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Staying on Track With Your Homeschool Schedule

Are the winter blahs tempting you to wander from your homeschool schedule? Here are tips for staying on track from a veteran homeschool mom.

Here we are, in the middle of the homeschool year. It’s after the holidays, and there’s a long way to go before spring break. This is when the winter blues can hit; and I don’t know about you, but at our house, we can tend to get off of our homeschool schedule.

(Actually, we can tend to get off schedule ANY time of the year…sigh.)

There have been several a few years in the past when we have just finished the prior school year a day before starting the new one – in mid-September at least once, I blushingly confess – all because we did not stay on schedule the year before.

Summer break? Nada.

Each year I say to myself: THIS YEAR I WANT A SUMMER BREAK. I want to be able to go to the pool without guilt. I want to play in my garden. I want to sleep in. I want to read fluff. And I DON’T want to have to nag my children about their schoolwork – for at least SEVERAL weeks!!

(Reminds me of White Christmas, when Danny Kaye’s character says, “45 minutes. That’s all I ask.  Just 45 minutes — and then I could go get a massage or something!”)

But each year as the weeks roll by, I find myself bumping the lesson plans AGAIN; and I begin to get anxious about whether the summer break will happen…

So this post – as many of mine are, lol – is written to myself. I need some motivation RIGHT NOW to keep on track, so that my lovely summer plans can be carried out.

Staying on Track with Your Homeschool Schedule

Over the years I have found some behaviors that contribute to maintaining our homeschool schedule.

Keep short accounts to stay on your homeschool schedule

What does it mean to keep short accounts?  It means don’t let things slide along on their own for very long.  Check in frequently in these areas:

The amount of work the kids are getting done

REALLY getting done.  Don’t let the kids work weeks and weeks (I would never do this… gulp), or even days, without checking in on them to see how they’re doing. Obviously with early elementary kids this won’t happen, because you are probably working on reading with them daily and teaching them their other subjects; but with the older kids who are working more independently, be sure to check in frequently (for some kids this may translate to several times a day, lol) on where they are in their lesson plans.

And don’t just take their word for it.  Take it from someone who has learned the hard way — even my supposedly perfect kids have tried to get away with saying they did it when they really didn’t. Shocker, I know, but I’m just being real here, folks.  Take a look at the work and make sure it is completed thoroughly and well.

Grading

In my house we have an inbox for everything that I need to grade. Because let’s face it, I can’t always hop to it as soon as someone has finished a test; I’m often in the middle of reading a book cleaning or the budget or some other important task. So as a kid finishes an activity that needs to be graded, the piece of paper gets put into my inbox, with the idea that I will grab those assignments every few days and grade them.

This is important and necessary, for obvious reasons.  The temptation, though, is to let it slide for weeks… and then you find out that junior does NOT understand the last five chapters in math and you have to go back and review with him for the next few weeks… Nope. Never did that, either. *fingers crossed behind back*

Lesson Plans

Update them WEEKLY. I use software to plan our homeschool schedule, i.e., which lesson is assigned to which day for each student and subject. At the beginning of a semester, I usually auto-input the lessons for the entire semester, so I can see the end. 🙂 But I only print out the current week’s plan. At the end of each week I revisit the plans and bump what’s necessary to the next week — hopefully only a lesson or two. Granted, this is not ideal; but it is reality.

There is also usually an accompanying discussion with the student about “why did this not get done” and “how can we make this happen in a timely fashion” etc. etc.  – not usually a fun thing. But trust me, it’s easier on the psyche to bump a couple of lessons at a time, rather than several weeks of lessons because no one was paying attention to how many days they didn’t get done.

(Being real means I also must admit that Saturday is often a partial school day at our house, depending on how many lessons were not completed that week and what it will mean to the big picture to bump them to Monday or later…)

BE these things to stay on your homeschool schedule

Be available.

It’s important for me not to schedule too much into my day, or to be gone very much, so that I am available for questions from the kids when they arise. Getting stuck on a concept in math can be debilitating to the schedule if I am not available to help my kid over that hump for hours or days. And I have to remember that THIS is my priority – not the clean house or the gourmet dinner or the Facebook or the texting…

Be a cheerleader.

Encourage the kids for working well. Maintain a cheerful demeanor. Provide a special treat at lunch, just because, or maybe even as a reward. Draw smiley faces on their work.  Keep a smiley face on your own face.

Be a task-master.

That sounds mean, doesn’t it? But can we be honest here? I for one DO NOT like to work!! And neither do my kids, hello. But the ability to work hard and get a tough job done is necessary in this life and is a good character quality to have.  It’s called diligence. It’s that day-after-day slogging through, that is just part of life whether we like it or not. I can’t instill that in my kids by being soft. I must keep on them about completing their work, and not just checking the boxes but being thorough and actually learning. And here’s the obvious caveat: I need to be nice about it (see “be a cheerleader,” above). But also firm, which may mean administering consequences if there is a pattern of lassitude in this area — taking away video game time, for example.

Be an example of diligence.

No kid will want to work at his lessons if his mom is sitting around the house eating bon-bons and watching TV all day. I need to show an example of hard work myself.  My big struggle on this one — true confessions here — is getting up in the morning. I often hear the public school bus go by in the morning while I’m still in bed, and I am always SO grateful we don’t have to get up early enough to be ready for THAT. But those people are up and have started their day, while I’m still lying around. I can’t expect my kids to get up and at ’em if I am not doing the same. Granted, I’m still not gonna get up as early as the school bus… but I do need to get up and become productive at a reasonable hour.  Um, getting out of my pajamas before noon might be another one I need to tackle…

Other tips for staying on your homeschool schedule

Use the Pomodoro technique.

This has been a HUGE HELP in our family for keeping on task. The idea behind this method of working is that in general, people will work better/harder when they have frequent breaks.

The Pomodoro technique has you set a timer for 25 minutes, work hard during that time, and then take a break for 5 minutes. There’s a little more to it than that, which I’ve described in my article Homeschooling Teens Who are Easily Distracted. But it really does keep things rolling. The timer acts as a motivator, and the breaks actually help the brain work harder.

Don’t discourage listening to music while working, and by the same token, don’t discourage doodling or other activity while watching a lesson video.

Several of my kids work better when they have music going.  One of them MUST be doing something with her hands while she watches a video, or she will zone out.  This is a learning style thing, and one of the reasons we homeschool is so our kids can be individuals in how they learn, right?  The obvious caveat here is to curtail the music or activity if it is proving to be a distraction.

Schedule a fun activity for the end of the week as something to look forward to after all the work is done.

It can be cheap like a movie night at home, or a special dinner.  Or sometimes you can break out the wallet and go bowling. 🙂

The big picture about your homeschool schedule

After all this, there may be setbacks. Your child might really need to take a few more days to study for that Chemistry test. So be it. No guilt needed for that one. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that our kids have the chance to take the time to really learn something, rather than being rushed through it with the rest of the class.  We don’t want the lack of mastery snowball to start rolling…

And if it’s a matter of a lack of diligence, having to work into the summer can be a great vehicle for the child to learn the value of a good work ethic.  This could be a life-changer for that kid who formerly tended towards laziness or lack of attention to task.  Sometimes the big picture of character development must take precedence over the specifics of the semester plan.

And let me be honest here: when the kids were all in the early grades, I purposely did year-round school, because maintaining the routine was better for us as a family. Conflict and unhappiness resulted when there was too much free time over too long a span of time, lol.

So if we “lose” our summer now, it’s not so much different than it was then. Sometimes you just gotta give up the dreams of laziness by the pool and stay inside at the table with your sophomore, working through Geometry.  When we take on this homeschool thing, we don’t do it for our own convenience.  We do it because we believe it is best for our kids.  So let’s continue to do what’s best for them, even if that means not getting a great tan. 🙂

I found these articles that may also prove helpful as you think about your homeschool schedule:

One Mom’s Shocking Homeschool Confession at Joy in the Journey — Her confession is that she doesn’t plan ahead at all.  This method might relieve some pressure, especially in the early years.

Semester Planning for Homeschoolers Who Don’t Use a Packaged Curriculum  — which is many of us! Good ideas in this post at Jimmie’s Collage.

What things does your family do to maintain your homeschool schedule?  Do you find it easy or hard to do?

About the author

Ann Karako

Ann has been homeschooling for 18+ years and has graduated four children (one more to go). She believes that EVERY mom can CONFIDENTLY, COMPETENTLY -- and even CONTENTEDLY -- provide the COMPLETE high school education that her teen needs. Ann's website, AnnieandEverything.com, offers information, resources, and virtual hugs to help homeschool moms do just that. Ann has written Cure the Fear of Homeschooling High School: A Step-by-Step Manual for Research & Planning, and she founded the popular FB group called It's Not that Hard to Homeschool High School. She and her family, including two dogs and three cats, live in rural Missouri.

4 Comments

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  • Hi Annie, I enjoyed the article and could relate to most of these! 🙁 I was wondering if you minded sharing which lesson planner you used. I have been considering using a software lesson planner (manual is becoming quite cumbersome with 3 kiddos) but haven’t found one that I think would be flexible enough yet. Thanks!

    • Hi Valerie! That’s a great question! Before I got my MacBook, I used a program called Homeschool Tracker. I loved that program — there was a definite learning curve but it did everything I needed, including make a beautiful transcript. But it was not available for Mac, and I did not want to convert to an online service — there are some things I don’t mind keeping in the cloud, but specific information about my kids is not one of them. The only homeschool software that I know of that is available as a download with local storage for Mac is Olly, so that is what I bought. I will say that it has its limitations… but it’s better than paper and pen. You can find it at OllyHomeschool.com. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • Thanks for writing this great informational post. And wow what I just typed sounds like a robot. I love how you said we took this on for what’s best for our kids, and we need to keep doing what is best for our kids 🙂 Awesome!

Hi! I’m glad you’re here!


I’m Ann (aka Annie), a veteran homeschool mom of five who HATES complicated!
more about me >>

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