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A slip of paper.
That’s all. A slip of paper.
I find it very interesting that the word schedule comes from the Latin for “a slip of paper.”
Can you imagine?
When Charlotte Mason homeschoolers talk about schedules, somehow it takes on much more significance than a slip of paper.
We read books about how to set up a schedule. We go to seminars to learn what schedules should look like. We spend hours brainstorming, pondering, and trying to fit all the pieces together in the best way possible.
Of course, it makes sense that you spend a lot of time and effort trying to design the perfect . . . well, realistically, a good, workable schedule for your family. (There is no such thing as a perfect schedule; you know that, right?)
But how do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you know if your schedule is a good one? Isn’t that the question that niggles in the back of our minds—probably more often than we care to admit?
I can’t tell you whether your schedule is a good one. Only you can answer that. But I can give you some key ideas to help you discover that answer for yourself.
Let me give you five questions to ask about your schedule. The answers will, hopefully, make it pretty clear whether your schedule is working as it should in your Charlotte Mason home school.
Question #1: Is my schedule my servant or my master?
Schedules make great servants, but lousy masters. I learned this principle many years ago, even before we started homeschooling. When I had two preschoolers, I scheduled a walk every morning after breakfast. Well, it was more than just “after breakfast.” The walk was scheduled for 10:00. And let me tell you, it caused a lot of stress in my life. If I did not have the two little ones cleaned and bundled up (during the cold months) and in the stroller, with the dog leash in my other hand, and heading out the door when the clock struck 10, I felt like a failure.
I don’t know why I let the clock beat me up like that; but during that season, I eventually learned a valuable lesson: life requires flexibility. It doesn’t always fit into neat, little time tables.
Now, don’t go to the other extreme and throw your schedule out the window. Sometimes we need to use time tables. The main point is be careful of allowing your schedule to affect your attitude.
If you find yourself stressing out about fitting everything into its appointed time-slot, you might be leaning toward the my-schedule-is-my-master side of things. And if that stress is affecting your patience, your peace, your joy in watching your child learn and grow,—if that stress is causing you to give your children less than your best,—then maybe you need to loosen its grip on you a little bit.
Your attitude makes up the atmosphere of your schooling days. And your children learn just as much from that atmosphere as they do from the school lessons. You want to give your children the best version of mom that you possibly can. So make sure your schedule helps you to do that. Ask yourself, “Do I feel like I am continually fighting against my schedule, or do I find it a helpful, flexible structure—a structure that gives productive and enjoyable rhythm to our days without causing undue stress?” The answer to that question will tell you whether your schedule is serving you well, as a servant should, or if it has become your master.
Question #2: Am I keeping lessons short?
Fifteen minutes of complete concentration is far more effective than forty-five minutes of dawdling and daydreaming. Charlotte kept lessons short and focused in order to encourage a habit of complete attention.
Of course, as children get older they will need more time to cover more material in a lesson, but keep lessons short as much as possible. How short? If you look at Charlotte’s schedule for her students, you will find that no lesson was longer than 15 or 20 minutes for the younger children; most lessons were shorter than that. Around grade 4, the maximum time increased to 20 or 30 minutes for some of the lessons; but again, many took less time than that. Grades 7 and up were expected to pay full attention for 30–45 minutes in some lessons.
Now that may seem like it’s too short when you compare it to the typical school schedules that most of us grew up with. Many classrooms do 50-minute or 55-minute lessons. But how much of that time is spent focused with full attention on task? Not much. A lot of that time is wasted trying to get the students to pay attention and trying to rein back in the ones who have lost attention.
The truth is that you can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time IF you have full attention. And one of the ways to instill that habit in your students is by keeping lessons short. The more often they pay attention for the whole lesson, the more that habit will become ingrained in their brains. And once you have that habit secured, you can begin to nudge out the time, little by little, and still have full attention.
It works! It works much better than scheduling hour-long lessons and spending half of the time trying to get your child back on task. The more often you do that, the more that will become your child’s habit. Not a pleasant thought.
Keeping lessons short will help your children learn to pay full attention and do their work once—and do it well. That habit will save them (and you!) a lot of time and wasted effort.
Question #3: Am I alternating intense and less-intense lessons?
As you set up your schedule for each day, pay attention to the order in which you are doing different subjects. Your children will find it much easier to pay full attention if you alternate intense and less-intense lessons as you work your way through that order.
Some subjects require intense concentration on reading or listening; others involve looking at a picture and describing it. Some require the child to use the math part of his brain and work with numbers; other lessons focus on fine-motor skills and handwriting.
Alternating the type of lessons as you go through your daily schedule can help keep everyone’s brains fresh. You see, the more you use one certain part of the brain, the more tired it becomes. If you use that part of the brain over and over, it can become fatigued. The more fatigued it gets, the harder it becomes to pay full attention.
Think about the last time you attended a homeschool conference. You probably sat in workshops, listening and taking notes, much of the day. Most likely, by the last workshop of the conference, your brain was so tired that it was hard to pay full attention to the speaker. You probably wanted to, but it was very difficult.
It’s the same with your children’s brains and the lessons you cover throughout each day. Using different parts of the brain in sequence, alternating intense and less-intense lessons, helps to give them mental breaks, and they will find it much easier to pay full attention.
So, you could do a mentally-intense lesson like dictation, then do a lesson that requires a different kind of concentration, like picture study. Or you might read a history book and require an oral narration, then do a map drill. Many of the subjects in a Charlotte Mason education can give that much-needed change of pace as you go through your day. Which brings us to the fourth question to ask about your schedule . . .
Question #4: Are picture study, music study, poetry, or nature study getting left out?
It’s easy to let picture study, music study, poetry, and nature study slip if you don’t make a conscious effort to plan for them. The truth is, you are doing yourself and your children a disservice when you leave them out. Not only are you missing out on all of their wonderful ideas—ideas that help educate the whole person,—but you are throwing away a valuable tool to help keep attention. Sprinkling those subjects throughout the week adds an element of delight to each day. And inserting one into each day’s schedule offers that important change of pace for your child’s brain.
You can do each of those subjects just once a week: maybe do picture study on Monday, music study on Tuesday, poetry on Wednesday, and nature study on Thursday or Friday. Those wonderful subjects keep things fresh and prevent your weekly schedule from growing stale, as so often happens when you do the same-old same-old every day.
So make sure you have written into your schedule picture study, music study, poetry, and nature study. Use them to add joy and delight to your week and a wonderful change of pace to each day.
Question #5: When should I change my schedule?
Once you find a schedule that works well, it’s tempting to hang onto it for dear life. But just as Charlotte encouraged us to vary our daily schedules in order to keep them fresh, she also set the example of changing her weekly schedule regularly in order to keep it fresh too.
Charlotte Mason’s schools changed schedules each term—about every three months. So even if a schedule is working well, don’t be afraid to mix it up and rearrange it every few months.
You don’t have to completely start over from scratch. Small changes can work just as well. You might simply change up the order in which you cover subjects each day. For example, if you read and recite poetry at breakfast and sing a hymn later in the day, you could easily switch those two subjects’ places. Or perhaps you read history first thing on Tuesday and read science closer to lunch. Those are both read-and-narrate subjects, so you could have them trade places and still keep the nice sequencing in your day.
You can also change the days of the week on which you do certain subjects. You might move picture study to Friday and nature study to Tuesday and music study to Monday, for example.
Or if you’re feeling ready for a big change, do both: switch around days of the week and your daily sequence. But remember, you don’t have to do a sweeping change every time. Even small changes help to relieve monotony and keep things fresh.
And here’s an idea: you might want to throw in a special emphasis every once in a while. I like to add Shakespeare for just one term during the year. That makes that one term a little different from the others, and I don’t have to completely rearrange everything to get that nice change of pace. Or perhaps you and your children might join a special choir or musical group during the weeks leading up to the holidays.
There are many opportunities that you can take advantage of. Keep your eyes open for them, and when they pop up, feel free to rearrange your schedule to accommodate them. Don’t just add them to an already-full schedule; that’s the path to overload and burnout. If you add something for a season, take something else out for that season. Keep your schedule manageable with plenty of margin, but feel free to shift and switch around and swap in and out two or three times a year just for variety.
So how does your “slip of paper”—your schedule—measure up? Is it your flexible servant, with short lessons that alternate in intensity as you work through each day? Do you have good variety throughout the week and throughout the year?
Leave a comment and let us know what has worked well for you. We all want the kind of schedule that will make our home schools a delight in the Charlotte Mason way.