Step #8: Establish Structure

Getting organized is a must for every homeschool. However, the extent to which you are organized is up to you and dependent on your personality and your natural organizational skills.

Schedules

Establishing schedules is not a matter to be taken lightly. You need wisdom and caution as you set limitations and budget your time. Adding “Homeschooling Mom” to the already full-time job description of “Mom” makes your life very full! It is very easy for your life to become a juggling exercise as you add wonderful activities to your children’s schedules as well as participating in activities and ministries of your own. With prayer and caution, however, you can keep from being unnecessarily pulled in too many directions.

If a homeschooling mother also has a part-time job or operates a home-based business, it is an added stress to the family and must be considered carefully. The school load needs to be kept at a realistic level. The whole family, including Dad, must pitch in with housework. Extracurricular activities will need to be limited. It is not impossible to be a homeschooling, working mom, but you must have realistic expectations and be able to set healthy boundaries around your time and energy.

School Year Calendar

Before your first day of school, it is wise to plan out your school year. A general plan, even if it is very flexible, will help you make sure you will get in the 172 days of school required by Colorado homeschool law.

You are free to choose what kind of school year schedule you want to follow. Following your local school district’s schedule is an option. (Obtain a copy by calling your school district or visiting their Website.) Making up your own schedule allows you the freedom to tailor the year to your needs and desires. You may want to school only four days each week, or take a week off every six weeks, or take a longer break in summer. Many homeschoolers consider birthdays as “no school” days. Scheduling several extra days will give you a “buffer” for sick days or other unexpected events that require time off.

Master Calendar

A master calendar for your family will help to keep everyone informed of what needs to happen on any given day. Choose one calendar in your home where all activities, appointments and other commitments are written down. Train your children to consult the calendar before making commitments.

Weekly Schedule

Make a weekly schedule by drawing and labeling a grid on a piece of construction paper. Cover the paper with clear contact paper. Use an overhead marker to fill in your grid with your regular weekly activities. You can use a damp tissue to erase when changes are needed.

Things to consider when making a weekly schedule:

Church activities, sports, music lessons, 4-H/Scouts/AWANA, homeschool work, laundry, housecleaning, work schedules, errands, volunteer commitments, family time, Mom and Dad dates, ministry, holidays, and shopping.

By posting this schedule near your master calendar, you eliminate the need to write in all the regular weekly activities on the master calendar. Whenever an opportunity or request for your time comes up, you merely look at the weekly grid to see if there is any regular activity at that time, then look at the master calendar to see if anything special is happening that day.

Daily Schedule

A majority of homeschoolers do most of their schooling during the morning hours. Afternoons are used for finishing up assignments and for other activities in which the students are involved. However, each family has the freedom to tailor their school schedule to their own unique situation.

To make a schedule, it is wise to have an idea of what you want to accomplish each day and in what order (based on what you have determined to be most important). Remember that every school subject does not have to be covered every day.

Things to consider in making a Daily Schedule: chores, grooming, school work, naps, bed time, housecleaning, devotions, exercise, phone calls, spouse time, work schedules, mid-day teacher breaks, and meals (including preparation and cleanup). Don’t forget other activities such as sports, music lessons, and co-ops (including travel time)!

If every time-block of your schedule is all filled in, it is probably too full. No matter what kind of a schedule you are making, you need ample “white space” or “margin” time that is not allotted to a certain task. This buffer will help you absorb an unexpected event and give you the freedom to be more flexible.

Daily Issues

Though each of our homeschools is unique, we all deal with some of the same daily issues. These daily issues will only be as frustrating as you allow. If you perceive them as “hassles,” they will be just that. But if you make them opportunities to teach your children valuable character qualities (and maybe grow a little yourself), you will find yourself less stressed.

Interruptions

The phone is a big source of interruptions for the homeschooling family. Answering machines and Caller I.D. can be very helpful, making it possible to answer only the critical calls. Explain to friends, neighbors, and relatives that you will not be available during certain hours and ask them not to call during those times. The goal is to set appropriate limits, neither isolating yourself nor allowing unnecessary intrusions.

Well-meaning friends who don’t fully understand homeschooling might assume that since you and your children are at home, you are available to baby-sit or do other odd jobs. Use wisdom to avoid taking on too many responsibilities. As wonderful an opportunity as it may be (to meet a need or for your children to make some money) remember it is still an interruption to your school schedule. If the requests become overly persistent or burdensome, it might become necessary to make it clear what your limitations are.

Dealing with toddlers and infants while teaching older ones has the potential of being frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember, your toddler is part of your family and therefore part of your homeschool. He should not be made to feel “in the way” or a bother. At the same time, he can learn that certain behavior is expected at certain times. It is good to teach your little one to wait his turn, not to interrupt, and to sit or play quietly for a period of time. Likewise, it is good for the older child to cultivate patience and the ability to stay on task even through interruptions.

With some thought and prayer, you will find realistic, creative ways to deal with this situation effectively. Baby’s nap time is a good time to focus on older students. Set aside special “school” toys that your toddler is allowed to play with only during school time. Find ways to involve him in what you are doing. If you are doing a science activity, find something he can do to make him feel he’s a part of it! If it’s writing time, give him paper and crayons and “assignments.” During math time, give him his own manipulatives to sort or count or stack or build. Have older children take turns reading or playing with the younger ones so that you can direct your attention elsewhere for a time.

There will be interruptions in school days. Some you can control (the phone) and others you can’t (a sick child, a spilled glass of juice). Look at it as an opportunity to learn and to teach by example. Both you and your children will do well to develop flexibility and the ability to stay on task even through interruptions.

Meeting Everyone’s Needs

If you have more than one child, there will be times when you will wish you were more than one person! Solving this problem is twofold. First, the children need to learn to wait their turn and be patient. They need to know how to go on to something else while they wait for you. Second, you need creative ideas to keep this situation from happening too often. Scheduling adjustments can help, for example, assigning easier subjects for one child to work on while you are working with the other on a harder subject. You can also schedule one-on-one time for each child each day to take care of any problems she may be having. As you plan your curriculum, choose a combination of independent-study items along with material that has to be taught by you. Group-teach subjects like history or science.

Getting the Housework Done, Too

Setting aside daily and weekly time to get housework done is necessary to a homeschooling family. Take time to establish what absolutely needs to be done on a daily basis, like kitchen cleaning and making beds. Weekly chores can be done a little each day: vacuum on Monday, laundry on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday, etc. Or establish one house cleaning day when everything gets done. Whichever way you choose, involve your children in the process. Each child no matter what age can do something. (Don’t forget to add chores to your weekly and daily schedules.)