Home Education

The Art of a Freeing Schedule

August 12, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

Nobody calls the poet a slave to his meter. And nobody says it’s “constricting” when the composer insists that the lyricist fit his words to the music. We know that, in these circumstances, form is necessary. It’s almost like adding an extra pinch of salt or sugar — all that form brings out the flavor.

Yet, it is common in our culture to associate freedom with formlessness, to think that liberty requires an absence of all structure. The question is: is this true?

When it comes to forms in our lives, we’re very resistant. Every homeschool post on scheduling I’ve read, for example, simply must mention that we never want to be a slave to such a thing. And while it’s true — I’m an abolitionist with the best of them! — isn’t it interesting that our first association with scheduling seems to be slavery?

How to create a homeschooling schedule that sets you free.

The Analogy of Space

Thinking about what we tend to do with the space around us might offer us a fresh perspective on this issue. Many of us will say that clutter overwhelms us — that we even feel we are in bondage to it. In my own life, clutter has resulted in waste (like when the fridge is so crowded that something spoils before I use it, or I buy another because I’ve forgotten what I already own), and stress (because blank space is calming while disorganized, crowded space is exactly the opposite).

When we reach the tipping point where the clutter in our lives is threatening to drown us, we tend to take two basic steps.

  1. We declutter. We rid ourselves of any unnecessary excess. We open up some of those magic black trashbags and mentally label one, “sell,” and another, “donate,” and a third, “trash.” We relax the second those bags exit the house.
  2. We assign a location for what remains. We say, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Once we have less stuff, it’s easier to find places for what we still have, and then everything is organized and usable rather than chaotic and oppressive.

The clutter we’re speaking of here is spatial, and these two steps bring us freedom through order. When it’s all done, we say that we can breathe, we can think, we can even be more productive, because we didn’t realize how much all the chaos was holding us back until it was gone!

What a relief!

You see, through form — through organizational structure — we have been made free.

Clutter in Time

The best of schedules takes these same two steps, but with time rather than space. Our lives are often cluttered chronologically as well as spatially. The chaos of time-clutter results in the same problems as space-clutter: waste and stress. And we can find freedom through structure, using the same two steps:

  1. We declutter. We rid ourselves of all the activities we’ve allowed to pile up and crowd out what is truly important.
  2. We assign a location for what remains. We place activities on our list in time and view them in light of a day, a week, or a month. Does it really look good in that place? Is that what I want my life — our life — to look like?

We might look at a picture of a week of seven 24-hour days, and pencil in all the non-negotiables, and then discover even more to cut as we realize that there isn’t enough space for all the things we’re trying to fit in. Remember: it’s just like physical stuff. We might declutter, try to give everything a place, and then realize that we’ve still kept too much to make possible our goal for the space to be beautiful, peaceful, manageable, and freeing.

Space is Individual

When schedules feel oppressive, there are a couple possible causes. The first is sloth. I might be resisting a schedule — I have in the past resisted a schedule — because I really do not want to do my duty. But the other option is that the schedule that has been proposed is unnatural for me.

Let’s again apply the analogy of space. I remember once upon a time that we were moving into a new house and a short person unpacked my kitchen while I wasn’t looking. It was very sweet and kind of her, but the fact remained that almost nothing was where I, at 5’7″, would have put things. It made logical sense for her barely-5-foot stature, but no sense for me.

When it comes to a schedule, then, I’d say that you’re the one that has to work in the kitchen.

What I mean is that creating a schedule is often more like space organization than we realize and the analogy can extend quite far without breaking. The organization of the kitchen needs to serve me because I’m the main chef. Things need to be where I would intuitively reach for them. We see this in space. But when we look at ideal schedules online, and then try to apply them to our own lives, we might miss the fact that this person can afford a housekeeper or babysitter {or both!}, has twice the energy we naturally have, has a husband that works from home, or some other issue unseen.

So when we look at schedules, it should be like looking at organizational hints on Pinterest — we glean ideas, but apply them to our own lives in a way that makes sense.

Books for classical homeschooling

A Place for Everything

When it comes to schoolwork, having a “place for everything” has made all the difference. Some people are really good at doing things, but I’m not. I’d much rather ponder while drinking something hot. If I waited to get going until I felt like getting going, the going might not happen. And then I’d feel oppressed by all the things that needed to be done or that I wanted to do but didn’t do — it’d all degenerate into chaos.

There is no freedom in chaos. Chaos is when our circumstances are our dictators, dragging us around at will.

I find freedom in a schedule. I find freedom in giving a “place for everything” when it comes to my children’s schoolwork. If I give a place to something, and it keeps falling through the cracks week after week, that immediately tells me that I’ve put the silverware in the wrong drawer, so to speak. In other words, that time slot isn’t working and the activity needs to be moved elsewhere.

Since I’ve learned to plan a schedule that is reasonable for us, and workable for us, I have found so much freedom. When people say, “Don’t be a slave to your schedule,” I immediately think that the schedule must be wrong because a fitting schedule is like a nice bookshelf — so much more freeing than a disorganized pile on the floor.

In reality, it’s like poetry, or perhaps it’s like a dance.

We’re artfully fitting our activities to the time granted to us by our Creator, and we’re finding out what steps we can do, and in the process our life becomes beautiful, and more like what we wished it was.

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9 Comments

  • Reply Thoughtworthy (Charlotte Mason Homeschool Fall Kickoff, New Podcast Episode, and MORE!) | Afterthoughts August 30, 2019 at 8:33 am

    […] I still think about my schedule the way I think about space. […]

  • Reply Jill November 23, 2015 at 5:39 am

    Wow! I have been homeschooling for almost 20 years and it has taken me that long to begin to balance scheduling! Thanks for sharing your wisdom. This is one of the best thing I have ever read on the subject- in 20 years!

  • Reply Miriam September 28, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Amen! This is food for my soul. My eyes usually glaze over when I start reading about scheduling…and I get a knot in my stomach. But I get the de-cluttering analogy! This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply LaShawn Clark-Rayburn July 28, 2015 at 8:15 am

    Thank you so much Aimee! This article had me nodding my head, YES the whole time thinking someone understands, LOL! Slow down, prioritize, individualize, de-clutter, and practice patience in analysis and reevaluation of ill-fitting scheduling. I learned a lot, thanks <3

  • Reply Robyn June 3, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for the insight- it’s something I know to be true, but still need to work on getting right for me and my family.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 3, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      I know what you mean. So often there are truths that I have to revisit all the time in order to make sure I’m really remembering and living them. 🙂

  • Reply Aimee April 17, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    This is one of the best articles on schedules I have ever read!! I have operated my family and home on schedules since the beginning–it makes our lives run so much smoother. But I run into so many people who don’t like schedules. Your article laid out so clearly why a schedule HELPS, not hinders. Thank you for your words!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 22, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Thanks, Aimee. I’m glad you found it helpful! 🙂

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