I am a person who likes to be organized and in control. In the early years of teaching our five sons, I spent the summer planning a perfect schedule (or so I thought!). But two weeks into the school year, my perfect schedule was abandoned. After a few years, I realized that it was both unnecessary and (almost!) impossible to observe the kind of regimented schedule I had used when I was teaching in the public schools.
A tightly-organized schedule is necessary when working with twenty-six children who are a part of a four-hundred-child school. But a minute-by-minute schedule doesn’t make sense in the family context. When dealing with children of many ages, especially if there are very young children involved, things are simply too unpredictable for a tight agenda. Factor in livestock that are giving birth or escaping pens, weather issues, caring for a sick child, and other life events, and it’s enough to blow any best-intended schedule into the next state.
So do we just teach by the seat of our pants, hoping that everything will get done? Do we extend the school day into the evening hours? What about out-of-home activities? How can we be sure to finish what is necessary and still be glad we are homeschooling? Here are five suggestions to consider.
Keep the main thing the main thing
What is the most important thing you want your children to do each day? If it is family worship, devotions, or Bible time, then start your day with these. Then if the rest of the day falls apart, you will at least have done the most important thing.
Remember that your family is unique
Your school day likely won’t look like some other family’s day. Your children are different ages and have different learning styles. You have different strengths and weaknesses, too. Ask God for creative ideas as you plan your days.
One family kept the toddlers and babies up late into the evening so they would sleep later in the morning when the older children were doing their most difficult school subjects. Another family taught math during the little ones’ naptime. Each year will be slightly different; a newborn is much easier to homeschool around than an on-the-go toddler is, so your plans will look different from year to year.
Your schedule may change seasonally, especially if you farm or operate a seasonal business. Recognize that what your child learned staying up late to farrow baby pigs is a great science lesson. Caring for a live-in grandma’s needs is a life lesson that can’t be replicated in any character curriculum.
Establish a consistent sequence instead of a by-the-clock schedule
Habits are essential to efficiency. You can get more done with good habits than with harping on the kids every day. Decide what you want them to do each day without fail. If you want beds made, rooms tidy, and pets fed before breakfast, start enforcing that now so it is a habit before school begins. A dawdler may miss breakfast a few times before he realizes you mean business, but hunger is a great teacher, and he will soon learn to get his morning chores done on time.
You may not start certain subjects at the same time every day, but it can help to do them in the same order. If you are called away to care for an infant or to take a phone call, the children know what they should be working on next. Perhaps you will decide to do Bible, followed by math, recess, reading, lunch, history or science (alternating days), and music or art (alternating days or semesters). Each day you could follow the same order whether you begin school at 7:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m.
Establish a consistent sequence instead of a by-the-clock schedule. Habits are essential to efficiency. You can get more done with good habits than with harping on the kids every day. You may not start certain subjects at the same time every day, but it can help to do them in the same order.
Realize that everyone won’t be on the same schedule. Consider age and gender differences.
Most children need more breaks than they get. The younger the child, the shorter the teaching sessions should be. Research indicates that many of our children require vision correction because of too much close work at an early age. Sitting at a table or in front of a screen for hours at a time is not a good choice for a young child. Experts recommend sessions of no more than fifteen minutes at a time for close work.
Recognize that most boys, and many girls, need to move—a lot! Noted educator Dr. Ruth Beechick urged teachers to “work with the wiggle.” I found that our boys were much more attentive when I read aloud if I let them do something with their hands as they listened—a puzzle or Legos, for example. One cold winter, one of our sons couldn’t sit still to write his spelling test until after he rode a mile on the exercise bike; it had been too cold outside to work off his energy.
Breaks can be learning times, too. Nature walks (even in a city neighborhood), music practice, household chores, and sketching can all give minds and bodies the break they need before going on with bookwork. Collect ideas for mini-breaks and let your children draw one from a hat.
Teach your children to work
There is no way that I could have homeschooled our sons and kept up with all of the housework, although I certainly tried during the early years. My well-documented Laundry Daze breakdown set me on the path of teaching our sons that everyone in the family had responsibilities around the house, just because they lived there. The five-year-old had five jobs to do each day; the twelve-year-old had twelve jobs, some daily and some weekly. If this idea is new to your family, consider implementing it this summer so it will be a habit by the time your begin school this fall.
Pray for creative ideas as you plan your year. Each school year will be different. Your children will be older and so will you. Give your new strategy time to work before abandoning it altogether, but don’t be afraid to tweak it if necessary. Summer is a great time to build the habits that will smooth your new school year.