- "How do I know how much work to do each day?"
- "What if we run out of time at the end of the year and still have lessons to finish?"
- "What do we do if we need a day or week off?"
Each of these questions can be easily answered by taking some time to map out the school year. It is best to work from the big picture down to the daily details. This will help the homeschooling parents know where they are going, and ensure that there is a detailed map of the steps it will take to get there. This can start by dividing the year into four simple categories, including 1) Annual Schedule; 2) Monthly Schedule; 3) Weekly Schedule; and 4) Daily Schedule.
The annual schedule is the layout of the entire school year, including holidays and other vacation days. It should be based on the traditional school year of 36 weeks, with 180 total school days. School typically begins the day after Labor Day, and ends approximately the end of May or beginning of June. In general, there is one week allotted for Thanksgiving and two weeks for the Christmas and New Year holiday. Other holidays such as Columbus Day, President's Day and Easter can also become official homeschool holidays, but will affect the ending date of the school year.
The annual schedule should also outline how much learning is to be accomplished by the end of the year. If the homeschool parent is using a standard curriculum program, generally the end of the year means the student has completed the textbooks selected for that year. For those that use unit studies, the end of the year means the student has completed the predetermined number of studies.
The monthly schedule is to break down the schoolwork to be completed in that year into monthly goals. This will help the student stay on track for the year. For example, by the end of September, the parent would like to see this amount of schoolwork completed, and so on. The benefit will be a continual benchmark for the student to work toward each month, and assurance for the parent that the student can complete the year when planned.
The weekly schedule will show what schoolwork is to be accomplished weekly. In a curriculum-based program, textbooks and workbooks have a specific number of chapters or pages in each book. If the parent divides that number by 36, the number of weeks in a school year, they can determine the amount of work to be finished each week in order to complete the textbook by the end of the year.
Finally, the daily schedule is the most important of all. It is the daily schedule that determines the overall success of the school year. The daily workload is determined by how much schoolwork was designated for the week, and if there will be a four- or five-day school week. The shorter week will make for a heavier daily workload for the student. In this case, it is a good idea to allocate the fifth day as either a free day or a catch-up day, depending on the need.
The amount of daily time spent on each subject will depend on the age of the student, their learning style and their overall academic skill level. However, as a general rule, 3 to 5 minutes for preschool age, 10 to 20 minutes for first through third graders, 20 to 45 minutes for fourth through sixth graders, and 45 minutes or more for eighth through twelfth graders.
Maintaining a schedule is important for the success of homeschooling, but only when it is balanced with flexibility. Parents should continue to work toward the goals set for the year, but know that they have the freedom to make adjustments if needed. Some parents might need to modify the schedule three or four times in the first six months of the school year. In fact, the first year may include so much adjustment and experimentation that academic progress may not even be noticeable. This is completely normal.
Nevertheless, over time nervous parents will find that as both they and the student become acclimated, a natural rhythm will begin to emerge, and so will a positive, successful homeschool experience.