When I first started homeschooling a funny thing happened. I thought that I needed to teach every single subject every single day. Wow, that was overwhelming. After a little while, I realized that was not necessary. And that made a world of difference in our homeschool daily rhythm. In fact, I realized that a lot of what we did actually combined several subjects each day.
At the beginning of every homeschool year, it is a fresh start. You have done your homeschool year wrap-up and know what is working and what isn’t. You have ideas to move into the new year with gusto. Your goals are set, and you are excited. But, how do you plan your homeschool days so that you don’t become overwhelmed by the middle of October?
How to Create Margin When Planning your Homeschool Days
That is where margin comes in. Without building margin into your daily rhythm, it is easy to over-schedule, and when you over-schedule you become overwhelmed.
Planning your homeschool days should be an exciting time. It is an opportunity to explore new ideas, not just for your kids, but for you as well. Having a daily rhythm that is predictable is important, but you also don’t want to be so regimented that it becomes stale, or you are unable to actually complete your daily rhythm.
How to Start Planning your Homeschool Days
The first place that you will start when planning your homeschool days is with your outside activities. It may seem silly to start here, but you need to be honest with yourself about when you will be out of the house. The reason being, you have to then fit the rest of your homeschool around those times.
For instance, if you attend a co-op every Friday from 10 am-12 pm, you need to make sure you are accounting for that time. And here is the key, you need to make sure that you have margin on either side of those times. That margin would be for things like getting ready to leave, making sure you have all of your supplies for co-op, and also travel time to and from the co-op as well as unpacking from your trip home. So now, instead of having co-op from 10 am-12 pm, you have co-op from 9 am-1 pm.
If after you look at the times you will be out of the house during the week you realize you will be out too often to have a good basic rhythm to your days, you will need to take a step back and evaluate whether the activities are as important to your overall homeschool goals for the year.
This isn’t to say that activities are bad – they are really really good! But, you want to be realistic with the time that you have available to your family. You want to pick activities that are building on the goals you have set out for your family, and your homeschool.
How to Realistically Plan Your Homeschool Days
Once you have an idea of when you will be out of the house during the week, you will have a better idea of the time that you have available for homeschooling.
This doesn’t mean that all homeschooling has to take place at home. Homeschooling is field trips, and library visits, and co-ops. It is being at home learning and exploring and working on projects. Have an ideal schedule at the start of the homeschool year, but be realistic with the amount of time you have – it is important.
Remember, every person has the same 168 hours in their week to do with as they choose. Each person will make different choices, and that is the incredible freedom that homeschooling brings each one of us. But, the goal when creating our daily rhythm is to be realistic with how we plan out those days as well as the amount of time we have to complete those plans.
Your Top 3 Homeschool Priorities
Have you heard of a “most important” task list? Many time-management gurus suggest that you have no more than 3 top tasks for each day. I like to include this idea when planning out our homeschool daily rhythm.
What are the non-negotiables? Are there topics or subjects that you want to complete every day? What are the things that you would need to accomplish in order to say that your homeschool day was a success?
For my family, we like to always concentrate on the 3 R’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic. I feel like these three things are the cornerstone of education. Reading and understanding, writing to communicate, and math – yes, even math is important in our daily lives.
Even on the hardest days, if I can focus on these three areas of our homeschool, I feel like we have had a successful day.
Creating Margin When Planning Your Homeschool Days
Once you have set out what your bare minimum for a successful day is, you can start building on that to plan your daily rhythm. But here is the key: you must create margin.
At the beginning of each school year, no matter how hard you try, you end up putting more on your plate than is necessary. Not because all of the things are bad. Instead, it is because you want to give your kids the best opportunities. You want them to be well-rounded.
But, when you start to involve your kids in outside activities, it is really important to think about the margin needed. Not just to get from one activity to another, but the time it will take to decompress from that activity and either switch back to a homeschooling mindset, or being at home as a family mindset.
It isn’t easy for our brains to switch from one thing to another easily. That is why multitasking isn’t really the best quality to have.
How do you Create Margin While Planning Your Schedule?
Honestly, it is easy to do. I know it may not seem that way, but it is. All you need to do is make sure you have enough cushion.
For example, if you plan to do 3 hours of school with your kids in the morning, plan it in a 4-hour block of time. Why? Because this will allow all the little emergencies that tend to come up during the day. It will give your kids the opportunity to take breaks when they need to. It will give you a chance to have some breathing room as well.
What often happens when planning out your homeschool days is that you have an ideal day in your head. Instead of accounting for all of the little things that inevitably come up, you think you should be able to get through your list of lessons and get 2 kids to different activities in the afternoon.
Instead of feeling successful at the end of the day, you feel stressed and harried because you were rushing.
What if you had margin in your homeschool day?
Now, imagine what it would be like to know that you have that extra hour built into your homeschool block in the morning. And then your youngest spills an entire gallon of milk all over the floor. Well, because you have that extra time built-in, you don’t need to stress about missing out on the rest of your school in the morning. Instead, you will know that you are able to clean up the mess, and still continue on with your day.
Including margin is one of the most important parts of planning any daily rhythm, whether you are homeschooling or not.
The margin allows you to not feel rushed. You can enjoy your homeschooling rather than trying to finish up so you can be off to the next thing.
Will there be busy seasons? Absolutely! But, taking the time to re-center, and include margin when that busy season is finally over will help you to continue to successfully homeschool your kids.
How long should you homeschool each day?
The answer to this question will vary. No, it doesn’t have to take all day at all. In fact, I would recommend it NOT taking all day. You want to give your kids a love of learning, not beat them down with memorization and seat work even when they would rather be looking for snakes out in your yard.
If your kids find something that interests them, it is OK to drop your planned lessons for the rest of the day, follow the rabbit trails, enjoy the exploration and wonder that you see in your child’s eyes.
How to Create a Homeschool Schedule
Here are some ideas on how to create a homeschool schedule with block schedules, looping, and anchors. I have always used a sort of block scheduling system in order to plan out our homeschool days. By attaching these blocks to events that happen at about the same time every day, I am able to easily move between the different rhythms we have set out for our homeschool while also including time for self-care and time for my business.
These events that happen every day are called anchors – and for me, they are almost always meals. For some reason, my kids like to eat 3 times each day (it is actually more often than that – they are hobbits).
When I look at breakfast I have a block of time before breakfast and a block of time after breakfast. The block of time before breakfast becomes my morning routine as well as the time I am usually working. The block after breakfast is usually our main homeschool block. Then after lunch, we have an afternoon block that is usually part quiet-time and part my oldest finishing up her individual work for the day.
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Within those blocks, you can either plan what you will do with that time (while remembering to bookend your block with margin), or alternatively you can plan a loop. A loop is a list of subjects or activities that you would like to do during a specific block of time. It doesn’t have to be all the subjects, it can be similar to a circle time – Bible, song, story, finger play, calendar work. You move through those things during your block of time. When the time is up, you move on to the next part of your daily rhythm. The next day, you will pick up the next item on your list.
People also will use this for regular subjects like science and history, or maybe for all the different parts of English & Language Arts. However you want to set up your loop it is up to you. The main goal of a loop is to allow you to move onto a different activity or subject when the time for the loop is over. If you only got through one thing on your loop schedule, that is OK, the next day you use that loop you will start with item number two. That is the purpose of the loop, to stop at the end of the allotted time.
Why you should plan your homeschool days
Planning a daily rhythm for your homeschool does not need to be difficult. And more importantly, sticking to that rhythm shouldn’t be an immense hurdle you have to overcome daily. Look at where you can create margin in your days, include that margin, and then see how your homeschool rhythm develops from there.
There is so much more to planning your homeschool days than creating margin, and if you would like to see specific examples of how I use block schedules and a sample of what my blocks look like, you can find that here.
Planning your homeschool days and keeping a good daily rhythm is important for your homeschool, but it is also individualized.
Just because something works really well for me in my blocks of time, does not mean that the same order will work for you. Take my ideas and make them your own!
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30 Days of the Best Encouragement for Homeschooling Moms Series Contributor:
Heather is the owner and author behind townsend-house.com where she helps you implement systems and strategies in order to overcome the chaos and Cultivate Simplicity in your Home & Homeschool. She lives in Maine with her husband and her three crazy kiddos whom she has been homeschooling for the past 10 years.