As we neared the end of our second year homeschooling with a 6 1/2 year old, a 3 1/2 year old, and a 1 1/2 year old, I had some scheduling and routine challenges:
- First and foremost, my two younger kids can be very mischievous and sometimes destructive if they are roaming the house without my supervision.
- My 6 1/2 year old was not reliable about completing her schoolwork without my supervision.
- If I had an activity planned for the younger kids, even something as simple as reading picture books to them or having them help me hang up the laundry outside, my oldest child would instantly want to be doing that instead of her schoolwork. She enjoyed her work if I was with her, but could flip on a dime and come up with very creative ways to get distracted if I wasn’t giving her one-on-one attention.
- I had a hard time being with my homeschooler and supervising my younger kids at the same time, and that didn’t take into account the fact that I wanted and needed to do other things, such as cooking, cleaning, reading, changing diapers, disciplining, and exercising.
As my daughter transitioned into her 1st grade year, I wanted to step up the amount of formal education she received. However, I was feeling conflicted. I loved the fact that learning happened throughout the day and that our schedule could be flexible. We had so many magical moments where the line between education and play blurred and we were learning and laughing as a family. I didn’t want to give that up!
However, on the recommendation from many seasoned homeschoolers, I bought the book “Managers of Their Homes” by Steve and Teri Maxwell and waded into the waters of strict schedules. The book is unabashedly Christian and geared towards larger, homeschooling families, but the principles could be well applied to any family with currently unstructured time at home with kids (summer vacation, young children). If you have goals and things you’d like to accomplish during the day with young children under foot or you’re juggling the needs of multiple children and you are frustrated that the most important things are consistently left undone, the principles in the book might lead you to an elegant solution.
Thinking it out
The first epiphany I had when reading the book was that I needed to decide what I wanted to spend my time on.
There are 24 hours in a day. How many of those did I realistically need/want to spend sleeping? Cooking dinner? Reading with and to my kids? Exercising? I started making a list and dreamed big dreams. I thought of all the “wouldn’t it be nice if I could do this” things and put them on the list. I also took a closer look at how long everyday things were realistically taking me to accomplish, such as eating and clearing up breakfast. I tried to adjust the list accordingly. I found that many things needed to be tabled for “another season” in life. But I was pleasantly surprised to find I could make space in my day for several worthy “extra” things.
A few things on my list that have really improved my quality of life:
- 30 minutes “memory keeping” – this includes blogging, journaling, processing photos, etc. This is something that is a big priority for me but in the past was often left undone until the task was overwhelming.
– 30 minutes preparation for following day – this includes wrapping up the current day by checking math, tracking summer reading program stuff, capturing on paper all the things swirling in my brain, etc. It’s also my time checking my calendar for the following day, making The Dinner Decision, laying out school things, etc.
The second epiphany was that I needed to decide what I wanted my kids to spend their time on. If I didn’t want my preschooler to just roam around wreaking havoc, then I should probably think about what she could do with her time instead. :) She definitely has free time in her list, but in the next step, I made sure to schedule it during times when I’m available to supervise.
After reading the Maxwells’ book, I realized one glaring error in the homeschooling schedule I created at the beginning of the year was that I really didn’t account for my younger children. They then quickly became “distractions” from the schedule, which was frustrating for everyone.
There are dozens of examples in the books for kids of different ages, but here is my 3 year old’s current list. Keep in mind that this is not in order (because the order will need to mesh with the rest of the family) and keep in mind that this is totally personal so your own children’s lists may look very different:
- 1/4 hour wake up chores (bathroom, pray, get dressed, clean room, scripture story with her sister)
- 1/2 hour nighttime prep (jammies, family scripture & prayer, story, etc.)
- 1/2 hour breakfast
- 1/2 hour lunch
- 1 hour dinner
- 1/2 hour snacks
- 1/4 hour scripture memory work
- 1/2 hour Table Time (x2)
- 1/2 hour reading with mom
- 1/2 hour reading with big sister
- 1 hour afternoon project with sister (science, art, etc.)
- 1/2 hour room alone time
- 1 hour outside play
- 1 hour inside play with siblings
- 1/2 hour Mama helper (laundry, dusting etc.)
- 1/2 hour cleanup/dance party before Daddy comes home
- 11 1/2 hours nighttime sleep
- 1 1/2 hour nap
Of course there are times when we go have an adventure or have other plans so we don’t have a full 24 hours to do the above. However, having an idea of “what comes next” and having a flow to our day has helped tremendously with the peace of our home. The process of coming up with the lists also made me more conscious and deliberate in terms of what I want my kids doing.
Creating a schedule
Once I had lists for me and each of my children, I moved the chunks of time around until they lined up in a workable way. I started with the things we did together like meals and morning memory work, and filled in from there. Here are some examples of things that I made a priority:
- 30 minutes for me and my 3 1/2 year old to work on reading together. She’s done with her reading lessons and I want to make sure she gets daily practice trading off reading picture books with me. (My oldest and youngest children play together during this time in one of the bedrooms. They love this!)
- 30 minutes of time for my oldest to play the piano (and be taught by me) without interruption from littler fingers. (So, this is scheduled at the same time as individual play time for each of my younger children in their rooms. They listen to audiobooks or music and play with one set of toys and clean them up at the end. I also use this time to clean up breakfast mess when I’m not actively teaching.)
- 30 minutes of memory work for my oldest daughter, which spans several different subjects. My 3 1/2 year old sometimes, but not always, likes to join in. She also absorbs a lot of this just by being in close proximity. (So, both younger kids have “Table Time” which entails playing/learning at the kitchen table. I facilitate and sneak in some kitchen prep if I can.)
Hopefully that makes sense! I was surprised to find that this method is still flexible, because we can jump into and out of schedule as needed, provided most of our school days follow the same basic routine. And, as our needs change, we can shuffle things around a bit and swap in different activities without starting from scratch.
A Well-Oiled Machine
Ok, my house won’t ever look like a well-oiled machine with young children (and my imperfect self) in it! But after a few weeks of teaching my children what was expected and ironing out some issues, I was blown away by how much more smoothly my days were running. It wasn’t just that I was accomplishing more, it was that I was accomplishing more of what mattered to me.
My girls get outside every non-rainy day for an hour in the afternoon to ride bikes and play together. My girls have a special time when the older reads the younger picture books (and I blog!). I get some dinner prep done in the early afternoon so I’m less stressed and cranky when Scott gets home.
I still only have 24 hours in day but the schedule helps me to consciously choose how I spend them.
Change is Hard
Here are some other changes which were necessary to get us to smoother sailing. Every single one is still a work-in-progress. But we’re improving:
- I need to wake my kids up at a certain time each day. Yes, one of the perks of homeschooling is not having to catch a bus, but I’ve learned our family does better if I wake everyone up at the same time and adjust nap and bedtimes accordingly so each individual still gets the right amount of sleep for himself or herself. Currently this is 7:30 for the girls.
- I need to hold myself accountable for getting enough sleep so I can have a good start in the morning. I struggle with burning the midnight oil and waking up exhausted the next day. Our days are miles better when I’m up and at it before the kids.
- My 6 1/2 year old really needs to trust the schedule. When I am consistent and she knows outdoor play, picture books, etc. are all coming at their appointed times, she settles into schoolwork with far less distraction and grumbling.
- My two younger kids need to learn to be ok on their own for 30 minutes of playtime. They both love it now and my 3 1/2 year old, especially, begs for more Room Time with her great audio books.
- We are learning to get one toy set out at a time and put it away before we move on to the next activity. This is sort of built into the schedule and I love it! We definitely still need to pick up the house before dinner, but it stays clean all morning which makes focusing on learning much easier.
- I need to get my act together the night and week before. It was painful to realize I was “winging” it with school and it was causing major bumps in our day. In the past, I thought it was not a big deal to just shuffle things together for math right beforehand, but when I started keeping an eye on the clock, I realized that my shuffling was throwing a wrench in the gears and often led to distractions for my daughter and for me.
- I need to limit mealtime. My kids can sit at the table for over an hour for each meal, eating their food. My friends have marveled at this many times, because apparently most young kids hardly sit still for meals. I’ve started moving the show along after 30 minutes and I’ve found my children are capable of eating a meal in a more reasonable amount of time if they know the food will be disappearing. So we do 30 minutes for breakfast and lunch now, and up to 60 minutes for dinner because we often do special stuff at dinner time.
Whew! If you made it through that post I’m guessing you either have a scheduling problem yourself or you think I’m crazy and couldn’t bring yourself to look away. :)
Questions? Tips for scheduling or thriving without a schedule?