Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Our Daily Schedule or Lack Thereof

One of the most frequent questions I get asked, when someone knows that we are homeschoolers, is whether I have some kind of timetable for our day.  I don't get such questions from other homeschoolers who have been doing this for a while so those who ask this question are usually parents who are either not homeschooling yet but are interested to know how to get started with lessons, or who are new to homeschooling.

I am guessing that the question arises as an extension of what most of us understand of how school works, that there is a set of allocated time for a certain activity before moving the herd to the next.  For those who are looking for the short answer to this question, my answer is: yes, I have a beautiful colour coded Excel spreadsheet pinned on the wall in front of our work table.

However, as I have written in another recent post about our day, the timetable is really a 'legacy system' that is leftover from our more structured days at the earlier part of our journey, especially in Tiger's kindergarten year when we adopted the Charlotte Mason approach of having short, 15-minute lessons.  We have since moved on from such a strict routine.

We are not totally without structure in our days though.  We have let go of structured timetable and curriculum schedules, but we have established a sense of "rhythm" for our days.  What I mean is that, from Monday to Friday, Tiger and I both understand that we will be productive from after breakfast to the time I start cooking dinner.  That's typically between 9:00a.m. to 5:00pm.  During this time, we can be engaged in a variety of different activities, for example:
  • academic learning at the table
  • watching documentaries
  • reading
  • researching
  • writing
  • artsy pursuits
  • going out on field trips
  • hands-on projects
  • having discussions
  • playing games (board games, chess, card games)
  • being in nature
  • external classes
There is a short break in the morning and a lunch break around mid-day.

The reasons I have let go of the formal structure (timetable, curriculum, and predetermined learning outcome) are:
1.  Tiger's ability to concentrate and follow up on a topic has increased as he gets older (compared to two years ago), so the short, timed lessons are not relevant anymore.

2.  When we are engrossed in a topic, we want to pursue it to our satisfaction so we often find ourselves spending an entire morning on Maths or sometimes an entire day on Military History.  On the other hand,  when the topic or learning resource does not inspire us (I still get it wrong sometimes) or when either one of us has had enough of it for the day, we can wrap it up in 10 to 15 minutes.  Tiger has been known to complete certain tasks in 5 minutes and I don't feel it is necessary to make him jump through more hoops on such occasions.

3.  Our learning isn't really limited to 9am-5pm either, which allows for flexibility in terms of 'down time' through sickness or simple non-productive moments.  At moments like these, I find it to be more effective to let Tiger rest, then pick up the study again after such moments have passed.  Therefore, we occasionally (not often) continue after dinner.

4.  When Tiger demonstrated his intention and ability to direct his own learning, I learned to reliquish the tight control I had over his time and curriculum.  I expect it will take a few years, but we have started the process of my gradually handing over the ownership and responsibility of learning to Tiger.  Our process is very dynamic.  The amount of ownership Tiger gets and the pace at which the handover takes place depend on his demonstrated level of maturity, discipline, and ability (both emtionally and intellectually).

5.  Some of Tiger's most interesting discoveries happened during unstructured time.  There is much value in self-discovery which cannot happen when the bulk of a child's day is overloaded with activities prescribed by someone else such that he is not left with any time or energy to be with his own thoughts or to find out who he is.

6.  As far as I know, all the great teachers throughout history -- from Confucius in the East to Socrates in the West -- did not use structured timetables or specific curricula with their students.  These great teachers taught a way of thinking, of learning, of being, of discovering which, unfortunately, do not come in a neat package off the shelf.  With this realisation, all forms of rigidity in terms of timetables and standardised curricula lost their appeal to me.  Having said that, if anyone knows which packaged curriculum or National Curriculum Socrates or Confucius had used, please let me know.  I'll be very interested to get my hands on them. 

Weekends are strictly family time.  That means no formal, sit-at-the-table type of learning, although much informal learning takes place without us consciously thinking about it.  As a family, we spend a lot of time conversing with one another.  The conversations and discussions that we have together often spark new ideas to be followed up in the following weeks.  The other function of our family conversation is that it is sometimes used as an informal assessment of what and how much Tiger has learnt during the week.

Those who are looking for a more structured approach, my post from two years ago of what our day looked like back then will give you a better idea of how to get started.

It is also beneficial to look at other homeschooling families' approaches to give yourself a few more ideas to apply to your family's unique situation:
  • Our Daily Schedule from Savannah @ HammockTracks, in which she talks about her life, from chore lists and meal planning to school work and extra curricular activities.
  • Homeschool Daily Schedules from Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses, in which she shares her love-hate relationship with schedules and how, over the years, she has had to learn to find a delicate balance between tight schedules and flexibility.

Next Tuesday, we will share our book recommendations for new homeschoolers.  I hope you will join us again then.


  1. Really well written Hwee! I love the part about handing over ownership of your son's education only when he is responsible enough to take it. Our children know that in everything if they want more freedoms they must show they are responsible enough to handle the consequences which inevitably come with those freedoms. Not age but stage.
    Great post!

  2. I want to follow your lead. Every time we are on a break the kids do so many wonderful self inspired activities. It takes so much courage to back away. I look at our subjects; reading, writing, math, history, science, spelling, music, art, language.... What do I drop? How do I get started? I don't expect you to answer these questions. It's just me thinking out loud. Maybe I just let them go and if they don't do any mathy activities for a while I try to add some? I don't know if we will ever get to where you are, but I admire your hands-off approach.

  3. Claire and Julie - Thank you both for leaving your supportive comments. :-)

    I hope my post conveys the gradual evolution that has taken place over the past few years, and is continuing to take place, in our household from a very structured environment to a more hands-off approach. The transition is very gradual and did not happen on Day One.

    Julie - my best advice is to take it slowly. You're doing a great job with your children at the moment so it's not as if you have to urgently fix anything that isn't working. Build on the foundation that you have with your children then gradually adjust accordingly.

    How our children will turn out in life depends on many factors other than their learning environment, so I would never be so bold as to claim to have found the secret formula to raising a perfect human being. My son is only 8 years old, so this is all still work-in-progress. The most we can do as mothers is to be vigilant and strive to do our best for our children.

    In short, be inspired but don't get stressed. :-)

  4. I like the handing over of the education, too. You've given me good stuff to think about. Thank you!


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