Image by Club Nautic d’Arenys de Mar
Scheduling is a necessary tool for dental appointments, piano lessons, and date nights.
It is less useful for homeschooling. Here’s why.
When you create a schedule, you attempt to control time in a space designed for “escape from time.” Home is where we let go, let down, and live in a relaxed, unhurried, no pressure state. It’s where we go to get away from time’s demands. We unconsciously unwind at home (or at least, we certainly want to unwind at home).
Along come your “school-at-home” notions, built from your memories of traditional schooling; we bring the clock and bell into this relaxed, “be myself” environment. We decide to structure things like breakfast and teeth-brushing so that we can “start” the day of schooling.
We try to monitor the length of time spent at one subject area so that we can move to the next. We manage naps for babies and DVDs for toddlers to free time for the focused attention our olders’ need. We pick a time for lunch and try to hit it consistently.
Some parents are brilliant schedulers, and make this uncomfortable fit of time measurement and home, work. But for those who fail (or believe they are failing), there’s a good reason for it. Not only do your children resist being marshaled to accommodate the artificial imposition of time constraints on home activities, but at some level, so do you.
You know it’s artificial.
You do answer the telephone or respond to a text in the middle of the math lesson.
You do sleep in some days when the baby kept you up all night.
You are likely to flop on the couch and take a micro nap after the read aloud, because you literally can’t stay awake.
You walk around in pj’s long after breakfast, and suddenly remember you need to go online to pay a bill or reserve a space or change an appointment.
Home is a fabulous space because you actually can do all those things! You can’t in an office. You certainly can’t in a school!
Home is that place where you maneuver through the waves of activity like a skiff—quick, sharp turns, at full speed. You aren’t an ocean liner, needing ample warning to avoid icebergs, monitoring every engine, taking huge quantities of time to make small adjustments. You are navigating your day freely, weaving and bobbing around the interruptions, taking advantage of an open sea of time when it arises, and then shutting it all down when 3 out of 4 kids get sick. You do this even after you’ve created a schedule! That’s what’s so odd. You know that you aren’t truly tied to that schedule, which is why you violate it.
If you are living (and dying) by a schedule, sick children produce resentment: they are messing with your project for efficiency!
If you live by a schedule, the day you sleep in means you are behind all day (when I’m behind all day, I’m not as nice a mother or person).
The conflict between home and schedule can be resolved by dumping the schedule and admitting the nature of home.
Home is a space where each person has a certain amount of freedom to just “be.” Within that “beingness,” it’s possible to learn an enormous quantity of information. That’s why we brought our kids home from traditional schooling—we believed that the homey-ness of home was not antithetical to learning. Rather, we believe that home is even more conducive to learning than school with its clocks and bells.
That’s because it happens to be true: tutorial-based, interest-driven, time-unbound learning is effective—supremely so.
Home creates a space for that kind of learning to flourish. Why ruin it with a schedule?
What I propose is the homeschool routine. Rather than trying to schedule the days, set up a routine (a spare one—with a few reliable practices) that can be returned to when you have “one of those days.” Follow inspiration whenever possible. She is not a lengthy visitor.
But on the rest of the days, we can know that after we wake up, we eat breakfast (no matter how early or how late in the morning). After breakfast, we move to the family room for read aloud and I read until we are done (a single chapter or four, depending on the mood and happiness of the family).
After reading, we do copywork (at least a couple days a week). We pick the days based on everyone’s energy level for writing (if it’s a heavy writing day, we don’t do copywork and addition). We move to math after reading and writing. The math pages are chosen based on progress and effort. If a child struggles with a concept then more time is given with fewer problems to solve. If the concept is easy, the page is completed quickly and perhaps only alternating problems assigned.
An on-going history lesson or project follows lunch, picking up where we left off before (no assigned pages, no “place to get to by the end of February” in mind). History can continue this way…forever. Who said there’s a certain amount you must finish by June? My family got stuck in Ancient Greece and Egypt for two years. We loved it! We wanted to camp there.
Perhaps you have other library books to read to the little kids (picture books) later in the day. These are done before naps, as many as everyone wants.
Other activities can be included in the routine (scrapbooking, the Red Herring series, Tuesday Poetry Teatimes, an ongoing game, computer play, Rosetta Stone, birding, building a model, art and piano lesson practice). But each of these is given time (without a constraint) to be done as the child has the capacity to sustain interest.
It’s nearly impossible to schedule energy and interest level. That’s why school feels dull so frequently. The assigned hours have nothing to do with a student’s attention span, curiosity, energy to perform well, and the peacefulness of the atmosphere. Regardless of how a student feels, he or she is expected to perform in hard chairs, with small desks, surrounded by others, facing a teacher who is examining their eyes for attentiveness, while (perhaps) remembering being bullied at recess.
At home, kids have the benefit of being themselves. They can make themselves comfortable—lying prone on the floor, lounging on the couch, sitting at the kitchen island. Of course this kind of freedom produces two effects: keen concentration and absolute sloughing off! Both occur when we are allowed to “be” rather than feeling pressure to “perform.”
We create the conditions of excellence and quality performance when we honor the rhythms of life at home, when we value the hot white fire of passion when we see it (rather than remarking, “But that’s not on the schedule today”). We sustain growth when we return to the comfort of the routine when all other energies are subdued. And we honor our human frailty if we toss routine, schedule, or structure when we are falling apart (sick, irritated, frustrated, in pain, exhausted, or bored).
Schedule is tempting. It holds the promise of “getting it all done” which we translate into our heads as “completing our children’s education.” Don’t be seduced by that promise. Mostly what I hear from parents under the pressure of schedule is “I’m behind” and “I feel like a failure” and “I’m terrible at staying on schedule.”
Of course you are. You’re at home. Be home. Embrace the properties of home. Love. Live. Be. Learn. Thrive.
We’re so lucky to be home. The best gift you can give your family is to be glad that you are, and to live as though home is the ideal space for learning to occur. Because it is.
Cross-posted on facebook.