One of the beauties of homeschooling is flexibility.
It is wonderful to be able to adapt our days to the needs of the moment. We can have the freedom to go to a doctor’s appointment or to make plans with family or friends during the school day without having to worry about getting a excuse note for school. We can schedule fieldtrips or a family vacation in off-peak times to avoid crowds. We can take advantage of the many homeschool activities that are available. If a child is sick or struggling on a particular day or week, we can take a break and return to a lesson later. These are all wonderful things!
However, sometimes life becomes so flexible that it becomes chaotic. Children don’t know what to expect on a given day. There are no routines to fall back on. Meals are had at random times depending on what is going on each day. Lessons are squeezed in, often with many protests, because they are unexpected, feel forced, and are rushed.
How can we find a happy medium where our homeschool days flow smoothly, lessons get done, and yet still have the flexibility we need to do other important activities? The key is rhythm.
Some homeschoolers thrive on an actual schedule.
They know each day that they will do math from 8:30 to 9:00 a.m., followed by reading from 9:00 – 9:30 a.m., etc. For those who live best like this, it works well. But for most homeschoolers, that feels overly constrictive.
Rhythm means that days follow a similar pattern with touchpoints throughout the day that stay consistent.
For example, after waking up, there is breakfast and morning time (prayer and other low-key family lessons, such as reading aloud or doing a picture study). After breakfast is put away and morning time is done, lessons take place. I often find it better, especially with older children, to have them choose the order they want to do their lessons. This helps provide them with some control over their day and increases their willingness to complete lessons. In many cases, lessons may be done by lunchtime. In other cases, there can be a break for lunch and then a return to the lessons that need to be completed. Later in the afternoon can be devoted to more fun, leisure-type activities, whatever that looks like in your family. In homes with babies and toddlers, it can be beneficial to save harder subjects that require more hands-on activity by mom for naptime. In either situation, children know what to expect in their day which provides a sense of comfort and security.
What about all those other activities / doctor’s appointments / playdates, etc.?
If possible, schedule them in the afternoon. Or, if it is a one-day-a-week sort of thing, simply make plans to have that day in your week be more low-key in terms of lessons. For example, make sure math and reading get done. Some families take Fridays off each week to do all the other things. The important thing is to be consistent. If both mom and children know what is coming on a given day, life will run more smoothly.
Of course, life will happen. A rhythm will be thrown off due to illness or an unexpected obligation. There are times both adults and children need to be flexible and adapt to change. But if there is a rhythm in place, it will be easier to get back into a groove after a disruption.
How can you set up a rhythm in your homeschool?
First schedule the non-negotiables. It is good to have meals at set times every day. Some families like to have a set wake-up time while others have more flexibility with this and may simply have a range of times that they want people to get up. Households with teens may find having a later wake-up time for them is better for everyone’s well-being. It is good for moms to have a consistent wake-up time (if possible before children get up to have some time to pray and prepare for the day). If younger children get up earlier than older children, it can be good to do some quiet activities with them before older children get up. Plan for any known activities such as co-ops, playdates, or other appointments. Then look at the time blocks that you have left. Plan when you want to have lessons, chore times, and leisure times. Make sure there is time to breathe in the plan so that no one feels rushed and you aren’t cramming things in just to get them done.
Having a rhythm in your homeschool day can help provide peace and a gentle sense of order, all of which helps homeschool days run more smoothly.