You may have heard the saying “well begun is half done.” I first heard it in the movie Mary Poppins when she talked with Jane and Michael about completing their chores in the nursery. The idea is that if you start the way you want to continue, it’s much easier in the long run to succeed. The same applies in your school year. As you take on the task of homeschooling your child, it can seem extremely daunting. To give you the best chance of success, begin the way you want to go on, and that includes using a routine.
There, I said it. The dreaded “R” word. Some of you just started to tune me out. I can hear you telling me about the freedom you hope to have with homeschooling, and you don’t want to follow a carved-in-stone (*shudder*) schedule. The truth is, life has routines whether we realize it or not, and we plan our lives according to them. A new day begins with the rising of the sun, and many of us start the day with a cup of coffee. We have weekdays and weekends. And then there’s seasons, along with the weather that comes with each season. All of these routines (or schedules, rhythm, or flow of life) give us a sense of order and we have some idea of what to expect. There’s nothing worse than arriving in a new season of life and not knowing what to expect or what the ‘rules’ are. (Hello out there… anyone parenting teenagers?) Just as nature has its routines, it’s important to consider the role of a schedule in our homeschool environments.
Kids thrive when they understand the rhythm of the school day. If they know when school-time occurs, and when they can have play-time, there are a lot less arguments and less push-back towards their parents/teachers. It sets you up for success with school activities, makes your life so much easier in the long run, and it gives the kids a sense of security knowing what to expect. For some of you veterans, this is something you’ve been doing for a long time. But for newer homeschool parents, here are a few simple steps to establish a schedule or routine or rhythm to your homeschool day.
1. Do the planning
This step is SO important to your success, I can’t stress it enough. Plan what you want your week to look like. The planning comes in various stages.
- First, decide when you want to start your school day, when you will break for lunch, and when you hope to be finished for the day. Put parameters around “school time” versus other time. If your child doesn’t do well with early mornings, move your school time to later in the day. If you want your husband to teach science, leave that subject until he gets home. If your child is worn out by mid-afternoon, try to get everything done in the morning. My kids know 10:30am is break time with a snack, and let me tell you, they will watch the clock and let me know if we’re late to take our break!
- Second, figure out how you want to structure your various subjects throughout the week. Do you want to have 5 days of Science, or just 3? Will you do Math every day or only on specific days? Make sure you build in any standing appointments or weekly activities outside the home. Each day can look different in terms of the ordering of your subjects, but it’s important to have a plan. One of the best parts of planning is that if one day is a complete flop, you have plans and structure ready so you can start the next day off with a clean slate.
- Next, think about how you want each subject to be structured. In each subject there will be certain expectations. With my youngest, we use Saxon Math, and our Math time follows the same basic routine every time. We start with the “Meeting Book” to look at the date on the calendar, then we count by 1’s, or practice skip counting (depending on how advanced the child is), followed by a short lesson (all the instructions are provided in a teacher’s manual), and last of all there’s a workbook page the student will complete. Once we get into the rhythm of how our Math ‘class’ will go, Math time flows much easier. If you have a structure to each subject, your child will know what to expect when they are completing each daily class. With a Kindergarten student the time will be much shorter for each subject, with a lot more hands-on activities. As your child progresses through the grades, there will be more intricate material and more involved assignments to complete. But if you already have the structure established, additional work will run much more smoothly.
2. Lay out expectations ahead of time and begin to practice early
This is pretty self-explanatory. Discuss with your child the upcoming changes and begin phasing in some of those changes early. Have they been going to bed at 10pm all summer? It’s not fair to expect them to be fresh and ready for school in the morning if they haven’t had decent sleep. Begin backing up their bedtime and their rising time BEFORE school starts. Start the progression in 15 to 30 minute increments, depending on the age of the child(ren) and make sure to start the morning rising time early as well. It’ll be so much easier to transition into school bedtimes and wake-up times if you start the process early.
Likewise, as the parent you need to practice being prepared to start a day of learning with your child. Do you need to start making breakfast earlier? Or maybe block off some prep time for yourself in the evening so that you’re ready to go the next day? Figuring this out ahead of time for yourself and your child will make the transition smoother.
3. Use a timer or the clock
You can’t argue with the clock. If you set a timer for 30 minutes, it will only beep after 30 minutes. Use timers early and often in your school day. Put it somewhere close to your school area so your child can see it. For the very young students, start with small amounts of time and work up to longer periods of school activities. For the older students, use the clock to determine how long they will work at a particular subject. Allow them a short break (snack, bathroom, a short walk around the house) before beginning the next subject. Posting the schedule is helpful (even if it’s just the order of subjects you will complete for the day and how long you will spend at each). Your child can check the schedule and stay on track.
4. Minimize distractions
There is “school time” and there is “non-school time”. School time should be protected as much as possible. Heading to appointments or having company over in the middle of your school hours will break the flow of work and everything will take much longer to finish up. Keep screens and iPads off-limits until “school time” is over, put your phone away, turn off social media, and try not to take phone calls unless they’re absolutely necessary. You’ll accomplish so much more if you minimize these distractions.
5. Stick with it (and cut yourself some slack)
Starting a new school year is hard. Getting everyone on board is hard. Sticking to your well thought out routine is hard. But it’s much easier if you, the parent or teacher, are proactive and prepared. Be prepared for the first couple of weeks to be a little difficult as everyone adjusts. Stick with it, but also cut yourself some slack if your well thought out plans end in an explosion of tears. Consistency is the key. Stick with it, make adjustments as necessary, and do your best to enjoy these moments together. Remember, children’s needs and learning styles are different and you may find the need to make alterations to your schedule.
With careful planning, consistency, and the flexibility to make necessary adjustments, you will be well on your way to having a successful homeschool year.
“Begin as you want to go on, and go on as you began.”Charles H. Spurgeon