10 Steps to a Better Homeschool Day

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Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart. Some days are so far from the idyllic image in our minds it’s not even funny. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help ensure a smoother, better homeschool day.

1. Start with a morning routine.

I am a creature of habit, and I crave a consistent morning routine. For me, in this season of life, that means waking around 7:30 and showering (because I am not coherent before a hot shower). Next up is feeding creatures and moving bunnies from the little pen to the big pen (formerly known as our screened-in deck).

Once I get all the creatures settled, I like to start my day with some quiet time with God. I spend some time in prayer and Bible study before tackling work and school

Because I work from home, I like to get a couple of hours of quiet work time in before I wake my teens and get them started on their homeschool day.

Your morning routine may look nothing like mine. Maybe your routine is stumbling around to fix a cup of coffee with a baby on your hip and a toddler clinging to your leg. Then, sitting down to an episode or two of your kids’ favorite cartoon so you can have a few minutes of peace to drink that coffee before starting your day.

Whatever it takes to make you feel human and ready to face the day is perfectly fine. Most of us just need a consistent morning routine that allows us to function on autopilot while our brain climbs out of its sleep-induced morning fog.

[clickToTweet tweet=”A good morning routine lets you function on autopilot until your brain shakes off its sleep fog.” quote=”You need a consistent morning routine that allows you to function on autopilot while your brain climbs out of its sleep-induced morning fog.”]

2. Have a meal plan.

Meal plans are sanity-savers for me. Now that the kids are teens, they’re in charge of their own lunches, but I still like having a plan for supper.

I used to plan specific meals for each night of the week based on our schedule – quick meals for nights we had a lot going on and more elaborate meals for nights at home.

These days, I prefer to have several options listed on my meal plan for the week with no specific days listed. I do still try to make sure I have a balanced mix of quick-and-easy and more complex choices.

No matter your meal plan preferences, having some options in mind can make the school day run more smoothly. Check your menu each morning. Do you need to pull some meat out of the freezer to thaw or start a meal in the crockpot?

I love Jen Fulwiler’s meal-planning tips, particularly using Google calendar to set up reminders.  Although I don’t do that anymore, when my kids were younger, it was an absolute sanity saver.

3. Have a basic routine for school.

Our family has never embraced a strict schedule, but we thrive on routine.  We all function better when we can know what to expect each day.  Our schedule has fluctuated over the years. It’s undergone a radical change now that Brianna has graduated and Josh and Megan are in high school.

Still, it’s not difficult to recognize our daily school routine. In fact, it’s become such a habit that I don’t even print out assignment sheets for the kids most weeks. Josh, in particular, is a creature of habit like his mother. He gets up and does subjects like grammar and writing before fixing his lunch. After lunch, he tackles reading and math before moving on to his elective studies.

We just work on each subject until it’s complete without much regard for how long each takes. The kids have always preferred a predictable order for completing each subject, rather than a specific schedule.

4. Make sure the routine makes sense for your family.

When I started homeschooling all three kids, I envisioned us having little blocks of time for each subject every day. We’d have math time, reading time, and language arts time. During those slots, I envisioned everyone working on the same subject at their own level. We were going to have a whole little one-room schoolhouse kind of thing going on.

For our family, that was a complete nightmare. I quickly discovered that it made my life much easier to split up subjects that were likely to require some one-on-one time. Because, y’all, there was three of them and only one of me.

Our one-room schoolhouse evolved into doing Bible study and read-aloud time together as a family before splitting off. For many years,  Megan and Josh did grammar at the same time while most other subjects were on a staggered schedule. One would read to me while the other worked on something like math independently.

If your schedule isn’t working for your family, tweak it until it is. I don’t care how pretty the color-coded schedule looks on paper, how much your homeschool friend loves it, or how much your favorite blogger raves about it. If it’s making you and your kids crazy, ditch the schedule and find one that works.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Is the schedule making you and your kids crazy? Ditch it and find one that works.” quote=”If it’s making you and your kids crazy, ditch the schedule and find one that works.”]

5. Keep it simple.

There are so many things that we’d like to include in our schedule and fantastic activities that we hear other homeschooling families mentioning. Artist and composer studies, tea time, nature study, Latin…the list goes on and on.

For our family, we’ve found that sticking to the basics makes for much more pleasant school days.

Keeping it simple may look different for different families or in different seasons for the same family.  The quickest way to experience homeschool burn-out is to pile on more than you can reasonably cover in a day (or a month or the entire school year).

I’ve had to learn to give up some of the good to make sure we’re doing the best for our family.

Block scheduling and loop scheduling are two excellent options for including more of the subjects and activities you’d like to cover without making you and your kids crazy. Starting a small homeschool co-op is another alternative that worked well for us.

6. Include hands-on fun.

Some of the times when I’ve experienced the worst burnout came not from trying to do too much but from cutting out too much. Don’t ditch the hands-on fun trying to make room for everything. Even when focusing on keeping it simple, sprinkle in some fun. Make time for cool science experiments, fun history projects, great field trips, and play dates with friends.

We all need a little fun in our lives.

7. Limit errands/outside classes to one or two days each week.

Since way back in the olden days of our family’s foray into homeschooling, I’ve tried to limit our days out of the house to one or two a week. I try to schedule doctor and dental appointments on days when we have other outside commitments.

If there was an option, I scheduled the kids extracurricular classes on the same days. For example, Brianna’s art class was on the same day as Megan and Josh’s music class. They were in the same part of town, so I was able to drop her off, take the younger kids to their class, and return to pick Brianna up.

Following a four-day schedule at home allowed us to focus on art and music classes once a week, have lunch out, and run errands. I would even schedule Brianna’s orthodontist appointments on art and music day. We squeezed in nature study, too.

Staying home and focusing on school the rest of the week made the busy day away from home worth the effort. Chick-fil-A for lunch on art/music day didn’t hurt either.

Now that Josh drives, I’m not such a stickler for scheduling outside activities on the same day, but it made my life easier when the kids were little.

8. Don’t allow your schedule to dictate your day.

I write out weekly lesson plans (or, I did until this year) because they help to keep us all on track. However, if a better opportunity presents itself or plans go awry, we adjust.

Sometimes family time or impromptu field trips provide better, unexpected learning opportunities. You’ll never know if you don’t seize those moments when they present themselves.

9. Get everyone involved in housework.

When the kids were younger, we started off most school days with a little bit of housework. Everyone pitched in for an hour or so to dust, vacuum, do the laundry, or load the dishwasher.

Our house was never (and still isn’t) spotless, but it’s usually presentable. Clutter makes me crazy and stressed, so taking a few minutes to tidy up every day ensures a much smoother school day for me.

These days, I fiercely guard my morning quiet time before the teens wake, but I still enlist their help to clean the house. Just now it’s usually in the afternoons.

Don’t feel like you have to do it all. The time invested teaching your little ones to help with housekeeping pays off when they’re older. (Even if it means it takes a bit longer to get it done when they’re young.)

10. Go to bed at a decent time.

One of the best ways to ensure a lousy homeschool day is to make sure you’re consistently not getting enough sleep. Of course, we all have those unavoidable things that keep us from getting a good night’s rest like a sick child, the neighbor’s barking dog, or bouts of insomnia.

However, sitting up until the wee hours of the night scrolling through Facebook or checking schoolwork does not fall into that unavoidable category. One of the best things I’ve done for my own peace of mind in recent years is giving myself a set time to shut down my laptop.

My husband and I will lie in bed watching mindless TV (nothing intense when we’re trying to wind down for the night). We’ll read, chat, or play games on our phones (using the nighttime feature to dim the screen).

It’s funny how much earlier I get sleepy when I’m lying in bed versus when I’m sitting at my laptop. A regular nightly downtime makes me sleep better and wake more refreshed. Some nights I’m even excited about the next day’s schedule instead of dreading the beeping of the alarm clock.

Those are just some of the things that I’ve found that work for me to have a better school day.

What do you do to make sure your school days go as smoothly as possible?

updated from an article originally published October 12, 2010

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  1. Great great tips! These work for a sahm of preschoolers, too. It's all about thinking ahead! And feeling out what works best for you!

    Love this!

  2. Thanks for another Top Ten. It's good to read in print what is already floating around in my mind. I love my crockpot (actually I have 2)! πŸ™‚

  3. As always, a continued inspiration. Thanks, Kris! Have you read, "Homeschooling at the Speed of Life"? Absolutely love it, think you would too. πŸ™‚ Hope your day goes just as lovely today.

  4. Thanks, ladies! Oh, and it was 15-bean soup, Tricia. I thought it was good, but nobody else really cared for it. No surprise there — there aren't any big soup fans in my family. The homemade bread appeased them all, though.

  5. I love love love my crock pot. I need to pull out my cookbooks for the upcoming cold months ahead! Thanks for the list..great reminders!

  6. Thanks for those tips. On Monday mornings, we try to compile and summarize learning reports from the previous week. We tried doing it on Fridays but by the time we got to it, SJ was too ready for the weekend. Doing it on Monday reminds him that he needs to keep careful logs during the week to make it easier.

  7. Menu Planning (have next two meal/snack ready) works best for me. Also, I use schedule as guideline so that I can track progress but plan is plan. Not rule.

  8. I think I could just say Amen to all of those! Great list — and a few things I used to do but haven't lately so I need to re-implement some of these ideas!

  9. I do have one issue though. Our kids have too many out of home activity(I know who to blame) and the result is that I end up doing all housework to ensure everything else happens. I do see the flaw in this logic but have no idea how to motivate kids to do housework faster (and no repetition of request to empty dishwasher is needed).
    they are 6.5 yr old. Somethings are height challenge and 'can not use knife' etc…

  10. A lot of those, or maybe all of them are top ten things to having a smoother day in general not even just for homeschooling πŸ™‚ Great post.

  11. These are such great tips! Though I know them all, I forget and need reminding. Actually, most of these, I should write in Sharpie marker on the bathroom mirror so that I stop forgetting!

    Thanks for the good reminders!

  12. Thanks for these tips and reminders. I need to plan to pull out my crock pot again this week. I agree with you about limiting activities too. Simple is good.

  13. I needed this today. I can't tell you how many times we have ate out this school year because I haven't planned ahead on meals.. and we have a commitment every late afternoon of the week. I am thinking of dropping a couple for the spring semester just because it is an exhausting schedule for me to keep up.

  14. Wow, love this list. We are just starting with our preschooler and trying to find our niche.

    Flexible organization is falling together with us, and our day must start with prayer.

    Because we are just starting, I have a few lists to get me into habits of the must do's like prayer and the rest we are fitting in to what we need to do.

    Thanks so much.

  15. I love your list! Another biggie for us is making sure we all get some kind of physical activity each day! I used to think it was important for my son mostly, but everyone benefits from a brisk walk/bike ride/scooter ride through the neighborhood.

  16. It took me years to iron out what we needed to do to make our days work. Slowly over the years, we have implemented these one at a time! ( I do wonder what it would have been like if I’d had this list sooner!) It’s really uncanny.
    Just two days ago I realized #2 would make my life a lot easier although I hate to do it and could use tips! As I have just manged to do #7. I’ll work on #8 a bit later in the year. #10 though that’s been a years long struggle. I keep trying to get the kids and I on an earlier schedule. As soon as we no longer have a reason to get up early regularly (a co-op or class) we fall back onto a later one since half of us are naturally night owls and I too tired by the end of the day to make everyone go to sleep…

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