Effective schools operate on a time schedule, but over the years I’ve come to know that effective homeschools operate on a rhythm, not a schedule.
A rhythm doesn’t hold us to the clock. It doesn’t require all of my kids to finish everything at exactly the same moment. It doesn’t involve an identical list of school subjects that I must get through each day. And we don’t have to move on when “we’re almost done…can’t we just have a few more minutes?”
Instead, it is flexible order. Without a rhythm, our homeschool is chaos. But with our homeschool rhythm, I can keep everyone working to their potential. To make our school day flow more smoothly, I carefully build a rhythm into our school day schedule. Knowing what to expect makes for a lot less fussing from the kids. This means spacing out the breaks, alternating harder subjects with easier ones and group subjects with individual subjects. I also incorporate motivation right into the day.
I’ll walk you through our school day so you can see the rhythm that works for us:
To build rhythm, you first need a pattern. Kids like to know what to expect. They thrive with some repetition and predictability.
We start every single morning with a little morning meeting – a family gathering time. It doesn’t matter what your morning meeting consists of, as long as you have some kind of gathering that your kids can count on. We do religious studies, memorize poems, review what we’ve been learning from our Subject of the Day, and other similar things.
A Group Lesson
While we’re all together, we have a group subject, in our case memory work, grammar, and then spelling. We also have our writer’s workshop mini lesson. Our lesson is interactive and interesting without too much demanded of the kids. It’s a nice way to break into the day. But it’s also academic and tells them we’re really learning today. They know they will be expected to do hard things, but they also know they are capable, and they know Mom is there and available to help and answer questions.
Next Is A Tough Subject
Grammar and spelling lead us right into the rest of writer’s workshop. I like to follow up grammar and spelling with more language so we can use what we learned right away. This is a more demanding subject for my kids. They struggle in writing. We use Writing Strands and other assignments I give them. They work pretty independently while I go around and help where I’m needed.
The real key to this phase of the day though is the built in reward. The kids have to complete their assignment for the day, and the faster they get it done, the more time they have for a little break. If we are working on an assignment that takes longer than a day, I just watch for kids who are working hard and have done enough, then tap them on the shoulder and whisper that they have earned their break. They take a little break to go play outside or go to another room to play with Legos. This reward costs me nothing, and it also gives me time to work more intimately with the one or two who are struggling.
Now For Math
Math is the most difficult subject for many kids and it may seem just plain mean to stack it right after writing, but on most days they’ve all had at least a ten minute break right before beginning. I like them to start math right after having run around outside and rested their hands and brains. A lot of homeschool families do math first thing in the morning, which works great if you are a morning person, but I am not. First thing in the morning is the most painful time to think in my world so we push it a bit further into the day, when we’re all awake.
Reading Is A Reward
At our house, reading is a reward. All of my kids love to read, so they are thrilled if they finish math with extra time to read. By this time they are ready to curl up with a quilt and a book on the couch. They get to read until I get the subject-of-the-day ready.
If reading isn’t a reward for your kids, then choose a subject that is as a break at this point.
Hands-on Fun: The Subject of the Day
Next we do our subject-of-the-day. We do a different subject each day of the week. History, geography, science, and arts. This is where we use our Layers of Learning curriculum. We do projects, read library books together, cook things, mix chemicals, dissect things, watch YouTube videos, color maps, and discover the world. This hour is always for fun stuff, but the learning is real.
All of our school subjects are out of the way before lunch, so we all know we can cruise from here on out. We eat lunch and then I have the kids go out and play while I do the dishes. At breakfast and dinnertime they do the dishes, but at lunchtime I like to give them a break. It also gives me a few minutes of peace and quiet to myself to regroup.
My kids LOVE our read aloud time. I read to them while they sketch in their art sketchbooks. They like using how-to-draw books, or sometimes just sketch something out of their heads. They just listen to stories and doodle and draw. This is hands down their favorite time of our day, period.
Off On Their Own
My kids all have different interests, so the end of our day is saved for them to go off on their own to do their electives. We call these classes our “Specials” because everyone has special interests they’re into. These are subjects that each child is taking independently of his siblings. Some of the older kids take online classes (including foreign language classes), some play musical instruments, One son is really into learning Latin and another is really into computers. Some like working on cars, forging metal, and cooking. Whatever your kids are into, they will be highly motivated to do on their own. So set them loose at the end of the day! I don’t teach in the afternoons. I have my own “specials.” I like to read, go for a run, write blog posts, or work on new Layers of Learning materials. They can pursue their interests in the afternoon, and I get to pursue mine.
I often find my kids reading books from our book basket at this time too. They are free to do anything as long as they are learning. The kids are all spread out and doing their own thing. I check on them here and there, but I really get to do my own thing too.
Although the rhythm is the same, the schedule isn’t precise. Some days we spend extra time on our Subject of the Day and go longer. Some days we finish quickly. My kids have a lot of free time to do the things that interest them.
Making Your Own Rhythm
The rhythm I use won’t be exactly the rhythm you use. But if you think about the overall pattern as opposed to the exact subject order I use, you can develop your own rhythm.
- Morning meeting – to get everyone oriented and in learning mode
- Medium difficulty subject with a definite ending point, could be a group lesson or individual
- Short break used as a reward for those who finish the previous assignment on time
- Toughest subject – brains are fired up and you’ve just come off a short break
- Favorite subject – serves as a brain break after the tough subject
- Hands-on group work – less cerebral, more hands on, everyone working together
- Lunch break – should include 20-30 minutes of play time for kids and relaxation for Mom
- Read aloud – after lunch come back to learning, but gently
- Individual subject – pursuing a passion, Mom can mostly check out for this, get on with other chores, do her own hobbies, or sip at a cup of tea while rocking the baby
Incorporate Your Rhythm
If you’re using the workbox system or planners, figure out what rhythm works for you and then incorporate it into your workboxes and planners. We use workboxes some years and other years rely more completely on planners. Most kids like to see their progress somehow as they work through their day. Our routine has become so much a part of life that my kids don’t feel like school is long or hard. It is just the way our day goes. It doesn’t feel strict or timed, but it does feel predictable enough for them to feel the rhythm. Also, it’s not absolute. We take days or half days off for learning expeditions or to do a big project sometimes. When you have a rhythm it doesn’t destroy it to vary a bit. Everyone falls right back into the rhythm really well once it’s established. And it makes everything go so much more smoothly.
If you’re wishing you could finally figure out how to have a really organized homeschool, read on.