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by Terri Johnson

Mastering Your Schedule

Even During the Holidays
Let's face it... life gets busy during the holidays. How do we juggle schoolwork, housework, entertaining, outings, baking, shopping, gift wrapping, etc. without dropping all of the balls? It gets tricky and often schoolwork is the first thing to go. In this article, we'll discuss how to homeschool with joy and purpose through the holidays and when to take a guilt-free break. You will learn to become the master of your schedule and how make it work for you.

I have found out that when you homeschool your children, you need to formulate some type of schedule and routine, or you will become frustrated and possibly uncertain in what you are trying to accomplish.

The question is... how do we get the schedule working well for us, especially during the holidays when the activities and responsibilities get piled on even higher?

I would like to share with you my 7 Homeschool Heresies:

(I call these Homeschool Heresies because sometimes when I share one of these ideas, I will receive a look of shock from the listener, as though I had just said a bad word.)

Terri's 7 Homeschool Heresies:

1. You can do school when YOU want to!

You do not have to start at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning. If it works better for your schedule, you can do school with your children in the afternoon. I did this a couple of times when I had a baby or toddler who was taking a nap in the afternoon and it was the only time that I could concentrate whole-heartedly on the task at hand.

2. You do not have to do every subject every day, or every week, or even every year!

We do grammar 3x a week and spelling 2x a week. We do science 3x a week and history 4x a week. You might decide to do history one week and then science the next, or even a monthly rotation, even yearly. You don’t have to start grammar until 3rd grade. Keep your daily subjects reasonable - don’t do more than 4-5 a day. During the holidays, you can trim this to 3 or 4.

3. You can be finished before noon!

In fact, you should be if you have kids in grades 6 and under. Schoolwork with the little ones should take 2 hours or less. My high schoolers spend 3-5 hours a day on their school work, usually closer to 3 or 4. And they take outside classes and can still pull this off!

4. You should never reward quick work with more work!

This is the surest way to squelch efficiency in your homeschool. If a child works quickly and completes what you have asked him to do, reward that child with extra free time or a fun activity that he/she has been longing to do. If you want your kids to work slowly, then make them do extra work when they finish before the time you have allotted for that subject.

5. Don’t turn every interest that your child has into a unit study!

This is another way to squelch the love of learning, particularly the love of learning about something on your own. If every time your child shows a passion for something (say butterflies or racing cars) and you decide to assign a paper on it, they will stop sharing with you their interests. Am I against unit studies? Oh, far to the contrary! We love to do unit studies to break up the monotony of school, especially during the winter and spring months. We’ll talk more about unit studies in a few minutes.

6. School is a given!

School should be so much a part of your routine that your kids do not ask you, “Are we doing school today?” It should be on the same level as brushing teeth or getting dress. School is just what we do. Besides, routine is comforting for children. In fact, when we have something special planned and I am secretly planning to give my kids the day off school, they will often have it finished before I get up and have my first cup of coffee.

7. Take days off when you want to (or need to)!

You are the master of your schedule and you are in charge. If you want to take a day off school, then do it! The beauty of homeschooling is that we can choose our days off. We often do not take the federally recognized holidays off, such as Columbus Day or Veterans Day. We sometimes do not take 2 weeks off at Christmas, maybe only one and get back to it after Christmas, instead of waiting until after New Years. But I almost always take the entire week of Thanksgiving off because I have relatives coming into town and want to get the house clean and the food prepared in advance.  Take the days off that you will most enjoy and need the most to get other things accomplished. 

Here’s a bonus one: (maybe this is more of pet-peeve than a heresy)

8. Don’t turn Christmas into a unit study!

Christmas is a holy celebration and I steer clear of unit studies that make it cutesy or just provide me and my children with busy work. I am all for advent and I’ll talk about that in a minute, but Christmas unit studies? Frankly, I don’t have time for that and it is too sacred a holiday to minimize into busy work!

Putting together a homeschooling schedule can be tricky, especially if you are teaching more than 1 child. Here are some things to consider:

• Children in grades K-2 need you to work with them directly. Thankfully, these kids are usually finished in less than an hour.
• Kids in grades 3-6 need you nearby, like in the same room perhaps working with a younger sibling or folding laundry and answering questions. Stay close but do not hover.
• 7th and 8th grades should get a longer leash and work in a quieter room if necessary. Be available for questions, discussion, problem-solving, etc. Check their work so that they do not get off track!
• High school students should be working independently. However, this does not mean that they do not need you. They need you just as much as they ever have, or perhaps even more so. But do allow them to work on their school subjects at a time that is most convenient for them, as long as they are keeping up with their school work. My kids are taking outside classes at co-ops, the college, etc. and they have to keep up on their studies.

Like a puzzle, piece all of the necessary information together taking into consideration ages of your children and the number of subjects to cover in each day of the way. What you end up with will be your master schedule.

I have found through the years that the more children you have, the more structured you will need to be. However, on the other hand…

The more children that you have, the more flexible you will need to be.

These two statements may sound contradictory, but they go together hand in hand. Create the structure of your schedule, but be willing to set it aside for the individual needs of your kids, as necessary.


You will need to use the following 4 tools in your home if you want to stay on top of your schedule this holiday season:

• Family calendar
• School planner
• Master schedule
• Individual student schedules

I want to emphasize how important the family calendar is. This is your central place to record Christmas parties, outings, appointments, library books due, youth group, classes, gifts due, company visiting, etc.

If it is not on the calendar, you may forget. You may be a master of keeping all information safely tucked away in your brain, but your family cannot read your mind. They can read the calendar. In particular, your husband needs to know what is going on, whether he is included in the activity or not. If you need to be somewhere, or if a shoe box is due on a given date, or the library books are due the day before Christmas Eve, mark it on the calendar.

A school planner is nice, but not necessary. I have gone many years without one, but I do like having one now. These usually have lots of features, including holiday sections to help you with your baking and gift giving. However, it still should not replace the family calendar, because again, others in your family need to know what is going on, not just you.

The master schedule is the sheet of paper where you recorded the regular school routine for your family. This should show what everyone should be doing throughout the course of the day, at least during your regular school hours. You can create this by hand, within the pages of your school planner, or in a spreadsheet such as Excel or OpenOffice. I like to create mine in Excel, then print it out and place it within my school planner.

From this master schedule, you should create individual student schedules. Why, you ask? Because, you want your kids to begin to make their school work their own. Remember, I told you the story of my kids getting their school work done before I got up for the day. They could do this effectively and completely because they each keep a student schedule taped to the lid of their school box. That way, they know what they are expected to do each day and can move through those activities on their own. If you have a non-reader, then it is not necessary.

Finally, I want to touch on two more aspect of schedules before we conclude and that is the concepts of routine and traditions. Kids thrive in routine and they love traditions.

First, routine…

Help your children get into good habits by following a routine. Frankly, you do not have to move through your day in a military-like fashion and change subjects at exactly 30 minutes, but you may establish that we do this first, then this, then this.

Routine is great for before school activities, such as breakfast, dressing, morning chores, etc. It works great during school and it is especially helpful from dinnertime on.

We have a routine of family devotions right after breakfast and before school. This is expected and enjoyed. During the 4 weeks before Christmas, we use this time to celebrate Advent. We read through stories that tell the Christmas story and we sing carols in anticipation of the coming celebration.

If you would like to incorporate advent into your holiday school schedule, pick a consistent time that you can include this and preferably when Dad is home. Once Christmas is past, you can continue with family devotions using something else to guide you.

Finally, traditions…

Establish some traditions for the holiday season, if you haven’t done so already. We have certain foods that we like to make on various days leading up to Christmas. We like to get our tree the first weekend in December. Many people get them the day after Thanksgiving. We start listening to Christmas music as soon as we finish Thanksgiving dinner, while we are eating dessert.

If you have traditions that you want to incorporate and aren’t sure how to pull it off because you have schoolwork to do, ditch the schoolwork! You are the master of your schedule and can throw it out any time you choose. This is the beauty of homeschooling! We can go see the Nutcracker during the day when school is in session. We don’t have to make it up later - we can just enjoy the day off!

Give yourself permission to take the days off that you need. Maybe you need 3 weeks off during Christmas. Guess what? That’s okay! You will know if you need to go any extra few days come June. Maybe you homeschool throughout the summer and want to take the entire month of December off. Do it! You are in charge and can be trusted to make good decisions for your family.

Just remember, school is a given, but you can take guilt-free days off when needed or just wanted. So, enjoy the holidays!

And enjoy your learning moments!

5 Additional Holiday Tips:

The holiday season of 2010 is now upon us and I wanted to share a few ideas and tips of my own.  (Note: these are the lazy mom's ideas because I'm definitely not a type A personality.)

1. Decide which days you will take off from school.  If you homeschool, you do NOT need to follow the public school calendar.  If you have a large crowd coming over for Thanksgiving, perhaps you would like to take that whole week off.  Guess what, that's okay!  Maybe you would rather take time off 2 weeks leading up to Christmas and start school back up before the New Year.  That's okay too!  Maybe you'd like to take the whole month of December off.  You can make up for it later most likely or double up on some school assignments in January.

2. Ask your children for help.  They can help you clean the house, make decorations, supervise the little ones, and roll up their sleeves in the kitchen.  You don't need to be a lone ranger and do it everything yourself.  Even if your kids aren't great helpers yet (if they are small), your husband sure can be.  Tap into his help in getting everything done.  Divide and conquer.

3. Simplify your baking by coordinating a cookie exchange with your friends, family or homeschool co-op.  No reason to bake a dozen different kinds of cookies when you can get away with only baking one kind!  However, if you love to bake, have at it!

4. Simplify your gift giving by purchasing family gifts instead of individual gifts.  Not only can you spend less per family, but it looks and feels like more.  What's better - 5 gifts at $5 a piece or a family gift of $25?  Some ideas to consider...  You can put together a family basket with a theme such as "movie night", "game night", "snow day", etc.  If "movie night" is your theme, you can include popcorn (unpopped or popped), movie candy, a family DVD, all wrapped up in a soft throw.  A "snow day" theme might include gloves and/or scarves, hot chocolate, cookies and maybe even a plastic slide!  Or perhaps you might rather give a "night out" for the family with a gift card to their favorite family restaurant.  Let your creativity guide you.

5. Schedule daily Advent readings into your holiday plans.  This is the best way I know to slow down and enjoy the season for what it is.  We have a new favorite Advent book.  It is called Jotham's Journey.  You can pick it up at Timberdoodle (that's where we bought ours) or

And if holiday preparations or activities ever begin to feel overwhelming or cause you to panic, I suggest that you stop and pray.  Refocus, reprioritize, reconsider... is this important or should we just not do it?

Here's to a sane holiday season!  May you and yours truly delight in the meaning of the holidays we celebrate by simplifying and working together as a team.   Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and joyous Christmas!

Warm wishes,

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