Last week, we began our thirteenth official year of homeschooling — my oldest child’s senior year. It’s a weird thing to look back on the process, now that it’s almost complete, and see how things changed along the way. One big thing that changed was schedules and scheduling, and I thought I’d share how things morphed and evolved along the way.
I definitely didn’t have a long view when we started out. While I knew things were always changing, I expected them to stay the same in many ways that were not realistic, or even healthy. I did not start out with independence and self-management as my goal.
One caveat before we begin: back when my oldest was in preschool and I first started reading Charlotte Mason, and then later when we first started doing AmblesideOnline, schedules were not talked about the way they were now. We knew there were time tables (there was an example posted on the AO site even then), but they were just that: examples.
No one I knew was trying to duplicate the time tables even a little until Christy wrote her now-famous post here on Afterthoughts (still the most popular post on my site). This is good and bad. I think Christy’s thoughts allowed all of us to think more creatively about our schedules and gave us “permission” to move some of the readings around (to Sunday reading, for example) in a way that hadn’t been done much before. I think this is a good thing.
On the other hand, with the awareness of the time tables came a systematization of Charlotte Mason on a scale we’d never seen. Some moms put undo pressure on themselves to control every minute of their homeschools, and then were frustrated when babies and toddlers didn’t seem to agree. The difference between homeschooling and school-schooling seemed forgotten.
In 2012, my friend Naomi Goegan from Living Charlotte Mason in California was digging through L’Umile Pianta and reminded us of this (written by Elise Kitching):
[T]he P.U.S. time-table is intended to serve simply as a guide to the teacher in making her own, for it stands to reason that no two schoolrooms are identical as regards the work done, or the time allotted it.A Programme to Fit the Child
What I didn’t understand at the time, but what is so evident to me now, is that not only do no two schoolrooms look alike, but no two years in my schoolroom looked identical, and over the years, the change felt dramatic!
That’s what I’m going to share with you today.
Stage One: “You need a flow chart, not a schedule!”
That’s a paraphrase from Kendra Fletcher’s now defunct (but still online!) blog Preschoolers and Peace. This line of thinking saved the day for me early on.
When my oldest began his Charlotte Mason lessons in earnest (meaning: when he began Year One), I conveniently gave birth to my fourth child. Here I was trying to do a good job teaching, but all these little people seemed to be against me. I had a newborn, an 18-month-old, and a 3-year-old. Oh. And I also was recovering from a C-section and was extremely anemic due to a hemorrhage. And yet I’d read some super-homeschool-mom-of-ten’s blog post telling me I needed to manage my home by scheduling everyone out to fifteen-minute increments.
I quickly hit the wall.
Kendra’s words were like magic to me:
What’s the difference between a flow chart and a schedule?Why a Flow Chart Works for Me
A flow chart is a guide for what to do next. A schedule tells you exactly when it will be done.
I tried it and wanted to cry it was so successful! Did I need to stop to find a toddler? And again to change a diaper (two in diapers at the time, remember)? No matter. My flow chart kept me sane by telling me what to do next.
We actually got everything done most of the time. I just used my flow chart and my AmblesideOnline weekly schedule to put one foot in front of the other and kept plugging away.
For three years, I had one student and a bunch of littles. For three years, I used a flow chart.
Stage Two: We sort-of have a schedule.
This began when my oldest was in fourth grade. At this point, my second child was ready for lessons; she began AmblesideOnline Year One. In addition to this, I had two rambunctious preschoolers, but they were old enough to (a) be out of diapers and (b) wait patiently for short periods of time.
During Stage One I had attempted to have a set start time, but it didn’t always happen because of having so many littles. In this stage, the start time was definite. My husband always left for work while we were all still at the breakfast table. I began my morning routine after he walked out the door, and started school promptly after that (meaning after my toddler and preschooler were dressed and occupied). This was how we got our starting time. Tacking something you want to be definite to something else that is reliably definite always helps.
I also began to put times on our activities, or at least categories of activities. I dug through my computer and cannot find a copy of my Average Day Chart from this exact year (2011-2012). I was so bummed. With that said, I remember I had a time set aside to work one-on-one with each child and weekly spreadsheets detailing daily work assignments. Because I had two preschoolers, this stage was a bit of a fusion between a flow chart and a schedule.
Stage Three: Three students means you need more precision.
In 2013, I added a third student and really kicked it up a notch in my Average Day Chart design skills:
A few notes about this chart:
- In order to make life extra challenging, I kept kinder dairy goats during this time. “Milk” means I was milking goats. This was excellent for Son E. because he mucked out stalls while I milked, which got out the early-morning excess energy and prepared him to concentrate on his lessons. I don’t miss milking, but I do miss having physical labor so readily available — I wish my youngest had gotten this.
- Where the color in my column matches the color in a child’s column, it means I was working with that child individually. I had to read aloud to both my Y1 and Y3 girls.
- “Play outside” means in our fenced backyard. They were perfectly safe, in case you were wondering. Well, except that occasionally someone was butted by a goat they had pestered.
- Interspersing chores inside of the school day is one of the best things I ever did. One thing that isn’t on the chart, but which I know happened, is a snack. Everyone ate a small one during chore time in those years. This is what made the late lunch possible. When chores were finished, they played.
- “Y1,” “Y3,” and “Y6” all refer to the child’s AmblesideOnline year. They had spreadsheets that told them what to do during that time. As I worked with them, I taught them the principle of alternation. By this time, my goal was not to assign times to specific activities. It was to teach them to manage their own time (in small, controlled slots) by the time they hit about fourth grade. The success of something like this hinges on having a way to control the time usage. The two big things I did were (1) assigning an appropriate amount of material and (2) using timers whenever I was in doubt.
- Son E.’s work didn’t always take all the way to 1:00 PM, but that was our definite stopping time, which was helpful whenever I had inadvertently assigned too many pages of work.
In 2014, Son O. was over the fact that he was the only one not doing formal lessons and started causing trouble during the day. We eventually figured out that I needed to restrict the added sugar in his diet completely, but before that the only solution was to take him for a painfully long walk and wear him out. We walked until he could hardly put one foot in front of the other and then returned home. At this point, he was willing to play quietly, for the most part. I eventually assigned other children to read aloud to him mid-morning, and that helped a lot, too.
Stage Four: The goal with four students is not to lose your sanity!
Some of you are laughing because you have six students (or more!). Still, learning to juggle four AmblesideOnline years is not for the faint of heart. There was no such thing as AO for Groups back then, and I wasn’t a creative enough thinker to invent it myself. No matter. We had a hard couple years, but we survived and now everyone can read their own books and we’re thriving.
It was worth all the hard work in the early years, for sure.
Here’s my Average Day Chart from my first year with all four students:
Some thoughts on this:
- I got rid of my dairy goats in summer of 2015, right before we began school. We missed the fresh milk, but I needed to milk goats at the same time I needed to be driving people places and since there was no way for me to be in two places at once, something had to given.
- Yes, I was able to combine my girls for math.
- “Drill” means Swedish Drill.
- “Bathroom break” is because there is nothing worse than someone telling you they need to go right after you start drill!
- On Tuesdays, Son E. was taking a logic class with some homeschooled children at church and we had to cut out early in order to be there on time.
- Fridays were for jollification that year. We have almost always done a four-day school week.
- “Just juggle it” was for real — I never did figure out how to do this in an organized manner. The children were were doing the juggling, for the most part. What they needed from me was strict accountability and oversight. I needed to offer help, answer questions, take narrations, and of course read aloud to my Year One student.
- Taking narrations was the biggest challenge and this whole year I struggled with the narration line. By 2016, I learned to use technology to ease our narration line, which was revolutionary.
Stage Five: We added strictness to ease the chaos.
It was online classes that put us over the edge. We began with Son E. doing Latin online with Mr. Thomas. That was just one person on the laptop, so it was fine. But by the time he was in 10th grade, my younger children were doing quite a bit: Spanish, American Sign Language, and math facts. Plus Son E. had added math tutoring and Greek. We only had one laptop and the lines were building up the way they had for narration years before.
I had given Son E., especially, a lot of freedom the previous year. I distinctly remember telling him I had to pull him back and schedule him a bit more just so we weren’t ending school at 3:00 PM each day. He relished the idea of set times for computer usage and agreed immediately. Soon after, our school computer usage schedule was born:
At this point, the computer schedule was more important than our Average Day Chart. Everyone knew we started the day with Circle Time, and everyone knew that when that was over we moved to chores and then to the work detailed on their spreadsheets.
The children were all very independent and didn’t need much management from me at all. What they did need was for me to calm the computer chaos. As you can see, we needed a strict schedule. If you didn’t show up at your appointed time, you had to wait until the afternoon (and work when you’d rather have free time).
The computer schedule worked well, but one little mishap could throw it off, which was a pain. Adding online piano lessons with Hoffman Academy put us over the edge, and at the end of last year, we acquired an iPad. Best decision in the history of Ever. I wish I had done this earlier. The only issue with having an iPad, of course, is keeping it off limits the rest of the time, but they quickly learned that having it wasn’t going to change our family culture if I could help it.
Stage Six: Say goodbye to spreadsheets because you’re now on your own!
Last year, when E-Age-Seventeen was a high school junior, I was stressing about his schedule. A lot of things had changed and I felt at a loss to plan for him. That’s when it dawned on me that when I was his age, my mommy wasn’t planning things for me and it was time to let him go. Admittedly, because we homeschooled, I needed to structure his first two high school years. It wasn’t about managing him but rather managing all the people together. But the various changes (and the fact that I was not his primary teacher) made it obvious that this was a good time to hand over his schedule.
This year, he’s back at home with me full time. I assigned all of his books and the vast majority of what he’s expected to do in the year. But I didn’t take back over the planning because I still think self-management is imperative preparation for the future. So instead of weekly spreadsheets broken into daily tasks, I handed him a list of what I expected each week and a daily planner.
Here’s a glimpse at his Term plans:
All of my children are enjoying the freedom to control a lot of the details of their own schedules. Most of them are early risers and I allow them to start when they like as long as the quality of their work doesn’t suffer. I also allow them to break larger assignments into smaller ones if they think it would help their narrations. (This means my youngest has a lot more freedom than my oldest did at his age, but he handles it well.)
I still break their work up into days for them, however, and don’t plan to have any of them completely self-manage until they have reached 11th grade (unless someone gets really insistent — in that case I’d allow them to do it on trial and see if they proved they could do it successfully).
Looking back, the strictness of the schedule followed something like a bell curve.
In Stage One, we had the flow chart, which was loosely organized and had no times attached. I added more times as needed and while I never assigned an exact time for all activities on everyone’s list, you can see from our computer schedule that at the peak of strictness there was a lot of time specificity needed for us to get everything done within our normal school hours.
By mid-high school, though, I was back to being as hands off as I’d been in the beginning. Any strictness (other than our definite start time) is self-imposed and not from me.
I doubt all homeschools look like this or follow this exact pattern, but I’ve noticed a lot of moms saying something similar. It’s easy to read Charlotte Mason scheduling posts and think you’ll be stressing over the perfect schedule for years and years, but actually the time spent doing that is often brief.
Which is a good thing because once college applications or life plans start in earnest, you’ve got plenty of other things to think about!
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