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.
- 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.
- 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.
It’s a little daunting to see everything listed like that, isn’t it? Sometimes when I write it all out, I have a better picture of the craziness we’re trying to accomplish over the course of a school year, and it helps me to pare down. Conversely, I can see where we might be able to add an activity or how we can map out the year. I like a long summer, so seeing that we can finish a subject or two in May makes me very, very happy.
Once you have everything listed, begin to arrange your day. I use a Microsoft Excel or Macintosh Numbers spreadsheet because that’s what works for me, but you can do it any way that works for you. I make columns with each child’s name across the top and then time periods down the left side, in rows.
Sticking to a time schedule in a rigid manner just stressed me out, and I wasn’t a nice mom when I tried that style. Instead, I use the schedule more as a flow chart, and I glance at the clock every now and again to make sure we’re moving at a reasonable pace. Mealtimes are pretty set; they anchor the rest of the schedule. Quiet hour/nap time is a non-negotiable, as are our devotional times, chores, group teaching times (we call them “Circle Time”), and bedtime.
The key to a successful routine? Flexibility. Sounds a bit counterproductive, but it’s just what our unpredictable lives require. We’ve spent weeks in the ICU with two different children, the results of emergency situations we could never have planned for. We’ve had high schoolers change their minds about their course of education just weeks before school was to begin. Job changes, moves, new babies, relationship issues—they’re all a part of life, and they aren’t there by accident. As such, we need to learn to hold our plans loosely.
Our sixth baby was born a week before Christmas, and I made a schedule for January that I felt would get us back on track once the excitement of her birth and Christmas wore off. After the first day, I knew I had to make revisions. So we tried the revised plan the next day. Within a week, I realized that I had to make some more major changes. We were now onto schedule number three, and it was drastically different than anything I’d done before.
My then-2-year-old was extremely busy, and I was increasingly frustrated by her innocent interruptions, things such as falling over and whacking her head on the coffee table or eating a whole stick of butter. I revamped our mornings to be more toddler friendly, at least until we were over that hump. We did everything together in the mornings, so our whole spring that year went something like this:
- Morning stuff
- Circle Time
- Walk or play games
- Read aloud
- Free time
- Little ones down for naps
It worked well for us then, and I’ve even returned to a similar schedule during different seasons of our lives that have required more focus on little people in the mornings, with concentration on academics with the big kids while those little ones nap in the afternoons. Really, do what works! You need to feel the freedom to make adjustments, depending on what is going on in your life at the time. This is the beauty of homeschooling, and knowing when to change your approach and then doing it will go a long way toward preventing homeschool burnout.
Kendra Fletcher is the homeschooling mother of eight, aged 18 down to 3. She has never known what it means to homeschool without the presence of preschoolers and loves to encourage other moms who are beginning their homeschool journeys with little ones underfoot. Her website and blog can be found at www.preschoolersandpeace.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: February 8, 2013