Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Organization: Creating a Workable Routine

Last time I discussed Organization: Priorities and Passions.

Once I have prayed over and planned our priorities and passions and made a list of these, I next look at:

What other subjects would I like to cover?


Where is my time needed? What subjects can my child do independently or with minimal guidance, and which subjects require a lot of my one on one attention?


How long do I want my child to spend on each subject? If a curriculum lays out a "daily plan" I consider that, but I don't take this plan as etched in stone. Sometimes a child can get through several lessons in a short time. Sometimes they need more than a day to really absorb one lesson. I like to come up with time limits and reasonable goals to structure my day, as well as taking into account natural breaking points in a text or book.

Subject times grow and change over the years. When they were little, 10-15 minutes was plenty for many subjects, and all their attention spans could handle. By high school, an hour is more appropriate for many subjects, though there may still be shorter times for some things.

I list out all of the subjects we'll do, and decide how long to spend on each of them. Then I evaluate: Is that reasonable? Is it a slight step up from the previous year...or a huge leap? Is it all realistic? I pray through this process as well. Maybe some subjects don't need to be done daily. This year my daughter is doing both writing and grammar, but only one of those two each day. In the early years I sometimes alternated history and science, rather than doing both subjects daily. I allowed 1-year curricula to last for 2 years (and loved the flexibility that afforded us to pursue field trips, areas of interest, days off to bake around the holidays, and so on).

Do you have too much planned? You may need to pray through it all again and scale back. Ask the Lord to guide you; He will. When my kids were little I thought we'd do composer studies and nature walks and art and spanish and music and... whew! The list I created was very long and not very realistic! I culled back, started with the basics, and got creative with the others. Maybe we could do art one quarter and composer studies another, and then only once or twice per week. Nature walks could take the place of science sometimes. Not every subject has to be done daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly. Over the years my kids have tried many, many things, but not all at once; life is a marathon, not a sprint!

Once I have my list of subjects and activities and the time they'll take, I start to put it together into a schedule. First I plug in the priority subjects, then the passions, then the rest. I take into consideration when I need to be working one on one with a student, and what our style is. Some moms like to teach math to everyone at the same time. My kids need quiet to concentrate, and since I can't be in two places at one time, this approach doesn't work for us. So, I think about what subject the other child can do while I work with one.

If a child struggles with math, that's not a good subject to schedule during one on one time with another, even if math can be done independently. The likelihood of my being interrupted is high. Instead, a subject that rarely requires my help is a better choice. My 7th grader reads while I work one on one with her brother. My 9th grader reads history while I work one on one with his sister. In earlier years, sometimes the independent subject was playing with manipulatives or puzzles, independent reading (even if it was just looking at picture books), play dough or another easy craft, a chore they knew well, or even a quiet play-time in their rooms.

My rule has always been, don't interrupt Mom's one on one time with a child unless there is blood, broken bones, fire, or other serious harm to person or property! We've used workboxes for several years, and these make it easy for a child to go on to the next box and then ask me when that one on one tutoring time with the other is finished.

In the early years, I read to or did an activity with my little one first, then set her up on something to do while I worked with my older one. has lots of great ideas for toddlers and preschoolers. One of my daughter's favorite activities when she was 3 was to stand on a chair at the kitchen sink and play with a sink full of water, some bowls, spoons, and measuring cups.

Once I have my schedule outlined--I know what one child can do while I work with another, I have a general flow to my day...then I put the kids' workboxes together.

So, if you're changing things up, play around with your schedule and routine this week. Feel free to email me with questions too, I'm always happy to help. Coming up Friday: Organization: Implementing a New Routine


  1. Hi Merry,
    Thank you for writing this post, I find it really helpful now that I'm trying to start a brand new schedule for 2015-2016.

    I have a quick question though. I have just finished figuring out which subjects require mom-time and those that can be done independently. I have a 5 yr. old, 9 yrd old and a 12 yr old and realized that the subjects for my 2 younger children are mostly mommy-dependent :( What would you recommend please given this challenge?

  2. Hi Karen,

    You're likely going to need to come up with some activity cards/bins that you can rotate--things the 5 and 9 year-old could do independently so that they aren't getting into trouble when you need them to work with one of your other two children :-). That could be things like: practice math facts on a math shark, jump on the trampoline for 10 minutes, play with math manipulatives, make words with letter tiles, put together a puzzle, lacing beads, dress-up, do a daily chore, silent reading time (even 5 yo's can look at a picture book--I used to put some book baskets together for this), draw, paint, play with play dough (I spent time from age 5 teaching my kids how to take care of the supplies--I did still have some clean-up to do after, but when I walked them through they would at least try), play a game, read word cards, make their bed, fold some towels, color a picture for dad or grandparents, build with blocks or Lincoln logs...basically come up with a bunch of things that you can rotate that you have all set to go or that they know how to get out. Implement gradually and see what works.

    I always like to start our day with any together time (Bible, maybe reading history etc...), and then rotate through the kids. If your oldest can do something independent first, it might work best to spend some one on one with the youngest for 15-30 minutes, then the middle, and switch back and forth a couple of times, and do the oldest a bit later. Or, you may find it works best to work with one of the other 2 first, based on personality or whether the others need some instruction before working independently.

    Decide what are priority subjects--what do you absolutely want to get to every day? And figure out how those will work first. Sometimes there are subjects that don't have to be done every day, or that can be done on a loop schedule (subjects 1-6 on day 1, 7-8 and 1-4 on day 2, 5-8 and 1-2 on day 3, and so on). Content subjects will loop better than skills subjects if you need that approach (skills like math, phonics, spelling etc... tend to be best if practiced daily).

    Make sure you aren't over-planning--if you didn't see the post on priorities yet, you may want to go back and read that:

    Sometimes it takes some juggling to figure out the best routine. I used to start gradually and build up, to see how things went and what worked well, to do any needed training etc... as we went.

    HTH some!

    1. Thank you very much, Merry, for the very detailed response :) This is very helpful and I'm working on our schedule at the moment literally going back and forth with your tips. I just got done with the first draft and I'm now assessing the activities to see where else I can trim.

      This is my first time doing this kind of scheduling coming from a failed schedule strategy last year that burned us out, so I can't wait to have this completed and try it out. :) Thanks again for blessing me with your guidance!

    2. You're so welcome! Make sure you read the one on Implementing a new routine before starting: