bed earlier) and read a Bible story or scripture verse, use the whiteboard for things such as date, sentence about the day or other idea, sometimes weather, number patterns, brainteasers, interesting words, quick phonics reviews, sometimes a scripture, or a list of some kind (the kids have turns helping write). In my board writing I use words they can read as well as extend and challenge them in a fun and supportive context.
... Some days we skip the intro. Other days that is ALL we do formally, and the rest is through shared reading, experiences, spontaneous opportunities and rabbit trails. Natural learning defines so much of what young children are inclined to do, given free time, resources and a willing audience to share their discoveries with. Children are ever changing and amazing!
... With 5-6 yr olds, our sit-down bookwork has usually been only 1/2 to 1 hour a day, low pressure and more about basic skills, habits and attitude. Sometimes I will say what's to be done and why. Other times I will present two options and let the children choose, or the children may suggest a book they'd prefer to do. If the children ask to do extra, I let them. They sometimes like to read to us or do writing before bed.
... Often "life" changes the routine. We take many opportunities for excursions, play dates, sports and family visits. No worries, as children are always learning, I've learned to see the balance and not worry about missed 'lessons'. Illness gets in the way more often than I'd like. I don't try to force sick kids or myself to work, it's usually a case of one down, all down, and we fall back on natural learning, educational DVDs and read alouds.
... Lots of hands on activities, shared books, games, variety of resources handy for the kids to select from, or I will choose something to do together.
... We use the computer as a tool for providing opportunities for 1-1 learning, with the kids free to choose between about 5 options (eg. at times this has included typing in Word, Reading Eggs, Targeting Maths CD-roms, Smart Kiddies, Tux Paint, Mathletics or Skwirk). In theory I can set one child up on the Mac, then spend time with the other. In reality, this is sometimes perfect, sometimes painful, when the one on the computer needs help and whilst I do that, the other gets sidetracked.
That's part of what it looks like here, with 2 children who are 12 months and 10 days apart. I try to keep it positive, understand each child, and go with the flow.
Someone on AussieHomeschool wrote "Sometimes it is very hard to get them to settle down, especially when there is more important stuff happening (nice weather, racing bikes in the yard, scrounging in the garden for slugs etc) and I have been fairly gentle on this, because of their ages and stages (that is also how they learn.)"
My response to this is, I totally understand, especially about ants in pants. We're still there! I try to understand and respect what's important to the children, and work with them rather than fight the tide. I love seeing the children take charge of their own learning, and watch great things unfold when they decide to 'give speeches' or role play occupations. Sure, it's not always so tidy, as they also choose to be cooks with garden litter, wash the floor with a tea towel, or hijack all the chairs and cushions for a bus ... but that's part of childhood.
Next year my plan includes "The Australian Book Traveller" by Michelle Morrow (her website is www.downunderlit.com), "The Wonderland of Nature", by Nuri Mass (also from Michelle), additional eclectic science, LEM phonics, eclectic Maths (using what I have on hand) and lots of other fun!