Considering the complexities of what we manage, we instinctively know that a busy homeschool family needs a schedule or routine.
As we enjoy the rest that summer brings or homeschool as usual, many of us have an inexplicable draw to advance planning. Homeschool moms seem to be some of the most prepared people on the planet.
Rightly so! As both a parent and the primary educator, we carry an even greater responsibility than most. Include the fact that many of us also have special needs and circumstances, and it is apparent that advance preparation is vital to our success.
A schedule or routine can be a great place to begin those preparations! They help us to prioritize and organize, bringing order from chaos.
It is important, however, to remember that these “time managers” are tools and can benefit only as much as they fit the needs and circumstances of each mom and family.
Understanding the differences between routine and schedule while considering which will benefit our family and life circumstance can be critical to our preparation.
What works best for each family will look different, so consider the strengths and weaknesses of each approach as you decide what is best for you.
What is the difference between a schedule and a routine?
The main difference between schedules and routines is simple: Schedules dictate the what and when; routines give the what with a loose order.
- A schedule is a detailed list of activities that are planned out in a specific order with a calculated time allocation.
- A routine is not necessarily planned out or even written down. A routine is something that’s done habitually every day, perhaps even at the same time of day, without planning.
Strengths of a schedule
Let’s be honest—there will always be chores we’d rather avoid, and the list of “to-do’s” will always seem greater than the time we have to actually do them. Schedules help us to be disciplined. There is something so satisfying about putting all those things in an organized format to ensure that they get done. For those people who thrive on organization and detail, a schedule provides the necessary framework within which to operate.
One of the greatest benefits I see to keeping a schedule is the productivity it can help provide. When we can get easily distracted by the non-essential, the schedule helps to keep us focused. It can also be very helpful if you have tasks that you seem to avoid or just not get to for reasons only you can truly understand. (Putting laundry on a schedule will never change the fact that you hate to do it!)
My experience with using a schedule
There was definitely a season of life after the birth of my fourth child where I was attracted to the idea of creating a strict schedule. I read a book by another homeschool mom who had a large family. She had created a system that could be adapted to help other busy homeschool moms to schedule their days, weeks, and months.
At the time I thought finding this schedule was akin to finding the “fountain of youth.” I was feeling overwhelmed, and I wondered if this could be the secret to getting it all done.
After all, I thought, how in the world was it possible to nurse a newborn, keep a busy toddler entertained, and homeschool two elementary-aged children while managing to cook, clean, and run the household—much less fit in anything that didn’t involve a child under eight?
I’ll spare you the long version of what happened. It took only a short period of time for the reality to set in that I couldn’t keep up with the schedule. I found myself continuously anxious and stressed—no matter how I tried to modify it and make it work for my family.
A schedule did not seem to work best for ME. The pressure of a timetable was more stressful than not getting it all done. I also realized in the end that there is no magic formula or secret to be able to do everything I wanted.
In the end, what I needed was to lower my expectations and learn to embrace rest (which, by the way, took and continues to take an intentional mindset and heart shift…but that’s a completely different subject). I also needed to find more of a routine that worked for my personality.
I thought being a naturally driven, motivated, person would make me a good fit to use a schedule. That was not the case. Choosing to prioritize and working from a routine that provided a loose structure worked best for me.
Where schedules may allow us to get organized and accomplish more, they can be counterproductive. Rather than leaving us confident and full of life, we may feel more discouraged, tired, and stressed out because maintaining the schedule either doesn’t fit our lifestyle or personality, or is just too ambitious.
Strengths of a routine
The primary strength of a routine is simply that there is little stress on time. Habits have formed—sometimes driven by need, sometimes out of intention and values. By nature, a routine can offer some of the benefits of a schedule because we are habitually doing something while not leaving us stressed out. They can provide the structure with flexibility to allow us to be organized and productive yet not stressed out.
Many of us live by morning routines that we’ve never written down. I like to get up and brush my teeth, fill my water bottle, and take my vitamin drink while having quiet time for as long as I can manage. Some put on coffee, exercise, and do some chores. Likely, we never planned those things out, but over time they became a need or desire in our lives to begin our day that way.
While my kids were young, our routine seemed to naturally develop. As soon as dinner was done, I was ready to have the kids in bed so that the house was quiet. The kids would take a bath, brush their teeth, and play in their rooms until each one had finished. They all waited for bedtime reading, and we prayed together just before they went to sleep.
I never wrote that down. Sometimes the routine varied based on our evening activity. Some nights there was an activity or meeting that delayed us getting home. Sometimes reading time was shorter or skipped if it got late. We could do that because it was a routine that could change when circumstances that affected the routine changed.
The downside to a routine may be that a person might not be as productive. The lack of structure may also be difficult for some who need the discipline that structure provides.
Somewhere in between
While neither a strict schedule nor a loose routine may fit perfectly, many of us would benefit from something that falls in the middle. Choosing the strengths of both in a way that is sensitive to the needs of our own personality and family circumstances will likely lead to a maintainable structure.
Currently, Saturday is a chore day for my two younger kids who are still at home. They know exactly what they need to do and have the freedom to do it anytime they like (within reason). If we go out of town or they stay the night at a friend’s house, they know to work those chores in to some other time in the week or enlist the help of a sibling.
If there are certain chores that never seem to get done, include those in the routine of your day or week. Perhaps it just needs to be a part of a routine to get the required attention.
A routine like this can allow us to sift our values and activities to reveal what is most important to us, while also taking into account that not all days look the same.
LIFE happens. Why not create a routine or schedule that can accommodate those unplanned and unexpected circumstances?
Whether you choose to follow a schedule, routine, or a combination of the two, stay humble and flexible, giving yourself the organization and grace to make it work for you and your current life circumstances.