Homeschool Time Management

If you’re a homeschooling pro you probably have your own system for planning.  (A good system is anything that works well for you and your family.)  When I work with moms in my area, I find many who are homeschooling newbies who wonder how to make a schedule or others who label themselves as “organizationally challenged” who are looking for some ideas.  I’m not an expert, but over the past 14 years I’ve learned a lot about how to plan a homeschool schedule I can live with.  I don’t expect that the Moore family schedule will work perfectly for any other family, but I do hope that some of these ideas will help you better plan for the needs of your homeschool and your family.

PLANNING A CALENDAR FOR THE YEAR

Before I make a plan, I spend some time contemplating our current needs and our future needs.  After I’ve collected the information I can better put it onto a calendar and into a useable form.    When I am planning, I use 2 year-long calendar I’ve printed from the internet so I can see the whole year at a glance. (One calendar year from Sept. to Christmas and the next calendar year from Jan. to the end of school.)  When I’m recording the information and marking on the calendar, I find it easiest to plan using a block-style calendar so I have enough space to write.  Block-style calendar are available at discount dollar stores or you can print individual calendar pages from the internet.  Remember you’ll need a calendar page for every month of the school year which means 2 calendar years.  I make all my marks in pencil, since I often need to make adjustments or changes during the planning process.  Take a deep breath, grab a pencil and here we go…

Choosing Days Off

We seem to be able to focus best when we have regular breaks, short or long.  However, I find that I personally must have a regularly scheduled long break to do some deep cleaning and put the house back together.  (One week off every six weeks is ideal.)  We also take days off around holidays or when my children have scheduled breaks from activities such as piano lessons, dance or sports.  With that in mind, here are some questions to help you plan which days you plan not to do school.  As you make decisions about each area below, put an x over the date (on the block-style calendar) you’ve decided not to have school.

  1. Holidays—Which holidays will we take off?  How much time will I need for preparation (including cleaning, meal prep, laundry, shopping, etc.)  Our standard:  Labor Day, Wednesday before and Friday after Thanksgiving, 2 ½ to 3 weeks off at Christmas, New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day
  2. Vacation—What time of the year is best for our family to take a vacation?  How much time will I need to prepare for the vacation (including shopping, laundry, packing, planning, etc.)  For years we vacationed during the first week of October—cooler weather, fewer tourists, and a more convenient time for our family and my husband’s work situation.  Since we started school in August, a vacation in October was a welcomed break.  Our standard:  One day off before we leave, one day off after we return (This is critical!  After many trips, I realize that I need a day to recover, unpack, and gear up for “normal” life.)
  3. Spring Break—Are my children involved in activities that are affected by the public school spring break schedule?  I found that when I scheduled a different week for our spring break and still had to take the children to activities, it didn’t feel like a break.  There is no right or wrong.  Choose whatever works best for your family.  Our standard:  Spring break based on activity schedules or children enrolled at the community college
  4. Field Trips—Field trip days count as school days in our school.  They aren’t days off, but they are certainly days that are a welcomed break in our normal routine.  I look at the curriculum and try to find activities that coordinate with what we’re learning, but our excursions don’t always line up with our curriculum.  A trip to Williamsburg or the science museum is always educational, no matter what we’re studying.  I generally schedule field trips between our longer breaks.  Our standard:  Between 5 and 10 field trip days a year
  5. Other breaks—When am I or my children less motivated to do school?  I find that January is almost always a tough school month for us—we’ve just had a long break, we’re inside, we’re halfway through school, but still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I increased our productivity by adding a winter break week or long weekend around President’s Day.  It gives us something to look forward to when we’re in the January doldrums.  You may also want to take days off when family comes to visit or if you have a special event for your family.  Our standard:  Winter break the week of President’s Day, spring break usually the week before or after Easter

Planning the First Semester and Determining the First Day of School

I begin with the end in mind.  Here’s my plan.  It may seem a little confusing, but stay with me.

  1. If you haven’t already, put an x on all the days you are not doing school, including the day you want to begin Christmas break.
  2. Determine how many weeks of school you want to finish before Christmas.
  3. Begin with the last day before Christmas break and count backwards, labeling each day you plan have school (ex. 5,4,3,2,1 Week 16; 5,4,3,2,1 Week 15, etc.) until you arrive at Week 1.  The first block of the school week will be labeled with both the week number and the day number.  Week 1 Day 1 is your first day of school.

Planning the Second Semester

Christmas is a real high point in our family so January seems like a bit of a downer, especially since we have to get back to school after a nice long break.  I find that my children are motivated to work when they know there’s a vacation day in the near future.  We finally found a rhythm that works best for our second semester—6 weeks on, one week off, 6 weeks on, one week off, 6 weeks on.  School’s finished!  Sometimes we have to flex a little based on Easter or spring break, but overall this plan works best.

  1. Determine the first day you’ll do school after Christmas break.  Label that day “Week (whatever you stopped at before break.) Day 1.
  2. Label each day you plan to have school with one number in each block (ex. Week __ 1,2,3,4,5; Week__ 1,2,3,4,5; etc.) until you have completed the number of weeks in your school year.  The last day you label is your last day of school.  We usually have 34 weeks of book work and 2 weeks (10 school days) of field trips.  I schedule 34 weeks of school and record the dates of the field trips to equal 36 weeks or 180 instructional days.

Schedule At-A-Glance

Now that my schedule is planned, I take all the information and transfer it into a form that shows me the plan at-a-glance.  Here is a sample of our school calendar.

PLANNING A DAILY SCHEDULE

When homeschooling several children who can read, it is helpful to have a list or schedule to follow and to record what work has been completed.  June is traditionally my planning month when I make weekly sheets with daily assignment grids for each child.  Sounds like a lot of work?  Not really when you consider that once my school year starts, it is turn-key since both they and I are aware of the daily expectations, my students stay on task much better, and I can reuse the schedule with the younger girls.

Daily Schedule for Elementary

Since I am a list person, I naturally love the grid system of planning and scheduling assignments.  When the girls were old enough to work independently, I made each of them an assignment book—a 3-prong folder with weekly grid pages that detailed their assignments.  Sometimes grids are left empty the student isn't able to do the assignment alone.  When each assignment is completed, the block is checked off, providing an easy way to keep track of completed work.   Here is a sample elementary school schedule.

Daily Schedule for Middle and High School

I continued the grid system for my oldest, but then realized that my second daughter was working at a different pace in some subjects.  With some changes and adjustments, I created a syllabus for each subject that included expectations and a grid of daily assignments and assignment due dates.  This way I can mix and match subject levels based on the student’s ability.  Here is a sample of a schedule for an upper level class.

Making Adjustments

When our oldest entered the community college as a dually-enrolled junior *(earning high school and college credit simultaneously), our schedule drastically changed.  Up until that point, my schedule was my own to plan and control.  About four weeks into the first semester I was planning our regular October vacation.  Victoria innocently looked at me and said, “I have class.  I guess I won’t be able to come with you.”  Needless to say, we rescheduled the vacation and I adjusted my schedule to mirror her breaks so that we could be together as a family.  I have no control over the college schedule, but I still have the flexibility to make a schedule that maximizes our family time.

The goal of any daily or yearly schedule is to make the best plan that best suits the needs of your family.  Over the years, that plan will change (after all, how many high school students still have nap time?!).  Our job as parents is to make adjustments and adaptations in the midst of a dynamic situation.

Maybe this is more organization that your world can handle.  That’s ok.  You don’t need to do it our way.  This is only one way to have a plan and keep your students accountable.  The truth is there are many days I could talk us all out of doing any school!  With a schedule, we are much more productive and I know that we’re staying on track and that we won’t be doing school in July.  May God bless you and direct you as you make a schedule for your family.

*Please note that I am not encouraging that every high school student be enrolled at the community college.  Each family must make decisions based on God’s plan for their family and its members.

Be Intentional

Some may call me crazy, but I thrive on organization and planning.  I used some sort of “day planner” since I was a young girl.  In middle school my homework planner had Snoopy on the front, in high school it was a notebook of sorts, and in college a calendar held the due dates of my assignments.  After I graduated from college, I needed only a calendar and a wedding planner since most of my free time was spent with my husband-to-be.  I worked as a teacher after our marriage and found that my lesson plan book suited my need for organization.  But when the children came… Victoria arrived the day after the last the day of school.  No transition time between teacher and mother.  I was blessed to be able to stay home with her, but our days were like the wind—wherever, whenever, and if.  I found myself turning on the TV for news in the morning and leaving it on for hours in my day while I went about my business.  I dreaded meal time because I generally had no idea what we would be eating.  I was sporadic about cleaning, using the “if there’s a ring in the toilet, then it must need to be cleaned” philosophy.  I did laundry when someone was about to run out of something.  There was no order in my home.

Proverbs 29:18  Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

At a trip to the local Christian bookstore, I discovered a Christian woman’s planner—not for the business minded, but for homemakers.  (I am sad to say that this particular planner is out of print, but you can make your own planner with printable pages at www.organizedhome.com.)  The book literally saved my life.  It helped me to make a reasonable list each day (when the block was filled, I couldn’t add another thing!) and to plan my meals and a coordinating grocery list.  The best part was a section on the side with a list of priorities and space to record how I would bless my family that week.  As I began to use this tool, I found more time than I knew I had!  (I still maintain that I get more done with four children than I ever did with only one!)  I found I could focus on what needed to be done today, knowing that I could wait until tomorrow or next week to do other things.  Meal time was a joy since I wasn’t frantically trying to come up with a recipe to suit my meager stash of ingredients.  I discovered I actually liked to cook!  Our home became much more peaceful and I personally was more at peace, as well.

Proverbs 14:15 A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

Years later, I still have a planner on my kitchen counter.  It has my list of to-do’s, my meals for the coming week, a list of books I’ve loaned out, and a running list of Christmas gifts I think of throughout the year.  I find that having this system of organization helps me have a plan.  I become intentional.  Since I know what we’re eating, I know what groceries to buy.  Therefore, I’m not wandering in the store searching for what looks good.  I save time and money.  I also group my errands together on the same day and by location, saving time and gas money.  I set goals and accomplish them—well, most of them.  Making a plan gives me a sense of purpose, keeps me focused and helps me accomplish the things I value.

Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

My intent is not to sell you on the usefulness of using a daily planner, but I find that this same principle of intentionality works with raising children.  As parents, it is our responsibility to seek God for His plans for our young children and later to partner with our young adult children to discover God’s will.  (Isn’t that taking control of your life?  No, God is always in control and may override our plans and readjust our goals at any time He chooses.)  If my husband and I have no goals for our daughters and they have no goals for themselves, it is easy to aimlessly wander and fill up time with activities of little value.  But if we set clear goals for our daughters’ spiritual lives and for their character, we can make wise decisions about how to use our time, money, and energies (and which homeschool curriculum to use!) to meet those goals.

Action Steps I’m probably preaching to the choir, but it is my heart’s desire that parents seek God and hear His goals and His heart for their family and for each of their children.  Here are some suggestions for a process of establishing goals.  If you are married, whether your spouse is a believer or not, please work together in this process.  You each bring a different perspective and it will help you understand each other better. (Since marriage is the foundation of family relationships, you may want to use this process for your marriage first.)  Pray for God’s wisdom as you set goals for your family.

  • Ask God for His vision for your family (Ex.  This is what God wants our family to look like.)  Write your family’s vision statement.
  • Record what needs to happen in order to meet those goals.
  • Make a list of the personal character traits that you desire your children to have.  (The list may be the different for each child or the same for all of them.)
  • Of the listed character traits, choose one or two to focus on each month.  It doesn’t have to be formal (with a curriculum), just intentional (reminders, scriptures, prayer, and heart-to-heart talks).
  • For each child, write down future goals for them based on their gifts and calling.
  • Evaluate all of your family activities in light of the goals for your family and children.  Are your extra activities helping you achieve those goals?  If not, you may need to make some changes.  Which activities need to go?  What activities can you add to support your goals?
  • With children’s goals in mind, what activities would encourage their gifts and callings?

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of steps in your planning process, but I hope it will inspire you as you begin or refine the process of being intentional as you raise sons and daughters who will know Him and make Him known.