By Rachel ~ Guest Blogger ~
Can you picture the ideal, dreamy homeschool day that floats somewhere amidst the collective imagination of homeschool motherhood?
In this fairytale of a day, there are no schedules, no checklists, nothing that reminds us of the rigidity of “school”, although the day is rich with learning from beginning to end. We awake before our children, and fill the early morning hours with nourishment for a mother’s body and soul. When our children awake, they are in good moods, and their eager minds seek to dive into topics that they’re passionate about. Even at the breakfast table, we’re having discussions and making connections from one topic to another. The day is filled with a delightful jumble of nature walks, cozy read-alouds, and science experiments that make the whole family giggle with delight. Somewhere in there you’ll find time to sit down with each individual child to work on a few specific skills–you’ll teach a new math concept to one, listen to another’s narration, and burst with pride over a piece of writing produced by your eldest. Your children are self-motivated and pursue learning more about their chosen topics, never asking, “Can I play games on the tablet?” because they are so highly invested in their own self-education. At suppertime, you call them back from the nooks and crannies of your home, where they’ve been reading and building and creating, and the whole family delights in vibrant conversation over the dinner table.
That’s the fairytale, right? But does reality resemble it closely? In reality–we’re tired. We’re busy mamas who are up at night feeding babies and up all day feeding minds. We’re carrying the mental and physical load of caring for all the normal needs of a family in addition to the weight of providing a solid and delight-filled education. As homeschoolers, we know that education doesn’t need to resemble the rigid schedule maintained in a public school. But…without a solid plan and routine, our best intentions can easily crumble in the face of the real world of raising real humans. We wake up and realize that though we dream of delightful days filled with learning, the minutia and distractions of life suck up our time and distract us from doing what we want to and need to do in our homeschools.
Schedule vs. Rhythm
Many homeschool families have tried and have discarded time-based schedules. They try such schedules because they grew up with a school schedule. They discard them because of the stress induced by trying to follow a strict schedule in the face of all the competing responsibilities that homeschool moms juggle. But even though the tightly-planned schedule hasn’t worked, there is no guarantee that the opposite, doing something totally different every day, will work, either.
Enter the homeschool rhythm. The beauty of the homeschool rhythm is that it can offer the flexibility that you need, while also removing the mental load of constantly needing to decide what to do next. Maintaining a homeschool rhythm reduces battles with your children over what the next activity of the day is, because as time passes, they internalize and remember the rhythms of their own day. Our family has found that maintaining a rhythm leads to smoother and more effective homeschool days.
How to Create Your Rhythm
When creating a homeschool rhythm, you seek to form a purposeful flow to your day. With a rhythm in place, you’ll be able to move from one part of your day to the next in a natural manner, knowing that on some days, certain parts of the rhythm will take longer than others.
For me, I always like to begin forming a rhythm by sitting down with some scratch paper, rather than writing everything into my pretty planner right away. This gives me the freedom to cross things out and move things around. Begin by jotting down any events with set times that are a part of your days (regular classes or appointments, nap times, the time your spouse returns from work, etc.), as well as meals. Regular events and mealtimes can serve as frames for the rest of your daily rhythm.
Next, ask yourself: What do I want to and need to do before breakfast? What do I want to and need to do right after breakfast? Move through the entire day in this manner. Consider your own personality’s quirks and the unique needs of your own home and your own children. If you’re a morning person and your kids are, too, you’ll likely want to place your toughest subjects early in the morning rhythm, when you and your kids can tackle them at your highest peak of energy and brainpower. When you take the time to create a plan, you’ll find that there is space for all of what is most important to you in the rhythm of your days.
This is possibly just a personal preference, but I recommend that you make space for basic cleaning tasks like meal clean-up and household pick-up within your homeschool rhythm. A generally tidy home tends to help Mama’s mood, doesn’t it?
When interruptions, appointments and errands disrupt your homeschool rhythm, the day is not lost! You simply pick up the rhythm where you left off before the interruption. Alternatively, you may judge that it’s wiser to let a certain part of the rhythm be omitted or replaced on this particular day by your errand, so you choose to skip that part. But you skip that part with intention and purpose–not with a guilty feeling of “Oh, I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped.” No, rather, you looked at your rhythm, realized that an errand would take up a good chunk of time normally devoted to your rhythm, and chose to skip the part that was least-necessary for today in order to make time for the errand.
What might this look like?
Your homeschool rhythm will need to change and adapt as you flow from one season of life to another–as your children grow, as their needs change, and as you add new members to the family. I’ll share, as an example, what my rhythm looks like during my own stage of life right now:
Wake Up Time - I work and read, then shower, get ready for the day, and may or may not eat breakfast before my little ones wake.
Children Wake Up - They eat breakfast while I read them their “Morning Stories” (the Bible, and handful of Spanish and English picture books, tied into whatever theme we’re covering in school)
Morning Housework - Next, the boys get dressed and may either play or join me as I clean up breakfast, start the laundry, and do any dinner prep that needs to happen early in the day.
Morning Schoolwork - We sit down and do a couple of workbook pages, coloring, or tracing. We talk about what we’re doing and build vocabulary and narration skills.
Outside Time - We head outdoors to play.
Naptime + School Time - My youngest goes down for his nap, and I work through what is left of my other son’s school routine with him, playing math games, reciting memory work, doing anything that benefits from the focus that is easier to find when little brother is napping.
Naptime + Quiet Time - Naptime for my youngest lasts longer than schoolwork for my older son, so after his schoolwork is finished, it’s quiet time for us all. I use this time to work on writing and curriculum design, and my son has an apple for his snack and plays independently
Afternoon activity - When the little guy wakes up, if there is still time before dinner (sometimes he takes very long naps, so there isn’t always time), they will do some fun activity together: play-dough, painting, a simple sensory bin, etc.
Clean up the House - After-dinner pick up for the whole family while my husband and I clean up from dinner.
Family Outing - We typically go on a simple family outing after dinner: to the playground, on a walk or bike ride, or to the beach. Some days, I will join in, other days, I will stay home to work while my husband takes the boys on a little adventure.
Bedtime - Showers, get dressed in pj’s, sing, pray, sleep!
This rhythm will change. When my toddler drops his naptime, when our needs change, so will the rhythm. But when it changes, it won’t be totally thrown out the window. Instead, we make small changes and adjustments to our daily rhythm as needed, leaving much of the day familiar and reliable even when an old activity is replaced by something new.
Would your homeschool benefit from adopting a rhythm?
Featured Guest Blogger - Rachel G
Check out this Daily Rhythm printable to help you plan your family rhythm! Only $3USD!