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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Secret 1: It’s a good thing you’re not in control. Be duty-bound, not self-willed.
Yes, it is true your 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: