A homeschooling mom tried to explain to another how to manage to cover all the various subjects by showing her a copy of a detailed spreadsheet. It had lots of columns and too many rows to see at once; I think it even had color coding on it. I’ve been homeschooling for years and that spreadsheet looked intimidating; I can’t imagine how scary it looked to someone just starting out. Well, maybe I can. I rather imagine looking at that as a new homeschooler and thinking, “Forget this. There’s no way I can keep to that list. Maybe I do need to just put my kids into school.”
Honestly, many of us veteran homeschoolers don’t follow insanely-detailed lists and yet our children are still getting a balanced education. In fact, some of us have toddlers and teens and old cars and lots of other things interrupting our lives too often to make an intricate schedule even thinkable. The schedule we follow is less of a list and more of a sense of priorities and goals. I’ve learned along the way not to try to cover every subject every day because it makes our day too disjointed. Every once in a while we’ll cover them all in a single day, but it’s a rare thing. Instead, we work on more of a college-type schedule with some subjects getting covered only once or twice a week; when we do cover them, we spend a big chunk of time on each so it all evens out in the end. A few subjects, like math, we try to work on every day–well, “every day” tends to be more like four days a week. This is possible in part because we do lessons year-round (with various little vacations here and there) and so four days a week will work out to more than enough time on the subject by the time the year’s done. If something interrupts so that we can’t do math one day, we just work on it another day; if we only get to it three days one week, then we’ll aim to do five days the next week, but my goal for math is four days a week or more precisely four math lessons a week. For other subjects, the goal might be to cover a certain number of pages or chapters each week (or day or month or whatever works). If we reach the goal early, we can move on to other subjects or slack off for a while.
Sometimes, we’ll attack one subject intensely for a while, working on a big project, putting in a lot of time for a week or two or more, but then we might not work on it again for some time. But mostly, the subjects that we don’t cover daily, we tackle in a modified-block-loop sort of schedule. Block scheduling means that we’ll work on a subject for longer than a typical 40- or 45-minute class; this gives us time to really get into a project or to delve deeply into a topic. (And I won’t even get into amount of wasted time in the average classroom when discussing how much time they spend on a class.) Looping means that instead of assigning certain subjects to certain days, I have a list (a mental one, usually) of subjects to work on; the subject that we’ve gone the longest without working on is the one we’ll work on next. So if we haven’t done science in a few days, science will be up next. There’s a rotating schedule in my head and we’ll eventually cover every subject and come back and cover them again. If we miss a day, no problem, we’ll still move on to the next subject on the rotation and eventually everything will get covered.
To me, homeschooling isn’t something that happens during certain hours only or according to a strict schedule. Rather it’s a mindset and a life style. If we don’t get to history because we’re busy discussing politicians and debating their commercials, I don’t fret because that’s still part of a valuable education (and I’ll still document it). If we have to stop to deal with a frantic toddler, that’s a lesson in life skills. If we’re studying history and haven’t worked on writing for a while, I may use the history we’re working on as a jumping off point for writing–combining subjects makes it easier to keep up with them all. If we’re in the car traveling, I’ll try to find a way to use that time when the kids are trapped in the car anyway to get some lessons done whether by having them read material aloud for us to discuss, or quizzing them informally on something we’ve been studying, or using audio books to work on literature or foreign language lessons. If it’s after supper and I hear or read something that I think the kids should know about, we stop and discuss it. Education fits into all of what we’re doing in a way that wouldn’t work if I were educating hundreds of kids in a school but that works great when educating just my own few.
So, don’t fret about the schedule. Don’t start off trying to juggle some big spreadsheet. Instead, I suggest that new homeschoolers start with just one or two subjects. Get a rhythm going with those. Then add in another and work on those until comfortable with them. Eventually work up to all you want to cover. If there are too many to comfortably juggle at once, work for a few weeks or months on just a few and then switch out the subjects to work on.
But, hey, if intense color-coded spreadsheets make you comfortable and you can see yourself living life by one, feel free to go search for one (or even make up your own). But as for me and my household, we’re sticking to our less organized routine. It seems to be working for us.