Adding Sanity to Your School Year… Don’t Stress the Schedule!

Inside: Your homeschool day doesn’t have to be crazy! Discover how to keep the sanity this year and not stress over your schedule. Guest Post by Amy Pak from Homeschool in the Woods.

Bus stops in the cold mornings, bells going off, 40-minute classes with four to five minutes in between, lockers located who-knows-where, backpacks heavy with textbooks, lunch periods where, once you get your lunch, you have barely enough time to eat… the list goes on.

Those are things that we, as homeschool families, do not have to put our kids through on a daily basis, thank goodness. However, we often still feel the need to follow a rigid pattern in our homeschool day as we did in our public- or private-school days, as if it’s “wrong” if we don’t have our schedules organized in cubby-hole fashion.

Now don’t get me wrong! Organization is truly a blessing, and I am a believer that chaos can definitely breed chaos.

But when it comes to educating our kids at home, so many families are afraid to embrace the freedoms that we have.

Homeschool Day

The flexibility alone gives us room to breathe. And although we need to get from the beginning of a year to the end of a year with a good accomplishment of learning, it does not have to force our children to conform to what we knew as a “school day.”

School as we knew it was based on herding groups of children with all kinds of backgrounds and learning styles into classes taught by various teachers, who are generally limited by the materials they need to teach (of which I give those teachers  a lot of credit—their job is definitely not easy). In fact, many statistics say that actual time dedicated to learning in a child’s day at school is only a fraction of the time spent there.

So what can you do to hang on to some sanity?

No Curriculum is Carved in Stone.

With different learning styles prevalent within the same families, sometimes it takes a few tries to find what curriculum really speaks to each child. Force-fitting them to fit a specific kind of material may only lead to despair and the illusion that the child “can’t do it,” when all it might take is more time and a fresh perspective

With younger children, the focus generally is reading, writing, and arithmetic. These are the ‘brain-sapping’ subjects that need the most attention per child and should be addressed at their best time of day.

These subjects are taught precept-upon-precept, and each child will need to learn at his own pace, so time is necessary to dedicate to that. It also means, as the parent and teacher, staying involved in observing how the child is doing, so they don’t get wrapped around the axel by getting off course.

If a child needs more time to comprehend a topic, so be it! Young children learn at various levels, and some excel quickly while others need to mature into certain ways of thinking.

You can alter and adjust the timing to meet the needs of each individual child. It doesn’t mean laziness or procrastination, but it does mean not stressing the child (or yourself!) if he needs more time to understand a concept!  

This might also mean changing curriculum mid-stream if one kind just isn’t working!

I had to do that with our third child, who wasn’t getting the workbook approach with reading and language in his first years. He did better with songs, gimmicks, and games, and once he matured a few more years, we were able to adapt him to more common language programs.

Mother and son playing

What’s especially telling is that during those elementary years, he scored VERY poorly on the annual testing results for language. He just couldn’t grasp the concepts well and had issues with focusing. We still plodded along with him, continuing to seek out what would grab his interest and click.

It wasn’t until high school where he suddenly ‘got it,’ and by college, he was a masterful writer, eloquent in his expression and exceptional at getting his point across in a creative manner. One thing was for sure, he took a path all his own to finally get to what worked for him!

What About the Other Subjects During the Homeschool Day?

When it comes to other topics, there generally isn’t a right or wrong way to learn them in a given year. This can lend itself to more of a “delight-directed” approach, which will help your child enjoy the lessons.

I’ve always said, you can’t learn all of history in twelve years—it’s so much better to develop a love of learning so your child will never want to stop knowing more, even when their school life is done. The same goes for science, health, and others.

These are subjects where a child mainly needs to be introduced to ideas and topics. If there is an interest, let her pursue it, but if not, move on!

For example, our kids were learning about Crime & Punishment. We spent a week building a courtroom out of blocks, trying our hand at forensic science experiments, and we even took a very interesting tour of the downtown sheriff’s station and old prison that was not in use.

Still, the kids were just not into it that much, and although I used books and a study with more suggestions, there was little interest.

However, when we started our studies on the Civil War, they couldn’t get enough! My six-week plan turned into a ten-week study, right into the summer and culminating with a family trip to Gettysburg—one of what would become many!

If I’d tried to stick to a regimented schedule, we’d have missed out on a lot of fun learning and family time.

Don’t Fall for the Traps…

I also want to touch on a couple of things that can snag you as your children’s teacher into thinking you aren’t “doing enough.”

One is how each year starts off with a clean slate.

We have all kinds of grandiose ideas and think we will accomplish every fun thing we spent all summer planning out.

Yes, the year starts out with new books (don’t you just love that smell?), and fresh supplies, and a new calendar just waiting to be filled. But then someone gets sick, or you have a bad day, mid-day appointments rob you of the rest of the afternoon, your child needs additional time-consuming help, or things just don’t progress as you hoped.

Hiccups will happen! Things can derail your homeschool day. Just know from the start that you probably will be shedding plans, projects, books, and other things from your schedule as you go, and that’s O.K. 

Another major trap is comparison.

God gave you the children He did for a reason, and NO two homeschools are the same—thank the Lord for that!

Your homeschool is your place of education, with your little world of learners progressing at their own pace and ability. You can be inspired by others, but do not let those situations guilt you into thinking you are doing something wrong or short-changing your children.

I remember this pearl of wisdom told to me way back at the beginning:

You know your children better than anyone, and you will come to find what stresses them and what speaks to them. Even if you have a bad go of it for months, and as long as you are trying new things and progressing each day regardless, you can’t mess up your kids in a year. Your children will be getting one-on-one attention no matter what. Comparison with others can lead to guilt, and that is not what you need or what your child deserves.

What About “Planners”—Good Idea or Bad?

I always had planners for the children. In fact, each child had his own.

However, where I lived by them in the first years, I learned a lot about not being dictated by them over the remaining years! I needed to have them, as we live in one of the most regulated states in the nation (New York), and I needed to record everything we did. It also helped me, as I’m not necessarily the most organized person.

Homeschool-planners

They worked well to keep us moving forward and to keep track of what we did, but that was it. I saw too many moms get caught up in letting the planner run the school rather than be used as a tool. 

However, what I did learn that worked for us was never to plan out more than two weeks ahead and ALWAYS to use a pencil! No sooner would I make distant plans, and I’d be erasing everything eventually because something bumped our calendar days.

It wasn’t always a bad thing—sometimes it was a spontaneous field trip or a day where we just wanted to sit together on the couch and read aloud. Or maybe we were studying ancient China and decided to all make egg rolls together, which took more hours of the afternoon than I had planned. 

Some families also use one single planner for the family, but color-code each row by child. There are many kinds of planners out there; find one that fits your family best. You may even want to check out Pinterest for ideas to create your own.

Homeschool Day

Your Homeschool Day Is Not Just About the Academics…

My final thought, one that’s been an important gem I’ve shared with many a homeschool mom in the past, is that teaching our kids is not just about the academics.

Yes, that obviously has its place, but it’s also about taking time in your homeschool day to train up the character in our children. It’s about teaching them about grace, patience, and tools of self-governing like discipline, following through, time management, balance, and doing their best. 

These things don’t always fit in the “schedule plans” per se, but they are crucial lessons for life that you will be glad you made time for and prioritized in their earlier years—and that will be an invaluable lesson your children will take with them when it comes to handling stress and schedules in their futures as well.

Amy Pak is an 18-year homeschool veteran to four and a “Maimy” to seven grandkids. She is also the co-owner, illustrator, and co-author at Home School in the Woods, a family-run history company known for its historical timeline figures and hands-on history studies. You can read more of Amy’s writing on her company’s blog.   

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