What’s the Difference: A Homeschool Daily Schedule or Routine?

Today I am going to talk about a little-known topic surrounding homeschool daily schedules.

Most homeschoolers want a schedule, sometimes created for them and sometimes they enjoy creating schedules on their own.

Regardless of which you prefer, you may not have heard much about the difference between a homeschool daily schedule and a homeschool daily routine. There are differences and I would like to explore those today.

My intent is to help you think differently about your days, about schedules, and to take some stress and burden off of you. As a homeschooling mom (or dad), you already have a lot on your plate.

I am here to help relieve some of that and teach you a new concept you may not have heard about.

Let’s get into it!

The Difference Between a Homeschool Schedule and Routine

I will quickly define what I am referring to here and then the rest of this article will be more of a “how to.”

This is my own definition that I have come up with after 21 years of homeschooling, helping and mentoring other homeschooling moms, and observing the homeschool community as a whole.

A schedule is a daily order of tasks set to a time.

For example:

8 am-wake up

8:30 am—eat breakfast

9 am—start school

Sometimes within that, you will see it broken down into further times, such as:

9 am—math

9:30am-reading

9:45 am—history

10:30 am—break

10:45 am—writing

When you set your tasks to a time, that is a schedule.

A routine is a structure that happens according to a rhythm, not a set time.

An example of a homeschool daily routine would be:

Wake up

Eat breakfast

Start School

Eat Lunch

Do fun activity

Make Supper

These tasks, working together, create a structure for your days.

I call it a backbone to your home.

You do the same tasks, in the same order, every day, but there is no set time.

So, waking up could be 8 am, it could be 6 am, it could be 9 am and it could be all 3 every week, or all 3 for each child, each day. But regardless of when they wake up, they complete these tasks, in his order, every day.

That is a routine.

How a Homeschool Daily Schedule Saved My Homeschool

I was always pretty structured and had a schedule in my early homeschool days. But it wasn’t very well thought out and I didn’t work my system or stick to it as I should have.

Then we moved to another state while I was in the early months of my pregnancy with my 4th child. I had a teenager starting highschool and I just got uprooted from my entire support system, landing in a world of strangers, pregnancy hormones, and stress.

We limped along until my daughter was born and I thought once we got more settled, things would get better.

But then I had a bad case of PPD, a newborn, and kids running wild on our little homestead and I just couldn’t. By the grace of God, I found a book called Managers of Their Homes and it changed my life and my homeschool.

In this book, the author teaches you how to create a daily homeschool schedule. It is very involved and detailed and she holds your hand through every step.

I leaned on her to get me out of my tailspin and she did.

With her method, you schedule out every day into either 15 minute or 30 minute increments. Every single day, every single minute is scheduled.

It’s not as daunting as it sounds, and as I mentioned, she holds your hand very tightly. It was a life-changing book and literally saved my homeschool.

I used this schedule for many years. My kids didn’t always like it, but I loved it! It kept us going, gave me something to fall back on when I couldn’t think, gave the kids some structure that they desperately needed and they never needed to ask what they were supposed to be doing. They could refer to the schedule to tell them what to do.

After several years, I found that my kids (and myself!) weren’t responding as much to the time slots and schedule, as we were to the structure the schedule provided.

We liked the rhythm it created in our days and knowing what was coming next.

The main issue I was having with it, was the time slots.

This was a typical dialogue in our house:

Mom: It’s 10:15, it’s time for child 1 to do math, child 2 to do reading, child 3 to play with the baby.

Kid: Mom, I don’t want to stop reading a do math! I want to finish this chapter. Please?

Mom: No. We only have this next slot for 15 minutes and there is no time to waste. We can’t have reading bleed into the math slot or we don’t get math done!

Kid: (defeated) Ok…

Or another scenario:

**happily doing school when the phone rings with an important call**

Mom: **on the phone for too long, but did try to get off the whole time, was rude and impatient, knowing the clock is ticking on this 15 minute time segment**

Mom: OK, kids, we have to skip math today because I ran over into our math slot and now we have to pick up where we left off on the schedule. It’s 10:30 now, so that means math for child 1, history for child 3, and child 2 is playing with the baby. Sorry, we couldn’t read that book you were looking forward to. I didn’t mean to be on the phone for so long.

Kids: I just played with the baby for the last time slot, I don’t want to play with her some more! I want to read the book you promised.

Mom: **feeling guilty, but the phone call was very important**

After things like the above happened one too many times, I did some reevaluating in our life.

This is when I came up with the routine vs schedule idea.

Like I mentioned, it wasn’t the time slots that saved my homeschool, it was the structure. We all loved the predictable, structured days, but the time slots were hampering us.

So, I got rid of them but kept the routine.

It’s been 10+ years since I’ve done that, and I haven’t looked back!

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Benefits of a Homeschool Daily Routine

More Flexibility

As I mentioned, we just didn’t have the flexibility that we needed in our days to deal with sickness, phone calls, or other disruptions.

A routine gives you all of the flexibility you need!

Using the above scenario, you will not get cranky with the kids because you need to “stick to the schedule!”

If they want to finish reading their chapter in their book, they get to do that, because there is no time slot. They can finish, move on to math, the daily routine is still intact and everyone is happier.

And that phone call? No problem and no guilt! Just pick up where you left off and that’s it!

If you want to do a field trip, if you have coop days, if you are sick or have any other disruption, a routine can flex with you. However, it is still there, providing the structure, the backbone, you need to stay strong and move through your days.

In my opinion, even though a schedule saved my homeschooling, a routine is far superior, especially because of the flexibility it provides.

Want to learn how to homeschool year round?

Less stress on homeschooling mom or parent

Due to the increased flexibility, a routine causes you less overall stress and guilt.

You have the best of both worlds: structure and flexibility!

You will not be hurrying through a math lesson so you can stay on schedule. You won’t be telling your kids to scarf their food because lunch time is almost over.

And if you’re cuddling on the couch with your tween and she all of a sudden drops a bomb on you, like, “I have a crush,” or “I hate my body,” you can sit there with her for as long as it takes and be there for her.

I would never say to my child in that situation, “We can only talk for 15 minutes because of the schedule.”

But I would be thinking it.

I would feel guilty, rushed, and stressed because of being off schedule. Maybe that’s just me, but I have been in the homeschooling community for a long time, and this seems to be a common theme among homeschooling moms who do implement a solid daily schedule.

This doesn’t have to happen!

You can be there for your kids, your husband, yourself and still have your routine and structure stay intact.

Easier to train kids to a routine

I have an entire post about this, but here are some quick ideas to get you started.

Regardless of whether you have a schedule or a routine, you will have to train your kids to it. You will not accomplish what you want to accomplish, with homeschooling, work, chores, or activities if your children are not well behaved and able to move through your days with you.

That takes training and guidance on your part.

Having said that, it is much easier to train your children to a routine than to a schedule. Time slots and fussy or disobedient children do not mix!

When you’re in the training phase, sometimes by the time you get the child to sit down and do math, it’s time for another transition into the next time slot.

There is also the added stress of having your child hurry up because we need to stay on schedule.

But if you have a 7 year old that you are training to a routine, and they take 30 minutes one day in the bathroom to brush their teeth and hair, that’s OK. You won’t need to hurry them because there is no time to keep, just the next task to do, which is waiting for them regardless of how long the previous tasks take.

And they ARE being obedient, even if they are taking a long time. But to tell them they aren’t listening because the next time slot is looming, can defeat them and make them want to give up.

Children need space to learn and grow and a routine automatically provides that space for them.

Pretty soon, you won’t have to tell your kids each task, because they will already know the order and establish morning routines, afternoon routines and evening routines themselves.

Please read this post that discusses this in more detail.

Cons

Like everything in life, there are good and bad sides. I have discussed many good things about a homeschool daily routine, but let’s talk about the cons of a routine.

It’s easier to get off task. With more flexibility, comes less accountability.

A time-slotted schedule does hold you more accountable.

For example, after talking with your 12 yr old about their crush, you decide to take longer to eat breakfast because you’re mentally exhausted. That pushes your day back to the point where you only get a couple of subjects done for school.

With a schedule, this wouldn’t happen.

Of course, you can still make the same decision to have a longer breakfast, but there’s something about looking at a schedule with the time slots printed out that makes our brains jump into action.

It’s easier to swip swap the tasks and complete them out of order. (Yes, this is a con).

The key to a successful routine is that the tasks are done in the same order every day. This establishes the habits that create the routine that creates the rhythm.

But, it’s also easier to switch them around, causing confusion and disrupting the rhythm. Life demands us to be flexible, and sometimes switching things around is necessary, but if we make it a habit because we take advantage of the flexibility, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Napping babies don’t do as well with routines. Usually, there is a window of opportunity that you have to get your baby to fall asleep with little to no issues. And the window is not very big.

Typically, right after they play, they need to sleep and there are cues and signs they give you before they start yawning or rubbing their eyes. Usually, by then, it’s too late and they are overtired.

However, this is not a baby sleeping post, so I will stop there. If you would like more info about sleeping babies, this book changed my life! It’s like sleep magic that is sprinkled on the babies to make them sleep. My daughter even used it for both of her kids, so it is still relevant today.

Having said that, babies and toddlers thrive on a clock for napping. They need to sleep and usually, it’s the same time every day.

A routine is fantastic, but sometimes you’re not finished with one task and they are ready for their nap. It’s also easier for you, to know that at 1 pm my baby is napping.

It’s easier to plan, to anticipate and to schedule activities around that time.

Thinking, my baby needs to sleep in the afternoon (a general time frame instead of an actual time), can cause us to over plan, not be home in time, and for the baby to miss that precious window where they can fall asleep easiest and sleep longer.

Again, you may be different and that’s OK.

Homeschool Routine Ideas

How to make a daily homeschool routine

Of course, every homeschooling family will have their own needs and ways of doing things. You can take what you need from this section and leave what won’t work.

The easiest way to get started with establishing a routine for your home is to break it into chunks.

You can do this many ways:

  • By time (morning, afternoon, etc.)
  • By child (get the baby established first)
  • By tasks (grooming tasks, school tasks, chores)

Any of these have their own benefits and it doesn’t matter how you do it or how you start. Any type of structure you are implementing is worth it and will help your days run smoother.

I am going to pick time routines for the sake of this post and show you how to implement this into your home.

Step 1

I would start with a morning routine.

Write out what you want your mornings to look like. Also, think about what goals you have for your kids in terms of self-care and independence.

Most kids from 4 yrs old and up can be pretty independent but will need to know the expectations and be taught the skills to accomplish those (in other words, “training”).

Wake Up

Brush Teeth

Make Bed

Get Dressed

Eat Breakfast

Find Mom

This is a simple daily routine that any child can implement with ease. You can modify it to fit your needs and values.

For example, we don’t make our beds, so I wouldn’t put that on my child’s morning routine list. I also might want them to brush their teeth after they eat breakfast, so I would change that up.

Either way, simply write out what your ideal morning routine would look like.

Step 2

Once that’s written out, put it on the fridge and implement it.  

Know that you will need to train your child to accomplish these tasks. If they need lessons in how to brush their teeth and wipe up the toothpaste they will most likely get all over the counter, then that will need to be done.

Take the time to do this.

There is no rush!

It might take a few days, it might take a few weeks, that’s OK. Don’t move on until your child can accomplish their morning routine to your expectations.

As I mentioned earlier, once your child can move through this routine easily, they will do it on their own because it becomes a habit. And you will not have to stand over the top of them, giving you freedom.

But you have to lay the rails to begin with.

Work through each task in your morning routine until your child can complete them. Once this has been accomplished, you can move on.

Step 3

Repeat Step 1 and 2, but with your afternoon routine.

Here’s a sample:

Lunch

Quite/Naptime

Read Alouds

Play Outside

Snack Time

Dad comes home

Again, child training, patience, and flexibility are key here.

Do not stop your morning routine while you are working on your afternoon routine.

Your kids should be mostly independent by now and you have a pretty good morning structure going while you’re working on this.

Don’t be defeated if your perfectly trained kids in the morning fall apart for this afternoon routine. It’s new, they’re also being challenged and afternoons are just hard.

Expect the learning curve, some battles, tears. Be patient and give grace, especially to yourself!

It’s worth it!

Here are some summer activities to help fill the time!

Step 4

Repeat for your evening routine.

This whole thing may take several months to fully implement. It might take a week.

Every family is different. But don’t give up!

You only have to lay these rails down once, and like actual train tracks, they won’t budge. You will have smoother days that your homeschooling “train” can run on once these are in place.

You are building the backbone to your home and that takes effort and time.

But you won’t regret it!

I promise!

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