We’ve been homeschooling for 12-ish years now (we started elementary school pretty loosely and the kids never went to preschool). Obviously a lot has changed in that time in terms of technology and sheer availability of materials, and even more has changed in the way we do things since now I have a 12th grader, a 10th grader, and a 9th grader.
But there’s one thing that’s remained steadfast since we started this whole journey.
We call it Coffee Talk.
(Are you old enough to remember that Saturday Night Live skit with Mike Myers? “I’m feeling a little verklempt!” If you do, you can say “Coffee Talk” in your head just like Mike Myers did playing host Linda Richman. If you don’t, well, then ugghhh. I feel old.)
And if you want to know the truth, I didn’t even drink coffee until 2007 when I got pregnant with this baby. Yeah, I get crazy cravings that are connected to the parents of the baby, I’m weird like that. So that’s when Coffee Talk actually started to involve coffee. Until then, it was tea or juice or even water, but we still called it Coffee Talk because what else would we call it?
Coffee Talk started as our way to transition from our morning routine to our homeschooling routine. We’d gather up drinks and snacks, load them on a tray and take them to where we were working (and in our earliest days of homeschooling, that was the dining room table). Then we’d chat about our day.
I’d talk about what we had planned for school that day, what was going on later that afternoon (shopping, or the pool, or a playdate, etc.) and maybe what was coming up in the next few days or over the weekend. If I knew I was going to be away from home for an upcoming commitment, I’d mention that too.
It was the best way I had to keep us on track, on an even keel. As even a keel as you can keep with three young kids. As if an even keel is even possible.
But it wasn’t just me that was speaking during Coffee Talk, the kids would say what was on their mind too. Mostly it was things like “What are we having for dinner?” because 6-year olds have their priorities too, you know.
Coffee Talk would be followed by looking at the calendar and reading the date and some kind of riddle, joke or puzzle. Maybe a game or two. Then we’d move into our school work.
Over time, what followed Coffee Talk changed, of course, as the kids got older and their skills and interests evolved. For a few years we did a word of the day calendar, we’d go through phases of logic puzzles or One Minute Mysteries or Find the Differences puzzles, or we’d play CatchPhrase (sometimes we still do, we just did this morning, in fact).
But Coffee Talk, it still happens. If there’s one thing we do every single time we sit down for school, it’s Coffee Talk.
The kids are much older now but it’s shocking how similar Coffee Talk is to those early days. Although now we school from the living room floor (or most often, the kids work independently in their rooms), we still talk through our schedule for the day. We still talk about what’s going on that afternoon, that night, all the nights of the week, and the weekend.
And believe it or not we still talk about what’s for dinner (though the conversation has elevated to include who’s making it, since Caton cooks just as often as I do). I guess some things never change.
There have been times where we’ve sat down for school and Coffee Talk has gotten entirely derailed and goes off in a direction I never expected. There are times where Coffee Talk has taken much, much, much longer than I anticipated and by saying it took much longer I mean it took the whole amount of time we had allotted for school.
So yes, there are days when we got no academic stuff done, we only accomplished Coffee Talk.
But I’m totally OK with that because Coffee Talk is the most important part of our homeschooling, and it’s grown in importance to all of us as the kids have grown older. It's the center of our homeschooling axis.
See, when you get to the point where you don’t have to take everyone on an outing or to an activity together, when you can leave one or more kids home alone or - GASP - when your child can drive himself - little bits of your connection as a family start to erode away. It’s not exactly a bad thing, it comes with the territory as kids mature into young adults. They naturally separate a bit as they get older. That separation is going to happen no matter what.
But if you’re not careful, that natural separation can become a rift that’s bigger than you’d like it to be. And that’s where Coffee Talk works wonders. It’s a family meeting of sorts, but one that’s regular and casual and relaxed and fun (most of the time at least). It’s where we define our common ground.
Here are some tips for creating your own version of Coffee Talk:
Start Coffee Talk as early as you possibly can so your kids learn to expect it, enjoy it and look forward to it. If you homeschool, kindergarten or first grade is a perfect time to begin, or whenever you start keeping a regular school schedule.
Hold Coffee Talk as often as you can. We have it every day that we do school. If you don’t keep a regular schedule or your kids go to public or private school, put Coffee Talk on your weekly schedule (at least).
Use it as a tool.
If you don’t plan to have school one day but you still need to touch base, have Coffee Talk anyway. You don’t have to have school to have Coffee Talk, but you do have to have Coffee Talk to have school.
Come up with with your own name for your special time - if no one in your family likes coffee, then by all means pick something else. Jammin’ with Juice? Or Tea Time? Or give it a name that’s an inside joke that just your family knows.
For us, I make coffee and the kids either make coffee or hot chocolate for themselves (or sometimes they have nothing), and one or more of the kids eat toast or a snack. I eat my breakfast along with my coffee. We’ve been using the same tray for years though I change the decorative inserts with the seasons.
Strike a balance.
Try to find the right amount of structure and fun. The whole point is to keep everyone informed of personal and family activities, but it’s also a time to relax and plan and have fun together. But if you find it gets everyone too wound up to concentrate on whatever comes next, then adapt your routine.
Let the time you spend together for Coffee Talk take its own path. Some days you’ll stay on task and discuss things you need to, while other days the sillies will set in and take over. Or maybe one of your kids will bring something up you weren’t expecting. Roll with it and affirm that what your kids bring to the session is important to you by giving them the time and space they need.
As kids get older and family activities and circumstances change, your Coffee Talk may need to change as well. Adapt it as you need to for the different seasons of your life, rather than abandoning it. (Now on most mornings Caton, Aster and I have Coffee Talk in the living room while Winnie listens and pipes in from the kitchen or foyer, as she gets ready for her college class or work.)
Because our Coffee Talk is usually mid-morning as we’re starting school, obviously Doug isn’t part of the process. But that’s OK, because I’m the one doing the homeschooling and I’m generally the one who’s doing all the schedule coordination. If something comes up that needs full family input, or there’s something that we need to bring to Doug’s attention, we’ll agree to bring it up over dinner. Or we’ll call him at work and if he’s available, he can weigh in on the spot. So although he’s not there for our Coffee Talk sessions, we still include him.
I hope this gives you some ideas to start your own version of Coffee Talk, or if you have your own rituals for family communication, let us know in the comments below!