I believe there are two keys to successful long term homeschooling. They are: a well thought out Australian curriculum that is followed logically year after year and a routine.
The dictionary defines routine as “a regular course or procedure.” Routines do not have to be rigid although, once established, they should be followed fairly rigidly for the first year so a habit is established. Once routines become habits, life become much easier since everyone knows what to do.
The routine may be as simple as on Monday to Friday: getting up; getting the washing on; eating breakfast; having the children dress, make their beds and clean their rooms while you tidy and then beginning the academics for the day. The academics may vary between an hour for a child learning to read, to three hours for a year 10. During that time it is best if friends and relatives are asked not to call and the phone is answered by a machine.
The afternoon routine will vary, as the activities will change from day to day. Some activities may necessitate leaving the house, e.g., swimming and music lessons or library visits. We suggest you schedule only one afternoon activity a day.
Why are routines important? Children thrive on routine. They know exactly what will happen and what is expected of them. It makes them feel secure and aids learning. I have asked my generation—the baby boomers—and our parent’s generation, what they remember about the routine at school. Even my mother-in-law, who was 90 at the time, remembered when lessons for math’s, english and writing were scheduled. Why? There was routine. Life was ordered. We felt secure because we knew what was expected of us and when. I believe that without order, both in curriculum and in schedules, nothing is accomplished.
Routines are also important for the mother. It helps organize her day as well as that of her children. Mothers have a lot more to do than just homeschool. Without a routine nothing gets done. There may have been no academics covered or the housework may still be waiting when Dad returns.
Of course, there will be days when a child is sick or some domestic disaster occurs and the routine will fly out the window. That is life! It’s messy! But the routine should be returned to once the disaster is over.
It is also important to take the individual child into consideration. You will have days when you have spent twenty minutes to half an hour on a subject and the child has not understood. Simply leave it until the next day. This gives you time to think of another way to help the child understand and does not make the child feel stupid. However, in our house, if the child was messing around and simply not completing their lessons, then they stayed at their books until they completed the work and the rest of the family did other things. When their work was completed they ate lunch. Children become adults, and adults have to work whether they feel like it or not. Work doesn’t go away if they don’t complete it. It just mounts up. Learning this as a child saves a lot of pain later.
Routines bring order. They establish self-discipline and habits. In an ordered environment children learn well. They feel secure. No-one can learn in the middle of chaos.
To establish a routine, set aside a time for homeschooling. Then work out what other tasks are essential and plan how you will fit them in. Some things will have to be sacrificed. Houses are never as tidy when children homeschool as they are when children are at school for six hours, but lives are richer. Children do make a mess but, as even my one year old grand-daughter knows, you have to at least help clean it up. Meals need to be cooked, shopping needs to be done and husbands need time spent with them. Hopefully too, there will be sometime for yourself—even if it is only 15 minutes in the bath. (Providing of course your husband doesn’t decide to strip the baby and give him to you to breast feed.)
I have found that lists help me. I worked out a timetable for academics. With the shopping, the list was, and still is, written on a board. My children have always known that if they finish an item or take one from the cupboard, they write it on the board and it will be replaced when we shop. If they didn’t write it on the board they had to wait another week before I bought it. My mother taught me that if you have at least two of each common item in your pantry then, when you use one, you still have another in the cupboard if you need it. This saves having to run down the shops all the time and saves a lot of money. Rarely do people go into a shop and buy only one thing.
I use lists for other things too. I will generally have a list of what are the key things to be accomplished for a day. I list things in order of priority. Sometimes the list is written on a piece of paper and sometimes it is in my head. I tick off things as I go. If I can’t complete something important then it goes to the top of the list the next day. When we first began homeschooling I had a cleaning and changing bed list on the fridge. This helped the children know when to change their beds and helped me know which room I was cleaning that day. It also left our weekends free for relaxation.
Before you can establish a routine that works, you need to be organized. You need to know which jobs you consider essential. These need to become priorities. With six children, getting the washing done and out on the line was my top priority.
Then you need to decide what hours of homeschooling suit your family. This will vary from family to family. All my children were early risers—never later than six a.m. and often earlier. This gave us plenty of time to get the basic jobs completed before we began homeschooling. We often began at 8.00 or 8.30 am and never later than 9.00am. This would not suit all families as some children require more sleep.
Routines need to be reviewed and changed regularly. When David and Peter began homeschooling I found that we could not begin the academics until we had gone for a “nature walk”. The boys couldn’t concentrate until they had run off some of their energy. I made it a nature walk so that I didn’t feel we were wasting time. Don’t be afraid to change you routine as long as it doesn’t become a daily habit. If the routine is being changed every day you don’t have a routine.
I am personally very organized. It came from having so many responsibilities. Some people are less organized. Your routine does not have to be the same as mine. It has to work for you but it must be a routine, something ordered that happens on a regular basis. To be successful at homeschooling you can’t just decide that morning what you will do. You need to plan.