Starting Places: On the Rightly Ordered Schedule

This guest post was written by Cathy Rape, a homeschooling mother and a CiRCE Apprentice.

One question I hear frequently from other moms hoping to home school classically is, “how do I fit in everything we need to do?” One way I have found to overcome the anxiety this question often reflects and regain peace is to turn my school planning to the task of ordering our day. I consider what a relaxed and reasonably paced school day might look like for each of my children – and for me. This varies from child to child by age, ability, and maturity. I ask questions such as, how long can I expect this child to focus on a written task? Read independently? Listen to me read aloud? Could they do something while I read (such as work a puzzle) to extend that attention span? How much time can I commit to sit down and work individually with each of them? How many breaks should we take to stay fresh? What about lunch? Exercise? Chores?

If they are exhausted and their attention span has been grossly exceeded, they are VERY unlikely to practice the virtue I am laboring to develop. Likewise, if I am racked with anxiety and pressure to get through a predetermined amount of academic material I cannot teach from a state of rest and am equally unlikely to embody virtue.

So my first order of business is to create a flexible schedule by which to pursue our academics. I attempt to piece in our learning activities (math practice, read aloud and discussion, one-on-one tutoring, memory rehearsals, etc.) Most often it becomes apparent that the laundry list of subjects (not to mention the actual laundry) doesn’t fit easily within the available time and so I work on consolidation and integration. Can my daughter memorize the states and capitals with songs on her ipod while she does her morning chores? Maybe that would work for Latin vocabulary too? Could I drop the spelling curriculum and choose words from my son’s copy work for an oral quiz at the end of the week?

I have to make choices and set priorities that suit our family and the natures of my children. I need to spend time in prayer and discuss priorities with my husband. Sometimes things I would like to do daily have to be done every other day, or even once a week. I put a premium on group read aloud and discussion time because that is where I find the greatest opportunity to pursue the ideas at the heart of classical education. We often refer back to our reading and discussions when “school” is far from our minds, reassuring me that learning really does continue throughout all our waking moments. For example, yesterday my 8yo mentioned that the 5yo boy we were babysitting reminded him of Mr. Toad who quickly lost interest in one activity for another, all the while leaving a trail of mayhem.

Our schedule changes every season. I post it in our stairwell and give my children a copy for the cover of their notebook. I have to take care to ensure it remains our servant and not our master. It must stretch to accommodate a moment of enthusiasm or some other worthy diversion. It may need to step aside altogether when that first cool front blows through late in September. But once I have established a workable routine, I find that I can relax about the subjects we get through, and focus my attention on doing what we can do by faith and with excellence.

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