A homeschool schedule that works for us.
I’ll be honest. I have a love/hate relationship with scheduling and planning. From the outside looking in, I seem to be organized, someone who has this skill figured out. In getting to know me, however, you’ll find I am forever creating schedules and lists that don’t “stick”. I am an overthinker and extreme planning tends to cause me stress. But, here is the conundrum: I like having a plan, and NOT having any kind of schedule leaves me feeling lost, at the mercy of others, and directionless.
There was a time when I spent way too many hours agonizing over our homeschool schedule. Template after template, I kept trying to wrap my head around how to fit all the moving parts into a day. We tried block scheduling, loop scheduling, and a “relaxed” homeschool schedule. The final schedule always felt busy and rigid and didn’t create a comfortable homeschool rhythm.
After multiple printouts, hours of penciling and erasing, homeschool schedule trials that left my son and me frustrated, I finally ditched the scheduling agony. I began shifting my energy to creating a comfortable homeschool rhythm and the values and skills I felt most important for my son’s growth and future success. I began looking for ways to incorporate learning into our everyday activities rather than trying to carve out time to force the learning on my less-than-eager son.
I took the time to deschool—to observe and jot it all down. I asked myself, “What is he learning from this?” This is what I discovered: when I finally stopped trying to schedule and organize our “work”, things began to flow. I realized we had a homeschool schedule of sorts! Or, more importantly, we had a rhythm, and learning was happening. I was able to spend more time engaged with my son, and pour more energy into the lessons that I felt would benefit him the most, at that particular time, academic or otherwise.
“Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity” ~ Plato
My planning process is one of many and I recognize it won’t work for everyone. There are infinite ways to create a home learning rhythm—I prefer rhythms to schedules, don’t you?—and so much depends on personal preference, personality, and family dynamics. Of course, I know this can be a daunting part of your home learning journey and it can be super helpful to get a peek into someone else’s process and take anything that might fit for you. My advice, as always is to do what works for you.
I’ll be adding a few different homeschool schedule templates soon, for those who prefer that approach but for now, here is the relaxed, simple homeschool rhythm that is working for us. The basic idea is to observe, document, learn, and celebrate.
Planning our Yearly Homeschool Schedule
My yearly homeschool planning is (now) very low-key. It goes something like this:
Create (or review) our homeSchool Road Map (vision planNING)
One wonderful thing I did, which freed us from the scheduling and curriculum trap was to create a Homeschool Road Map. Just jotting down our goals, values, reasons for home learning, what we hoped to accomplish, what things we want to be able to share with our son before he leaves our house, gave me the internal permission I needed to embrace flexibility and live in the NOW.
Once I had an overview for the big picture homeschool, I zoned in on the particular year.
PlanNING Our Yearly Homeschool Rhythm
We live in seasons with more academic periods and more child-led periods. In The Brave Learner, Julie Borgart recommends this seasonal schedule:
Fall: dedicated studies (curriculum)
Winter: unit studies
While we do not follow this exactly, reading this has given me the confidence to just “go with the flow” as needed and I’m less concerned with fitting the academics in at all times.
Other models to consider include:
Traditional Scheduling is the August through May schedule that most of us grew up with in the public school system. Based on the agrarian needs of early farmers, the method has stuck over the years.
There are advantages to schooling with a traditional schedule — you take vacations when the kids in the neighborhood and the cousins do, you can participate in all of the summer activities planned for vacation months, and you probably still get a nostalgic burst of excitement and energy every fall.
Year-Round Schooling: By tweaking the traditional schedule ever so slightly, many homeschoolers develop their own version of year-round schooling. This allows for more flexibility to tack off as needed throughout the year. While we have not fully transitioned to this model, we are considering it to allow for some off-season travel months or more “joy days”.
One family I know takes off at the end of May to accommodate their swim instructor’s schedule and they remain off in June for summer camps. In July, when the kids start to get grumpy and bored, they start back up again. They also take off in the months of October and march when the weather where they live is cooler and perfect for outdoor play.
Calendar Schooling can be year round or a 9-month schedule. The main think is that the new school year subjects begin in January instead of August. I know some families who follow this schedule year-round and other who take October-December off, enjoying the biggest holiday months.
It’s not imperative that you know your yearly homeschool schedule in advance though it does help in planning vacations and when you want to schedule your breaks. The beauty of homeschooling is its flexibility and family uniqueness. I used to stress over the number of days we needed to be “doing school”. Ultimately, I was able to let this go because I firmly believe learning takes place everywhere, anytime. (That and it was detracting from the beauty of homeschooling: flexibility.) Some days, we end up with WAY more learning than expected while other days are lighter. As long as we are moving forward, the number of days we homeschool is of little concern.
There are many creative ways to break up the year of days and subject matter. As homeschoolers, we are not required to complete every subject, every day, all year round. Here are some options to get us started.
Observe, document, learn, create, celebrate
During our deschooling process, I began documenting our daily activities and discovered not only how much learning was already happening but also how I could become a better observer. Instead of spending my energy planning and wondering how we were going to “fit in all in”, I woke up eager to find out what new project we would create or what subjects would magically weave themselves into our day. I learned how to let go of “teaching” and began guiding my son to create the learning he was interested in. And, noticing the little things lead to more hand-fives, fist-bumps, and the occasional ice cream celebration.
While I still do some light pre-planning (making sure I have certain supplies or resources on hand, scheduling the occasional Outschool class), my new approach is to reverse plan, writing it down after we do it, rather than before. Try it! You’ll be amazed at the things you’re already learning together. NB: None of this was pre-scheduled.
I keep a list of resources and “go-to” things for when my son needs a little more guidance. I also ask him to complete 4 things each day (this varies slightly depending on our season but, as a general rule of thumb):
1. his violin practice 2. a short reading practice 3. math and 4. a project of some kind (this could be a craft project, a game build, a sewing project, an art project etc.) I also keep a list for myself of things I want to accomplish with him – reading time together (if it’s a book he likes, he usually asks for it over breakfast or lunch), working through his big life kids podcast journal, or a specific project I have in mind.
The other things we learn seem to fall magically in the cracks of our days as he or I suggest them – a podcast episode followed by an interesting conversation, a project around the house that turns into a science project, a bike outing that leads us to the new Jane Goodall documentary, or a book which sparks a lego engineering project. Stay on the lookout for learning opportunities that make your child light up, then, let the magic unfold.
A deeper dive
Since I’ve been jotting things down and becoming more observant, I am now able to create of list of things we want to “deep dive” into further. I usually just keep an ongoing list which of “topics of interest” or “rabbit trails” to visit again later. With his fast-moving ADHD brain, I discovered my son will often lose interest in extreme deep-dives so I try and keep them fairly simple, being careful not to over-plan and set myself up for disappointment or frustration. I’ll often try and think of one or two additional ways of introducing the topic and let him take it further (or not) from there. If he shows more interest, I will continue, provide one or two additional resources, and go from there. I have learned my lesson the hard way with my son, and I no longer spend my energy researching or creating an array of things in every subject area.
Unit studies, while I like the idea turned out to be a huge disappointment for us, when we trying to implement a traditional model. We have modified our unit studies, however, for a more casual tie-in.
But all that aside, I do end up with a list of “deep” dives which I start at the beginning of the year and build upon (or subtract from) as we go. This year a few deep dives include:
- Earth + Our Solar System (mostly learning about the earths rotation, seasons, our galaxy, constellations… hello star gazing!)
- Jan Goodall (this came up after an unplanned visit to the National Geographic Museum)
- Lego robotics
- The Revolutionary and Civil Wars
Next I list a few skills I want to focus on with my son. How we accomplish our goals is very flexible and can be anything from reciting math problems while standing on his head to podcasts to gameschooling. This is partial list that I add to throughout the year. Sometimes I will link these two list for example, the easy reader book he is currently reading is about Ants and his research project could be about Jane Goodall or Penguins
- Develop a growth mindset – working through Big Life Podcast
- Improve reading fluency – increase accuracy and timing of sight word list; read one early reader, with minimal assistance
- Violin – Finish Suzuki Book 1 with a focus on good technique
- Writing Projects – 4 letters to a relative or friend, 1 written research report on a topic of his choice (starting out very simple at first)
- Create or design a solution to a problem or his own imaginative invention
- Reading/writing/violin stamina – gradually increase the amount of quality focus time at one sitting to 15 minutes
- Build drawing and watercolor skills through classes and nature journaling
Our daily rhythms are the practices that we try and do most days – the things which ground us and provide a framework. I recommend writing down 3-4 things you want to do easily which won’t take up your entire day. Then, you can fill in the remainder of the day as desired to complete your homeschool schedule. I don’t have a strict order in which things need to get done, however, after much observing, trial and error, I can see what works and what doesn’t so I chat with my son to get his perspective on what works for him and using our negotiating and compromising skills, we build our days.
My son is an early riser. It doesn’t matter what time he goes to bed, he inevitable will rise between 5 and 6. We consider 6:30 a late sleep in! So, when he wakes, he listens to podcasts and entertains himself with Legos or whatever else. He loves this free time.
Dad rises about 7 and starts breakfast. They read a little over breakfast then head outside to give a high-five to the son and get their blood pumping. When they return between 8:30 and 9, it’s my turn to spend time with the little man.
Violin practices ALWAYS work better in the mornings after his outside time so we start with that. It acts as our transition activity and usually lasts 15-20 minutes.
After violin we have a quick check-in, discuss our day, and loosely plan our flow. We go over the “regular” activities, anything I think might be particularly fun, what project or “output” he might want to do, and what two things (or one) he wants to allocate time for. Some days we get right to work with the more academic activities, other days it takes us longer to find our groove and still somedays, we independent time or simply take an emotional health day. For this reason, I appreciate that our days are not tied (much) to the clock. While we don’t follow a strict schedule, we do put a few rough time lines in place to help ground us during our days. Violin, lunch, afternoon outside time are a few of our daily “grounders.”
In no particular order, we also try and fit the following into our days at some point (unless we wake up and determine it is an off day, in which case we follow the rhythm of our bodies and take an emotional well-being day either doing our own projects or going on a random field trip).
I started our homeschool thinking copy work was tedious, boring, and unnecessary. Over time, however, I realized it’s benefits for my reluctant writer. I know give my son the chose of coming up with his own writing project (a note to day, a letter to his cousin, a sign for his play store etc.) or 1-2 sentences of copy work. He often chooses copy work which I like because it helps him develop is attention skills as he works hard to recreate what I have written then review and correct any mistakes. We are slowly building up to longer copy work/writing session but for now it usually takes him 5 minutes to complete which is the extent of his patience with the activity.
He does daily reading-either reading a short paragraph given from his reading teacher or a few pages from his easy reader.
We always have a read allowed novel going – usually one for language arts which we are working through in more detail (practicing narration, storytelling, copy work, and a few fun additional projects), and one we read over breakfast or at bed.
While we don’t manage to get personal time in everyday, if we go too many days without this time, we notice a decline in our energy and our quality of work. For the most part, we enjoy anywhere from an hour to 3 hours of personal time each day. My son often uses this time to listen to podcasts or audio books while working on a personal project, designing with Lego Robotics, or completing a puzzle, or planning a virtual family vacation.
I will use this time to clean the house, catch up on my family’s to-do list, to a little bit of “school” planning, or work on my blog and business.
One fun thing we are trying this year is have Wednesdays be our family day. I have one weekend day for my work
So all of that provides a framework for me and sets me up to handle the day to day planning. Day to day planning is something I find the best success with when I keep an open mind, am willing to observe, reflect and make changes that will best suit my son and family. I find I’m constantly tweaking our rhythm to find the right flow that brings the most productivity and peace to our day.