When I was a child I loved to play school. I was adamant about always being the teacher, and I was a strict one, indeed. My “students” (usually my nieces) were always bombarded with writing and math assignments, and I would gleefully grade their papers with a bright red pen, just like my teacher at school. (Watch my video here!)
If you know me at all, you know that I love new homeschoolers. I am all about encouraging them, guiding them, and giving them the confidence they need in this huge undertaking. Lately, however, I’ve had more than a few conversations with newbies that go something like this:
“You’re homeschooling now? That’s awesome! What made you decide to do it?”
“My son/daughter just wasn’t learning in school. No matter what they did, nothing. I just don’t think school was the right fit.”
“I think you made the right decision. So what have you been doing with them?”
“Oh, we’ve been following a similar schedule to what they had in school.”
“You know you don’t have to do that, right?”
“I know. It’s just that that’s what they’re used to.”
I realize that every homeschooling household does things differently, but I really felt that I should write about why our family uses a routine instead of a schedule like the one above.
I’d like to start by explaining the difference between a schedule and a routine. A schedule is exactly what you see above. Besides the structured time, a schedule also usually involves a pre-planned agenda determining exactly which pages or assignments are to be completed on which day. A routine is somewhat different in that it incorporates a rhythm throughout the day rather than instituting specific times and activities for each day.
While a formal schedule can certainly be helpful for those families who thrive on this sort of structure, the limitations on time can inhibit learning if a child is interrupted prematurely to move on to the next subject. If your daughter has only five minutes left to complete her math assignment and is just starting to get the hang of it, is it a good thing to end that subject simply to move on to the next one?
I know this often occurs because a parent may worry that if one subject runs late, the whole schedule may be thrown off, or- worst-case scenario- another subject may be missed entirely. And if that happens, then the entire lesson plan for the week will be thrown off. What to do?
I would suggest that you apply the same reasoning to schedules that you (hopefully) do to curriculums: Schedules are a tool. Do not allow yourself to become a slave to them.
In our homeschool routine, we do have very general times that we try to do certain things. Most importantly, we always try to start our “school day” by 10am. We’re usually pretty good with that because I do have a lot of kids to facilitate, so it’s essential that we are diligent about getting started. After that, though, our lessons have no time limitations. Sometimes I may work with the littles until 11am. Other times, we may still be going strong at 11:30, in which case the older kids will only get about thirty minutes in before lunch. Sometimes, though not often, I may have the littles and the older kids finished by lunchtime. Other times we may need to continue on for an hour or two after lunch. And still other times, we may need to wrap things up prematurely for a trip to the library, the grocery store, or a doctor’s appointment.
One thing that largely helps me with this mindset is that although I do write a quick plan of what I hope to accomplish during the week, it’s not set in stone. If we miss an assignment, it’s no big deal. If I feel that it’s important or will be fun for us, I’ll fit it in another day. If not, I’ll toss it completely. This is one of the beauties of homeschooling- flexibility. I am not going to freak out if we miss something and start scheduling make-up days. I’m pretty sure we’ll survive if one grammar worksheet is left undone. 🙂
No matter the method you prefer to use when it comes to coordinating your day, keep in mind that homeschooling is not school at home. Why should we try to imitate something that isn’t working? Learning can be an awesome experience, especially when it happens together as a family. This should be the essence of home education- not frantically trying to recreate a system that has proven itself to be almost utterly futile.
So as you continue in your homeschool journey, remember that this is a journey that will quickly come to an end. What do you want your children to remember? The schedules? Or the time you spent together each day?