Scheduling and the Homeschool Family

By Lori Deese

“Scheduling” has become one of the buzzwords of the homeschool community. The big question is, “How do I get everything done?” There are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week. That seems like a lot of time! But start filling in activities, and pretty soon, you might run out of time before you run out of things to do.

For my family, there are a wide variety of activities competing for our time and attention. Not just school – math, English, history, science, art, piano, Latin, sign language, handbells. . . . those activities alone are enough to fill up our days! But add to that children’s choir, missions groups, and other church activities, and our lives get fuller still. Then factor in my husband’s work schedule, his responsibilities at church, my role in the preschool ministry at church, my time for writing, and our lives can become downright hectic!! And don’t forget, we still need to have family time, chore time, personal quiet time. The list just goes on and on! So, how do we fit it all in? How can we make 24 hours spread far enough without putting too much stress in our lives?

One thing that has helped me is to actually schedule routine activities, rather than just hoping to find the time. When I wait until I “have time” for something, it never gets done. We have to make time for what’s important!

That goes along with another important principle of scheduling. I have to make time for what’s important, but I don’t have to do every thing, everyday. Even in school, we don’t have to do every subject every school day. It’s okay to do math 3 or 4 days a week, science and history on alternating days, or art and music classes once a week. For those things that work best with a larger time block, consider scheduling each of them on different days, but in the same block of time. For example, our morning school schedule stays the same 4 days of the week. But our afternoon schedule is different every day. From 1-3 PM, we have different activities on different days of the week. This is working out very well for us this year.

So, how do you decide what to do when, how much time to spend, how often to do each subject, what time to start and end school, etc.? How do you decide what is best for your family? Sometimes, for me, it’s a matter of trial and error. We try something for a while, and if it works, we stick with it. But if, after a few days or weeks, things aren’t going well, we make changes. There’s no law that says the schedule we start with in August has to be the same one we end with in May. It’s probably not a good idea to make too many changes, too often. We all need time to adjust to the routine, and it can take a while for that to happen. But if we try something long enough, and it still isn’t working, we make some changes.

I like to start by scheduling the things that happen outside of our home, that depend on other people or events, and are therefore not as easily rescheduled. I start by laying out a blank schedule in front of me, with columns for each day and rows for each time slot. First I fill in those “unchangeables”. Things like church activities, co-op classes, and music lessons. Then I look at what time is left, and go from there.

Next I fill in the subjects for each child that require my time and input. This helps me to not schedule myself for doing too many things at once. I learned a while ago that I can usually handle teaching math to 3 or 4 children at once, but I can’t handle teaching math to one, spelling to another, science to the third and history to the fourth child. My brain can’t shift gears that quickly. So if I have to combine and teach more than one child at a time, I try to have them working on the same subject, even if it is a different lesson.

Once I have the “Mom subjects” scheduled, I fill in the blanks with those subjects the children can work on independently. I assign a time block to each subject. This helps me not to miss anything in my planning, but the children are free to work on those assignments in any order they choose.

Every morning is basically the same, except for Thursdays. On that day we are all gone from 9 AM to noon. My sixteen year old son, A.J., takes two co-op classes and the girls and I spend some time at the library, do our weekly shopping, then we pick A.J. up on our way home.

Every afternoon is different, though. On Tuesday we have Clubs with another homeschool family. We meet for about 2 hours, twice per month. One time I’ll teach a Writing Club to the kids. The next time the other mom will teach a Geography Club. The other two weeks are free, for us to fill with field trips, projects, or other things. On Monday & Wednesday afternoons I do science with my younger two girls. It seems to work better to work on science for a longer time, but less often, rather than doing 30 minutes every day. Late Tuesday afternoon Adana (age 9) has a piano lesson, and Wednesday afternoon we allow time to review AWANA material before the girls attend AWANA Clubs that night. Thursday afternoon, Ana (age 11) takes sewing lessons from a friend who comes to our home. While they work on sewing, I grade papers for the week, A.J. and Aly (age 13) work on the computer, and Adana has some free time. Friday afternoon the girls and I meet with another homeschool family to have classes in sign language, music activities, and art. The girls enjoy meeting with other homeschool kids, and it gives me a chance to visit with other moms as well.

Our evenings and weekends have become very full as well. Monday evening is karate, Tuesday we are usually home, Wednesday is church, Thursday & Friday is karate. Saturday morning Adana takes gymnastics, and Sunday is filled with church activities.

You might notice, no where in here have I said anything about housework or chores. When do we do those? That has been one of my biggest challenges this year! But I’ve learned the hard way, if I don’t keep up with things around the house, nothing else goes well. School is important, but it can’t take priority over family responsibilities! I’ve tried many different “systems” for keeping up with the housework. At one time we did very little school on Friday, and that was “home ec” day. Everyone worked together to help clean the house before the weekend. But now that we have co-op, library day and sewing lessons on Thursday, we can’t really afford to take Friday off from “doing school”, too. So this year, I tend to spread things out more through the week.

We used to do all the laundry in two days, Monday & Friday. We did 6-8 loads each day. It was a lot of work, but it was nice to not have to think about it on the other days. That doesn’t work now, since Monday & Friday are filled with school. So instead, I do 2-3 loads each day, and try to have it finished before we start school at 9 AM. I get up at 6:00, start the first load by 6:30, and if all goes well, two loads are washed, dried and at least ready to fold before we start our school day. Then after school everyone folds and puts away their own clothes. Other chores are divided up in similar ways. We might clean one bathroom one day, the other one the next day, mop the floors one day, dust the furniture and run the vacuum on still another day. The drawback to this is that the whole house is never clean all at the same time. But the good thing is that it doesn’t require hours of time on any one day. Small chores can be done between school assignments, or at the beginning or end of lunch break, or right after school is finished. By working together, and spreading the work out through the week, our house remains reasonably clean most of the time.

What about appointments, field trips, and other things that come up but don’t happen on a weekly basis? The best way I’ve found to deal with these is just to go with the flow. Don’t let the schedule control you. It is a tool to help you, not a burden. Most of the time when things like this come up, we work up to the time that we have to get ready to leave, then stop there. When we get back home, we pick up the schedule at whatever time it is. Whatever was skipped that day will get done the next. Sometimes we can double up and get caught up by the end of the week. Other times, we might only do 4 days’ worth of some subjects that week. That’s okay. Over time, it all balances out. And my children are learning that there’s more to “homeschool” than workbooks and school assignments. They are learning about life, and that’s what it’s all about anyway.

Think about what your goals are for your family. Think about what is most important to you, and what things can wait until later. For my family, we want our house to be clean enough to be healthy, but it will never look like a showplace. It’s our home, and it will always look like people live here. We like it that way! It is more important to us to have time to spend together as a family, to have a home that is comfortable for everyone, and to be able to relax and enjoy being together, than it is to have everything spotless all the time. When it comes to school, we want our children to learn, of course. But we want them to enjoy learning, and to have a good attitude toward learning. Our goal is not to complete every page of every book every year. Our goal is to learn the things that God has for us to learn, and many of those lessons will not come from a textbook.

Look at the things that fill your daily schedule. Consider each of them in light of what God has in mind for you and your family. Ask Him what He wants you to accomplish today, and focus on doing only those things. Someone once said, “God will give you the time and energy to do everything He wants you to do today – and not one thing more.” Think about that, and what it means in your life. Then get on with the business of serving Him, and doing the things that He has given you to do.

Lori Deese and her husband, Ricky, homeschool their four children in Rockledge, Florida.