The Teacher Tour: Surrendering to a Schedule

For some of you, “schedule” is a bad word, evoking a number of gloomy images of zombies drooping through a life that is ever-monotonous. But a schedule is far from a bad word and can actually be very freeing if used correctly. I am the essence of spontaneous and flexible. If my husband came home and told me we were leaving for a cross-country road trip, and I’d better be ready by tomorrow morning–it wouldn’t phase me. I’d be thrilled and excited at the adventure. The down-side is that I’m so flexible that, without a schedule, the important things don’t get done.

Advantages of a schedule:

  • I know what needs to be done and roughly how much time it takes to do it. That’s the key to an effective schedule, giving yourself enough time to complete your task.
  • It keeps us moving. Especially with our school work, the day will drag on forever without a schedule and a timer. Yes, I do use a timer, on the advice of my ever-organized husband. I love it! It keeps us completing our tasks in a timely fashion and gives us a break if we are struggling with a particular assignment.
  • It’s preparing my kids to manage their time, pace themselves, and understand limits. Having worked at a college, I saw that the number one adjustment the incoming freshmen struggled with was making a schedule and disciplining their study time. I’d much rather have my child learn those lessons now.

Setting up an effective schedule:

  • The first step is to list what all must get done, and be as specific as you can.
  • You might also want to log your activities for a day or two, to keep track of how much time the tasks are taking you. This is a great tool for identifying wasted or unproductive time. Most of the time, we have no idea how much time is slipping by unnoticed. This also prevents you from making a schedule doomed to fail. If you underestimate the amount of time a task is going to take you, you’re destined for frustration.
  • Write out a schedule based on your notes that you have logged. If there are adjustments that need to be made, make small adjustments. For instance, if math should not be taking an hour, adjust it by 10-15 minutes at a time rather than making a drastic 30 minute cut.
  • Keep your schedule flexible for a few days, maybe administering it subtly without announcement. And take notes on what happens. Can you do the whole assignment in 45 minutes? Is that still too much time? Can you make up for time somewhere else?
  • Make your final schedule only after you’ve experimented for a few days. And now is the time to make a big deal about it. Announce it with whoop-la. You’re on special assignment and only have so many minutes to complete your mission. A schedule should be something that keeps us on task; it shouldn’t ruin the excitement of learning.
  • Guard your schedule against distractions–email, phone calls, toddlers and infants, etc. Have a back-up plan and a strategy in place for the inevitable. I try not to answer emails or phone calls unless they are from my husband. If you have a toddler or infant that tends to distract, train your children to skip the work that requires your attention and do what they can on their own. If you are using a workbox system, you might even consider having an “in case of distraction” box filled with independent work that your child can do without you.

Knowing when to be flexible:

  • When you’re child is having an off day, and we all have them, choose to teach the lesson of grace over the lesson of time management.
  • When you are planning a special activity that takes a little longer, by all means be flexible with the schedule. Nothing ruins a special project like a ruthless schedule. If you run out of time before the project is completely colored or cut out, finish the project and make up the time somewhere else. The exception would be if a child is a dawdler and always runs out of time. If that is the case, then allow him to finish the project during any extra time or at the end of the school day.
  • When you have ministry opportunity, be flexible. Always be on the look-out for the lesson your child needs most. And an opportunity to teach service is priceless; the schedule is definitely worth the sacrifice.
Keep in mind, however, that too many days of being flexible destroy a schedule. Guard your exceptions well.
A schedule is a beautiful thing when it is used correctly, and it can fit any homeschool style. You might not like to end learning in the middle of your child’s enthusiastic search for knowledge, but consider the result. Will he come back tomorrow eager for that subject? He might beg to play that game again after the timer has gone off, but that also means he will be thrilled when we play it again tomorrow.
I had a writing professor tell me that the best time to leave your writing is in the midst of inspiration because you’re mind will be fueled for the next period of writing. To drain all of your inspiration and come back to the writing the next day often leads to the dreaded “writer’s block.”
If your child has had “learner’s block,” consider your schedule. End at the height of success, in the midst of enthusiasm, and your child might come back more eager to learn the next day.