How to give your school schedule a rhythm and flow that makes the school day easier on everyone.

Building a Rhythm Into Your School Day Schedule

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:

Building Rhythm

To build rhythm, you first need a pattern.  Kids like to know what to expect.  They thrive with some repetition and predictability.

Morning Meeting

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.

How to give your school schedule a rhythm and flow that makes the school day easier on everyone.

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.

How to give your school schedule a rhythm and flow that makes the school day easier on everyone.

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.

How to give your school schedule a rhythm and flow that makes the school day easier on everyone.

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.

CJ riding his bike during the break

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.

Two boys happy reading

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.

Lunch Break

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.

Read Aloud

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.

  1. Morning meeting – to get everyone oriented and in learning mode
  2. Medium difficulty subject with a definite ending point, could be a group lesson or individual
  3. Short break used as a reward for those who finish the previous assignment on time
  4. Toughest subject – brains are fired up and you’ve just come off a short break
  5. Favorite subject – serves as a brain break after the tough subject
  6. Hands-on group work – less cerebral, more hands on, everyone working together
  7. Lunch break – should include 20-30 minutes of play time for kids and relaxation for Mom
  8. Read aloud – after lunch come back to learning, but gently
  9. 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.

11 thoughts on “Building a Rhythm Into Your School Day Schedule”

  1. I like how you’ve simplified scheduling, but I would really like to know how you fit in the layers of learning? Is the Fun Stuff time that you have scheduled the only time that you do it? How long is that block of time? It just doesn’t seem quite long enough to do reading and experiments, etc. for a week. I read in your intro post “In general, each topic should take about two weeks to cover, spending between 2-5 hours a week reading, doing projects, and writing.” Does this mean 2 hours on the History, 2 hours on Geography, 2 hours on Science, etc.? Thanks a bunch, I just want to see if I can do this.

  2. We spend about an hour a day on Layers of Learning. That’s the “subject of the day” that happens right after math. It’s when we do the hands on explorations, maps, and things like that. While they work, I often read about the subject or we talk about it. If there’s more reading to do beyond that, it’s actually done at another time in our house. I always read to my kids before bed and they read on their own a lot as well.
    We do history on Monday, geography on Tuesday, science on Wednesday, art on Thursday, and then on Friday we finish up projects, do review games, or go on a learning expedition (field trip!).
    Hope that helps! Also know, that we are constantly tweaking our schedule to fit our kids’ ages and progress. You need to build a schedule that will fit you and your family. Take others’ ideas, but make it fit YOU. 🙂

  3. First of all … that TABLE! Second, I’m really curious how you handle subjects like grammar with your wide range of kids. All of my kiddos (7, 9, 11) are on completely different playing fields in terms of grammar. So, we’ve spent the last year or so schooling separately (which I hate) out of necessity.

    I friend of mine turned me on to your system. This is my 5th year. I’m absolutely blown away and sold. I’m a former teacher — If only back then, I could have done half of these things in the classroom!

    1. We love the table too. 🙂
      We have done a variety of things to cover grammar over the years and depending on the kid, but in general, we just use leveled workbooks. They all go over the same topics, just on slightly different levels. We have group lessons on concepts like parts of speech or sentence diagramming, but each kid has their own level of workbook they go through, one page a day. I just meander around and help anyone who needs it at the moment.
      You can add some group fun in with Mad Libs or specific lessons on concepts. You should check out our writer’s workshop page. There are lots of lesson ideas on there you might like.

        1. First, this post is a bit old, so I’m not doing exactly what it says this year. Were always changing and refining to meet new needs each year. I’m using the Writer’s Workshop method. But on Wednesdays I use Interactive Notebooks, Language Arts from Carson Dellosa. I pick one level and all of the kids from 4th to 10th do the same thing. Older ones need review so it’s working for us to do it that way.

  4. Hey there. I am considering purchasing Layers of Learning again, and I like the rhythm you describe. One thing I am concerned about is trying to apply the one subject per day for high school when they are suppose to do science and other subjects) for at least an hour every day for a full credit. The problem with this is, of course, is burnout, especially when you have a teen with learning struggles and finds it stressful to cram too much into one day. Your thoughts?

    1. Teens are often doing much of their work independently. So your subject-a-day would be your group learning time. But then you can assign reading or a textbook to your teen that they work on every day on their own. This extra work can be from the Layers of Learning program or from another course that you have chosen for your teen. A homeschool teen will do his or her learning from books or online video lectures, which is very different from sitting in a class with a teacher giving lectures or leading discussions. Generally speaking it takes less time to learn on your own at home. If my son reads the biology textbook I assign him and does the written work and tests from the book, I count it as a completed course even if it didn’t take an hour a day.

      But each governmental jurisdiction has different requirements. My state does not require a specific number of hours nor do they require an accounting from me about my son’s education, so we’re pretty free to interpret courses as we like.

      1. Thanks so much for replying. I hadn’t considered this before except when our children were younger: ” A homeschool teen will do his or her learning from books or online video lectures, which is very different from sitting in a class with a teacher giving lectures or leading discussions. Generally speaking it takes less time to learn on your own at home.”

        I had forgotten that detail in the wake of obsessing over credit hours! Thank you for that! 🙂 🙂

  5. I would love some advice on creating a workable daily rhythm when you have babies and toddlers in the mix. I feel that so much of my time is taken-up by my now 15-month-old, and I can’t fit it all in during her 11/2 hour nap time. Any advice on how to create a rhythm while meeting the needs of my one-year-old? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Charissa, This is probably way too big a topic for a little blog comment, but I want you to know we’ve been there! We both have big families and that meant many years of babies and toddlers in the mix. I think you’ll be best served if I devote this question to a whole blog post, because I think it’s an important one that many homeschoolers struggle with. I’m really excited to share some of the things that worked for me…hopefully they’ll help you too. I’ll get back to you when this is posted in the next week!

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