Finding the homeschool routine that fits your lifestyle
On a Facebook Live panel for prospective homeschoolers a few weeks ago, I was asked how I would schedule a homeschool pod. If you’re not familiar with them, pods are the new cooperatives of parents that are popping up around the country. In most cases, they’re public school co-ops, led by parents or private tutors. What would my homeschool routine look like?
What would I do? In what order would I teach classes? What does a schedule look like? How do I help recreate the classroom so the transition is less difficult.
My answer depends on understanding the first rule of homeschooling: Never, ever recreate the classroom.
The homeschool landscape is littered with parents who tried to do exactly that — failed — and then worked twice as hard to create something that worked for their family. Don’t be that family. Don’t make that mistake.
We began homeschooling in Idaho when my then three children were little. I was a former public school teacher and had been trained to teach classes of children … not my own family. The first thing I remember is that I put together a traditional schedule. I hung a flag on the wall, and I quite literally rang a school bell in the morning! My kids loved it, but within weeks, the luster of the replicated school house had evaporated, and my children were quickly tiring in their seats.Confused, I changed, tweaked and handled their schedule almost weekly.
Confused and panicked, I began tinkering and tweaking their schedule almost daily. I reckoned that the order of subjects must have been the problem.
- Do math first. Do history last
- Do history first. Do math last.
- Do nothing. Give up. Yell at myself for not being better at this.
My wife noticed the ever-changing schedule and confronted me:
“When you were working, would you have tweaked your expectations like that for your employees?”
I thought about it for a minute. “Well, no, they’re our children. We have lots of time to figure it out. Life is different than work.”
“Is it? Then I guess you would accept your boss changing your schedule and tweaking you job description for you every few days?”
As usual, she was absolutely right. I can’t teach my children to attack the challenges in their lives without first doing it myself.
Planning a routine that works for your family
Step One: Before you start developing a routine, accept that school is not home. Home is not school.
School is an institutionalized form of education designed to disseminate ideas to large groups of children at one time. You’re teaching one or a few at a time. They’re different paradigms. Curriculum in the school setting takes hours. Curriculum in the home setting takes a fraction of that time. Schools use a schedule … homes follow a routine. Digest that, and you’ll be ahead of the game!
Step Two: Take your own nature into account and write this down.
What does that look like? For me, I had to accept that I struggle in chaos. I’ve always been that way. My belief in schedules led me to follow them at all costs despite seeing what was doing to my children. I literally made them sit in seats 45 minutes longer than their lesson because I had been taught to believe that this is what children needed — the order and consistency of a schedule. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Step Three: Recognize how much time we devote as a society to simplifying our lives and understand that your routine needs to do exactly that.
We dedicate entire television shows and cable networks to the art of throwing clutter from your home. We cheer when the hoarder turns into a pauper, and that’s what we’re doing when we create a home routine. We’re tuning out the noise and the clutter in the background so that we can focus on the important tasks that keep our children healthy, and maturing.
Step Four: Consider which elements of your homeschool day build independence and critical life skills. Start planning your routine here!
Notice, I haven’t mentioned curriculum at this point, and I haven’t scheduled a single thing. It’s just not that important yet. And, to me, curriculum always falls below the character building activities and daily pursuits we must follow throughout our lives. After all, this is what we’re doing, right? Teaching our children to be better citizens?
Make a list of those life skills and save them for later. The point is that I want them to gain independence by conquering tasks and hurdles. I want them to master life skills, so they are confident enough to merge into the world.
Step Five: How do you want school to flow in your lives? In other words, how do you want academic learning to blend and to weave itself into your daily flow.
For me, I knew I wanted our days to be easier, so I read every blog post I could find about homeschooling 4 days a week thinking that less is more. The problem is that the world doesn’t work that way. My wife and I read 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We have our children read every, single day. Then it hit me …
Who says a child can’t school 7 days a week? Who made up that rule? Who said, 8 hours a day, 165 days a year equals school?
Will that work for you? Maybe. What if you RV school? The point is that you’re working this into the flow of your lives. Not someone else’s.
Step Six: Draft your academic routine.
I sat up that night and drafted a routine. I think I called it the “on and off schedule.” The way it works is simple. On Monday, a child engages with his full load of subjects. This is the academic stuff — language arts, mathematics, science, and history. On Tuesday, however, I have the child limit engagement to reading across the disciplines — casual reading, science, history, and creative writing. Everything the child does on their off day needs to be self-directed. The self direction is a critical part of the process because it’s this time that ultimately trains them for self reliance in the future.
This rotation continues Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, the children do their devotionals, read personal books, and practice math. To be sure, Sunday is a light day, but it’s academic in that they practice skills that they will need daily throughout their lives. Click the sample checklist/planner to see a sample of what I include.
Scheduling life skills
Once I have their academic pursuits planned, I fill out their life skills. I consider three types of skills (though, obviously, we do projects, crafts, and activities that promote life skills daily): laundry, meals, and chores. To me, this encapsulates what it takes to function in daily life.
First, all of my children have a laundry day. It’s their day, and there’s no competition at the washer/dryer. On that day, they separate laundry, strip sheets , gather towels, and practice using the soaps and machines. They start doing their own laundry in about 3rd grade.
Next, I schedule meal service. This is really just a formal way of making sure they’re helping in the kitchen during meal prep, setting and clearing the table, and then helping with the kitchen. When I was a child, kitchen helping was common practice, but for some reason these basic life skills have escaped our collective attention.
Finally, I schedule daily chores.
In a future post, I’ll write about how we handle chores, work, and money, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll just say that we do not pay for chores. In their lives, they will never be paid to clean up their own mess. It makes no sense to set that expectation now. I put a lot of thought into chores for each child (ages 5-14), and everyone helps in their own way. For our family, we identify three sets of chores: the stuff they do daily (feeding pets, making beds), the focused cleaning we do on Saturday (like emphasizing a single room of the house), and the light chores they do on Sunday (we don’t do much on the sabbath).
Verdict? It saved us. It keeps my boys focused but just enough to also stay balanced and interested in other pursuits. It’s not about the number of days … it’s about how you distribute those days and what fits into your family paradigm!
That’s it! That’s how to create your own homeschool routine! Let me know in the comments if you need ideas or clarification. Scheduling is a mundane task but completely necessary in the chaos-free home! Click the image below for a blank copy of my weekly planner.