3 Steps to Plan Your Homeschool Schedule
Updated: Jul 21
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. ~ Psalm 90:12
When we first started homeschooling, the biggest question, other than curriculum, was “what is this going to look like?” We had to figure out our schedule; Will we homeschool 5 days a week? Year-round? All day? Evaluate your lifestyle and figure out what will work best, knowing that if you change your mind, you can change your schedule. It’s also important to know if your state has regulations about how many days you must homeschool and how many hours per day.
Currently, in Illinois, there are no set days or times but we do try to schedule right around the 176 days that Illinois public school students are required to attend. When we started out, we just followed the same August thru June schedule since Makayla was still in public school. We did just schedule M-Th and Friday was left as a free day to go on field trips, help with home improvement, or gardening, or to catch up on work if life got in the way earlier in the week. We stuck with that schedule for about 2 years then decided to go to a year round calendar so we could have breaks throughout the year and avoid brain drain over the summer. Once you figure out what you want your schedule to look like, it’s time to actually plan it out.
1. Grab a Year-at-a-Glance Calendar. The first thing I do when planning the new school year is print off a blank year-at-a-glance calendar and map out our days. Since our daughter is in public school, I start by pulling up the school calendar for the next year and highlight the days she will have off (I recommend reviewing the school schedule even if you don’t have any kids in public school so you can plan your breaks at different times to avoid crowds).
Once I have the school holidays and breaks marked off, then I add in extra days off for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break. We typically do 2 weeks off for Thanksgiving and Spring Break and 3 weeks off for Christmas. I will usually have our start date coincide with public school but we operate on a light schedule (Math, English, and Reading) until after Labor Day so we can have extra time to work in the garden and finish up with harvesting and canning/freezing the last of our produce.
Once I have our first day locked in, then I look through the calendar, mapping out the rest of our breaks. It generally works out to about 6 weeks on, 1 week off for the rest of the regular school year. Sometimes we will need to adjust a week if we run into a long holiday break around the same time; you don’t want to schedule a week off and 1 week later have Thanksgiving Break. After Memorial Day, we go to 3 weeks on, 2 weeks off until school starts back up in the fall.
Our summer curriculum looks a little bit different than our “normal” school year. We do Bible and Math throughout the summer and finish up any curriculum we don’t plan to continue in the fall. The rest of our summer schedule consists of "special" projects or lessons, sometimes based on vacations. This summer we are planning to try out a Modern States course. I’m not going to lie, we really like having the extra breaks through the school year but it can be hard to continue school during the summer when it’s nice outside and our public school kid is sleeping in.
2. Pull out your Curriculum Plan. Now that we know what days we will be in school I plan what subjects we will do on what days. This is where my Curriculum Plan comes in handy (more on that in a minute).
After I take stock of what curriculum we are going to use I can plan out our days. Generally speaking, we do Bible and Math 4 days a week; Science, English/Writing and Social Studies 3 days a week; other “elective” type subjects i.e. DuoLingo and reading comprehension 1-3 times per week depending on our goals for those programs.
Once I have a list of how many days per week we will do each subject I look at our weekly schedule to see what we have going on each day of the week and start plugging in each subject. I usually just do this on a piece of notebook paper with M-F written across the top, no fancy planners are needed for this.
Monday and Wednesday are usually our heavier days because we don’t typically have to do anything outside the home on those days. Tuesday is a lighter day with no instruction, it is pretty much workbook-based, independent learning because I go to a “mom” group at my church in the morning and Connor teaches a class at Kuk Sool Won in the afternoon.
So, look at your schedule and see what works with your lifestyle. You don’t have to do every subject, every day; some days can have a heavier workload to allow for other activities on light days. So, while we do school 5 days a week and start each day at the same time, some days end earlier than others.
o What is a Curriculum Plan? Your curriculum plan is a long-term plan for what curriculum you plan to use for each “year” of school. This plan certainly isn’t set in stone but it gives you a good road map of where you want your educational journey to take you in each subject. In the early years, it’s really just a good way to keep track of curriculum you think you want to use and/or look at when you go to conventions or your local used curriculum sale. It does become very important near the end of middle school so you can have a good plan for high school.
Every state has requirements for high school graduation and colleges have requirements for admission so it’s important to make sure you will be able to meet those needs in the time you have. The curriculum plan lets you take a look at what you want to use and make sure it works in the sequence. It also helps to ensure you are able to get in pre-requisites for classes. For example, if you plan to have your child take Apologia Chemistry, then they will need to have already completed Algebra I.
I have our plan completed for 8th-12th grade but I do take a look at it often and see if we need to change anything based on a different curriculum I’ve read about, etc. I always make sure I look it over really well before the Homeschool Conference and our local used curriculum sale so I’m familiar with what we need to purchase and/or look at.
3. Get out your Teacher’s Planner, highlighters and a pencil. We’ve figured out what subjects we’re doing on what days, now we can put them in our planner. I like the House of Doolittle Planner from Amazon (it's cheap and currently on sale). I usually start out by highlighting the days we are doing each subject, I’m a visual learner and the colors make me happy :)
I definitely recommend using a pencil to write out your plans because it is inevitable that you will have unplanned days off of school and if you write in pen, your planner will be a mess! (This is where my husband makes fun of me because he would do it all on the computer. What can I say? I'm an old-fashioned, paper kind of girl) I’ve actually moved to just noting when we are doing a subject and not writing a specific, daily lesson plan for most subjects because I got tired of erasing and rewriting lessons when we had sick days pop up. With this “loop” scheduling, I just write down that we are doing the subject or write the name of the workbook and we just do what is next. After we complete the lesson, I write down what pages we completed but if we can’t do it that day for some reason, I just make a note that we didn’t complete it that day and why. The next day a subject is scheduled, we just pick up where we left off so there isn’t the feeling of being behind. I typically fill out my planner a quarter at a time in case we need to re-evaluate our schedule and change up our days.
That’s it, we’re ready to start. We have a plan down for the first quarter. When we first started out, I would get very stressed out if we weren’t able to stick to the plan exactly. I was worried about getting behind and rescheduling everything. Since those early days I’ve learned to relax quite a bit and I realize that if we don’t get to everything on the list that it’s ok. I would much rather spend quality time getting most of the day’s to-do list done than rush through subjects just to check a box.
There are so many learning opportunities in our days that don’t come from a textbook. For instance, this morning Connor had an offer on Poshmark and we talked about a good way to go about negotiating and not taking the first offer that comes along; that was a good life skills lesson. We also sat down with a spreadsheet to track his sales and figure out how much money he owes his sister for the sale of her items; also a good life skills lesson and some math. That time wasn’t on the schedule and resulted in us not doing our geography trivia, but I feel like that’s ok and it was time well spent. Bottom line, give yourself grace and don’t be so tied down to your schedule that you miss out on life opportunities!
What is your biggest struggle with your homeschool schedule?
Update: Since writing this blog 2 years ago, a few things have changed so the way I plan our schedule has changed. We have moved to a new state which now requires 180 days of instruction, so that is factored into the planning. Our daughter is in college so now we plan around her breaks in college instead of public school. We are doing High School work now, so the load is a little harder and means a little more so it is more important to stick closer to the schedule. We are now planning to take summers off from our regular curriculum, so our schedule looks more like a "school" schedule. All of these changes just highlight the wonderful flexibility of homeschooling. When life changes, so can our schedule!