My former career as a public school teacher might have harmed me more than helped me when it came time to make a schedule for our days. I was used to school schedules where everything is figured down to the minute. So here is where I'll remind you that homeschool is life. It's home. You don't need to make a schedule for restroom breaks.
When we first began homeschooling, my oldest daughter was in 2nd grade and had attended both public and private schools for a time. It took weeks to break her of the habit of raising her hand to go to the bathroom. She also raised her hand to answer questions. Um...Sweetie? You're the only student here. Just answer. Habits die hard.
So if you are not coming from a school background, and if your children are homeschooled from the beginning, you might have a more natural transition. Still, it is very helpful to make a loose schedule or checklist for your days to make sure you fit everything in and don't forget to teach spelling for 3 weeks. Ask me how I know.
Anyway, here are some ways to make your schedule:
The Meal Marker Schedule--this is one of my favorites. Simply write down "Breakfast" and "Lunch". Then, divide up your subjects between those. You might want to do math in the mornings when everyone is fresh. So place that one in between Breakfast and Lunch. What else do you want to get done before lunch? List those there. After lunch, while you've still got everyone together you could do some reading out loud. What other subjects would be good to do in the afternoons? List those after Lunch. Then, instead of worrying that you were supposed to finish history 5 minutes ago, all you have to do is glance at the clock and see if you are on track to finish before lunch. And by the way, many homeschoolers, especially in the younger years, finish before lunch or just a bit after. So in that case, you might want to replace "Lunch" with "Snack" and divide your morning up that way. But food is always your marker. This is a natural thing if you are working at the dining room table. "We need to finish up this science experiment before we eat so we have room for our plates!"
The Interest Led Schedule--this means letting your children decide what they feel like doing first, next, etc. No, not doing a subject is not a choice. The strength of this plan is that the student feels some control over what they do, rather than being "made to", so they will likely be more cooperative. The downside is that you, as the teacher, will have to be ready for anything. I occasionally let my kids do this, but I will step in when I see them putting off all of their worst subjects until the end every day. I might intervene with, "I see you are saving math for last, but I noticed you struggle more in the afternoons when you are tired. So be sure to fit that one in before lunch." Then, they still have some control over exactly when they do math, but you can be certain it will at least be done in the morning (probably the last thing of the morning!). I save this schedule for an every-now-and-then thing. Also on Wednesdays, we sometimes declare "backwards day!" and work our schedule from the end to the beginning just to shake things up.
The Sharing Mommy Schedule--At one point in our homeschooing years, I had two young elementary students who both needed a lot of help and guidance throughout the day. It was important to put an order to our subjects so I could be sure to have time to work with each of them individually. I put up a wall schedule that year, complete with little stick figure drawing to indicate if a subject was to be done independently or with Mom. That way, if they got to a subject where they needed me, but saw I was working with their sister, they could just skip down to the next thing. Having the schedule on the wall was very nice as it was always in front of us and we could easily see what still needed to be done. When kids don't know how much more there is to do, school can seem eternal. Having it in front of them is a good way to cut down on, "Am I almost done?" Does this look like a lot? Don't worry, some of these subjects took between 15-30 minutes to do. Some we did together. You can see we only had 2 things left after lunch most days. Also, I had no babies that year.
4. The Babies-in-the-House Schedule--When our youngest daughter was born, she really threw a wrench into our school schedule. Suddenly, after several years of homeschooling with fairly big kids, I was juggling a nursing baby in one arm, helping with math, and answering questions for the other one simultaneously. Throw in a blown diaper and your schedule suddenly becomes a joke. When you have babies in the house, they don't CARE if math is supposed to be from 9:00-9:30am. They blow diapers, want food, make messes, and cry on their own schedule. This is a good time to implement a "pick and choose" schedule. You can write all the subjects down on Popsicle or craft sticks and put them in a cup. Each child can have one. Pull out a stick and determine if that thing is do-able at that moment. No? Drop it back in and pull out another. There will be something your child can do. Math requires little tiny counting bears today and little brother is awake and terrorizing the living room? No math right now. Handwriting? OK THAT we can do. As each stick gets done, drop it in a different cup. At the end of the day, you'll see that you did, in fact, accomplish things. Maybe reading or math had to wait until nap time. That's good. When you are working with littles, you have to be very, very flexible and just pick and choose the best activity for each moment of time. Tomorrow you can start on whatever was left in the original cup, or just start over. It'll all get done eventually, and it may not be the year you have a baby either. We'll talk more about little ones in another post. They are a whole subject unto themselves when it comes to homeschooling, but they do not make it impossible. Just be sure to store those cups out of reach!
5. The Block Schedule--Public schools make use of this type of schedule and we can borrow from them too. There are a myriad of ways to do this, but basically you will not be trying to hit every subject every day. See those wall schedules up there? That list would be daunting to some. Instead, you could make Monday and Wednesday be Math and Science days and Tuesday and Thursday could be Language Arts and History days. You can split your subjects up so that you do them for longer periods of time every other day. Fridays can be used for finishing things up or you could take Fridays off. Some families like to block all the subjects up except science and then tackle science (with all it's projects and experiments) on Fridays. A block schedule allows you to get more than one lesson done at a time in each subject so that you don't have so much starting and stopping. Perhaps you won't have to spend so much time reminding them what you were doing previously. If this idea appeals to you, get creative with it! Just be sure you have enough time to get everything done in the year. (You can also block out semesters where you finish up certain subjects by Christmas and then complete the rest of the subjects from January to May.)
6. The Looping Schedule--I'll admit, this one was hard to wrap my brain around. The basics of it is you make a list and you start on it. When your designated school time is over, you stop. The next day, you just start from where you left off and then loop back up to the top. You just keep going like this, not always starting at the top and therefore neglecting those things at the bottom of the list you just seem to never get to. The concern comes when you want to add other things in. People who love looping say that it has finally allowed them to add in art, and handiwork, and other "fun" stuff. But the thing is, you want them to hit the core subjects more often than those other fun things, which still need to be an "every now and then" thing. So some have their children do a few core subjects before starting on the looping list each day. It always sounds great when I read about it, but I've never been successful at actually using it. If you figure it out, you may find that you like it!
The main point is, there are nearly unlimited ways to make your homeschool schedule. And maybe schedule isn't even the best word. Perhaps "routine" is more accurate. Whichever way you choose to use, be sure to have some sort of plan in place so that you can get things done without so much thought every day. Just do the next thing.