{Photos: Our beautiful pastel-resist insects~taking over the walls! || Fresh-picked sunflowers AND acorns~reminding us that autumn is near || Little boys reading~oh the JOY! || Some cuteness, coming your way || A beautiful Ohio day in the country || With my grandmother~learning to make her dumplings ||  With my children~how blessed I am to have them close each day || A clear calendar~Teach us O Lord to number our days… }

Last Friday marked our 20th day of school–that’s FOUR, uninterrupted 5-day school weeks in a row.

And, ya’ll, it might just be a first for me since I began homeschooling.
One of my major goals this year is to be CONSISTENT with our routine so that it becomes the natural, expected norm each and every day to 1) complete our school work, 2) stay on the house keeping, cooking and cleaning, and 3) enable my children to grow in independence as they form habits such as fixing their beds, doing chores, brushing teeth and picking up their toys without my help~in other words, I want to build better habits and help them (and myself) mature so that things can run more smoothly in our lives here at home!
We began school on August 1st.
I really wanted to have a solid month of routine with my children, and it feels so good to have accomplished that– not just to have 20 school days under our belts, but to have 20 days of habit-forming routines under our belt.
Now, a schedule of sorts is developing, and I am finding little tricks and shortcuts that are making things easier.  Not every day is smooth, but most of them are (smoothish?), and I know if I had started up half-committed, or not really that focused, that would not be the case right now.  Furthermore, I would feel guilty about taking a family vacation this week!  Instead, I feel good about our progress thus far, and will no doubt, feel energized to get back to routine once our vacation is over.
So let me ask you~
What are your goals for your first month?  How will you get there?  Have you planned carefully and written things down? Do you have a few days of school finished but they were not all that you expected them to be?
 Don’t be discouraged by a rough start.  Change is hard. Our first day was terrible.  The baby seemed extra needy. I pushed too hard and made my 7 year old cry during our first hour of working together.  I screamed so much at my uncooperative 3 and 5 year old boys that they cried.  Moments later, I felt so frustrated and terrible about myself that I even hung my head and cried.  It was bad.
But not only did I REFUSE to let it ruin my determination, but I also refused to let a bad morning ruin our first day of school.  So by lunchtime, we put away the books and we all went outside with some cupcakes (frozen ahead of time), some balloons, and we just played and celebrated a new beginning.
I am pretty sure that my kids will remember those things over the frustration and tears we all shed earlier in the day.  And ya know what?  The next day was better.  FAR better.  In fact, we only had 2 or 3 “rough days” the whole month.  I am no expert, mamas, but one thing I have learned in the past 3 years of homeschooling when little ones are under foot, is that when things are not working, or are totally spinning out of control, it’s best not to push forward for the sake of “sticking with the plan.”  We must pay attention to the needs of our children first.  As my friend Sue has always told me, we must remember we are”Mom first, and teacher second.”  So instead of forcing things into the perfect plan you envisioned, leave some wiggle room, stay flexible and creative and open to trying new things, and remember to be gracious to yourself (God is!).  Pretty soon, a solution will present itself that will make life easier for everyone.  I’ll talk about this in more detail when I get to schedules…but I want to start by encouraging you NOT to give up because of a hard start.  Whatever you do, keep smiling and enthusiastically moving forward.  You are your kids’ coach, cheerleader and #1 example during your days home together.  YOU set the tone. Don’t waver because of a few waves.  You’ll find smoother sailing soon~just keep on keeping on.



In assessing what made THIS school year start-up so much more successful than the past two, I decided to take notes and share a few tips with you which I’ll be sharing over the next few days.
The first one is a big one, and here it is:
TIP #1 for a More Successful Homeschool Routine
Homeschooling (and home making) is easier when you commit to STAYING HOME.
So this thing you are doing–raising kids and educating them at home?…you need to accept that it is now your full time job.  Someone who has yet to begin their journey is reading this right now, feeling a little scared–reallyfull time?  Like 40 hours a week full time?  No, mama, way more than that.  Your work never really ends, it is a continuous, consistent cycle of training.  It is work, and it is hard work. Realize that now, accept it, thank God for the privilege of being able to do it.

All the wonderful things you want to learn alongside your kids, the projects, the hands-on learning experiences, the beautiful books that you will read aloud together, the cozy tea-times you’ll enjoy with your them, the meals you’ll prepare and sit down together to enjoy, the spiritual growth you’ll experience side by side…all of this starts with staying home…being home with your kids.  Oh the importance of being home, and not impulsively running out to the this place or that store or mall–not even scheduling playdates or any other commitments during school hours–this is where it starts~being home with your children.
People ask me all the time how on earth I am able to homeschool, keep house, can, sew, craft, garden, read, write, play with my kids, volunteer, etc etc etc (try to write down sometime all the things you,. as a mama do, and the list would tire anyone out!) and this is my #1 answer:   I stay home.
Now, please don’t misunderstand this to be some legalistic, judgmental thing where I am saying that it’s wrong to go anywhere during the school week with your children.  Come on now. My children and I are out of the house every single Thursday without fail to join our friends in our homeschool group for a morning of classes and an afternoon of fellowship. 
I simply mean in general.  Our society puts very little value on home making and full-time motherhood.  Yet, I find there are not enough hours in the day to complete all that I have/need/want to do here on my home front each and every day.  No wonder the Proverbs 31 woman’s lamp never went out!  I have not watched television for nearly 4 years, nor can I imagine (in this stage with very young children and some who are homeschooling) wasting 2 or 3 or more hours per day with my feet up in front of the tube.  Truly, something in me shrinks and dies at the thought of it.  I enjoy making my house a home, spending my time learning new crafts and trades, teaching them to my children, and investing fully in them during these precious years.  To do this thing well, mamas, we have got to commit to working hard and long.  Never have women been lazier and more pampered than they are in this day and age.  For everything there is a season and a time.  Plan time for leisure, yes~your mental, physical and spiritual health depend on it (see #3)~but serve your family and the Lord faithfully by filling your time at home being productive.  The easiest way to begin to make changes in this area is to commit to staying home. 
Consider how one or two errands out, with multiple young children in tow can quickly turn into a whole afternoon gone.  Suddenly, meals and laundry and homeschooling and housecleaning are lost in the shuffle of running here and there and everywhere.  The kids are cranky from being dragged around, naps are missed, and the whole day is out of sync.  What’s for dinner?  Who knows. Might as well eat out (again). Laundry can wait until tomorrow and you wrack your brain trying to figure out if there’s a way to count all the busyness as a school day.
I challenge you to try this: stay home for one full school week.
You will amaze yourself by all you can accomplish if you commit to staying home, Monday through Friday. Can’t do 5 days?  Stay home 4. Pretend you have no car, and you are 100% glued to the home-front.  It’s up to you, mama, to make your home & school function properly, and that means the boss has got to be on site.
One Friday last month, we traveled 2 hours to spend the day with my grandparents, and call me a meanie, but I had my 2nd grader bring some work along to do in the car since it was a school day.  Can’t tell you how glad I am to have our living history curriculum as well as a pile of audio books on cd for these types of occasions.  Could I have let it go, and left the work at home? Yes,  but it was THAT important to me to have a full month of uninterrupted school days to set the tone for the year, and since we had to be out of the house, I did the best I could in the situation. 
Tip #2 for a More Successful Homeschool Routine
Clear the Calendar in order to Make School/Time with your Children Your TOP Priority.
So, #2 goes hand-in-hand with #1, and #1 actually hinges on it– Clear that calendar!  Free it up so you are not stretched and pulled here and there and everywhere other than home and spending time with your children.
Typically, mornings are especially sacred and should not be filled with other commitments. If something (particularly a weekly commitment) is tying up a day on your calendar, may I gently suggest that you clear it off, move it, or otherwise re-arrange it?  You have taken on the great and wonderful responsibility of schooling your children.  Yes, there is blessed flexibility in that decision, and in certain seasons, you’ll need to flip-flop a schedule in order to accommodate something that is pressing, but this post is not about “how to stay flexible in your homeschool routine.”  🙂  It’s about how to actually begin building a routine and schedule SO THAT you can occasionally make exceptions.  Sometimes we start out all wonky and haphazard, then complain when we actually sit our kids down to work with them–oh the complaining and whining!  Why?  Because the school routine has become the exception, not the rule, in their minds!  They’re used to no routine, so when you impose upon them a schedule, they revolt, and you are left frustrated.
In the past, I have made the mistake, over and over and over, of saying yes to people, activities, ministries, etc, primarily because I desired to help, or please, or feel that I was of use, doing something important, needed and worthy.  The Lord has begun opening my eyes to the fact that my children, young as they may be, are my first commitment and that so often, when I am saying yes to something else, it is my children who I am saying no to.  That realization and acceptance (acceptance that the work is often glory-less and humbling, but nonetheless important, valuable, necessary, and worthy) has prompted me to makes some changes.
I am not a slave to my schedule.  That realization was totally freeing to me.
For the past 2 years, my children and I have volunteered one morning every week at a local nursing home right down the road from where we live.  We know the folks there like family, and we love them.  My kids run, literally–run! down the hallways and jump into the wheelchairs of their favorite seniors.  We do beading crafts with them, art, and once a month, play a little balloon volleyball.  We visit room to room and love on the ones who don’t get up and out much.  We sing, we lay hands and pray over, and often just listen and encourage them.  These people are precious to us, and it has rarely felt burdensome to go through the doors of the center.  It has been the perfect “ministry fit” for us since all my children are fairly young (and seniors LOVE children) and we always, always leave feeling blessed and rewarded.
Now, when we first started, for whatever reason, I chose 10am as the time slot for our weekly visit.  And while this was fine for a while, I began noticing that on the days we went to the nursing home, it became awfully difficult to fit in schoolwork. Very often, I struggled just to get all 4 kids plus myself dressed and fed by the time we had to go. 
 School, it seemed, always got pushed to the back-burner on those days.   I always told myself I would get up earlier with the kids, and finish schooling before we had to leave, but it never happened.  I’d come back home after our time of volunteering and maybe running errands, and usually so tired out, we would all head right to rest-time!  So once a week, for over a year, I lost a day of school–or at least struggled to fit school in.  Let’s say something came up and we got unexpected visitors later in the week, or had some other problem or issue which took away from our school time–soon, it was difficult to fit in even 3 good school days each week.  Can you relate?  Does your calendar of weekly commitments make it difficult for you to spend time with your children?  
Well this year, it dawned on me that I could change this.  I remembered--wait a minute…I am not a slave to my schedule!
We volunteer; we do not work there.  They have multiple slots open during the day for activities.
Why was I giving away a morning when I didn’t want to?  They are not in charge of my schedule–I am.  Even more, even though this was a ministry opportunity for our family, my children are still my first ministry!
Can I tell you, though, I was really nervous to tell them “no” and ask for a change?  What if they got mad at me?  Got offended?  Told me no, you can’t come in anymore?? Again, I reminded myself ~My children are my first ministry.
Guess what?  It took one short and sweet email to the activities director to let him know we could no longer volunteer in the mornings, but would be willing to move our visits to the afternoons, and suddenly, my mornings were clear again.  It worked out just fine.  No one even got mad at me for a second.  They didn’t prefer it, but they were able to accommodate us in the afternoons.  The change felt  so good, and it was totally painless.  Why hadn’t I don’t it earlier?
What is it that you feel the need to remove or change in your schedule?  What activity or commitment leaves you feeling like you sacrificed something on the home front in order to fulfill?
What would your ideal schedule look like?  What changes can you begin to make to put your family first?
Tip #3 for a More Successful Homeschool Routine
Plan for Margin
Margin–you know, that white space on the sides of your paper…the clean, clear area that is not filled with any writing or pictures?  Only I’m talking about the unfilled, unused, unmarked, clean space of our lives. You might call it breathing room. Downtime. 
Well, few of us have any precious margin left, and there we are wondering why we’re feeling so overwhelmed and overfilled.  It’s because we’ve allowed life to eat up all our margin.  This is no good for us. 
In the first two tips, I am encouraging you to clear your outside calendar in order to fill it with productive time, mostly spent on the home front, and fitting in your school routine.  But now, I want to encourage you to leave some of that cleared space just the way it is: clear.  
I will never forget when I was trying to find a day to get together with a friend of mine who had been homeschooling for several years, and I suggested that we meed up on a Thursday…her answer surprised me.  She said, “You know, I really can’t do Thursday evenings–we like to keep that evening free for us as a family.”  We had to go well into the next month before we could find a date to get together, and initially, it seemed a bit silly to me–why not just make an exception and schedule it for a Thursday night when, admittedly, she had nothing planned?  Only later, as I began homeschooling and  my own schedule filled more and more, did I truly understand…she had nothing planned except for nothing!  And sometimes, doing nothing is everything.  Margin is something that is vital for each each of us, and yet it is so often lacking in our lives.  Don’t feel bad to tell someone no.  Not because you have something else already on the calendar, but because you don’t.  And particularly when our children are young, that is often the way we need to keep it.  They need us so much, Mamas.
I find that even with my mornings totally free and committed to home schooling, things still pop up and interrupt our routine.  That’s just life, and we need to remain flexible when it happens.  But if we begin by filling all our precious white space with endless activities, back to back, one right on top of the next, we will end up feeling totally run down and burned out when the unexpected things come our way on top of everything else.  Want to breathe easier? Guard your margin.
Along with this, I have found that it is so important to schedule in your breaks.  Vacation feels all the more like vacation after you’ve actually spent time working hard.  All of us have experienced the terrible feeling of guilt when a supposed break comes around on the calendar, yet we really haven’t been committed to any sort of routine in the weeks prior to it, and suddenly, we’re telling ourselves we don’t deserve to take a summer vacation or a Christmas holiday and so we don’t even allow ourselves (or our kids) any sort of hard stop.  As Ann Voskamp says, you cannot get anywhere safely without coming to hard stops along the way.  
This year, we implemented a Sabbath School Year Schedule where we will (generally) be doing 6 weeks of school, followed by one full week OFF school.  We take an abbreviated summer vacation (about 8 weeks total) so that we can enjoy this type of schedule, not to mention, we’ve given ourselves 3 full weeks off at Christmas (when I so often need it), and we will still finish our 180th day of school by Memorial Day.  I get so excited when I see white space ahead on the calendar, and I know a break is coming!  It helps us all to work well towards a goal.  I also love knowing in advance, when we’re planning on being off of school so that we can schedule family vacations, or at least allow my husband to take coordinated days off of work.
These are just a few things I am learning that make for a successful back-to-homeschool start, as well as a more focused, meaningful, smoother school year and home life with my children.  
I’ll be sharing more later this week and next about schedules and practical home and school tips, but for now, remember a good homeschool routine and a successful school year with your children begins first with:

*Staying Home
*Clearing your Calendar
*Creating Margin
Which of these things do you struggle with the most, and what changes would you like to begin making today?  

Linking up today with Trivium Tuesdays

13 thoughts on “3 Tips for a More Successful Homeschool Routine

  1. Erica

    This was a great encouragement for me to read, right when I needed it. We are nearing the end of our second year of homeschooling, and honestly, I feel as crazy and overwhelmed as we did the first year. But the troubles and frustrations with my girls, I can see its because we haven’t stuck with any kind of solid routine. We are in a sort of temporary situation, living with my mother for a year and we just had a new baby so I’ve been using those as excuses for not having my crap together.

  2. Missie

    This is a great post! I have home schooled our older children for 16 years. We are graduating number 3 this May and we are starting all over with our youngest ones! This is just what I needed to help me re-focus back to the pre-school/early years.

    I have a question for you (completely unrelated). Your pastel-relief bugs are adorable. Can you tell me how you did these?

  3. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Hi Amy! I so appreciate the feedback (even if it does take me a month to respond, HA! …such is life).
    Your schedule sounds great, and you and your kids will all appreciate the freedom that comes from a good routine. And oh, how important those breaks are~we’ve got one coming up next week and I can’t wait! Blessings, and thank you, again, for hosting a great link-up. ~Joanna

  4. Jessica

    wonderful post. Im encouraged to make school more of a priority. i think kids need to be scheduled more than most people think. routine is good for them. thank you for your help. excited to read more about your scheduling.

  5. Amy Maze

    Wonderful encouragement! I’ve always been a big planner, but this is the first year I am really taking it seriously. Probably because my son is now 5, so we are ‘officially’ having to do school. I have typically gotten caught up in saying ‘yes’ too much because we technically can, and I have a hard time getting back on track once we get bumped off for the day. This year I planned in all our breaks, like you suggested. We are actually doing approximately 3 weeks on, 1 week off (with 1 month off in the summer, and two weeks at Christmas, we a few times have more than 3 weeks on). I am being strict about only doing things on school days in a 2 hour window that we have free. I am pretty much mandating our 2 hour middle-of-the-day rest time this year. Any extra things are going to get scheduled on our weeks off (since they are frequent enough). Grandparents will get an hour or so visit on school days sometimes, but if they want to spend all day with the kids it will have to be on a week off. Lucky for me, I LOVE to be home, so I definitely agree with your first point! So far I am really happy with hour our school year has started. Thank so much for this encouraging post today!

  6. Beth

    I agree with clearing the calendar especially at the beginning of the year. We are off to a late start this year but we are ready to dig in.

  7. truebritgal

    Oh, my goodness!! So many golden tidbits here! Even though my kids are older, there is so much I can relate to, and I feel the Lord bringing conviction in a couple of areas. I’m too busy to read the entire article right now, as we’re busy with school, but I’ve bookmarked the page, and I’ll be back later. Thank you so much! 🙂

  8. wifewithpurpose

    I really enjoyed reading this! For now, I’m home with just our daughter (about 18 months), but we’re planning to have more kids and also homeschool. Even now, I can see the truth in your advice, and I plan to keep it in mind as we move forward. Thanks!

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