Homeschooling without a set schedule is bliss … pure bliss. Setting a rigid schedule when educating your children at home will turn what should be an exciting journey of discovery and learning into an exercise in absolute drudgery that too closely mirrors the public school experience.
When I first started helping my daughter homeschool her children, I did everything all wrong. I harkened back to my days working in a public school and created detailed lesson plans timed down to the minute with printed worksheets and textbooks.
I literally cringe when thinking back to all of those tubs filled with labeled file folders full of seated traditional academic lessons.
It is not only possible to homeschool without a set schedule, but doing so can absolutely be accomplished without thrusting your home into chaos or launching into complete unschooling territory.
Simply loosening your grip on the daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly homeschool schedule to allow the learning process to guide your lesson plan will help initiate a homeschooling without a schedule environment.
Stringently following a schedule does not mean you are doing homeschooling right – and having a flexible day does not mean that you are doing it wrong. Learning is the sole objective of a homeschool day. How you and your children get there does not have to live by a strict stopwatch.
Getting off schedule does not mean getting off track. In fact, tossing the weekly planner in the garbage just might put you and the children on the road to exciting, interactive, and hands-on learning adventures that not only educate the children, but become the root of lifelong traditions and memories.
Homeschool Scheduling vs Planning
Fear of losing control of the homeschool environment along with not offering the children what they need academically via a less structured class day is what often holds parents back from homeschooling without a set schedule.
There is a lot of wiggle room between a detailed hour by hour schedule written in permanent ink and a learning plan or outline. Blocking out days, half days, or a few hours of time for specific activities is far different than a traditional class day schedule.
But, as we all know, it can be extremely difficult to exterminate old habits. A planned outline of lessons can start resembling a schedule rather quickly if you keep watching the clock and shut down an activity because another was planned to start. Remain vigilant to prevent the reverse from happening as well.
If a carefully plotted learning activity is not going as planned (this will happen!) do not keep on plugging through until the planned block of time is used up – this is scheduling behavior and not learning journey off the clock behavior.
Always pencil in a backup activity to switch to if a lesson is not panning out of needs to be delayed because of inclement weather.
It will help to think of your homeschooling daily activities as more of planning a routine and less of a scheduled style of educating children at home.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with planning out the daily, weekly, or monthly activities – as long as you are willing to adapt and alter the routine. Doing so maximizes and makes a positive change to the discovery and learning process of the children.
What Makes A Homeschooling Day?
The homeschooling day is rarely as long as a traditional school day, so you have time to play around with when creating a flexible learning routine. Each state requires a specific amount of homeschooling hours or days that are required annually.
How you use that time is almost entirely at the discretion of the parents or grandparents who are homeschooling the children.
A typical homeschooling day starts between 7 to 9 a.m. and ends around noon or 2 p.m. at the latest. While the amount of days vary, the standard 180 day typical school schedule means your children will be engaged in learning a little more than six hours per day.
When you are homeschooling without a set schedule, you have the flexibility to alter the start and end times as needed. If the family attended a play, sports events, etc. and were out late, simply start the homeschooling day at a later time for a day or two to make sure the children (and yourself) are well rested.
Homeschooling year-round is probably the most flexible and unscheduled way to homeschool. At first, children will most likely moan and groan at the thought of year round school, until you clue them in on the routine you are outlining for them.
First, homeschooling year round or longer than the traditional school year means the homeschool day is a whole lot shorter.
Summertime learning can mean spending a day each week at a state park participating in a youth program, going hiking as a family to learn how to identify local plants and trees and how they can be used, or taking boating lessons.
How the children demonstrate their knowledge of their summer learning can be written, an oral presentation, a video of them explaining how they acquired their skills or using their skills to teach younger siblings.
The extra time learning during warm weather months will allow you and the children to engage in many special homeschooling projects that could not be accomplished during cooler weather or during the traditional school year, like going to a youth camp.
While participating in some of these learning options will require some scheduling if a formal registration is required, by simply expanding the learning year, and shortening the typical homeschooling day you have flexed out your schedule to make room for more family time, extracurricular activities, or relaxation time for the children.
Part of homeschooling without a set schedule means incorporating non-traditional learning opportunities for many parents.
For example, taking a hike in the woods can be both physical education, a science lesson, tied into reading and history lessons, even math if you decide to count, measure, or weigh items you find on the excursion.
Another way many homeschooling parents and grandparents educate their children without a set schedule is to teach using theme units.
These types of study units incorporate at least two subjects into each unit, negating the need to schedule an hour a day or two hours twice a week, etc. to instruct on any given subject.
Joining a local and – or regional homeschooling group will help open up more unconventional and “de-scheduled” learning and socialization activities for them, as well.
Groups like these often get together once a week (usually on a Friday) or once a month. Homeschooled children create bonds with the peers they meet, which can lead for the possibility of getting together for special projects or “pod learning.”
A scheduled homeschooling parent or grandparent would not have the flexibility to alter their monthly or yearly learning plan if an exciting co-op field trip to a planetarium came up or they were invited to join homeschooling pod sessions that were of particular interest to a child.
Picking A Homeschooling Method
When a parent or grandparent first decides to homeschool children, an internet search for methods and curriculum is often the initial step in the process. This alone can be an exhausting, frustrating, and even expensive process.
What you will almost undoubtedly find is that many well-meaning folks are just as opinionated about homeschooling methods and scheduling as they are about politics and religion.
Some of the most popular homeschooling methods are Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, gameschooling, and unschooling. There is absolutely NO NEED to pick just one method of teaching your children.
Melding what you like from each one, and throwing in the preferences of both yourself and your children will take an enormous amount of pressure and stress out of homeschool planning and allow you the flexibility you will need to teach your children schedule free.
The mere act of mixing up the homeschooling methods throughout the week, month, and year will reduce your reliance on a strict schedule. You can schedule on Thursday afternoons for gameschooling, and still create a low-stress, flexible, and unscheduled learning experience for yourself and the children.
Simply mark off a span of time when gameschooling will take place, and resist the urge to write in the names of the games and how long play will last.
Allow the children to choose from a set of manufactured or homemade games you have stockpiled and allow them to guide the duration of the gameschooling.
Remember, no class change bells will be dinging to signal the end of constructive play that in an of itself will reinforce comprehension, critical thinking, and analytical skills.
Infusing some Charlotte Mason theory is also a superb way to help eliminate or reduce your reliance on a set schedule when homeschooling.
Even if you are not into the classical music and art study that is an integral part of the Charlotte Mason homeschooling method, you can still delve into her living books instead of textbooks and extensive outdoor and hands-on learning initiatives.
Picking several books that are related to topics the children are studying or on topics of interest to them (either academic related such as learning about tractors, or fun-based superhero stories) grabbing a blanket and snacks and hiking to a favorite spot to enjoy them beneath a tree is just one of many ways to unschedule the homeschooling day.
The first thing you must do when planning a homeschool day without a schedule is to define what learning really means. Sure, it is easy to gauge academic progress when grading a printed worksheet, but that is just one small part (or at least it should be) of the education at home experience.
Learning can happen in the kitchen when children make healthy lunches and snacks from food they helped grow and harvest themselves. Reading a recipe, following instructions, and measuring ingredients turn lunchtime into a language arts, math, and science lesson.
How long will it take for a four year old to learn how to safely chop vegetables, or for a 8 year old to read a recipe? That will be impossible to know until you actually gather the kiddos in the kitchen, and work through a recipe and healthy eating lesson at least once.
If you are tied to a schedule, this life skills and educational lesson would become stressful because you would be looking at the clock, and worrying about remaining on track for the next class session.
Hoping the kids chomp down the food they made rapidly instead of reveling in the success of their creation, and enjoying the meal together will ruin the experience for everyone involved.
Nixing all traditional academic learning once a week is also common for homeschooling parents who refuse to live by a schedule.
Fridays are often reserved for learning experiences outside of the home like field trips, library excursions, arts, music, and physical education classes, or volunteering.
Creating a Friday “fun day” type homeschooling environment helps to unschedule not just the day’s activities but sets an adventurous learning tone to the entire week. What better way is there to immerse the children in what they are learning than to go see, touch, hear, or smell what they have been studying?
Field trips are real learning and expose the children to a vast array of different people, places, and environments as part of their overall life skills, responsibility, and character building education.
Daily homesteading chores can also be incorporated into the homeschooling without a set schedule routine. Teaching your son our daughter how to run the tractor and hook up the implements that will be used to tend to the homestead can be counted as homeschooling time.
Anyone who has ever worked on an old tractor knows there is no way to predict when it will break down, or how long it will take to fix them…
Learning how a tractor works, how it is used, how to drive it, and how to fix it used to be thought of solely as chores. But, in an unscheduled homeschooling environment, it is important vocational training that can be used not only as a vocational lesson, but as a history and agricultural science one, as well.
Not All Children Learn The Same Way
All of our children are gloriously different. This also means that they all do not learn the same way. If you have a child that feels he or she “needs” a schedule to function, and does not adapt well to all of the new flexibility in the homeschool, that’s just fine.
The lack of a rigid schedule tends to cause more confusion and an “out of sorts” feeling to children who have been attending a public school and are transitioning to homeschool more than those who have always learned at home.
If a child really wants to know how long what they are doing is going to last, what comes next, and how tomorrow will look, let them create their own schedule. Give them a planner, go over the weekly or monthly goals with them, and give them the responsibility of tracking their lessons.
This gives them some ownership in the learning process, and may make them feel more comfortable when adapting to a routine and not scheduled driven learning environment.
Now, be warned, depending upon the personality of the child, he or she may start tapping the table when the time they planned to end a learning session has passed, and try to urge you and the other children to comply with what is slated to come next.
The best way to handle such scenarios is to focus as little as possible on the length of the weekly or monthly goals, and on the details of what each activity entails and what they children will be doing to learn the activity or material.
You will probably have to remind the child multiple times the schedule he or she created is just especially for them and not everyone else.
Include some journaling or extra reading material of their choice when helping them to make their own private schedule. This will help fill any open time between when he or she is done with a lesson everyone else is still working on.
Getting the child to go with the flow more will almost alway happen, it just takes a project or activity the child is so immersed in that they lose track of time, for the clock watching to stop – or at least subside.
Create Goals Not A Schedule
When planning how to homeschool without a set schedule, set weekly, monthly, and annual goals. Use these goals as a routine planning guide. Avoiding burnout and monotony for the children and yourself by adding variety into each homeschooling day can be accomplished by goal and not schedule setting.
Planning ahead long-term gets easier the more homeschooling years you have under your belt. Remember, what you are doing is a lot like a brainstorming activity, and not attempting to schedule nine to 12 months of homeschooling plans all at once.
Grab a legal pad and pencil, and jot down all of the topics you want to cover during the course of the year – not a detailed plan about how you will cover them, just that you want to work on them with your children.
Next, delve into the really fun stuff, and think about the field trips, art, physical education, and other extension activities you want to introduce to your children this year.
Compare the two lists so you can roughly sketch out a monthly plan. Consider using “experience weeks” in your planning.
These are weeks where the children will be engaging in learning activities outside the home and even inside the home that involve significant project time – like building birdhouses and creating plays to act out a history lesson, for example.
When you have an experience week, your daily homeschooling activities will likely be focused far more around the special event or projects of the week, and less about traditional academics.
Knowing when this type of week will occur helps you to shift daily storybook reading, weekly math practice etc. so that the continuity of learning a lesson is not disturbed by a big break in activity.
Remember to also factor in holiday breaks or special holiday celebrations during the day with homeschooling groups when setting annual goals. How much time do you want to take off at Thanksgiving and Christmas?
The time to ponder those breaks is before the beginning of the homeschooling year or well in advance is homeschooling year round.
Holidays should be filled with joy and not more stress than large family gatherings typically induce. Making space for them in your homeschooling plan reduces any added rushing around to complete projects – and allows you to incorporate learning about the holiday through reading, music, art projects, and history into the homeschooling plan.
Perhaps you want to make all of December an experience month where everything that is worked on by the children is holiday focused. You can do that in a homeschool environment that is revolving around a strict set schedule and embraces the concept of learning year round.
Giving the children a budget, and taking them to the grocery store for the ingredients necessary to make cookies or cupcakes to deliver to a veterans group, the local senior center, and nursing homes each week of December teaches them to give back, how to work within a budget, and also enhances their cooking skills.
Following an experience month or even a month where there will be a week or two break in regular homeschooling, goals may be more fine tuned and structured. For example, January and February bring nasty weather, and a lot more indoor time than normal – or fun in the snow time.
When setting goals, perhaps more story time together or alone, depending upon the age of the child and a lot more science experiments and historical dioramas will prevent winter blues from setting in while completing some engaging literary and hands-on projects.
Goal setting either monthly or annually will not only help you outline the homeschooling activities for the year, but budget for them as well.
When homeschooling multi-age children, there may be activities or events where only one or some of the children will attend. Planning an outline for what the other child or children will be doing or securing child care should also be a part of the goal setting exercise.
Merely because you are not grabbing a chisel and etching a homeschooling schedule in stone does not mean organization should be sacrificed. Be realistic in the goal setting process, do not tentatively plan so many activities or theme units that you find you have actually done the one thing you were trying not to do – be scheduled.
No loud clanging bells dictate your homeschooling day, effectively ordering you to switch classes no matter what is going on inside your learning space.
Do not create unnecessary barriers to the learning process by watching your clock and functioning as if the lesson plans you carefully and creatively laid out are written in stone.
What you and the children will miss out on by doing so will far outweigh any momentariy satisfaction you may feel with remaining on a tight schedule.
Learning happens in many ways, styles, and locations. Unscheduling your homeschool day to the degree which you are comfortable with will allow greater flexibility to continue on with an engaging activity and allow you to follow the interest of the children if they want to dig deeper into a subject or need more time to master a concept.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.