How do you structure your homeschool year?
Do you stick to the school schedule? And if so, have you ever thought of doing it differently?
In this short episode I go through a number of different yearly homeschool schedule options, and talk about the pros and cons of each.
Remember, you can structure your time however you like – you have full flexibility, take advantage of it!
OR you can listen on YouTube – follow the Feels Like Home playlist here.
2021 Summit – Homeschool Planning and Organising with Kids, Bel Moore
Zero to Homeschool – breaks down yearly, weekly, and daily homeschool schedule options and how to choose the right option for your family (plus lots of other stuff!)
Tidal Homeschooling – Melissa Wiley
Hey everyone and welcome to the very first solo episode of Feels like Home, it’s just me for this one. So, I had a couple of requests from the Australian Homeschooling Summit asking about yearly schedules so today I’m going to have a chat with you about scheduling options and share some of the ideas that work for homeschoolers. This is something I cover in Zero to Homeschool, including how to schedule out your resources, so please take a look in the show notes if you’d like a course that walks you through all the how to plan and schedule info.
Now when most people start homeschooling they don’t even think about what sort of schedule they’ll have, they just assume they’ll follow the school year which kind of makes sense, right? But when you start hearing about what other people are doing it tends to be a bit of an a-ha moment in realising that we don’t have to stick to the school schedule and do four terms per year of about 12 weeks each with a long summer holiday. There’s no actual reason to stick to the school timetable. We can structure our year however we like. Now, that’s exciting, but can also be a bit overwhelming, because looking at that huge chunk of blank time that is going to be filled whether we like it or not can be rather scary.
If you feel a little bit uneasy about striking out and making your own schedule here are some reasons NOT to stick to the school timetable:
- First, you can arrange all your activities to suit you, you don’t have to fit them into an outside schedule, you can do them when they suit your needs
- Second, you can go away on holidays and to popular places while other kids are in school (cheaper AND quieter), and I think this is a huge perk of homeschooling. We can go on cheap holidays and have the beaches, museums, theme parks, all of the popular sights, to ourselves. Many families I know, and this includes ours, stay home more over school holidays because they want to avoid the crowds.
- Third, kids don’t forget their maths/memory work/foreign language over a long summer break, and less review when you start up again means less work overall for better results.
- Fourth, and this may be hard to believe if you’re struggling at the moment, but if you keep things fun, they won’t WANT a long break. Honestly, that school holiday relief doesn’t exist in every family. If your kids like what they do they won’t actually want six week off from it.
- Fifth, you can be spontaneous, and take advantage of opportunities as they arise, because you create your schedule.
- And finally, but maybe most importantly, you’re less likely to burn out, and that’s both you and the kids, because you can keep a slower overall pace and have breaks when you need them.
OK, hopefully you’re convinced that working outside the school schedule is worthwhile. Now I’m going to share a few common and homeschooler-tested ideas that work for many families, and may be more convenient for you than the school year.
First up, is actually just to follow the school year, surprise – I know I just said that you don’t have to, but if it works for you you definitely can! So in Australia you’ll have four terms a year with two-week breaks between each term, and a longer summer holiday. This is a great option if one parent is a teacher, or you have some kids at school and some homeschooling, or you interact a lot with schooling families. You’re busy while they’re busy, and you’re free when they’re free. So it can work.
BUT if you’re not tied to the school system in any way, you’ll probably prefer one of these options.
First up is year-round homeschooling. This doesn’t mean that you work hard, non-stop, 5 days a week, all year with no holidays. Instead, you potter along all year, and have holidays as you need them. Your children won’t forget everything over a long summer break, and you get to keep a more relaxed pace. This is a fantastic method if you have a more natural learning or interest-led approach, because you generally want to follow your interests all the time and don’t want long holidays for no real reason. When life is learning and learning is life holidays become a little bit irrelevant, to be honest, because it’s difficult to see what you are meant stop doing. I mean, if your kid wants to keep playing their instrument or building their model or continue their month-long science experiment you don’t have to tell them to stop. I find that the breaks in this case are more for parents, who want a guilt-free week to step back and sleep in and have a bit more of a rest!
And if you take year-round homeschooling a bit further you may be doing what’s called tidal homeschooling, I’ll link to it in the show notes. With tidal homeschooling you don’t’ have a schedule as such, but instead you follow the natural ebb and flow of learning and energy. Sometimes you’re inspired and busy and getting so much done, you’re ticking all the boxes, your Instagram account looks fantastic, and you feel like an awesome homeschooling parent. But other times you’re relaxed, not very busy, not so productive, and maybe that’s when you start to fret that you’re not getting enough done. But in many ways this quiet time is the recovery time from your previous busy period and also the incubation time for your next busy period. I like this concept of tidal homeschooling a lot because it seems to be the way we work – sometimes getting so much done, and other times feeling relaxed and cruisy. Both states seem to be necessary and balance each other out, and when you look back over the longer term it’s easy to see that overall, a lot is getting done.
OK, so being inspired by year-round or tidal hoeschooling is all well and good if you unschool or you’re a pretty relaxed homeschooler, but if you’re a bit more curriculum-based you probably want to book in some time away from the maths books and history lessons. This will be time when you don’t have a schedule and you and your children get some unstructured time, and also time when you can book holidays, tell people you’re free, all that sort of stuff.
So apart from following the school year, you can try a few other options of breaking up your work time. First up is six weeks on, one week off, plus a longer holiday once or twice a year. This can really help to avoid burnout because of the regular breaks.
Alternatively, you can try four weeks on, one week off, year round. Again, you’ll avoid burnout by avoiding long blocks of work. It’s pretty easy to get through four weeks, and the holiday week seems to come around pretty regularly.
Now these two options may sound pretty slack, but when you add up the weeks on you’ll realise that you’re doing as many work weeks as school. If you need to mark attendance you can easily tick off all your required days with both the 6-week and 4-week work blocks, even if you choose a more non-traditional weekly schedule like a four-day work week.
And of course, you can come up with any other schedule that suits you. If you have a FIFO or military parent or other outside schedule, you can do more bookwork when they’re away and less when they’re at home. So that could mean that on the ten days your partner is away working you can do lots of bookwork, and then on the five days they’re home you don’t do any, that’s fine, you don’t even have to stick to the normal work week. If you have a big event coming up, like a new baby or a house move, make sure you allow for plenty of time off to reduce the stress at that time. Just stand back and look at six month blocks, or the entire year, to reassure yourself that yes, you’ll still fit plenty of work time in.
When you’re planning this out, think about the subjects you’ll cover. You don’t need to do all subjects all the time. For example, if you’ve decided on a year-round schedule you can do three month blocks of history, geography, health, and logic (just pulling subjects out of the air here). If you’re doing four weeks on, one off, you can rotate subjects through the blocks to give you and your kids some variation. For the first block do history, the second geography, and so on. Breaking them up like this also allows you to spend more quality time on each one, rather than jumping from subject to subject all week.
You really do have lots of flexibility, so don’t stick to a schedule that stresses you out and doesn’t work. Feel free to experiment and change things around until you find what works. It will change over time and that’s perfectly fine, as you get more experience and as your family grows and changes you are definitely allowed to change your schedule around to fit them.
OK, so what about us, what do we do in our family? We’re pretty relaxed in terms of curriculum and bookwork, we don’t do a huge amount of it and instead we do a lot of interest-led and project-based learning, which doesn’t really feel like work a lot of the time. For us, it all depends on the lifestyle we’re living at that time.
When we’re in a house and have a fairly predictable routine we usually do four weeks on and one week off. After four weeks we’re ready for a break! Now in those four weeks bookwork has to be done Monday to Friday, I refuse to help on Saturday or Sunday. If there’s a good reason, like we’ve been away, I’ll help out on Saturday morning, but that’s it. It’s the same for the weeks off – they’re actually weeks off and we don’t let bookwork creep into them. I find I need that break, so I protect it. And I find this actually works pretty well, I’m not sure why, maybe a bit of treat ’em mean keep em keen? Saying no to a grammar or history lesson on a week off tends to make them more attractive overall! It can be a bit trickier when kids have projects they’re enthusiastic about, but they tend to do those pretty independently. Life is learning for us most of the time and we don’t feel that these things are a chore, so helping out with them usually doesn’t feel like it’s tiring me out. If it does, I’ll say so, and we’ll work out exactly they need and when I can help. Usually it’s something small, like ordering a book or bouncing ideas off me, having a bit of discussion, looking us something and spending five minutes brainstorming, and then they can return to their project and I can return to whatever I’m doing.
Right now we’re also kind of living by Gabrielle’s uni schedule, so we make sure that when she’s on holidays we can all do things together and we all get time off as a family, even if it isn’t in our scheduled week off block.
OK, so that’s when we’re living in a house, but we travel a lot too, and long-term – we’ve spent over a year at a time with no fixed address. Obviously that gives us more unpredictability but we still tend to find a bit of a rhythm. Because we slow travel we organise as we go and are pretty relaxed about it – it’s quite different to only having three days in a place and spending them in a frenzy, cramming everything in before we go on to the next quick stop! We tend to spend as long as we want in an area, which can be a month or even more if we’re enjoying it.
When travelling either in a caravan in Australia or in Airbnbs overseas we’re pretty random and we don’t really have a schedule, which is my preferred way to operate. We have to take advantage of opportunities in each area, and if we’re somewhere that has lots to do I’m not going to spend days cooped up working through a curriculum that we can do absolutely anywhere, we’re going to be going out exploring, visiting museums and castles, hiking, and experimenting with the local food, all of the things that come our way. Our bookwork gets put aside for experiences, and we have no real schedule. However we always keep reading, playing games, doing our hobbies, all that kind of stuff.
But when we’re having quiet weeks or days we’ll spend a bit of time doing bookwork and curriculum-related activities. We find we need regular quiet times when travelling, when we spend a bit of time in one place, otherwise we get burnt out and travel fatigued and we don’t appreciate the fantastic things around us and those times are when we return to the rhythm and routine of more traditionally academic activities.
And that brings me to my most important point – scheduling time off. I know from personal experience that it can be really hard as a homeschooling parent to switch off, and you may have noticed when I was talking about our schedules that we have time built in for that, we actually have non-negotiable time off. So we don’t do bookwork on the weekends, and we have regular weeks off. And I don’t spend all that time preparing for the next burst because I need a break. I read books, we play games, we do craft, we get outdoors, and although we do this during our regular weeks too the time off does feel more relaxed and gives my brain the rest it needs to be able to get back into it with enthusiasm. And I really think that building in that rest time, the time when you can be free from so many expectations without feeling guilty and neglectful, is really important. Any long-term homeschooler will tell you that if you keep your nose to the grindstone all week, every week, you will get tired and burnt out and turn into the grumpy no-fun parent and you will want to run away from your life, and we kind of want to avoid that. So please don’t skip the rest times, don’t be tempted to fill them with enriching activity that will frazzle you, and don’t be scared to say no, I can’t do that right now because I’m having a break. The world will not stop, and your kids will not need therapy for the rest of their lives because you weren’t available and willing 24/7, 365 days a year. A bit of boredom or independence is actually a great thing.
So I hope that’s been helpful, and like I said at the beginning I go through setting up your yearly schedule and breaking it down into blocks and weeks in Zero to Homeschool, and show you how to fit your curriculum and other activities into your chosen schedule, among many other setting up homeschool type stuff. If you’re interested in going through this in more detail there’s a link in the show notes.
Alright, now off you go, print out a yearly calendar, and start blocking out time. I’d love to hear what you come up with, please feel free to share in the comments or email me pics and details.
Thanks for joining me, and I’ll chat with you again next episode. Until then, happy homeschooling.