How to make a homeschool schedule work

posted in: homeschooling 47

Does the word schedule make you break out in hives? Do you picture yourself harried and deflated at the end of a day on a homeschool schedule? Maybe for you, like me, that’s a vivid memory, not a theoretical picture.

There’s a lot of visceral reaction against schedules in the homeschool world, and I totally get why. I mean, can I schedule diaper blowouts and my doorbell ringing and the toddler pulling an open bag of powdered sugar onto herself? Where does that go in the schedule?

If there’s one thing that trying to live by a schedule teaches us right off the bat, it’s that we are not actually in control.

Here’s the first secret: That’s a good thing.

Here’s the second secret: There’s more than one way to use a schedule.

I think the natural way to approach a schedule is to plug in what we need to get done into time slots, then pull out our hair when we get derailed and it all falls apart. Then we blame the schedule and we try to homeschool without one. But then we’re exhausted in a different way, with the fatigue that comes with having to make too many decisions on the fly and bully or cajole our children through their work.

Here’s the third secret: Having a schedule has reduced conflict between me and my children.

Yes, it’s true. Now, when we were on those “Mom will force her schedule down your throat” plans, that did not reduce conflict. However, when I was trying to figure out where to strike a balance between control-freak scheduler and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants non-scheduler, I came across this passage in Charlotte Mason’s first volume:

Time-table; Definite Work in a Given Time. –– I shall have opportunities to enter into some of these points later; meantime, let us look in at a home schoolroom managed on sound principles. In the first place, there is a time-table, written out fairly, so that the child knows what he has to do and how long each lesson is to last. This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not ‘as good as another’; that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time; and this knowledge alone does a great deal to secure the child’s attention to his work. Again, the lessons are short, seldom more than twenty minutes in length for children under eight; and this, for two or three reasons. The sense that there is not much time for his sums or his reading, keeps the child’s wits on the alert and helps to fix his attention.

Here are the three secrets from this insightful paragraph:

  1. This is bound to duty, not to mom’s will. This schedule isn’t mom imposing her own will on the household by the force of her own control.

  2. This is a home schoolroom “managed on sound principles.” This schedule is a management tool that is founded on and runs on wisdom, on principles, not on hard lines and rigid enforcement.

  3. The schedule is something written out for the child to see. Mom doesn’t keep it in her head or in her own binder, barking orders left and right to keep everyone marching to her drum. Somehow, it is self-motiving to the child.

Homeschool schedules remind us of our commitments.

It’s a good thing you’re not in control. Be duty-bound, not self-willed.

Yes, it is true your homeschool schedule will rarely, if ever, work exactly as written. But 70-80% each day is still a huge benefit over perpetual scrambling and aimless wandering. If you add extra margin into your schedule, planning 30-40 minutes of work for each hour, you can reach 80% of your schedule 80% of the time. The goal isn’t to pack as much into your day as possible, your goal is to make time for your priorities and work from that plan. As Stephen Covey put it, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

As Charlotte Mason put it, we are to give each duty “its own time.” And when we reserve that time slot for each priority, we will be more satisfied in our day’s work because we too will learn “that one time is not ‘as good as another.'” Creating a space in your day for fulfilling your duties is a tool we can use to grow in self-discipline. As Holly Pierlot has written:

“The charts and written schedules are training tools to help you know what to do when, and to help you get into the routine of managing your life and growing closer to God all at the same time.” As we work our schedule in this way, “our wills, like our muscles, can be exercised and made tougher, more enduring. Every time we consciously choose to follow God’s will, to do a good act, we strengthen our own wills and lessen the hold of sloth over our souls. Every little thing counts every single time” (A Mother’s Rule of Life).

Essex Cholmondeley, a teacher-student under Charlotte Mason’s instruction, wrote of how having a time-table, a schedule, affected them:

Again, to many of us life was overfull. We would not be hurried; we liked to say ‘I will do it in my own time.’ But at Scale How [the teacher college] time was to be respected, given to the thing or person claiming it rightfully. Then there would always be time, without over-pressure or distraction. This sense of time value was hard to achieve but it bore the test of experience during the two years’ training. […] It did not seem possible to find a moment for everything, yet if no time was wasted there was plenty of it and no hurry.

Plenty of it and no hurry“: Is that not what we are after? Are we willing to give our time to the “thing or person claiming it rightly” in order to achieve that sense of time value? It takes upfront work to determine those duties and to write out a fair time-table where we cut back on time wasters and lower priorities in order to better execute our true responsibilities. But that upfront work, when followed up on, will earn us that sense of there being enough time, with no hurry.

Secret 2: There’s more than one way to use a schedule. Use it wisely, not woodenly.

A lot of the frustration in homeschooling with a schedule is that we try to have both a set amount of work (such as reading one chapter or working one page of problems) and a set amount of time. However, when we add a person into the mix, things don’t always come out equal. We are forced to consider: is the point that this student learns and grows or that we finish the prescribed lesson?

I would propose that if a student spends 20-30 solid minutes with you, going over long division problems, then it doesn’t matter how many you were able to tackle in that time. Practicing the process is the point, not doing 10 problems. Likewise, setting the timer for a reluctant reader to read for 20 minutes is better than telling that child he has to read 2 chapters, no matter how long it takes. Elementary age children cannot sustain attention and diligence for much longer than 20 minutes, so insisting they push beyond that is not helpful to your cause or to their growth. Now, once division or reading is easy for them, they might be able to spend longer doing it, because it’s not as taxing. But don’t tax the student for more than 15-20 minutes at a stretch.

Having a schedule with blocks for a type of work, but not a set amount of work, is a good way to ensure regular practice in all their skill areas and also to keep their minds fresh by varying the type of work required.

Secret 3: A schedule can reduce conflict. It’s seen and used by the student.

There are two ways I’ve found having our time table “written out fairly” has minimized conflict in our homeschool days.

First, I realized that when the schedule was only in my own head or in my own notes, then I was always directing everyone, telling them what to do. Now, I want to raise self-motivated and self-directed learners, but if I’m always the director, then they never get a chance. Without knowing what’s next or what’s on the agenda, they cannot be self-directed. Not only do I want them to become self-directed, but they naturally want autonomy as well. So when they can see on our whiteboard that they have a certain amount of time for their work, a certain amount of time for recess, and a certain amount of free time, then they can carry themselves through those times without being bossed around.

Second, they learn that giving each thing its own time is the only way to get that planned recess or free time. If they spend 20 minutes “looking for their book,” then that has to come off of some time block on the schedule, and it’s going to be their free time. So, instead of procrastinating by dawdling, they are actually spending their own time. It took a few hard days with hard lessons, but simply having that clear and on the public notice board reduced not only the conflict that comes from Mom micromanaging, but also the conflict that comes from Mom’s frustration over pencils that take 10 minutes to sharpen.

I never would have guessed, but having a visible schedule with each hour assigned a specific kind of work has done wonders for the discipline and atmosphere of our homeschool.

The rest of the series:

47 Responses

  1. Verna
    | Reply

    I have a hard time making time for schooling! This sounds like exactly what I need!

  2. […] Three Secrets About Schedules […]

  3. kristy
    | Reply

    I don’t want to micromanage and obsess anymore!

  4. livken
    | Reply

    My biggest struggle is fitting in everything I want to do for all four kids.

  5. Tammy
    | Reply

    We still have 5 children at home, and I just can’t seem to keep up with everythingp. I would love a chance to win this!

  6. Katrina
    | Reply

    My biggest struggle when planning is figuring out how to prioritize yet still get done all the things I think I need to. It’s almost as if my family gets a “pick 2” option, where they can have decent meals OR get school done OR have a clean home, but not all three.

    • Mystie Winckler
      | Reply

      Yes! I totally have that experience, as well, Katrina! “Pick 2” is exactly right!

  7. Stacie Larson
    | Reply

    I have 10 year old boy who I have always struggled with… I have tried everything to get him to do his schoolwork or his chores!

  8. Abundantly Blessed
    | Reply

    Planning takes me an excruciatingly long time. If I’m not fully planned, any little hitch will do to derail our school day (not having the millions of construction paper shapes pre-cut for Saxon K kept us from moving forward for weeks). Anyone else get mired in the mundane?

  9. Kari Seibel
    | Reply

    This is our first year homeschooling so I am excited for all the guidance!

  10. carrotqueen
    | Reply

    The insight that the trouble comes when we try to plan content and time is great. Will have to ponder that.

  11. Cindy
    | Reply

    A timely post! Planning will be underway very soon!

    • Cindy
      | Reply

      My bigggest struggle is how to fit it all in.

  12. Elizabethe
    | Reply

    So, my kids can’t be the only people who, when given access to the schedule go and change it? I posted up a a chedule and my older son says, look mommy, today I have snack, art, lunch, and free time in the schedule, but my brother has to do all of these chores! That doesn’t seem fair, oh well, I guess I’m done for the day!

    Younger brother wised up and started manipulating his own schedule too. I recognize that this is a disciplinary problem, but really, do any one else’s kids do this?

    • Mystie Winckler
      | Reply

      Could you print it instead, maybe, so they can’t?

      We did have an instance once when we first started where things were adjusted (it was more subtle, too; they were really trying to get away with it). We explained that that was a form of lying and cheating and would not be tolerated. Sometimes I think kids are unclear on where the line between joking and lying stands, and they need to be told where the line is and then we have to hold that line.

      I would totally make the one who changed it have the schedule he wrote for his brother and the brother get the one he made for himself. :) “He who digs a pit will himself fall into it.”

  13. Lisa A
    | Reply

    Great point about not trying to fit in a certain number of problems or what have you AND a set time. I’ve fallen into that and it’s totally a recipe for disaster here. I do need to post a schedule that everyone can see… I think that would help. Problem is I have almost zero vertical space… I’ll have to think about how to do that.

    • Mystie Winckler
      | Reply

      Maybe a printout in their binders or on a clipboard? I’m planning on going over ours before beginning Circle Time this year for my non-readers, because I think my 6yo will be getting more anxious about feeling out of the loop. :)

  14. Katie
    | Reply

    I have issues being flexible once I’ve created a plan. I either stick to it ridgedly or end up getting frustrated with it not working out and trash the whole thing! I’m a planning disaster :(

    • Mystie Winckler
      | Reply

      Maybe you can practice loosening up (oh, I know the trouble!) by picking only the essentials and “tethering” them to something already solid in your routine. So rather than watching the clock, you say “math right after chores” and “reading time right after lunch” or however it goes in your house.

      It’s ok to work yourself gradually in the direction you’re trying to go. None of us can change overnight, no matter how we want to. :)

  15. Christina W
    | Reply

    My greatest struggle right now is to not get off track with toddler or baby interruptions. It seems if we lose momentum to a dirty diaper getting everyone back together and moving is overwhelming. And the Pick Only Two problem someone else mentioned.

  16. Jada Sharp
    | Reply

    I like the thought of only writing down the time not the amount of work to be done – I think my son will respond to this better.

  17. Lani
    | Reply

    We are going to start homeschooling in the fall, and I am wavering between letting them enjoy their summer and getting an early start. But we need to decide soon!

  18. Julie
    | Reply

    I struggle with narrowing down printed resources, getting overwhelmed with the limitless possibilities to study a specific topic, and never beginning or giving up if it doesn’t work the first time. Started school this week…will be making adjustment on scheduling times. Thank you for the thoughts.

  19. Anne D
    | Reply

    So much food for thought in this post. I have always used a prepared curriculum, but adding a third child into the mix this fall has me considering doing my own planning or altering what is already prepared. I am a little nervous, though! I am reading anything and everything I can get my hands on about planning! Thanks for this timely post!

  20. Michelle
    | Reply

    Well, we have gradually gone from Mother of Divine Grace with two older children and a baby to “unofficially unschooling” with the addition of 5 more including one set of twins. I know that God had to simplify things and my priorities were meals, a reasonably clean home and my sanity, not to mention a marriage in tact. I have been blown away by what they have learned anyway!

    Now, I’m getting the nudge that it’s time to rebuild our school with the wisdom and time that we have gained. This post was very helpful and I thank you.

    So, my biggest struggle is that when I’m overwhelmed, I find it hard to begin at all.

  21. Laura
    | Reply

    Not filling up our day with “stuff” we really don’t need to bother with!

  22. […] convicted me. The other three Scholé Sisters are talking about planning and schedules this week. Mystie’s post yesterday about schedules, using them as a tool, and how there is freedom to be found there really has me […]

  23. Sarah
    | Reply

    Better scheduling and a more predictable, organized routine are two priorities in the coming school year. So much good stuff here. Thanks!

  24. Kristin LaFlamme
    | Reply

    Thank you for this! Scheduling school with 5 boys is a daunting task. However this was so helpful. I tend to make my own schedule and direct also. I am going to try posting a flexible schedule this year and see if it reduces some conflict.

  25. Elizabeth
    | Reply

    Great post! thanks for sharing!

  26. Diana N
    | Reply

    I think I struggle with getting all of what’s on my agenda done. I like the idea of setting a timer or a set amount of time and having really focused attention for that time. Thanks

  27. Eunice
    | Reply

    Just what we need to have a better 2014/2015 school year.

  28. Sarah L
    | Reply

    I love to make schedules – double the joy if it is a color-coded spreadsheet. Using those schedules, however has proven to be more of a challenge. I already like the idea of under-scheduling (or would that be overplanning?) to build margin into the day. Hmmmm, this package looks like a useful tool.

  29. […] We keep in mind the three secrets about schedules, we remember that extras are riches, and we make a plan. We think and choose carefully and set […]

  30. solaacademy
    | Reply

    My biggest struggle is wanting to cram too much into the time! So much to learn and explore!

  31. tgoodall08
    | Reply

    My biggest problem is juggling 8 children to do some chores, lessons, and get along. I also need more time for me to plan and pray. My health has been a big issue and hopefully that will be better as soon as I have a major surgery.

  32. Julie
    | Reply

    My current struggle is being flexible to meet the needs of new baby brother. I like to have school done in the morning and not drag on. We are all still adjusting.

  33. Catherine
    | Reply

    This looks like a great resource!

  34. Renee
    | Reply

    I already feel better at making next year’s schedule.

  35. Jen
    | Reply

    I love to read about planning, look at others’ schedules, get fancy with writing it all in the planner, and then if we get off schedule (usually after the first day!) then I ditch the plans and get discouraged… I’m trying to simplify the plans for this next year and focus on my daily prayer life.

  36. Tiffany Ghigliotti
    | Reply

    My biggest struggle is balancing homeschooling with e everything else

  37. Joanna
    | Reply

    I Struggle with scheduling and keeping them sometime having 6 children and homeschooling them. This would be a great recourse to better our daily life.

  38. Karen
    | Reply

    I find such peace in scheduling. When I can see a plan for the day, when I can see that there is time for the tasks that must be accomplished and time to rest and play, then there is no need to panic. Even “interruptions” can be borne with calm and patience because time can be built in for them as well!

  39. Jesse
    | Reply

    My biggest struggle is in the juggling multiple ages, grades, abilities and housework.

  40. Amy Maze
    | Reply

    Great post! I am definitely a schedule maker, and get stressed when I can’t make reality fit =) I read something recently that was similar to what you said about scheduling 30 minutes into an hour. Then if the child finishes early, they have extra free time as their reward. If the child dawdles and it takes them longer, that extra time is already built in. Also, I do like setting timers for lots of things, including teaching my daughter to read (15 minutes of reading lesson at a time). Like you said, some things just shouldn’t be pressed too hard. Thanks for the encouragement and ideas!

  41. […] be gathered? Everything loose: loose change, loose thoughts, loose toys, loose legos, loose screws, loose schedules – whatever is rattling around homeless, disconnected, and unresolved. In GTD-speak, these are […]

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