My sister and I were joking the other day about how we always think we can fit one more thing in, one more trip before having to fill up the gas tank, one more volunteer role, one more road trip before summer ends.
We decided that our time management issues are because we are both eternal optimists.
Having a big family, with endless activities, extracurricular classes and just having to feed them all has really helped improve my time organization skills.
How important is a homeschool schedule really?
Is a homeschool schedule necessary?
I know, I know. Some of you think you are just not schedule people, or that you can’t possibly stick to a schedule. A homeschooling friend of mine even told me it would ruin her mojo! She’s a very fun-loving, spontaneous person.
The last think I want is to ruin anyone’s mojo, lol!
But consider these facts.
A consistent daily routine will help set your child’s natural daily rhythm. Your children’s bodies will become accustomed to waking, sleeping, resting and eating at certain times, making it easier to wind down and fall asleep.
When your children know that you always pick up toys before having baths, then read a story together before bed, power struggles are eliminated. Your children know what comes next, so stress and anxiety (for both of you) are reduced.
With a consistent routine, children will know when it’s time to clean their room and complete chores, and when it’s time to brush their teeth and get ready for bed. Knowing what is expected and how to do it helps children feel independent, successful and confident. Kids get into trouble when they don’t understand expectations or know what they should be doing.
Your homeschool schedule is the same.
If your kiddos know that math is expected every day, they’re less likely to argue or resist. Plus, if your kids know that you go on field trips every Friday or that you always learn about how other countries celebrate Christmas during the holidays, then your children have fun things to anticipate. They help your children to feel loved and cherished.
I think we can all agree that good routines encourage better behavior and a calmer, more productive household.
Can it work the same for your homeschool?
What’s the difference between a homeschool schedule and a homeschool routine?
Those words are used often used interchangeably, but they’re very different. I think of a schedule like a planner page (or an hourly Google calendar doc) where there is a box for every hour of every day, and you fill all of the little boxes up with things that need doing. Breakfast at 7 am every day, followed by cleanup at 7:30, then school starts at 8am.
Routines are not as rigid as schedules. Routines are regular, habitual, predictable procedures, but there’s flexibility to the timing. A routine is knowing that after you get up and get ready for the day, you eat breakfast, then clean up, then start school. But you can sleep until 7:30 if the baby was up half the night without throwing a wrench in the entire day’s plan.
Routines allow you to take advantage of the really important things, like morning cuddles. Routines allow you to spend the morning listening to your teenage daughter who needs to talk. Routines respect the fact that you’re a parent and life happens.
Can you imagine interrupting high-quality, meaningful learning to move on to the next subject?
You don’t have to if you’re operating under a routine rather than a schedule.
That’s why, for my family, a homeschool routine makes more sense than a homeschool schedule.
In fact, I think of our homeschool schedule as an extension of our daily routine. Homeschoolers know that life and learning are inseparably connected, indivisibly intertwined. I still call it our homeschool schedule, and I loosely tie certain aspects of our routine to the clock, but it’s really a routine because I’m always going to embrace rabbit holes and I never want to feel bad about them throwing things off schedule.
I can hear your questions already:
What do I mean about loosely tying certain aspects of our routine to the clock?
Isn’t that a schedule?
Maybe what we do is a combination of a schedule and a routine. Maybe it’s a an extra sparkly routine with goals. Or maybe it’s a schedule on vacation. But for the sake of convenience and simplicity, I just call it a sane schedule.
What is a SANE homeschool schedule?
I’m sure that if you asked a million people that question, you’d get a million different answers. My definition is that it’s a homeschool schedule that works for my family instead of against us. It adds structure without adding stress. It actually boosts my sanity.
And here’s what I mean about loosely tying certain aspects of our routine to the clock. My kiddos, every last one of them, love to eat! So I’ve built our entire schedule around the pillars of our day, otherwise known as meals.
Breakfast takes place at about 7 am. Before breakfast, my kids have to get up, get ready (that doesn’t always mean dressed in street clothing, but we still do bathe, comb our hair and brush our teeth) for the day, make their beds and clean their rooms, and complete their morning chores. Part of my sanity is having a clean house, so morning chores are a necessity. They know better than to come to breakfast if these things aren’t completed to my standards.
Lunch takes place at about noon. Before lunch, my kids know that all of the above, plus schoolwork should be completed. That means math checked and corrected (which often takes multiple revisions), not just completed. They know better than to come to lunch otherwise.
Dinner takes place at about 6 pm. Before dinner, my kids know that all of the above, plus practicing and a quick pick-up of toys and other things scattered around the house must be completed. While putting the finishing touches on dinner, I’ll just yell, “Quick pick-up!” and everyone jumps up to help. Maybe not particularly willingly or cheerfully, but they do help because they understand the expectation. The house gets kind of messy throughout the day and I feel so much more sane when it’s cleaned up. My children know better than to come to dinner with any of these not done.
Notice that I prefaced each time above with about. Dinner takes place at about 6pm.
Our mealtimes are just a general guideline, but those general guidelines do provide structure to our day. My kids are very easy to motivate with food. When they smell the pancakes cooking in the morning, they get their behinds moving. When they smell dinner, they again get their behinds moving.
It keeps me from having to nag and yell. This is the beauty of natural consequences. There is no nagging and no yelling. We just go ahead and clean up the meal when we’re finished, and once it’s put away that’s it.
There are times that kids are late for meals and all of their favorite dish has already been consumed. They may even miss a meal entirely, but it just motivates them to do better the next meal, and missing a meal here and there doesn’t really hurt anybody, especially since they can always grab a piece of fruit from the snack bowl.
They aren’t really hungry, just ticked that they missed out on the lasagna. That child’s motivation to attend the next meal is internal (grumbly tummy) rather than external (a nagging mother).
Homeschooling fits in between breakfast and lunch, though it often spills over into the afternoon for my older teens in university classes (to which the lunch rule does not apply). We usually start morning time at the kitchen table at about 9 am, but no worries if something comes up — as long as it’s all done by noon or thereabouts.
It’s a really basic idea that learning happens between breakfast and lunch, practicing and play happen between lunch and dinner, and evenings are for family. If I keep the meals mostly on schedule, then everything else pretty much falls into place most of the time, and that’s enough.
Nothing makes me feel more insane than nagging, which almost inevitably evolves into yelling. Once I’m yelling, I feel like a failure at mothering on top of being a failure at homeschooling, which turns into being a failure at pretty much everything.
Can you see how a super flexible homeschool schedule like this could actually increase your sanity?
Let’s talk about creating your own homeschool schedule:
Step 1: Establish the pillars of your schedule.
Pillars are the basic structure of a schedule. They are the posts that support the rest of the schedule — they prop everything up. Because my kids really like to eat, meals make natural sense to use as pillars in our home. Certain things must be accomplished before the next pillar is reached.
If your kids aren’t motivated by food you might have to choose something else as pillars. These need to be daily occurrences you can really discipline yourself to keep mostly on task with. You’ll measure time only against these pieces of your structure, so they need to be sound.
Step 2: Fill out your structure.
Now that you have the pillars of your structure are in place, fill in the details. But don’t make it too detailed, unless you really love to feel harried!
Instead of saying math happens at 8 am and English happens at 9 am and Spanish happens at 10 am, give your children a list of things to complete, and tell them that learning happens at the kitchen table from 9 am to noon. Leave it up to them to structure their own learning within the larger structure you’ve provided.
Our structure states that we start school with morning time, followed by math, because math is my #1 school priority. That is open-ended enough that I can make it happen, but it’s also specific enough that math happens daily. Your goal is to be flexible enough to be able to be consistent. Does that make sense?
Step 3: Aim for consistency.
In order for a routine to stick, you’ll need to make sure you keep it as doable as possible. The key there is flexibility.
Can you love the schedule you’ve chosen for weeks and months at a time? Is it structured in such a way that you can take advantage of awesome opportunities, like homeschool day at the zoo or aquarium? Or awesome flight deals to Orlando?
Have you built in special times, like field trips, trips to grandma’s house, and holiday traditions? Those things will really keep your homeschool out of the doldrums.
I leave Fridays open for field trips (though we stay on task when I don’t have a field trip planned) and I use morning times for adding in holiday unit studies and other fun, extracurricular things.
Step 4: Adjust as needed, as often as needed.
As you use the homeschool schedule you’ve created, you’ll learn what does and doesn’t work for your family. You don’t have to marry your schedule ’til death do you part. You can make adjustments as often as you need them. The purpose of a homeschool schedule is to provide freedom. If you feel like you have to strictly adhere to something too regimented, your family will be hindered by it rather than blessed by it.
Write that homeschool schedule down where everyone can see it.
Once you’ve got a working idea of how things might flow, write the routine where everyone can see it. I write ours on a big chalkboard in our kitchen. As you can see, it’s not cute like all the Pinterest chalkboard sayings. But it does the job.
I thought about erasing it and making it cute for about two minutes before deciding to just be real. I’d rather be real.
A goal is only a dream until you write it down. And thinking of your homeschool schedule like a goal, or an ideal, can be very healthy. The closer you come to it, the better, but you don’t always have to achieve it in order to be making progress.
Keep these things in mind as you work on your homeschool schedule:
- Consider your family. Does your husband work an odd schedule? For a couple of years, my hubs worked 10-hour days, Wed-Sat. so we arranged our homeschool schedule accordingly. Do you have a child who takes forever to wake up and needs 15 minutes of morning snuggles to get going? Why waste time trying to change the inevitable when you can just work with your families particular quirks?
- Consider your needs. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. It’s completely true that you set the emotional thermostat in your home. What do you need? I need a long, uninterrupted chunk of time for myself every afternoon. I like getting up early and diving right into the day. So I like to schedule our homeschooling and chores and all of the most important, must-get-done things before lunch. If your homeschool schedule doesn’t work for you, it won’t work for your family either.
- Consider the season. I spent 16 years pregnant or nursing my 8 children, and it wiped me out. When you have a new baby, cut yourself some slack. I promise you it won’t negatively impact your children long term. Even annual seasons, like summer or the holidays, should be taken into consideration. Never forego opportunities for learning from life by making your family a slave to a schedule.
- Be flexible. You don’t have to marry your schedule ’til death do you part. You can change it any time. The purpose of a homeschool schedule is to provide freedom. If you feel like you have to strictly adhere to something too regimented, your family will feel controlled by it.
- Establish priorities. What must happen every day? What is most important to you? Math is my first priority and science is my second priority. My children read nonstop, so I feel like they pretty well cover literature (I guide their selections) on their own. Giving myself 1 priority (math) in our homeschool makes it feel doable. If I had 3 priorities (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) I would feel slightly overwhelmed. If I felt like I had to prioritize all 7 basic subjects, I would probably just quit.
- Include your family. Talk with your family and ask their opinions. When my kids are involved in making the routine, they’re more inclined to follow it cheerfully.
- Spurn interruptions. I’ve had to train my family, neighbors and friends in this regard. I’ve even had to train myself. I won’t answer the phone or texts before noon. I don’t answer the door. I don’t make appointments. I consider homeschooling to be my very most important job during that time, and I treat it that way. I leave Tuesday afternoons available for appointments, and that’s pretty much it because I need at least two afternoons completely to myself each week for my sanity.
Want more details?
Here’s a look at our homeschool schedule…
My family looks completely different from yours, so don’t take our homeschool schedule as the gospel truth! It has been YEARS in the making and it does work great for us now, but it wouldn’t have worked ten years ago, when I had two toddlers and an infant. I’m only sharing it because sometimes it’s just super helpful to see a working schedule.
- My older teens get themselves up around 5 am to fit an extra hour of practicing in. This is something they’ve decided to do (along with their music teachers) but I don’t enforce it.
- The rest of us get up around 6 am, get ready for the day, clean bedrooms, make beds and start our morning chores.
- BREAKFAST PILLAR. (Hygiene, bedrooms and morning chores must be completed before this)At about 7 am, we eat breakfast together, then the hubs heads off to work and the rest of us clean up breakfast and work on farm chores. Some of my kids start practicing during this time, some wait until afternoon. Each of my children plays the piano and a string instrument, so they spend a couple of hours practicing every day.
- We start school around the kitchen table around 9 am. School usually takes place from about 9 am – noon.
- We always start with morning time, which usually consists of either a read aloud or a poem with hot cocoa or a fun snack, or a high-interest, hands-on portion of a unit study. I want my kids to want to join school instead of having to roust them out whatever corners they’re hiding in and dragging them to the table.
- We follow morning time with math. Each child works independently (using Saxon textbooks), but we’re all at the table together so they can ask questions. We check math together and make corrections (usually several times). Math always follows morning time because interest is still high at that point and I consider math to be critical.
- I keep a running list of what needs to be accomplished each day on a chalkboard in the kitchen. As kids finish up math, they move (independently) to their other subjects. I’ve learned to keep things VERY simple. We basically only study math and Spanish every day — our other subjects rotate based on our Unit Study.
- My older teens usually have college classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
- LUNCH PILLAR. Lunch happens around noon. School must be completed before lunch is eaten.
- Twice a week our afternoons are filled with music lessons and classes, but three days a week everyone is free to disappear. We all love to read and we visit the library almost every Wednesday, so we usually have plenty of reading material. The one rule is that nobody is allowed to bother mom. I always tell my kids, “If there is no fire or blood, I don’t need to hear about it.”
- The kids fit any remaining practicing in during the afternoons.
- The kids also play outside a lot in the afternoons. Basically, noon – 5 pm is mostly free time.
- We have a quick pick-up as I put the finishing touches on dinner and set the table. Home feels more relaxed when it’s clean, and it gets messy throughout the day, so we take ten minutes to just quickly put everything away right before dinner.
- DINNER PILLAR. Dinner happens around 6 pm. Practicing must be completed before eating dinner, along with a quick pick-up.
- Evenings are family time.
- BEDTIME PILLAR. Our goal is 8 pm bedtime for adults and kids alike. Everyone goes to bed and reads for an hour or two before lights out.
- Fridays (and whenever the opportunity arises) we often throw everything to the wind and find a good field trip.
Our routine is simple and allows for all the ‘musts’ (the things I’ve prioritized) to happen on a regular basis. It’s key that they happen on a regular basis. They don’t have to happen every day for a quality education to still occur, as long as they happen on a regular basis.
This relaxed schedule would drive some people crazy, but it works well for us. My seventh daughter often sets a personal goal for herself to have everything for the day finished by 9 am, so she can read all day long. She’ll complete her math the night before and get up early to do her practicing. She likes a very regimented schedule — more power to her!
That’s the thing, though. This loose schedule doesn’t prevent her from doing her own thing. Her stewardships are accomplished before each meal. Nobody’s rights are trampled. We’re all happy and sane. Nothing is worse for your happiness and well being than feeling compelled to design your homeschool schedule a certain way based on some supposed experts arbitrary advice.
I should add that my youngest is 6-years-old, and she rarely participates in all 3 hours of our learning time. She usually participates in morning time, then takes about 15 minutes to complete her math, then she disappears to play. Or she’ll get out her art supplies and sit at the table with us. I feel like that’s plenty for her.
When I’ve had babies and toddlers, I’ve considered my preschool/kindergarten/1st-grade aged children to be my biggest assets because I loved turning them loose to play with the baby so I could finish school with the big kids. They’ve loved it, too. They love to tend the babies and be in charge of something for a little while.
Honestly, I keep school for those ages under an hour unless they want to continue. At times, those littles have wanted to complete 30 lessons of math, one right after the other, other times they’re done after two.
My littles work up to three hours of learning time daily by around age 8 or 9.
I know I’ve already said this twice, but I just feel compelled to reiterate that I never let anything stand in the way of a good field trip. I never hesitate to set textbooks aside in order to learn from real life. Seriously. Just so you know!
Give Yourself Grace
Know that the homeschool schedule you are working on right now will not be the last one you create. Despite the work you are putting into this schedule, you might need something different next week. As your children grow and your family changes, you will need to make adjustments.
You will also learn and grow and think of ways to do things better in ways that will serve your family better. As you grow in confidence and capability, you’ll learn to eschew educational traditions you were raised with that really don’t make any sense.
Pin these ideas for a SANE homeschool schedule for later!
How do you schedule your homeschool? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?