A solid homeschool routine can sometimes feel like an unattainable prize. It’s like a beautiful fruit dangling just out of reach, tantalizing you with how good it would taste, how perfectly satisfied you would feel once it was in your possession, how you would never again long for anything different.
I hear it so often:
I’m feeling the tension between letting them have free reign and giving them more structure. I wish I could find the balance that works for us. Then we’d all be happier.
I’m balancing working and homeschooling, and I don’t know how to fit everything in. If I could only manage my time better, this would be easier.
If I just had a good schedule, then I could get around to all the kids’ schoolwork more effectively.
A satisfactory homeschool routine can seem tantamount to order, peace, and effectiveness in your homeschooling efforts. But there’s no such thing as a one-size fits all, once-and-for all, magic routine that always works.
A routine can help to ground your homeschool and your calendar. At its best, it can be a roadmap for your days, a recentering tool, a boredom preventor, a memory maker, and a tradition builder. Your routine should feel like a familiar friend.
But, routines will be unique for each different family. They will have to be adapted often. And above all, your routine should work for your family in the stage you’re in right now.
Make your routine work for you.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of suggested homeschool routines. Printables, sample calendars, suggestions for how long to work on each subject… Many of these pre-fab routines can be very helpful. They can provide a starting place– but they can’t provide all the answers for your unique situation.
As you work on creating your own homeschool routine, remember this: You want to develop a routine that serves your family.
Your family, your children, your schedule, and your unique needs are different from anyone else’s. There’s no need to turn your daily schedule into a comparison trap.
You can certainly learn from the example of other homeschooling families. However, remember to take the following factors into consideration as you create your own routine:
- Your kids’ abilities and academic stamina
- Your family’s interests and strengths
- Your work schedule and/or outside commitments
- How long you are able to dedicate to managing your kids’ schoolwork
Factors like these will help you to create a reasonable time frame for schooling, as well as time to pursue your interests as a family.
Your routine should be flexible.
Your routine shouldn’t act as a slave driver. It should guide your days, but it shouldn’t be law. Ideally, a good routine will help to provide structure and a sense of security as you move from task to task.
However, a good routine should also be able to adapt to your changing needs. Did you pick up or drop hours at work? Does your kid need extra math tutoring? Did your teen join the swim team? Did a last minute outing come up? Your routine should be flexible enough that its parts can move around as needed.
Here’s the bottom line: Your homeschool routine should serve you, not the other way around.
How do I create a homeschool routine?
I find it best to work with a weekly spread when building your standard routine. After you get the hang of it, you can learn to adjust your routine so that it fits anywhere in any month of the year.
1. Start by writing out all the pieces of your homeschool.
At the beginning of the year, I write out every single subject, curriculum, and activity my kids will be doing. This serves as a mental “brain dump” to help me see everything in one spot. It may look something like this:
- Phys Ed
The goal is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. It might look like a lot, particularly if you have multiple children. Don’t fret! We are going to walk through this step by step.
2. Determine whether each piece is fixed or flexible.
The best advice I have ever received on scheduling came from my friend Jen. She recommends starting to build your schedule with fixed items, moving to flexible items, and then being sure to schedule in self-care. (If you are working and homeschooling or looking for help organizing a chaotic life, I highly recommend Jen’s free simple schedule course.)
The reason Jen recommends starting with fixed items is that they can’t easily be changed. By writing these items into your calendar first, you avoid rushing to fit them in, or worse, missing important commitments because you’ve over-scheduled yourself or forgotten them.
As homeschoolers, our fixed commitments may look like:
- Sports practice
- An online class
- Homeschool band rehearsal
- Private lessons or tutoring
- Weekly worship
Flexible homeschool commitments might be:
- Regular academic work
- Piano practice
- Family walks
- Library runs
Any commitment that cannot easily be changed should be marked as fixed.
Any subjects or activities that you can easily shift and move should be marked as flexible.
3. Determine the frequency of your flexible items.
Ironically, the flexibility of homeschooling can sometimes be one of the biggest scheduling challenges you have. Everything is so open-ended that it can be difficult to know how often a subject should be included.
You will find differing recommendations on subject frequency and length per grade level. Some homeschoolers are advocates of academic rigor, and will dedicate a full school day’s worth of time to get around to every subject every day. Others will insist that such a large time commitment is unnecessary; they argue that not every subject needs to be done every day.
Some examples of different flexible item frequency includes:
- Doing a little bit of each subject every day.
- Having a four day school week.
- Doing 2-3 subjects per day and rotating throughout the week.
- Focusing on “core subjects,” then rotating “extra subjects.”
- Intensive work on one subject per day, rotating through all subjects throughout the week.
- Unschooling, letting the students guide your studies and activities.
I’ll share my personal flexible subject frequency here, but please remember- do what works for you! Here’s how we do it.
- Math- every day.
- Language arts-10 mins handwriting every day each morning, reading aloud every day before bed, and a daily school time rotation through reading, phonics, spelling, writing, grammar, comprehension, etc.
- Science- 2-3 x/week
- History- 2-3x/week
- Music “lesson” 1x/week, practice 4-5x/week. (we’re music teachers in real life, so our lessons and practice often bleed together)
- Art-online self-paced class 1x/week, drawing and painting almost every day because our kids like it.
- Spanish, typing, and other interest-based “extras” like movie-making and early coding currently happen as we remember them. At some point I would like these to become a more regular part of our rotation.
For right now, jot down how many times per week you’d like to do each subject, keeping in mind your time restraints and students’ abilities. If you have an idea of which days you’d like to do each subject, write those down now too. Remember that you can always adjust and change at any time if you find something feels off balance.
4. Determine whether a subject will be done separately or together.
If you have multiple kids like I do, it may help you to write out everyone’s subjects side by side so you can see which subjects can be done together and which need to be done individually. This determines how much time you need to allot for each subject, as well as when you’ll need to stagger subjects.
Can a subject be done as a family across several grade levels? Many families choose to study subjects like art, music, history, or literature all together to save time and bring a sense of camaraderie into their homeschool.
Other subjects, like math or phonics, may need to be done individually since they require cumulative skill- building. Your first grader won’t be able to join your fifth grader in math, since the first grader doesn’t yet have the knowledge or skills to perform the same tasks as the older child.
You can allot one time block for all your children for group subjects, and separate time blocks for children working separately. You’ll also need to account for what your children will be spending their time on while you work with one but not the other. Can the second grader work on handwriting independently or have free time playing with toys while you do algebra with the eighth grader?
Ultimately, this takes a little trial and error to figure out, but you will eventually determine what you can do together and what you’ll need to do separately.
5. Save time for down time.
Just like mamas need time for self-care, you, your kids, and your homeschool life need some down time.
Kids need to play. They need to be bored. They need time and space to get creative, see friends, or spend alone time. When we keep them go-go-going all the time, we deprive them of opportunities to develop in the unique ways that come with free time.
And who are we kidding- the homeschool parents need a break, too. Being with our kids 24/7, juggling home and/or work responsibilities, and never giving ourselves a moment on our own or time for family play- well, that’s a surefire recipe for frustration and burnout.
You need to make sure that you schedule in blank space in your homeschool routine. So, write in a day once a month when you’ll play hookey from school, or when you’ll meet up with an old friend over coffee, or when you’ll grab takeout and watch a movie instead of the regular weeknight grind. Plan times for your kids to go to the park, play a video game, or just sit around reading books. You’ll all be grateful for it.
5. Put the pieces in the puzzle.
Now comes the fun part- plugging it all into your weekly spread! Are you ready?
Remember, right now we aren’t creating a rigid schedule for every day of your life. We are creating a routine for a typical week that is flexible enough to adjust when needed. Open up your calendar, a weekly spread print-off, or even a blank piece of paper with columns for each day of the week. Use a pencil so you have freedom to erase and move things around as you like.
In the following order, write down each item:
- Fixed, regular commitments.
- Daily studies, taking into account whether they are together or separate, and what the other kids will be doing while they are independent.
- Studies done only a few days a week, again noting whether they are together or separate.
- Down time for you.
- Down time for kids/family.
Take a few minutes to play with the order of things. If your child needs a certain amount of energy to complete a difficult subject, then make sure you chose a time of day when they are refreshed and clear of mind. If you know they usually feel tired at another time of day, choose something easy or relaxing to put at that time. If you know they’ll need a break at a certain point, put some blank space there for them to play outside or tinker with an activity of their choice.
Remember, the order of your routine is not set in stone. You can always adjust and change things as needed.
7. Test and change your homeschool routine as needed.
Take at least two weeks to try your routine as written. As the days go on, you’ll notice what is and isn’t working.
If you notice something feels off, brainstorm other solutions to try. For example, if you’re working on writing right before lunch and your child is full of complaints, try waiting until after they’ve had some playtime and food to fuel their bodies. If you use up your child’s alert time doing a quiet activity, they may not have energy to do their math when it comes time. Try shifting things to meet their needs and see how they respond.
Remember that things will change season to season and year to year too. Take time to reevaluate and tweak your routine periodically. Every child and family is different, and so will be your adjustments and solutions.
Remember that your homeschool routine should work for you.
It’s your family, your routine. You may find that my suggestions don’t work for you- and that’s okay! Brainstorm, adjust, talk about it with your family, and see what might serve you better.
If you need more homeschool routine ideas, try the following links:
If you want to see how we set up our routine, you can read about last year’s version here. (This year looks different already- hooray for adjusting to what works for us right now!)
What about you? What are your best tips for setting up a homeschool routine that serves your family? Share it with us in the comments so we can learn from each other.