Homeschool schedules aren’t necessary, because really, you aren’t recreating school at home. A routine will serve you much better in the long run. Here’s how to create one that works.
On my first day of homeschooling, I tried to recreate school at home.
I mean, of course, I did – I’d spent my pre-mom years as a high school English teacher and adjunct professor.
Schedules and procedures were worth their weight in scantron forms.
Except scantron forms lack currency status in the dining room, especially when it’s laden with papers and markers and books. Or when you’ve changed your student’s diapers or discussed the negative impact of indoor water balloons from behind the relative privacy of your frosted plastic shower curtain.
For those reasons, I realized pretty quickly: my home was not a school.
Trying to turn it into one (to say nothing of transforming the mother/child relationship into a teacher/student one) simply wasn’t going to work.
So I surrendered. And I ditched my carefully crafted schedule, my math at 7:30 followed by grammar at 8:15. I let go of the structure and embraced our rhythms with an air of wanton finality.
I gave in to the ebb and flow of my family’s natural, daily progression.
We weren’t a school. We didn’t need a school schedule. We needed our normal, rhythmic routine.
The truth about homeschool schedules (and the brick and mortar mindset that inspires them)
It’s true: kids need routine. They thrive on structure. And yes, they even need that structure in your home. What they don’t need, however, is a construct created for an artificial environment, seeking to educate an exceptionally large number of children gathered under the same roof.
Schools and classrooms have schedules because school is different from home. School has different goals, different processes, different outcomes.
Trying to create that same situation in your living room will only fan the flames of rebellion for all of you.
Why school is different from home:
Even if you have a large family, school buildings house more children than you could possibly entertain at home.
The average public elementary school supports two to three classes per grade, usually grades K to 5 or 6. Standard class sizes run of 25 to 35 kids with one teacher (and maybe an aide if we’re talking K, 1st, or a team-taught classroom).
At a minimum (2 classes per grade, 25 students, grades kindergarten through five), you’re looking at 250 children in one building.
That is a lot of kids.
Clearly, a brick and mortar school’s schedule is built to give children a framework. It’s also designed to keep a large number of children supervised, entertained, and stimulated while they are away from home. And while most elementary school teachers wear many hats for many subjects contained in the same classroom, there are times when a teacher and her 30 students must travel someplace else in the building:
Pep rallies and presentations
Special classes like music, computers, and art
I have three kids. Can you imagine having to move 10 times that number out a classroom door, and quickly? Yes, school kids are already dressed and elementary school teachers have transition routines set up from the beginning. But kids are kids. They’re squirrely and silly and they move and they chat. It takes five minutes to line up, five minutes to move to the next location.
Transition time must be built-in.
You see the differences among the kids in your own home: stark contrasts in temperament, personality, strengths, and areas for growth. At home, you have more flexibility to adapt instruction to the needs of your children. In the classroom, that kind of differentiation needs a rigid schedule to work.
A brick and mortar school’s schedule is designed to shepherd large amounts of children in a finite, artificial space. You have a smaller brood. Your kids are at home, in their element.
You don’t need a school building’s fixed, rigid schedule. You just need a solid routine
Routines Over Schedules
Choosing a routine over a schedule makes more sense in a homeschool environment. It respects your family’s sacred spaces and works with them in an effective way.
By relying on natural rhythms instead of punch-the-clock time tables, you’re preserving three integral things:
Sanity: Yours, and everyone else’s
When you’re on the clock, the potential for drill sergeant syndrome is high It’s easy to become obsessed with where you are in the time and space and feel beholden to what you should be doing. If you aren’t finished with a certain task on a certain timetable, how is that going to make you feel?
Even if you are the type of person who appreciates a solid order, the extra responsibility of teaching children will heighten your frustration when the kids aren’t doing what you expect. For their part, your children may begin to see home not as a haven but as a rigid realm of resistance. Not only will they become anxious about the time frame, but they’ll also become frustrated – supremely – with their lot.
It’s the question on everyone’s mind, isn’t it? What will do you about socialization when you homeschool? The perception seems to be that kids will only learn to work with other people if they spend all day alongside a large group of same-age peers.
Never mind the amount of time teachers spend trying to quiet their students in class.
Where a school-based schedule limits time for extras and keeps your focus on knocking items from a list, a routine allows space for classes, clubs, co-ops, and other opportunities. Inside the house, you can add chores and life skills to the daily routine.
Real learning comes from experience, from depth in addition to breadth. A routine is flexible enough to allow for deep dives and rabbit holes that encourage inquiry, critical thinking, and cross-curricular learning. You’re not putting anything on hold to move on to the next subject. Rather, you are enhancing the learning curve.
Creating a Homeschool Routine
If adopting a routine instead of a schedule seems appealing, it’s pretty simple to do.
- Start by looking at the way your family already operates. How do your days at home normally go? Consider planning the flow of your day around the times when you and the kids are the most alert (school time), active (physical break time), or restful (mental break time).
- Set up areas in your home conducive to those time periods. Make sure the kids know they can flow from space to space as needed, as long as they complete their daily tasks.
- Write down your children’s daily tasks in a notebook. Allow the kids to choose when and how those tasks are done.
- Offer plenty of break options when they need to get up and get moving. Use a listing like the one featured in the executive function toolkit, as it provides ideas that allow for flexibility but have a definite end.
Homeschooling isn’t the same thing as school at home, and I learned that lesson the hard way.
It is an organic process of becoming a scholar, a researcher, and a critical thinker. And in my experience, it works best when you’ve got the freedom to roam.