Homeschool 101: Time Management
You know yourself. How are your time management skills? Are you always a few minutes late? Have you called the dentist more than twice to explain that you thought your appointment was for next week? Or, worse, have you spent an hour reading in the dentist’s office waiting for an appointment that really WAS next week? If this sounds remotely like you and you are planning to add homeschooling to your schedule, this is your wake-up call.
A friendly wake-up call.
There are homeschoolers out there who are masters of time. They have a play group for their pre-schooler, a homeschool music group for their eigth grader and a science co-op for the second grader – and they all meet in different parts of town every Tuesday. She is always on time, she is wearing make up on both eyes and her kids are always in clean matching clothes. Her kids study Latin, read classic books only and have never seen a television. Oh yeah, she runs her church’s food ministry on the side. Yes, they exist. Smile and nod and do not let this woman (no matter her name) sign you up for a committee. (Also know that this woman is exhausted to the point that she no longer recognizes it. No sane person wants to live like this.)
Your goal as a homeschooling parent is to keep the house standing, the kids fed and to never have to find a new dentist out of sheer embarrassment again.
First, take stock of everything that will be on your plate:
- Part-time job?
- Out-of-home therapy/regular doctor visits for any of the kids?
- Kids’ activities – dance, sports, music, etc.
- Homeschool group commitments
- Transportation issues – sharing car with spouse, public transportation, etc.
- Other commitments to church or groups?
Next, be honest about what you need and what your resources afford:
- Does a cluttered house, table, kitchen, whatever make your eye twitch?
- Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What about your child(ren)?
- When you leave the house do you 1) only leave if your hair and makeup are done, your and the kids’ clothes are pressed and matching or 2) try to get a shower, don’t own an iron, revel in your children’s ability to pull of tulle, flannel and cowboy boots
- Do you have a general plan for menus, cleaning and laundry?
Finally, what are your goals for homeschooling??
- I am seeking a structured, rigorous approach OR I plan to unschool
- I like the option of a 4-day school-week and continuing light school through the summer OR it’s all educational – we don’t need a formal school schedule
- I have an only child
- I have multiple children spaced closely together
- I have multiple children spaced five or more years apart
Okay, you probably did not learn anything you did not already know about yourself, but sometimes it is good to get a quick snapshot. While you are planning your homeschool days, keep your priorities in mind and try to be realistic about how long various tasks take. While there are several virtual options for keeping yourself organized and on schedule, most pertain solely to homeschooling. For your first year, give a plain old three-ring-binder notebook and some dividers a try. Additionally, start a large family calendar that you hang in a central location.
Managing the Kids
Resist the urge to join every group and field trip available to you. Pick and choose what is really valuable. Take into account your kids’ personalities – do they shut down in large groups or do they blossom? What about you – are you energized or exhausted after these types of encounters? Try to find a balance. The same holds true for outside lessons/sports. Pick and choose carefully. There is nothing sadder than an 11-year-old boy who hates baseball because he’s been playing since he was three. It’s not a race!
Plan ahead. If you know you are going out the next afternoon, pack up a lunch/snacks, a backpack with whatever gear you might need and have it ready to go before you go to bed. (If you are a morning person, by all means get up a little early and do it then.) If you are anxious about what the kids wear on your outing, pick out their clothing the night before. (Don’t iron – they’re kids! You could be reading or sleeping instead of ironing!)
Even if you are working the most rigorous of homeschool programs, with kids under 9-10 a full day of school should not take more than 3, maybe 4 (if your child is a big reader), hours a day. If it does, reevaluate. With this age group, try to finish before lunch.
After lunch, institute the mandatory hour of silence. Your pre-school kids can nap. Older kids can read, listen to an audiobook, draw or whatever – so long as they do it on their bed. For one hour. During this hour, you can nap, read, draw or anything but do housework or schoolwork. Continue this hour for the duration of your homeschool career. You’ll find your afternoons to be far more productive!
If clutter/mess drive you nuts, start early teaching your kids to clean as you go. Spend 30 minutes every day (morning or evening) sorting things out and putting them in their place so you can start the day fresh. If you are okay with clutter, still take 30 minutes twice a week to, at the very least, group like things together. If you let it go too long, you’ll be buried and waste hours looking for needed items.
If it currently takes you much longer than 20 minutes to get dressed and ready for a trip to the library, it’s time to rethink your style. It’s great to want to look put-together, but think what your kids can do in 20-30 minutes while you fuss with ironing your hair? Do not think for a moment that your older children are not capable of attaching your toddler, belly-down, to a skateboard with bungee cords and sending him flying down the driveway.
It might not be pretty, but it can be a lifesaver! Used correctly, anyone in your family who can read will know what is going on during any month. At a minimum, you want a calendar with two-inch square boxes. If you have several children, go for a bigger version. For each person in your family, start with a designated color. Immediately, fill in birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and, if your child has neighborhood friends, the local school’s holidays and breaks (because neighborhood kids will be knocking on your door!). Next go through and put in existing doctor appointments, ongoing practices/lessons, scheduled vacations, etc.
Now, it’s time to go month by month. If your part-time schedule or your partner’s work schedule vary, put the schedules up as soon as you have them. If you are sharing a car, mark the days where you will have the car, pick-up times and anything else transportation related.
Finally, make a quick menu at the very bottom of the box. Seriously. Just one or two words for each meal. (B – pancakes, L-leftovers, D-spaghetti) Fill in the whole month – get help from the whole family – especially any picky eaters. You are not obligated to make what is on the calendar, but if you make it a habit, you’ll notice shopping becomes cheaper and easier. Make certain nights a given menu – Friday/pizza, Saturday/leftovers, Tuesday/pasta – to make things even simpler. Adding breakfast and lunch to the calendar can help you avoid turning into a diner for two meals everyday. Have a standby option (pbj that they make themselves) for kids who refuse to eat whatever you’re serving.
Consider a four-day school week – especially if you have younger children. Use that fifth day for errands, appointments and field trips.
Once your children are about 8-9, start having them write their own activities on the calendar. Explain to them that “If it’s not on the calendar, it is not going to happen.” Stick to that! It is very helpful when they are teens with jobs and sports and dates and all the rest. (Of course, you and your partner will be setting the example.)
If you’re calendar starts to look and feel too full, it probably is. Remember the goal is not to be busy for busy’s sake. When you are afraid of your calendar, take some time to reevaluate what you’re doing and see what can be consolidated and rearranged.
(Yes, you should always capitalize it, it is that important!) Start with a binder – that way if your phone is not charged or you don’t have wi-fi access you are not stuck. Divide the binder into the following parts: Calendars (2 years worth); a section for each child; a list of homeschool material you are looking to buy used or sell; a rough outline of your school day; a section for notes, online material, etc. that you plan to use in the future; a section for quick notes to yourself; a list with important phone numbers, addresses and websites.
Keep the binder with you. Mark down appointments, random accomplishments and things to remember for the future. It can be a great resource for the present and for planning the following year.
Invest in a 3-hole-punch.
Travel and Wait Times
Use travel time and waiting time as a chance to listen to good audiobooks, reading aloud or working on handwriting or drawing. Keep an old cookie tin filled with magnetic words in the car. Kids can use the lid as a board and create haiku or funny rhymes as you run errands. Keep a small (party-sized) tub of play-dough in your purse along with other weird trinkets that might entertain kids during a restaurant visit or a long wait at a doctor’s office. Get you kids in the habit of traveling with a book to read and a notebook/pen. Time reading is never wasted. Encourage your kids to sketch, play hangman, write stories or just doodle in their notebooks. It sure beats having them stare at CNN in the waiting room.
If you have a basic plan, a good calendar and reasonable expectations for you and your children when you head out into the world, you can manage your time well.