So you're ready to homeschool, huh? Well, "ready" might be an overstatement, but you've made the commitment, picked out a curriculum, and are busy figuring out how to do this thing. However, homeschooling is a skill best learned through experience.
Now the next step is planning your homeschool schedule—deciding when you and your kids will learn, when you'll lunch and when you'll call it a day. But you also have to think beyond day-to-day planning and consider your long-range schedule. For example, when will you cover fractions or the life cycle throughout the year?
Don't stress—here's how to break down your homeschool planning across the days, weeks, and months ahead, as well as what you need to meet your scheduling goals.
Choose A Type Of Schedule
When it comes to planning the details of your homeschool day, it's 100% up to you and what works for your family. There is no right or wrong way to schedule your at-home learning.
There are many variations of homeschool schedules—you could adopt a year-round academic year or one customised around holidays or seasons—but these are the four main categories most individual schedules fall under.
There are two ways to utilise a block schedule—weekly and by term. Either way, you'll have more flexibility since you won't try to do every subject simultaneously.
With a weekly block schedule, you might do 20 to 30 minutes of daily learning to start your day (like journal writing, reading, and maths practice), but then focus only on one or two subjects for the rest of your homeschooling time.
For example, Mondays might be for science and Wednesdays for language arts. You would group all your weekly subject work, completing it in one day, and then focus on a different subject the next day.
The benefit to this approach is that you have the freedom to dive as deep into that day's subject as you want without having to move on to the next subject at a planned time.
However, you should try to incorporate different learning mediums, like videos, educational games, hands-on activities or crafts, and picture books, so your kids aren't just toiling away in a workbook for hours.
The mindset is similar to a term-based block schedule, but you might decide to tackle only one or two subjects per quarter or semester, like social studies from September to November and science from March to May.
You could even plan these terms around things happening in your child's environment. For instance, you could study a presidential election during your social studies quarter or observe the natural growth of plants and animals in the spring quarter.
The intense study with long-range blocking won't work well for kids with shorter attention spans. Still, kids who can happily immerse themselves in a topic for long periods might appreciate the chance to focus their attention on one thing for a while.
Like block scheduling, you can plan units of study around topics of interest and take an interdisciplinary approach to learn by making all of your subjects revolve around that focal point.
For example, a train-obsessed first grader could spend a few weeks sorting trains by size and colour, practising sight words with books about trains, learning about the history of locomotives in the U.S., and experimenting with gravity and velocity on a set of wooden tracks.
An older child in love with underwater sea creatures could build a small at-home aquarium, research and write a report about the effects of pollution on our oceans, and take a field trip to the beach to collect and study specimens.
Older kids may be able to do a lot of this work independently, but you'll need to be more hands-on with younger kids to help them cover all the different subjects within the topic of interest.
Perfect for parents who need a lot of flexibility and aren't stressed about getting everything done on a specific timeline, loop scheduling allows you to cover whatever you can cover on a given day and then pick up where you left off the day before.
You would probably want to teach a few basic subjects, like math and language arts, every day, but beyond that, you would put your other subjects into a loop and work your way through them one at a time.
Whether it takes you one day or five, you move on to the next when you finish one. If you've looped three subjects, you won't revisit the first one until you've completed your planned work for the other two.
With looping, you can't ever fall behind in one subject but not others; every subject you tackle will get equal attention since you won't move on from one until it's complete.
It would help if you were organised for this schedule, so you don't lose track of where you are in the loop, but for families whose schedules change frequently or unexpectedly, this is the most flexible schedule for rolling with the punches.
Frequently Asked Questions
It will seem like a non-answer, but homeschooling should take as long as it needs to. There is no fixed amount of time you should spend on homeschooling every day, week, or even month.
It depends on your child's attention span, whether you're doing a traditionally scheduled day or something like unit or block scheduling, and how old they are.
Anecdotally, many homeschoolers like to start with 30 minutes of formal learning a day in kindergarten and increase learning time by 30 minutes for every grade level after that. A third-grader would spend about two hours total each day on home learning by this formula.
The more important metric, though, is overall progress and skill development. Is your child completing most of the work you're planning for them every week? Are they able to share what they've learned with others? Can they apply those concepts outside the home learning environment (like reading a road sign while riding in the car)? If so, that's a measurement of success more meaningful than the amount of time you spent homeschooling.
It depends on your child, the kind of daily schedule you choose, and the grade level(s) you're teaching. Little kids need more frequent breaks, as do wiggly or energetic kids. The more structured your schedule is, too, the more you'll need to build in time for brain breaks.
Elementary-aged kids should probably get one break for every 45 to 60 minutes of homeschooling, but you may be able to stretch that out for middle school kids and high schoolers.
Remember that you're in charge of your schedule, so you can elect to get all your schooling done in one chunk of time—with breaks as needed—or split your day up into morning and afternoon sessions if your child needs a longer recharge.
You don't need to purchase a designated homeschool planner unless a product like that would help you plan! If you're the type of person who buys a new yearly planner every January, puts it in a desk drawer, and never takes it out again (except to throw it away, untouched, the following January), a traditional pen and paper planner isn't for you.
On the other hand, if you carry a planner around with you everywhere you go, it could be a valuable tool in outlining your homeschool year. Of course, you can also use an electronic planner, like a productivity or workflow app, or even an Excel spreadsheet. There are also tons of free homeschool schedule printables to be found online (like this one or this one) if you're not quite sure yet what works best for you and want to experiment.
To skip a grade, a parent would include as part of their letter of intent (or whatever is required in their state) that they were skipping their child to the next grade to do work that better matched their abilities. So as far as learning goes, grades are irrelevant in homeschooling.
Essentially, most parents with a five or 6-year-old will be homeschooling for 2 hours a day. However, one parent said she recommends homeschoolers study an hour a grade in the early years. For instance, Grade 1 should be one hour a day, Grade 2 should be two hours a day, and Grade 3 should be three hours a day.
How To Do Long-Range Planning
Once you've figured out what your daily homeschool life will look like, it's time to look at homeschooling through an annual lens. In other words, what's the big picture? What do you want your child to learn (and what skills do you want them to acquire) by the end of your homeschool year?
Keep in mind that this can—and probably will!—change as you gain some homeschooling experience. For example, you may realise you were too ambitious and need to cut back or find that things are moving faster than expected and need to fill in some gaps.
Either scenario is fine; the beauty of homeschooling is being able to move at your child's pace, not the curriculum's.
Your child may not be able to meet every one of the common standards, or they could already be ahead in many of them. Nevertheless, you can still use the standards as a framework for your yearly goals by subject; it will give you a strong foundation for planning and keep your child on a similar trajectory as their school-educated peers (in case you ever want to re-enrol them in school).
Best Tips For Creating A Homeschool Daily Schedule
Create A Routine, Not A Schedule
So very few of us will practically be able to follow a schedule. For most, time slots on a chart will only frustrate us as life happens, and we are constantly thrown off that schedule. So instead of a hard and fast block that says you will start maths at [8:00] and then do reading at [8:45] and spelling at [9:10], shoot for beginning your first work block sometime between 8 and [8:30] and then have one thing follow another until you are done.
You will never squeeze five hours of schoolwork into a five-hour block. Something is going to happen — the washing machine will flood, the dog will escape over the fence, someone will decide this is a great day to have a stage-four math meltdown. You will most likely not get it done, and you will become frustrated. Schedule 3.5 hours of school work into a five-hour block. Trust me, and you will thank me later.
Don't Try To Do Every Subject Every Day.
I taught language arts for a while during my teaching career. Language arts is the catch-all for about five different subjects — spelling, writing, grammar, literature/reading instruction, and handwriting.
I did not try to do all of these subjects every class period. I didn't even try to do all of them in a given week. So feel free to alternate days or choose an alternative scheduling method like blocks or looping to fit in all of your subjects. Everything needs to be done regularly — not daily.
Hang Priorities On Hooks
Want to be sure something gets done each day? Then hang it on one of the natural hooks of your day. A natural hook is a meal (we all eat), naptime, or a nursing session. Use these set times of things you know you will be doing as hooks for important parts of your schedule — prayer, reading aloud, memory work, art. Move right from your hook into your subject, and soon it will become a habit.
Follow Your Natural Inclinations.
If your family does not jump out of bed running in the morning, then resist scheduling an early start to your day. Instead, enjoy the flexibility of homeschooling and work at your times of peak productivity. It also means considering your children's natural schedule and the fact that they have variations (which may not match yours!) as well—got one early riser? Schedule their independent work first. Let the others get up right before group time and then do their independent work after. Homeschooling is beautiful because we don't all have to move lockstep towards the finish line. Embrace it!
Choose Your School Calendar.
Will you homeschool thru the summer? During holidays – school six weeks with 2-week breaks?
Your calendar should fit your family. It is miserably hot in central Florida in July & August – we gladly stay inside and jump into our new year earlier than some and take a "Fall Break".
Knowing how long you will school will help you plan how many lessons you need – or if you need to find supplements.
Write Everything In Pencil.
Do not print a calendar full of lessons unless you have a bottle of white-out. I would print out months of scheduled work on calendars and, after two days, would have to trash it because we were usually ahead of what I had planned.
I started writing everything in pencil because it was easier to erase and make changes. Flexibility is CRUCIAL when you are homeschooling.
Don't Hate Your Planner.
Planners helped keep you on task and organised, not to make you feel shackled.
If a schedule is not working and you are not sticking to one – it's time to find something else that works.
Draft A Plan
Use the Daily Plan form from the free Plan Your Year Homeschool Planner to draft out your days. I strongly suggest sitting down with this form and a pencil for the first draft. Mine always has a lot of erasing as I figure things out.
Keeping the principles above in mind, first decide on the blocks for your day. Whatever you decide to call them is fine. My "maths" block includes maths and handwriting, but that is too much of a mouthful. You could even name something "breakfast block" or "lunch block."
Once you have your blocks in place, start filling them with subjects. Think about what naturally goes together for your family. For example, my kids do maths and handwriting while finishing my morning chores. Then we move to morning time and break again for table work (all other written subjects).
On a final note, sometimes it helps to live with your plan a while before finalising it. Get it good enough, live with it a week or two when you begin, and then finally make adjustments as needed.
Decide Your Schedule.
Will you homeschool for 4 or 5 days? For K & 1st, we homeschooled only four days (sat down and opened books); for 2nd grade and above, we have schooled all five days.
It is completely up to you! You can work on a four day a week schedule with older children; however, you need to complete the hours required to graduate.
Also, remember that your child's extracurricular activities can count for high school credit as a homeschooler. For example, if your child plays sports or is in gymnastics, martial arts, or drama club, their house spent on that can count for high school credit. Ensure you document all of it to ensure you don't have any issues.
As you get started, it's OK to experiment with the type of schedule and curriculum you use for homeschooling your family to make sure you find the right fit. But as you can see, the flexibility of homeschooling allows you to do just that—adapt to suit your child's needs and goals.