This post is just put here to give more background and benefits of spreading out a homeschool schedule to purposely show that one is adding margin and time into the plan for the day. (This topic was mentioned briefly on the “Friday and Summary” blog and in context, it fits in with that series of posts.)
A schedule is just a tool – it should be flexible and fit YOUR family’s situation and values.
Set a pace that refreshes YOU in whatever work God has called you to do!
As life changes, so will how long you have “school” and “what” you do with it. Right now, I like to put a lot of margin and time into mine because of my situation. Your situation will be different. So will your schedule. Pick the ideas which you think might work for you and forget the rest!
Fewer subjects and much shorter schooldays are for the more challenging times when “real life learning” takes a different slant beyond what can be ever be studied in a notebook or planned curriculum! In times of lengthy illness, difficult parts of pregnancy/new birth, periods of moving/construction/renos/housing issues, grief, and so on, the amount of what you plan for a day or week or month or even year/few years should be greatly reduced until things settle better. I encourage you to do that for those and similar types of reasons and also reflect on the fact that you do not have to squeeze all years of elementary and secondary years into the same amount of time the public system does! For example, in our family, we already give our teens the expectation that if they want to enjoy school coursework (rather than feel pressured) in the high school years, high school is going to be approximately 5 years, maybe 6, but not 4 because we aren’t going to squeeze all of it into 4 in a large family like ours.
Plans change depending on what your life looks like…. When our children were all younger than grade 6, life was different. Back then, our schooldays took both mornings and afternoons partly just because we had a lot to fit into it… Beyond the regular “stuff”, we had recess times, kitchen play center times, watch road construction times (from the deck), learn how to do chores times, attempted both geography and history each year with separate grades, tried curriculum which had longer reading/writing parts to them (which meant more need for recess), a more-crowded kitchen with everyone wanting to learn to work with food, ob appointments, more time to put on and take off to hang up snowsuits, mittens, hats, boots – OK, we didn’t hang up our boots! 😀 Did I put all that on a schedule? No, but in a way, I might as well have. These were worthwhile learning activities which took regular amounts of time. It essentially illustrates the reality that “education” takes a lot longer than what many of us might plan for.
So I’ll try to explain the ideas of remembering margin and time when you put together a schedule….
Margin – for flexibility to have real life happen without often throwing a family’s schedule completely up in the air.
Here are some benefits of purposely putting MARGIN throughout your schedule rather than just at the end of it:
- Having margin lowers overall stress in homeschooling: It means we’re not playing the “game of catch-up” as often, as stressed, and thus, keep a more cheerful, relaxed atmosphere in our homes even when everyone woke up blowing their noses, there is a huge mess on the floor be cleaned up from breakfast, or the dryer refuses to function and you know that those wet clothes are needed soon. What can you do? Easily flip the individual work (e.g. spelling, projects, etc.) to the morning and teach what you need to (as a group or to individuals) in the afternoon once the household priorities are looked after. Margin allows for you to simply carry on with what is priority at the moment. Margin allows for home life (real life) to wind around school life. It neither ignores the priority of household/family needs nor does it push aside the responsibility we’ve taken to provide a full and interesting academic education for our children for the majority of weekdays each year. If a family instead has the expectation that they “are supposed to do school work quickly in a short period and then get rewarded with very long amounts of free-time daily”, then when it gets changed or extended due to “real life”, they (moms or kids) can feel like they are losing their free-time or will have to double-up later on work. If however, smaller amounts of “free-time” (margin) can be expected throughout the day, people don’t feel as frustrated when “real life” happens because most things can be simply dealt with at that time and then we carry on wherever we left off. May I encourage especially the moms who are caring for 3 or more ages to allow for MARGIN in your schedule-making. Many schedules ignore it.
- Having margin can result in very effective and pleasant learning and teaching: I learned something about very successful teaching from my mom (who was a creative and old-fashioned schoolteacher of multi-grades). Some kids might just do a worksheet or a note about something, but what do you do when they quickly get that done (especially if the other kids are not done yet)? My mom helped me to realize there is so much you COULD be doing in those little blocks of time (see next paragraph). Those “extra moments” which you include help so much to reinforce the lesson or other general learning skills and can build great relationships too! If you PURPOSELY plan for the time it might take to include these extra blocks of time at least for some weeks (i.e. make your geography class a bigger chunk of time on your schedule – a chunk which is longer than what it takes to do the workbook curriculum), this is a good thing, not one to avoid. Margin allows space in your schedule to spin a globe, play a board game, trace a finger along a map to go places the worksheet never mentioned. A student likely won’t realize how naturally and almost effortlessly he or she is gaining valuable skills but this does make your job as a teacher easier in the long run – less repeating of lessons because they actually “stick” and less direct teaching needed because having “these extra bits of time” helps the student to explore concepts independently, be creative, and interact informally with others. (My old-fashioned teachers did the same with me if I was done earlier than my classmates. I might learn additional computer skills (a reward for early finishers), help the librarian organize or repair books for a few minutes, change bulletin boards for her or my teachers, get my homework in other subjects done, mark classmates’ quizzes, be able to go to the office with an errand or message on my own, go over to another class to help a young boy who walked with crutches and had a special desk, read extra storybooks in the library together with a small group of others from my class – you get the idea – having bits of time within the schoolday can help to develop leadership, maturity, empathy, creative organization, and so on.)
- Margin helps to naturally develop study skills and independent learning skills: Do your kids know how to study a topic further than what a page in front of them says? In math, we encourage playing with manipulatives as part of K-3 math time, at least some of the time; sometimes older kids also play with the younger ones. In science, some topics might be further investigated online or with a video or reading a supplementary book about it. Maybe it is a topic which can be explored more outdoors. Example: When we were studying butterflies in our flight unit and had some moments of “spare time” while others were still in their lessons, our 10 year old could be sometimes found looking up the identity of a cool-looking butterfly or taking a photo of one (or a bird) in our garden and our 15 year old sometimes added parts to a model he decided to build of a Blue Morpho. They could occupy their time wisely (e.g. while waiting for the next subject) to study something more than what I was asking them to do and this is a good study skill.
- Margin helps all of us (adults and children) to practice and strengthen good time management skills: Do your kids know how to simply pick up a project (hobby or school-related) or even a book and enjoy it in little spaces of time while they are taking a wee break or waiting? Or do they only know how to do that if they wait for large amounts of time “after-school”? How often do we as adults think that little bits of time don’t matter and we end up wasting those moments when we could be working little by little on some task or project of value?
Spreading out my daily homeschool schedule more has helped me personally to keep up with more of the marking/evaluation tasks. One of my weaknesses is procrastinating with marking some things such as French or math quizzes (e.g. grades 3/4 and up). For me, it hasn’t worked out to mark stuff at the end of each school day and I can’t necessarily do it as soon as someone finishes a quiz because I might be switching loads of laundry or paying attention to a toddler or preparing upcoming lessons. But by putting more margin into our weekday schedule, now there is more likelihood that I can (hopefully) find time throughout the “school hours”, at least within a few days, to do these short tasks of marking. (Thankfully, “Poppy” still loves to take care of the upper-level math though. :-))
Time – to add neat topics or fun experiences that come up, allow for great “rabbit-trails”, and to share our interests together as a family. Allowing “extra time” in a schedule does just that – it gives you visible space to put those parts of a joyful homeschool life right in without sacrificing your regular stuff. If you don’t want to use that extra time on a particular day, then you simply move on and finish earlier and that’s just fine. (It seems easier to subtract than it is to add to a plan.)
- Adding neat topics or fun experiences? This includes monthly surprise units (like what I did with building shelters and teaching orienteering skills), field trip opportunities that you hear about or suddenly remember you’d love to go there, and cool books or other studies you learn that your friend or someone online is recommending that just sounds so fun! IF you allow extra time for school in your schedule already (like I do now), these things are much more easily stuck into it without giving up your regular studies and without putting as many things on your list of things to do “next year”.
Examples of Things I Might Add In Any Given Day or Hour or Week… if our day (or week or hour) is going well and it looks like I will have enough time to complete the priority subjects for that day (or week or hour):
- extra reading time such as a read aloud story
- studying an interesting poem (e.g. did that yesterday as part of a creative writing type of lesson)
- extra scissors skills or small crafts (e.g. did that last week as well as this week – the weather and upcoming special days related to the “extra stuff” I chose to add to the younger age group’s day)
- seasonal fun pages (I keep a large binder collection of these – puzzlers, colouring pages, simple paper crafts, etc. – sub-divided into 12 months of the year so I can easily just pull out what looks interesting at the time and print/copy the page. Most of the things are for younger kids but sometimes the older ones also want to do these things too.)
- an extra little drawing lesson (e.g. did that this morning just before printing lessons)
- extra baking together (e.g. we’re planning that for this afternoon because today we’ve been getting a lot done already)
- learn about an animal that is of interest at the moment to one or more of the children (e.g. through a craft, a poem, a book, or a short Youtube video)
- play an extra game such as beach volleyball over the clothesline (on grass or in snow)
- sing an extra song
- learn a quick extra skill (e.g. learned in just one lesson) such as folding napkins in a special way (e.g. we did that a few years ago)
- have a few moments to learn about homemade birdfeeders or making your own seed mixtures for a week (in addition to the regular subjects).
Having a schedule for our family is a TOOL – to help us keep priorities for what skills and topics to focus our learning on but also to allow us time to add extras as we go along.
This sub-point about adding neat topics and fun experiences can also include the idea of choosing to have some time spent in doing PROJECTS. Project-based skills are super-important in many post-secondary courses and in many careers. I think it is good to give students some opportunities to do projects from young onwards so that they are reasonably comfortable and experienced to present projects in a variety of subjects by the time they graduate. “Projects” include things like reports, posters, and visual, oral, and/or written presentations. A style of homeschooling that relies on short written things or discussions but never has larger, detailed reports or presentations, might cover the knowledge and recall of the content/topics sufficiently but lack covering significant skills found by doing longer projects. Projects do take time however. So I try to allow for that time in my general schedule, even though the “class” may be much shorter on weeks when we don’t have a project to work on in that subject.
- “Rabbit-trails” – maybe there is a new topic which comes up in our regular studies or maybe we just want to spend a little longer to study something of interest more in-depth. If we allow “extra time” within our schedule, we can easily encourage these rabbit-trails.
- Time to Include Practice Times Throughout the Day – for practicing skills used in sports (e.g. running daily), piano practice, etc.
- Share your personal interests and skills within your family – one of the nice things about homeschooling is that it can afford you time to teach or share a particular skill or interest with your children. Maybe you want to emphasize an artistic skill you have which you can pass along to them (e.g. painting, music, cartooning). Maybe you love to sew or make furniture and want to show them those skills so that they can do it very well by the time they reach adulthood. Maybe you have a family business you want them involved in part of the time. Maybe it is a sport you love, a travel interest, a specific cultural study which is relevant to your lives. It’s fine to learn new things together or to follow along a curriculum to get some education. But also consider designing your homeschooling to include something you especially know about or how to do to pass on to your family, without depending on a curriculum’s program alone for an education.
Different Kinds of Homeschool Moms
Some moms try to stack up the multiple kinds of “Mommy tasks” until a part of the day when their kids aren’t doing schoolwork (and thus, get very concerned about the length of a school schedule because it lessens “the other part of the day”). I think it might stem a bit from thinking of “homeschool” as sort of a career and then when you’re done work, you go home. But for many of them, they are happy with arranging their day like that. Please understand that this is fine if it fits your family well. (And yes, you can still use our PSLC curriculum happily!!!)
Some moms think it is easier to blend accomplishing those “Mommy tasks” anytime during the day; I tend to be of this kind most of the time. I think it’s like saying that homeschooling/training/teaching knowledge, wisdom, and skills is just one aspect of good parenting so since I continue to be a mom even when my kids are learning academics, I can sort of mesh various tasks together some of the time. But weaving academics in with a fair amount of “home life” tends to naturally stretch out a day of schooling. It’s simply a different way of doing things.
Can I add just a few lines here especially to the dear moms who are reading this and feeling a lot of overwhelming stress, panic, the “I’m not good enough at homeschooling because my kids are still doing school in the afternoons”, false guilt, bewilderment (“I thought it’s supposed to take less time and energy”), embarrassment feelings? You are not doing something “wrong” if your family thrives on a longer school day! You are not a failure at time management. You’re likely the kind of mom who simply finds it (or will find it) more fun and efficient to blend home and school life together like I do. I honestly think that the commonly-rehearsed number phrase of “2 hours a week, 4 days a week”, which is marketed and assumed in the general homeschool world, is a big reason behind these feelings of failure. I’ve met many discouraged moms over the years in-person, at conferences, and on the phone/e-mail – there are several reasons why they can be stressed but sometimes, perhaps they haven’t included enough time or effective curriculum for teaching a skill and a child is struggling or perhaps it is due to unreasonable expectations for realistic homeschool life with a large, growing family or with babies/preschoolers. I’ll be honest with you all – I can’t squeeze homeschool activities with all ages into just 2 hours either – nor would I want to! My life is freer without that crazy time pressure!
Enjoying a style which gives children frequent hands-on experiences to apply a number of skills (e.g. projects, outdoor activities) simply takes a longer time. So let’s normalize the idea that homeschooling CAN naturally take longer than 8 hours a week and that it is just fine to do this. A homeschool schedule shouldn’t discourage you or limit you to a clock.
Furthermore, curriculum is just a tool. It should help your students to learn well and provide lots of good stuff in it. But, you don’t need to do everything mentioned in a curriculum and you should feel the liberty to supplement the curriculum if you like.
Here is an important thing to remember if you’re consider purchasing our PSLC curriculum…You do NOT have to “do school” for the SAME length of time that my family has chosen. Yes of course, depending on your family’s situation and ages/number of your children, you could have a great education with a shorter week and shorter days.
***I design curriculum to cover a good and broad education in a creative and effective manner with a bit of the “extras” thrown in which I think are applicable and really beneficial to most students. But I do so while really assuming that parents will also have OTHER things within their daily homeschool schedules that they’d like to do. (Those “other things” include caring for preschoolers, interruptions, hobbies, field trips, part-time work or family businesses, gardening, spending time with animals, food preserving, conferences/workshops, snow shovelling, shopping, and so on.) I design homeschool curriculum so that it works in busy households, is fruitful and enjoyable for remembering skills and topics, while allowing for “YOUR thumbprint” so-to-speak to remain on the whole process of education in YOUR family! You choose if you want to do a hands-on activity or project or trip alongside the lesson material or not. You choose how long to spend on a lesson or topic or schoolday. You choose extra supplementary information books if you want but you don’t have to always. Add the suggested manipulatives to introduce or reinforce a math lesson or ignore them on a day you don’t want tiny stuff out because company is coming for lunch. One of the reasons I grew to make and use a lot of our own curriculum is to avoid long, tedious, boring lessons which drag on and on. PSLC materials tend to flow smoother for home life so one can cover the concepts without a lot of repetition or busywork and just keep moving on. You have many choices within our curriculum to help you provide “lessons that stick with a refreshing touch of sweetness”! Our curriculum remains flexible so that it can meet the needs and desires of many families!***
I really hope this [long] series of posts has helped those of you who ponder these sorts of things with making a homeschool plan. It’s been a lot to read through. I’ll try not to make posts this long in the future. 🙂