We are nearing the finish line with our little series here! Two more posts left in the queue. Today, let's chat a little bit about principles for scheduling, and next time we'll wrap things up with some final thoughts.
So schedules. One of the things that I love about AO is that while they have pulled together the syllabus for the year for me, and even broken that down into a weekly reading list, they have NOT actually offered me daily lesson plans. That gives me the freedom and flexibility to take that weekly reading list, together with our skill subjects and the beautiful 'riches', and make them work in our specific situation. While I love that, I realize that some of the rest of you might not love that so much. The thought of having to take that weekly plan and translate it into a daily schedule might be really overwhelming.
I could tell you what I do, but what I do may not work for you. And that's okay. I have three school-aged children in three separate years. My Year One student is my youngest. One of my students is very independent, one is slowly (very slowly) moving towards independence, and one is has to do everything with me still. We do a co-op one day per week. In our family dynamics, we can combine some, but it works best for us not to combine a lot. Your situation might be different. Your Year One might be your oldest or only student. You may have babies and toddlers in the mix, or children with special needs that require your extra attention. You may find that combining works better for your particular mix of personalities than it does for us, so you may want to consider doing more of that.
So with so many variables to consider when scheduling, where should we begin? With a few principles. Christy Hissong has an excellent guest post over at Afterthoughts on this very topic (I also heard her present on these principles at the AmblesideOnline Conference in Indiana last summer.) Click over there and read it, and then on back over here and I'll share a bit about how those principles play out in our situation….which will hopefully help you brainstorm what these principles might look like in YOUR situation.
So, did ya read it? Good. Let's chat about it now, shall we?
Principle #1: You need a schedule.
Well, we are routine-loving creatures of habit over here, so this one goes without saying for us. J We've toyed around with different variations on a daily routine here, but what has always worked best for us is getting to lessons right after breakfast and working until we are done…because then we're done! J Right now, we begin our morning with a short walk right after breakfast, followed by a group-morning-basket time with a rotation of combined subjects, and then I work one-on-one with each student from youngest (least independent) to oldest (most independent). This is certainly not the only way to do it – Celeste over at Joyous Lessons is a mother-to-many with lots of little ones, so her day looks different from mine. Consider your own needs and situation, and develop a routine that fits that.
Principle #2: Lessons should be short.
The short lessons principle is one of my favorite things about Charlotte Mason's ideas on scheduling. It is amazing what you can accomplish in short, consistent chunks! For my current Year One student, a 'short lesson' might range from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on what it is. Copywork is never more than 5, Phonics is usually 10-15 minutes, Math can be 15-20, and readings vary according to length. Something like Aesop doesn't take any more than 5-10 minutes, including time for narration, whereas the Blue Fairy Book might take multiple 15-20 minute read-and-narrate sessions spread over several days. The key here is to adjust your time expectations to your student and stop *before* their attention wanes. When that time is up, close the book even if the lesson/chapter isn't done, and come back to it tomorrow.
Principle#3: Lessons should be varied.
This is what varied/alternating lessons look like for my Year One Student, with times so you can see how the short-lessons work too:
Morning Basket (including all of my children – Years 1, 2, 4) (45 minutes-1hour)
Bible Reading+Narration (10)
"Activity" Rotation: Artist/Composer Study, Drawing, Nature Journaling, Geography (10-20)
Year One Lesson Block (just over 1 hour)
Poetry Reading + Recite Memory Work (10)
Nature study outings, handicrafts, and free readings tend to be more 'lifestyle' things that happen naturally in the afternoons, evenings, and weekends rather than part of our formal morning lesson time.
Principle #4: Plan for margin.
I have three formal-school-age students, and it's important for me to be finished with lessons by early afternoon. This means our mornings are pretty packed. This is also where those short, varied lessons principles come in handy. Our mornings are packed, yes, but not a slog.) That said, we're not early morning people here, so one way we've planned for margin is by not starting lessons too early – I've given us the space we need to ease into the day. We shoot for our morning walk around 8:30ish and aim to be on the couch with the morning basket by 9. My Year One is usually done with lessons by 11, the Year 2 by noon, and the Year 4 by 1:30-2 depending on how long lunch takes. If we're not done by 2 for some reason, we just stop there anyway, which leaves lots of free time in the afternoons. When my children were all young, we weren't involved in many outside activities. This coming year we will be involved in more activities than we have in the past, but all of them (swimming, choir, co-op) are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which still leaves 4 days of the week we are primarily at home and free in the afternoons.
So take some time. Consider your family's situation in your current season, and consider these principles. Find something that works *for* you rather than *against* you. And then just go for it. There is no perfect schedule or One Right Way to do things. You will need to adjust things along the way. But the only way you will know if it's going to work is to give it a try and see what happens. Go for it, Mama!
For further reference: I've actually written quite a few posts on planning and scheduling in the past. Apparently, I am a planning and scheduling geek. :P You can read some of those posts here for further ideas and what our routines have looked like in different seasons of our family life.