You may have heard this before, but I think we all need to be reminded: Putting a routine into place will be the single most helpful weapon in your arsenal to assure homeschooling success. At the very least, having a routine (or a schedule or a battle plan or a flow chart) will bring a measure of peace to your home simply because you won’t have to fly by the seat of your pants and think through decisions all day long.

Those decisions are exhausting, and often they are the deal breakers for me—questions like these: What’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner? Where do you want me to put this finished worksheet? When can we go to the craft store to buy more paint? How many pages do I have to read? Can I give the dog a bath in your bathroom? Times about 500 hundred. Seriously.

One evening my husband came home after work and didn’t say a word to any of us. He signaled to me to just go with it, so I didn’t act as if anything was wrong, although I wasn’t sure what he was up to. As we sat down for dinner he announced: “Fifty-seven. From the time I walked into the kitchen until we sat down for dinner, you guys asked mom fifty-seven questions.” Even I was stunned, and I know that they pepper me with questions all day long. My stress level and exhaustion at the end of the day are sure indicators that I’m fielding way too many questions and solving a ridiculous amount of problems every day.

So how do we go about eliminating the most basic of questions? The questions that probe “What’s next?” and “Who’s doing that job?” and “What am I supposed to be doing?” Simple. Create a routine.

On the front end, sitting down to figure all of this stuff out seems like a ton of work. It seems easier to fly by the seat of our pants. What seems easier, and what actually is easier, however, are two different things. Consider this: If you wake up each morning and have to stare into the refrigerator to decide what’s for breakfast, and then try to get a load of laundry running but are torn away from that by the helpful older child’s breakfast preparation catastrophe, then answer your phone to discover that you missed an early morning dental appointment because you forgot, then return to the kitchen to realize there’s really nothing decent to prepare for dinner, and then try to get everyone dressed (where are the toddler’s shoes?) so that you can go to the grocery store, exactly what time will it be before you can get everyone seated and concentrating on homeschooling?

Sure, it will take some time to jot down all the things that need to be considered when writing a daily routine, but it is time well spent. On the back end, you’ll discover you can actually accomplish more because you’ll have the necessary items crossed off and can then spend the remainder of the day doing those things that everyone loves to do. Even unschoolers can benefit from having some sort of a daily routine in place. Delight-directed learners get to plunge themselves into their studies head-on without the nagging thoughts of all those other things left undone.

To begin, ask yourself what the priorities are in your home. Pray about it all, and ask your spouse too. Make a list of everything you need to accomplish during the day, and don’t forget to add the things you’d like to accomplish and enjoy as well. Then do the same for each child. If you only have preschoolers, their list may look something like this:

  • Personal hygiene: brush hair, brush teeth, wash face, clean nails
  • Make bed
  • Tidy toys
  • Little chores: Empty the bottom half of the dishwasher, unload the clothes in the dryer into a basket, fold rags, vacuum with a small vacuum, water the potted plants, rock the baby, feed pets, throw diapers away
  • Daily walk or exercise
  • Free play time
  • Table time: coloring, clay, sorting beads, lacing cards, etc.
  • Video
  • Build train tracks or play with blocks
  • Sandbox or other outside play
  • Meal prep: Little ones can crack eggs into a bowl and fish out the pieces, slice bananas with a butter knife, peel garlic or onions, wash lettuce and tear it into pieces, arrange cheese and crackers on plates, or squirt out ketchup and mustard. If all else fails, I give my preschooler a carrot to munch on while he or she watches me.
  • Mealtime
  • Bath time
  • Story time, both at home and at the library
  • Family devotions

If you have older children, you’ll make a similar list for them, but it will of course include their schoolwork and outside commitments or classes.