There are many opinions about whether we should have a homeschool schedule and if so, how structured that homeschool schedule should be. Many homeschoolers dislike the highly scheduled days of public and private schools and feel the desire to go in the opposite direction…to have very unscheduled learning days. Other homeschoolers feel they need some kind of homeschool schedule in their lives, but wonder how structured of a schedule they need.
But I think all this discussion about homeschool schedules is the wrong discussion!
Let’s start a new discussion by first defining a schedule…
What is a schedule?
A schedule is a sequence of events that happens at a certain time. This is very much how traditional schools are set-up. Math is at 9:00, Science at 9:45, Art at 10:30 and Lunch at 11:15, etc. When homeschoolers say they don’t want a strict homeschool schedule, they are saying they don’t want to have to do things at a certain time. My hunch is this a pretty universal feeling among homeschoolers.
But where things get tricky is deciding what to do instead. Do we just throw out the whole idea of schedules and just see what happens?
What happens if we throw out the homeschool schedule?
There are two major problems with throwing out the homeschool schedule and seeing what happens.
Your homeschool vision probably won’t happen…
You probably have a vision of what you would like your children to learn…the skills you would like them to develop as well as the knowledge you would like them to gain about the world around them. You also might envision games, nature walks, park dates, field trips, art projects and more.
But if you don’t schedule time to learn these things and make these memories…then some (a lot?) of these things will not happen. And then you will feel like you didn’t accomplish this great vision you had for your children and your family.
No one will know what to expect…
The second problem with throwing out the homeschool schedule is the human brain likes to know what to expect. It feels very uncomfortable not knowing what each day holds. Sure, this can be fun once in awhile to have a wide open day full of possibility and no plan in front of you…but not on a daily basis.
We want to have some control over our lives. Knowing what is coming down the pipeline allows our brains to get ready, to plan, to feel in control and therefore feel somewhat relaxed going into situations.
And what happens when we feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to expect or how we can control things? We get moody. We might become undirected in our actions and not accomplish anything. Or we might want to control everything (and everyone) around us in unhealthy ways.
Think about how you feel when life is out its normal routine…maybe when everyone has been stuck in the house sick for awhile. I know I crave getting back into some kind of routine where my days are more predictable.
And while many of us might not reach this point until we have gone several days with no schedule, others might feel this way after just a few hours.
My oldest son has always desired to know what to expect from hour to hour. He wakes up and wants to know what is going on each day. If we are going to a restaurant, he needs to know what will be on the menu. His brain is much more relaxed when it knows what to expect.
Throwing out the homeschool schedule and seeing what happens would make him extremely uncomfortable. And when he is uncomfortable, he ends up making us ALL uncomfortable. 🙂
What should we do instead?
So as homeschoolers we know we don’t want a tight homeschool schedule. But throwing out the schedule and just seeing what happens sounds like a bad idea. So what is a homeschooling parent to do?
Make a homeschool routine.
Routines are regularly occurring events that are not tied to a particular time. They are often done in a sequence…like I get up, I brush my teeth, I take a shower, I get dressed, I eat breakfast, etc…
Routines may be tied to a certain time of day…in the mornings we do math and grammar, in the afternoons we have a read aloud and craft time. Or they may be tied to a certain day of the week…on Mondays we start a new writing project, on Wednesdays we watch a documentary, and on Fridays we do field trips.
Routines allow you to accomplish your vision for your children’s learning. They help everyone know what to expect. And yet they don’t make you feel trapped having to do certain things at certain times.
And the best part about routines is if life throws you a curveball and you get out of your routine, routines are always there waiting for you…like an old friend, a comfy chair, or a cup of tea.
We can all imagine a time in our lives where we got sick and maybe didn’t shower for a few days. But I am pretty sure we have never met anyone who was like “I got sick once and stopped showering and never went back to showering again.” We go back to showering because it is an established routine that benefits us. And those around us! 🙂
So that is what we need for our homeschool…established routines that benefit us, not a homeschool schedule.
Planning our homeschool routines…
Now every family’s routine is going to look different and you need to come up with one that will work for you.
Your routine will depend on how many children you have and the ages of your children. Whether each child is able to establish their own routine or they need an external routine established for them. And if your kids have scheduled activities they need to attend. You know…the things you have to do at a specific time on a specific day…sports teams, co-ops, therapy sessions, etc.
It can be helpful to begin by sketching a routine on paper. But often routines can happen organically once you get going. After a few weeks of trying a routine that you sketched out see what is working and what isn’t. Kids will let you know whether the routine is working for them!
Questions you want to think about…
Will every day have a similar routine? If so, what will your daily routine look like? If not, think about what each day of the week will look like. It can be helpful to give each day a name or description. Like Mondays are “appointment and errands days”. Tuesdays and Thursdays are “at home learning days”. Or maybe you will create Fun Fridays in your homeschool.
When do we want learning to begin? You may want a set time such as 9:00 am or a window of time like between 8:30 and 9:30 am. I am a big fan of having a start time. It allows my brain to relax and I feel like I know how the day will unfold.
But maybe it works better for your family to have learning activities fall within a sequence of other routines and not begin at a certain time. For example, after everyone eats breakfast, you do morning basket and then math.
What routines will you have before learning starts? Will the kids eat breakfast first? Get dressed? Are there morning chores? This will likely look very different for each family.
Will you divide your day into sections? Maybe you will have certain activities that are done in the morning and a different set that is done in the afternoon? Maybe one part of the day is for learning that requires more brainpower or perseverance and another section of the day is for more fun, creative pursuits.
One part of the day might be better for individual learning and another part for group learning. Or maybe one part of the day is for independent learning and one is for more parent-directed learning. Pam Barnhill has some sample homeschool schedules in this post that show how different people might break their day into sections.
What do each of your children need at different times of the day? You may have younger children who need your attention more in the morning and then nap and have downtime in the afternoon. This may mean your older children need to be more independent in the morning and you can spend more time with them in the afternoon. There may be no perfect solution, but work toward a routine where your children have most of their needs met without over extending yourself.
Some families will have more or less structure to their routine depending on the needs of the family. It is important to remember that each person in the family may have a different level of desire for structure. Some give and take may be involved to come up with routines that work for everyone.
When our homeschool routines fall apart…
Homeschool schedules start to fall apart as soon as we miss doing something at a certain time. This is where homeschool routines are more forgiving and provide room for flexibility. However, there will still be times where life goes awry and you will get out of your homeschool routine.
A good question to ask yourself when this happens is…do we need to rewrite our homeschool routine or just get back into our homeschool routine?
This question is actually pretty easy to answer. Did you get out of your routine due to an outside event that is out of your normal routine…sickness, a move, a family need, a vacation? If so, then you just need to get back into your routine. It can be helpful to keep a written copy of routine to refer to at times like these.
But if there doesn’t seem to be a major outside reason you got out of the routine, then it probably means your routine needs some changes.
It may mean that you are trying to accomplish too much for the season of life you are in. Or the routine you sketched out on paper doesn’t actually match with your family’s normal daily routines. This means it’s time to go back to the planning questions above and reconsider them.
It can be super helpful to find someone who knows you well to talk through these questions with you. They might be able to give you some objective feedback as to where your visions of a routine and the reality of your routine don’t align well.
However, there may be outside forces throwing off your routine like therapy appointments, a chronically ill family member, or sports activities. But, if they are ROUTINE outside forces then they need to be part of your routine. Maybe you need to decrease the amount of things you are trying to accomplish and just prioritize a few things right now.
Or maybe you need to get creative. If you are in the car a lot, a major part of your learning might be bringing workbooks in the car or listening to an audiobook. Or maybe you watch documentaries with dinner some evenings. A lot can be learned this way!
There is actually another genius way to deal with this situation…it is normally called a loop homeschool schedule, but I think we need to rename it a Loop Homeschool Routine because the whole purpose of it is to not be tied to do something at a certain time.
A Loop Homeschool Routine
A loop schedule or what we are calling a loop homeschool routine does not assign a learning activity to a particular time or day. Instead, you keep a general list of learning activities that you want to ‘loop’ through. When it is time to learn, you just complete the next activity or activities on the list. And when you need to stop, you stop. The next time you come back to your learning, you pick up where you left off.
Let’s say your list of learning activities contains the following:
Monday you would start at the top of the list and work through it until you need to stop. Maybe it is a planned stop like lunch or maybe something unexpectedly disrupted what you were doing.
Let’s say the read aloud was the last thing you did. No worries, the next time you have time for learning that day or even if it has to wait until the next day, you start with the art or craft activity, move on to the history documentary and then head back up to the top of the list for a math lesson.
A loop homeschool routine makes sure that everything you want to do gets done. Even if it takes you a few more days than you originally thought it might. You could loop everything you planned for your homeschool or just some of the learning activities.
For the example above, maybe the history documentary works better to do with dinner on Wednesday evenings. Just leave that out of the loop.
I hope this post has given you some freedom and direction to create the homeschool routine that will work for your family! If you have an experience with creating routines that you want to share, comment below or email us!