Today is the last day of our 3-part series on homeschool planning. We have talked about planning our annual calendar, plugging our subjects into a weekly schedule, and today we are going to break down a typical homeschool day.
1. How Many Hours Do You Want Your Homeschool to Be?
When looking at a homeschool day, one of the first things I hear new homeschool parents ask is, “How much is enough? How many hours do I really need to homeschool well?” First off, check your state requirements, but most homeschool students do NOT need to do school for 6 hours a day like public and private-schooled students because there are less administrative tasks and classroom transitions. For student through 2nd grade, one to two hours in typically enough, and from there it builds. For students in high school, they may need to spend four or five hours or more each day on schoolwork depending on their course load.
As you decide how many hours are needed, include margin. Use lunch breaks, snack breaks, brain breaks, and daily chores to break up the day into smaller pieces. The normal attention span of a child is only about 2 to 3 minutes times their age, meaning a second grader is probably going to focus for only 16 to 24 minutes at a time. This is why in Charlotte Mason Schools, lessons for 1st through 3rd grade are no longer than 20 minutes, while classes for 4th through 6th grade students are about 30 minutes, and 7th through 9th grade students last about 45 minutes.
So how many breaks should you schedule between subjects? A general rule of thumb is to schedule three and a half hours of work into a five-hour time block, but you know your kids. More breaks could be more distracting than helpful. If that is the case, consider switching subjects every 30 minutes or so, rather than taking large breaks.
2. How Flexible Do You Want Your Homeschool to Be?
Once you know about how many hours you need to complete the subjects you have planned, the next thing to decide is how flexible do you want your schedule to be? If your child gets really into trains and wants to build a train set around a Lego town, will he have time? Or will you be so busy you have to forgo the creativity to get your checklist done?
Scheduling Using Specific Times
Some children thrive on knowing EXACTLY what is happening when. If this is your child, you may decide to create a daily schedule with specific times and even use something like Alexa to ring a “bell” to signal the beginning of a new time period like in a compulsory school.
When I first started homeschooling, I thought having everything planned out down to the minute would be great for juggling multiple kids, but in the end, it just set us up for failure. We always felt behind and could never keep up with the schedule EXACTLY as intended which used to frustrate me to no end.
Scheduling with Time Blocks
Slightly less rigid, some families choose to schedule time blocks. For example, during this specific time we will focus on science or math. When that time is over we will stop the subject and move on to the next time block or subject. This works well with loop scheduling which we talked about in episode 14, but again it is not very flexible should a child get creative.
Scheduling Around a Routine
Following our frustration with timed schedules, we switched to having a daily routine instead of an exact schedule. In a routine, you list the order you want to accomplish things and then work your way down the list. Everyone knows what to accomplish next, but the exact times are flexible. This type of daily schedule tends to work well with most students as it helps those who need structure, but also leaves some flexibility to dive deep when a child really gets into a subject.
Following a Checklist
For older children who are ready for some independence, creating a checklist instead of a routine is a great way to go. Create a list of unordered goals for the day and let your child work through them as desired. When everything is checked off, they are done with school for the day! This scheduling method is great for building confidence and igniting a love of learning. However, as I’ve learned from experience, it is also a test of honesty and self-control. Ask me how I know!
Not Planning a Schedule
Finally, while this is totally not how I roll, some families choose to not plan their day at all. Instead, when the child gets up and feels like learning, they do. And when they don’t, they don’t. This probably works best with those using loop scheduling and/or those who school year-round as learning is just a part of life.
Some Combination of the Above
For us, I like using some combination of each of the above. I usually choose a couple of anchor times to get our day started and/or break for lunch. Then we have some specific subjects we routinely work through as a family. Finally, I give the girls a checklist to complete before the day is done. This allows a little bit of independence, but also helps me to plan the rest of my day as well.
If this sounds like an avenue you would like to try, consider establishing a start time. For some this may be 8 a.m. For others 10 a.m. And some wait to do school until after lunch. I have even heard of a family whose father works the night shift, so they all sleep in the day and do school at night so they can spend time together as a family. Choose what is best for your family!
3. What Other Activities Do You Need to Schedule Around?
That bring me to the next question–what other activities do you need to take into consideration as you plan your day? Every day may not be the same. Co-ops, dual enrollment, activities, lessons, sports, nap times, nursing times, and other events may adjust your “typical” daily schedule.
If you are traveling to and from activities often, you may want to consider adding car schooling to your schedule. While most families don’t do this completely, car schooling is a great time to listen to audiobooks, review spelling words, go over math facts, learn a foreign language, and more.
4. Do You Have Preschoolers?
If you have one or preschooler, they are definitely worth your consideration as you plan your day as they most likely cannot do as much independent work as older child. And, if you have a toddler and/or infant, the amount of dependence on mom increases ten-fold. So put preschoolers first on your schedule.
Consider spending some one-on-on time with them first thing in the morning so they get filled up with their mommy or daddy loving right away. Doing so may make them more likely to play by themselves for a bit while you spend time with older children.
If you still have a child who naps, consider using nap time to accomplish a few subjects together as a family. When our middle child used to nap, this is when I taught my oldest how to read. When our youngest child took naps, we would do our family schooling subjects together. Utilize the time you have.
Also, if you have older children, let them help with your preschooler at different times throughout the day. A child who has just learned to read could practice his reading to his baby brother. Or, a child who has just learn about train engines could build a wooden train track with his preschool sibling.
My youngest likes to listen to my middle child practice her spelling. Something about it fascinates her. In fact, I think it is one of the reasons she has learned to read so early. She likes learning about words since she knows her sisters find them so fascinating. So don’t be afraid to include preschoolers in family activities too. They can draw, play with play dough, or spend time exploring a sensory bin while you read or discuss a subject as a family. You may be surprised what they learn as a result.
5. Which else do you need to consider to maximize time and minimize stress?
Finally, what else can you do to maximize your time and minimize everyone’s stress level throughout the day? Can some subjects be completed as a family? We talked about this in detail in episode 6, but family schooling is a great way to save time and money while also building family unity and continuity.
Can you combine some classes to cover multiple subjects at once? For example, could your children work on their art project while you read the history lesson or a read aloud book? Geography and history also pair well together.
What subjects are parent-dependent? Which can be completed independently? Do any of your subjects require the use of a computer? If so, how many computers do you have? Do you need to consider scheduling computer time so that your children can rotate as needed?
Remember, you homeschool! Sample schedules often look neat, colorful, and pretty online, but rarely do those families follow those schedules exactly, and even more rarely, will they work with your family or desires. In addition, what works now may not work next semester, next month, or even next week. Don’t be afraid to adjust your daily schedule to fit your current needs and the needs of your children. That’s the joy of homeschooling. You have the options to adjust as needed. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.