“You homeschool? Ok, but um….what exactly do you DO all day?”
We LEARN! I know my Lil’ Lizard is the student, but I think it was Mama who learned the most last year. So far I only have a year and a half under my belt, but I thought sharing last year’s struggles and solutions could be of use to someone, if only for future reference for myself ;). Part of the steep learning curve to homeschooling, was finding a school calendar, daily/weekly schedules and general routines that worked for us.
*Newbie Disclaimer: As I mentioned in my intro to this series, bear in mind that I am a totally homeschooling novice, and my opinions/ideas are based on how OUR year turned out. While a major reason I blog is to help me process and organize my thoughts, I am also offering a peek into our homeschool that it may be a blessing to those needing a frame of reference, NOT as a proposed template or source of pressure in any way. I mean hello, I meant to get this out to y’all this summer and here we are polishing it up as we look at Christmas :)*
Gearing up to homeschool, I wasn’t worried about our schedule at all. I figured we were just doing school at home so we just followed our local district’s school calendar and general daily hours. Which, is totally fine, except when my Lil’ Lizard mastered the study stall and I started to feel guilty about how much of the day we spent playing. Did we cover enough? So naturally I took to Pinterest, Teacher Pay Teacher, Facebook groups and various homeschooling blogs to research what I “should” be doing.
That’s when I decided I just needed to be more “organized” and busted out my handy-dandy color coded spreadsheets. Unfortunately, you’ll see how they became more of a hindrance than a help for our homeschool. Whenever someone announces they have good news and bad news, I always say “hit me with the bad news first” so we might as well start there. 🙂
What DIDN’T Work:
A Daily Time Stamped Schedule:
I had worked out a beautiful and elaborate itinerary including everything we needed, even playtime and transitions between subjects. Looking back I recognize it for what it was, a glorified bell schedule. Can you blame me? I grew up in public school and even went to college to teach it! Of course it’s wise to have some forethought and direction each day, for me however, the slated events stole so much of the liberation homeschool has to offer. I found myself constantly checking the clock and thinking “yay!, he finished 15 minutes early, maybe I can squeeze in another thing here…” or “great, now we’re behind 30 minutes! Do I skip flash cards or do we just do lunch later? Wait, that’s gonna throw off this and that…”. For me, scheduling the day caused me to focus on the clock and not the child, with my daily success hinging on my ability to keep time.
Solution: A Block Schedule with Routines
As Eager Explorer’s sleeping patterns changed, the whole family started to shift with him. Eventually I tossed the time stamps and started to look at our days as chunks of productivity with meals as our framework instead of the clock. With a general routine instead of a schedule our days started to look more like:
Wake up and Cuddle Time, Breakfast, Morning Chores, Least Favorite Subjects, Snack and some sort of movement, Other Important Subjects, Lunch, Recess OUTSIDE, Read Aloud and Remaining Activities or lessons, Play, Afternoon Chores, Dinner, Sometimes Useful Chunk for unfinished work or extra study, and finally our Bedtime Routine
This new perspective showed me what I was REALLY dealing with and how to make the most of it. When interrupted or otherwise derailed, I had a clear idea of what my shuffling options were. If I still couldn’t fit in that day, or week (gasp!) then you know what?….it was still gonna be OKAY. You see, I also learned that homeschool isn’t something you clock IN and OUT of. Now I embrace the educational opportunities that present themselves within our daily life, and have kindled the wonder and curiosity that fuels a love of learning. If we are seizing these moments with all they have to offer, then we can have confidence that our children will have a diverse and rich education. It’s scary to tweak a recipe sometimes, but that’s when you discover spinach in the ricotta makes for a yummy lasagna 😉
My First Approach to Scheduling our Curriculum within Our School Calendar Year:
Honestly, I didn’t really even think about scheduling our year at all. I just thought about it as Day 1 of school = Lesson 1 from our workbooks. School days were based on our local school district, and so that was pretty much it. How often we revert to the familiar in the face of the unknown. Not only did I end up putting extreme and unnecessary pressure on myself only a week after the birth of a baby, I wasted prime learning time because it didn’t fit into the districts schedule.
Much like the time stamp situation, I measured success by whether or not we were “on track” with whatever curriculum I bought. Most respected resources include assessments to check for concept mastery, but I was depending on them more than I really should have. I didn’t notice that our spelling curriculum didn’t meet our expectations until three-fourths of the year was already over. Lil’ Lizard faithfully did his work and even made 100 on each weekly test, but looking over his journals, I noticed that MOST of his spelling words didn’t stick past two weeks. Something had to change.
Solution: Goal and Family Focus School Calendar
Somewhere in the late night planning between newborn feedings I lost sight of what I was preparing for. I mean, we are homeschooling, as in…SCHOOLING, within our family’s HOME. Why I thought these two elements were separate and should be planned accordingly just goes to show how old habits die hard. So I took out a blank calendar for the rest of the school year and wrote out my anticipated important family events. This alone gave me a more realistic idea of what I would be working with.
Before I could move forward, I needed a clear vision of my goals. I mentioned in another post how everything seemed to fall into place once my husband and I sat down and wrote out a defined mission statement for our family and homeschool. Ultimately, we want our children to know God and have an ever strengthening relationship with Him. So many things fall under that umbrella idea, but instead of asking myself how to fit this lesson into my day, I asked the more relevant question, “how does this lesson fit into our mission?”
With clear goals in mind and a new perspective, I realized more than ever our need for margin in our days, weeks and calendar year. Each state has different requirements for days in attendance, but most schools are in session for roughly 36 weeks, or 180 days. Whether you break it up into quarters, 6 weeks, or even at all is totally up to you! Honestly if I didn’t lose my son in the summer, I would school year round to grant myself plenty of buffer. Since I don’t, I look at it like this:
180 days – 36 days (24 for Co-op, 12 field trips) = 144 days of school or simply, a 4 day “school” schedule.
Next I look at the curriculum for each subject keeping my primary mission in mind. Some subjects like math and reading we’ll do daily, whereas as other I might rotate every other day. Some fun supplemental things we might do just once a week…or once a month. So you just have to tweak it support your goals and expectations for your student’s year.
Once I have my general 4 day school week mapped out, then I’m more or less done with the scheduling. I don’t look at school like “it’s Day 23, we should be on Chapter 7 in History and Lesson 3B in Math” anymore. Instead, today might be Day 23 for History, but 32 for Math and only 11 for Science. As we approach the end of a quarter, I try to put more emphasis on subjects we may be “behind” in to sorta balance things out, but as long as we are making progress and learning, I’m happy.
Don’t laugh at how short this section is, it was my first year!
Routines and Procedures:
Initially Eager Explorer was a newborn sleeping quite a bit during the day, which allowed me to spend more time establishing various routines and procedures with Lil’ Lizard. At his side, I was able to coach him through simple things (like our morning routine, or how to make a sandwich) that made our day flow much easier once his brother needed more attention. Although he might need a refresher course before starts school up again, he really did an excellent job with our general work routine:
- Designate a work space (this might entail clearing off an area)
- Gather Materials
- Follow Directions as you Work
- Return Materials/Clean off work space
We generally practiced this concept ever since he was a toddler, but I specifically defined and highlighted it this year. We first introduced it with some special Mama-Lil’ Lizard play time. Calling Lego play our “work” not only cracked him up, but showed him that I support his interests and recognize his efforts. That evening I reinforced the routine as I made dinner. Knowing I was in earshot, I spoke aloud “Ok, I finished step 1 and created a good work space to chop these carrots, but I forgot what I need to do next. Hmmm…” What a beaming smile he had as he shouted, “I know! Gather Materials!!!” 😀
So if you take some time initially to set up clear expectations for how things should be done, instead of just when, you’ll soon see your investment pay off. Whatever you end up scheduling or planning, with a procedure in place, events and transitions will go off without a hitch.
As homeschoolers, we are educating our children on more than the 3 R’s, we are training and preparing them for adult life. This should go without saying, but as home educators I find we are more intentional about teaching life skills. So this same idea could easily be applied to teaching your children chores….which eventually frees up YOUR schedule!
While the flexibility that homeschooling affords is amazing, after talking with fellow new homeschooling families, somewhere we seemed to miss the memo. How do we balance effectively training our kiddos to be disciplined and yet embrace the moments to build treasured memories?
One suggestion is to guess set very clear and rigid boundaries or deadlines, while granting the freedom to enjoy a more relaxed schedule. With my easily distracted second grader, he needs more structure in his days than a 5th grader, or highschooler would. Even still, I give him some room to try his hand at time management. Recess is always after lunch, and always at LEAST 45 minutes. However, if one evening Lil’ Lizard decides to work ahead on the next section of math work, he’s created about a 30 minute play break for the next day. Sometimes he recognizes a good groove and asks to finish all of his week’s grammar assignments in about 2 days so he can get them over with and enjoy the rest of the week.
So while we aren’t quite ready to hand him a syllabus and text book as we wish him luck, shifting from daily assignments to a weekly goals has really helped our schedules flow much more smoothly. Especially, when I view our schedule as loose chunks of time framed by FAMILY NEEDS rather than a self-imposed bell schedule.