The "S" Word
It is a frequently asked question on every homeschooling forum and mail list I've ever frequented, and it comes from new and experienced homeschoolers alike... inquiries about the dreaded "S" word:
What does yours look like? How should I? What about...?
As homeschoolers, we have a great deal of flexibility about what, when, and where we learn. We are not usually attached to work or school clocks, though sometimes we are. We can be night owls or early birds. We can break things up for our young or antsy child.
Here are some tips I've come across in the past decade of homeschooling:
Routines are better than schedules. What's the difference? Schedules are clock-based but routines are habit based. If there is a lot of variation in your daily commitments, or if some lessons take longer than others, a routine is easier to keep than a clock, and you are seldom rushing or behind.
Respect your lifestyle. Homeschooling gives us the freedom to set our own priorities and work within our own lifestyles. That includes how we set up our years, seasons, weeks, and days.
Does the idea of shorter school days, more time to spend per subject, or accelerated learning appeal? Maybe you want to school year-round.
Are December through January a crazy time of year for you, with holidays and extended, off-season vacation? Consider taking those months off. Or maybe you'd like to start your school year in February and extend it through summer.
Does somebody in your house work an odd schedule? Maybe you'd like to move your "weekends" to the days mom or dad is home to enjoy family time, or move schooling to the afternoon while a night-shifter is sleeping. Here, my husband works 24 hours on, 72 off. On his three days home, he teaches math and science, and he leaves scheduled work for me to supervise on his work days (we stick with traditional weekends because the kids play sports and weekends have game days).
What are your daily habits? At my house, we're early birds. Our energy levels and focus are better in the morning than in the afternoon or evening (this may be truer for the grownups than the kids). By supper time, we are DONE and ready to wrap up the day quietly, without trying to stuff lessons into the mix. Other families prefer to sleep in and find they are more alert and energetic in the afternoon or evening. Respecting your - and your child's - daily energy pattern will make life a lot easier.
Take breaks! The average adult has an attention span of about 40 minutes for focused activity. That's why there are breaks in conferences and lectures. Children have less ability to focus on the same thing for that long. If you find that your child isn't paying attention halfway through their work (particularly work that is often called "seat work", those subjects approached with pencil, paper, and book, and bottom firmly in seat), it's probably because it's taking too long. Plan to get up regularly, run around for a few minutes, have a snack, sing a song, do some housework... Any of these - and many other breaks - resets our attention clock.
Break it up. How does everyone fit everything in every day? We don't. Nobody does. If anyone tells you they do, they are either lying or about to snap. Back away slowly and look for better role models because that is a completely false and self-defeating idea that we need to let go.
How do we fit the things that are important to us in every day? Well, that's another thing entirely. We can do most (if not all) of the things that are important to us if we're realistic and creative about how we approach them.
Mix up the type of learning throughout the day - take a break for a movie or show on your current history or science topic, or go for a nature walk. Save read-alouds for bed time or listen to audiobooks in the car.
Break up the subjects your cover on any given day in a way that makes sense to you. Some subjects are best done daily - math (especially aritmetic), grammar, foreign languages, for instance - but many are better done in longer blocks of time, less frequently. Science projects, open-ended inquiry, and outings should be allowed to be complete when they are, rather than on a schedule. History reading, inquiry and projects may take an extended period as well. You determine the nature of the subject and how you want to approach it.
Be realistic. Everything in the world cannot be of equal importance. We have to prioritize and we have to accept some things as "bonus" material. (Note to newbies: Housekeeping standards usually go first. Welcome to hovel, I mean, homeschooling.)
Be objective and flexible. All too often, we develop a routine and then fight like crazy people to make it stick. Maybe it's worthy of that fight, but maybe it's not. As children grow and change, as our family lives change, we need to be open to reevaluate our routines and revamp them. Seeing a need for change is not an indication of failure, just an indication that your family is growing and changing.
Need to see how others do it to get a mental image of how some different approaches might work? Try a Google search for terms like these:
homeschool block scheduling
homeschool loop scheduling
homeschool scheduling <your curriculum or approach> (e.g. Chatlotte Mason, classical, Science Fusion, or Sonlight)
And remember: nobody's life is the same as yours. Ideas are always just jumping off points; use, toss, or tweak whatever appeals to you so that it fits your life.