We’ve recently started a new calendar year, and for many of us we’re about halfway through our school year, so it’s a time when we’re also considering what we may need to adjust. One aspect I usually take a look at is whether our routine or our schedule needs to be tweaked. If we’re behind in the lesson plans, or realizing that some subjects are being neglected or forgotten, we might be able to solve the problem by adjusting our routines.
We stick to a routine rather than a schedule. Did you know there’s a difference? A schedule has designated time-slots for specific activities, while a routine establishes a specific order for the activities but doesn’t lock in a time. For us, the routine works better for a couple of main reasons – my students are old enough to work independently and manage their own time; and my own preference is the more laid-back and flexible framework of a routine rather than a more rigid schedule.
Which is better for you?
If you lean towards unschooling or child-led learning, you probably also lean towards a flexible routine. If you homeschool following a classical style or using more traditional textbooks, you may need to follow a more detailed schedule. If your children go to a co-op or attend online classes, you’ll need to stick to the schedule for at least those activities.
Personality and preferences play a big role too. People who have that natural desire to keep everything around them organized and are details-oriented tend to prefer schedules, while those who are more laid back and are big picture thinkers manage well with a general routine. It’s seldom that mom (and dad) and all the kids have the same preference, so each homeschool family needs to find the balance and combination that works for them. I believe that we all need some level of routine, but some people really do function better when it’s detailed, and sometimes the tendencies are obvious even when they are babies! The little one that must have their afternoon nap at exactly the same time and place each day, or wakes up on their own at the same time each morning will probably be a student that works well with a schedule. The baby or toddler that adjusts handily to changes and disruptions and can generally fall asleep almost anywhere likely will be just fine with an easy-going routine.
Do we need to change our approach?
Are you or your child anxious and always looking at the clock, or feeling rushed? Perhaps it’s your cue to loosen up on the schedule and lean more to a routine. On the other hand, if you or your child are having trouble staying focused, or feel disorganized and confused by too many options and things to do, a stricter schedule may provide the framework you need to stay on track.
As kids get older, their needs change, and they can gradually take more control over their own time management and experiment with what works best for them. Even if you relied on a schedule when homeschooling preschoolers and elementary grade children, you may find that a more general routine works well to keep everyone coordinated as they gradually work more independently in middle and high school grades.
My own preference is for a routine, but I’ve also learned that I need to set a timer or watch the clock in order to stay on task in some areas and to remember to do the tasks in other areas! The kids are each a little different in how they work best too. Honestly, if I hadn’t made myself follow a schedule when we started homeschooling, I don’t think we would have finished much. A couple years into the adventure, I was perfectly comfortable just studying subjects in whatever order and my oldest son was cool with that too. But my second son was constantly distracted or anxious trying to figure out what was next on the agenda, so I eventually realized we needed a set routine. Good thing, because the third one literally could not focus on a page of a math if he didn’t know what subject was next or how soon it would be lunchtime! With him, I often had to set a timer and assure him that if he worked on the math worksheet until the timer went, then he could have a snack and go on to the next subject. Now that he is in high school, he has established his own balance of schedule and routine. He starts with the same subject every morning and works on it every day, but some of his other subjects he works on some days and not on others. That’s what works for him, and he’s learned to manage his own time fairly efficiently.
As for me, I’m still working on managing my time well. In fact, my timer just went off, which means I need to publish this article and then go on to the next task on my list. Which is probably grading essays or algebra, so I can make the deadline for submitting report cards!
What’s the right balance between strict schedule and flexible routine in your homeschool?