How to set a homeschool schedule
Forget canning or building or gardening — time management is one of the most important skills you can have on a homestead. This is doubly true if you plan to homeschool your children.
Setting a homeschool schedule is one way to make sure that you and your kids cover all the topics you aimed for and that their educational goals are reached, but there is no prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach to preparing one.
“I would contend that question has nearly as many answers as there are homeschoolers,” said Fred Worth, professor of mathematics at Henderson State University, who homeschooled his son through all 18 years of his primary education. “Some are very structured, essentially recreating a public school schedule in their home. Others are very unstructured, having no real schedule, but just taking advantage of educational opportunities as they arise.”
Consider your children’s learning styles and objectives
Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) and editor‑in‑chief of the peer-reviewed journal Home School Researcher, said that the first thing to do is to evaluate your family’s lifestyle.
“Look at the unique constellation of your family,” Ray explained. “What are the objectives for your family? That’s one of the beauties of home based education, the education that revolves around family life and real life rather than family revolving around an institution called school.”
Homesteaders and families with farm duties will especially benefit from this consideration, both on a daily basis and when planning schooling longer term.
“If you have some farm animals and you have to take care of them first thing in the morning, that’s the first thing you do, and you do the formal academics after that or between those things,” Ray said. “Or, like farmers and the olden days, when it’s harvest season, you don’t do academics for three weeks and you save it more for the winter.”
The homeschooling schedule should also consider the personalities and learning styles of the children being homeschooled. One of the great advantages to homeschooling is that you can cater your children’s education to their strengths and interests, so these should both be taken into account.
“The teachers [in schools] do the best they can,” said Marci Goodwin, blogger at The Homeschool Scientist, who has been homeschooling her son and daughter for the past 10 years. “To teach 25 different kids, with 25 different personalities and 25 different learning styles, you’re going to lose some. When you’re homeschooling you can cater to your child.”
Worth said that there are two primary questions homeschooling parents should ask before they make a schedule: how important is structure to you and your child, and how confident are you in your understanding of what your children need to know and when they need to know it.
“Parents need to honestly appraise themselves and their kids,” Worth said. “If structure is necessary, then be structured. If not, don’t stress over it.”
Consider your strengths as parents
Scheduling — both with respect to style and structure — also depends on the parents.
“If I don’t have a schedule for my day, my day is way off,” Goodwin laughed. “Nothing gets done.”
Corina Sahlin, blogger at Marblemount Homestead who homeschooled her three kids until about two years ago, said she took a more laissez-faire approach to scheduling. She admitted that she doesn’t even use a planner to block out her days.
“I run several businesses, and I don’t do that in my business either,” she laughed. “It’s not me.”
Considering your skills and style as a parent can also help divide the work with teaching.
“Somebody’s got to earn money to pay for electricity and gasoline,” Ray said. “How do we work that schedule out so maybe both mom and dad are involved in the direct academic instruction part of the day?”
In order to find balance in the schedule in terms of subjects, be aware of the proclivities of each parent in order to make sure the schedule is balanced in terms of subjects.
“You need to consider what are the particular strengths weaknesses and interests of the parents,” Ray said. “Let’s say mom is the main academic instructor, and she likes math and science. Let’s make sure we get a nice room here full of books with a whole variety of topics, and make sure dad spends some time once and a while with them in the arts.”
Ray also suggested looking into homeschool groups or cooperatives that highlight the skills of other parents in your area to get a little variety.
Develop a routine
Sitting down and making some sort of plan for the week — whether it is a rough schedule or a specific itinerary for sequential subjects — is a good idea.
“I sit down on Sunday night and plan with both kids,” Goodwin said. “In math, you know what you’re going to do. On other subjects, I would just plan out what I thought I would like to get done [that] week. We are eclectic homeschoolers — we follow some curriculums, but sometimes the kids decide they want to learn about turtles that week.”
Scheduling does not need to take long. Goodwin said it would take an hour or two on Sunday nights to plan, and during the week she would 15 to 20 minutes per day to review and tweak the schedule if needed.
Developing a regular routine — academics in the morning and unstructured education in the afternoon, for example — also works for some parents.
“Mostly what we did [was] we said ‘ok, let’s get this stuff out of the way,’” Sahlin said. “‘In the morning, get your reading, get your math, and we have the rest of the time free.’ The other stuff we did different field trips and playdates with their friends. Again I feel like homesteading is such a well-rounded education.”
Establishing some sort of routine will also help streamline planning even for more regimented homeschooling parents.
“We did school four days a week, and Friday would be Field Trip Friday,” Goodwin said. “We picked somewhere to go, or did a project all day that went along with whatever they were learning.”
Communicate with your children and adjust as needed
Ultimately, the best homeschool schedule is going to be the one that is best for your child. Communicate openly with your child to make sure the schedule is working for them as well as it is working for you.
“It’s a big deal to homeschool your kids,” Sahlin said. “I think it’s really important to communicate with your kids and be open and honest and keep checking in with them. If it doesn’t work to homeschool, that’s not fair to anyone.”
Your scheduling routine also might change as the children age.
“For little kids it might only be an hour a day,” Ray said. “As they get older, it does increase, because of cultural expectations.”
As they get older, your children may become more independent learners and require less structured instructional time.
“One year, we may have taken an hour to do math. As they got older, it was more like 15 minutes explaining and then do your work,” Goodwin said. “It was different as they got older because they are more independent learners, so we had to tweak things a little bit.”
Adjusting the time and method of homeschooling is also important if you plan to eventually transition your children into public or private school.
“In the beginning years, we were outside a lot and learned by doing things. They were always there for every single goat birth, and we did a lot more unschooling,” said Sahlin, who eventually transferred her children into public school. “I knew that eventually they would enter some kind of public system. That’s when I started with the curriculum. They needed to learn math. We did different things with textbooks.”
Sahlin said it paid off, though.
“After my kids entered public school, they all had 4.0’s,” she said.
Keep abreast of — but don’t stress about — academic benchmarks
Homeschooling experts agree that it is fairly easy to keep your children up to learning benchmarks.
“It’s not really that difficult,” Goodwin said. “Curriculum companies have set up where those benchmarks should be. As long as you’re hitting those benchmarks you’re fine.”
Some subjects are easier than others, but you can find the standards for other subjects easily online.
“With mathematics and English, it is easy since the courses are so sequential,” Worth said. “For other subjects, you can follow guides from online.”
However, many homeschoolers object to the idea of learning standards all together.
“I think people put a little too much pressure on it,” Goodwin said. “As long as you teach them to do math, read and write to their education level, everything else will fall in place.”
Even if your child is falling behind on certain benchmarks, Worth said not to fret.
“Not all kids are equally gifted in all subjects,” Worth said. “Our son didn’t read until [he was eight and a half] years old, but he was very bright. He just wasn’t ready to start earlier. Age ‘appropriateness’ causes lots of undue stress.”
Similarly, Sahlin said that she did not teach her son to read until he was seven.
“It took two months, but now he is an amazing reader,” she said. “It depends on the kid so much. To clamp down a certain curriculum is not fair to do with a kid when they just hate sitting still and reading.”
Goodwin said the greatest challenge of setting a homeschool schedule is the distractions.
“You’re not just homeschooling. When you’re at your house, you’re cleaning and cooking and doing laundry and scheduling doctor’s appointments,” Goodwin said. “All these things can get distracting. Prioritizing is what you need to do.”
Goodwin said that prioritizing is key. For her, eliminating distractions like phone calls and other household duties during academic time was essential.
“The priority is learning for this block of time, and I will not let all the rest invade learning time,” she said. “People knew until noon, I wasn’t going to answer my phone. I think that was the biggest thing.”
Let go of traditional school schedules
Ray believes that another challenge many homeschooling parents face is letting go of the institutionalized version of school that we have grown accustomed to over generations.
“We have all of this history and all of this cultural pressure that schooling is what government-certified teachers say in brick-and-mortar school,” Ray said. “Somehow, we think six hours is needed to do basic math, language and writing.”
When it comes to scheduling, this can often result in a stricter, more regimented schedule than is truly effective for your children’s education.
“Research on institutional schools shows that one third of the time is [active] educational time,” Ray said. “The truth is, homeschooling is so much more concentrated and efficient and effective.”
Even though your homeschooling schedule may not be traditional, it can still be rewarding.
“Research shows and my experience with hundreds, thousands of homeschoolers is that people become very happily surprised about what an enjoyable way to live this is,” Ray said. “It’s very enjoyable if you can learn to relax.”