Why a Daily Schedule Doesn’t Work for Me (and What We Do Instead)

Why a Daily Schedule Doesn’t Work for Me (and What We Do Instead) Throughout my career as a stay-at-home (and work-at-home) mom, I have tried several times to follow a strict schedule. I’m a reader and a planner. I read all the popular books on creating a schedule for your homeschool and your household. I created a flurry of colored post-its and endlessly moved them around so that everyone would have something to do at all times, even if it was playtime. I worked and re-worked our times so we could squeeze everything that needed to be done into our day. What was the typical result of all this earnest work?

Usually I failed miserably by the second day (or sometimes by the first).

Toddlers, a sick kid, a phone call: all these things and more seemed to sabotage my attempts to keep to a schedule, despite my best efforts. By the end of the day, I was frazzled, hardly anything on our to-do list was done and my kids were wondering why a crazy person had taken the place of their mother.

Ahem. I’ve learned the hard way that daily schedules and me and homeschooling and my kids just don’t mix well.

No Post-it Schedule for me

No Post-it Schedule for me

 That doesn’t mean that we just fly by the seat of our pants around here.

That would really not satisfy my Type-A personality. No! We have something that works better for me than a schedule – we have a routine.

I realize this may not be revolutionary for you, but it was for me. See, I always thought that just because I was home with my kids and they don’t go to school, I still needed to abide by a “real” schedule in order to be productive. There seems to be so much literature about both ends of the spectrum – the super-organized schedulers and those who are free spirits and make it up as they go along. I desperately wanted to be super-organized, but I just couldn’t make it work. I needed some middle ground.

Enter my routine.

Somewhere along the line, I learned about using a routine and pegging certain activities to times of the day. It’s kind of a hybrid schedule, but one without times that would make this recovering perfectionist shrivel up by noon. Here’s how it works for us:

We build our day around a few key activities. We have blocks of time for doing different things during the day. When we are done with one activity (or interrupted, or need to stop), we move on to the next one. No times, no half-hour blocks that ended before we got started and made me crazy. It’s a much more natural way of doing things for me.

Reading is a key part of our routine

Reading is a key part of our routine

Here is our general weekday routine:

These activities happen more or less at consistent times each day, but if we are a half an hour later one day, I don’t worry about it. For example, lunch may happen at noon most days but if the kids are hungry at 11:30 and we can move our read-aloud to the kitchen table, that’s fine with me. School happens between breakfast and lunch and continues into the afternoon until the kids are finished. If they are done early, they are free to play.

Sometimes you have to watch the clock

Outside appointments ARE a scheduled part of our routine.

Sometimes you have to watch the clock.

The only hard and fast times on my routine are when we need to be somewhere out of the house. Things like violin lessons, karate class and doctors appointments. Then we make sure to wrap up what we’re doing with plenty of room to get where we need to be on time. And we do like to eat dinner around 6pm or mom the kids get grumpy. So dinner is pretty scheduled around here.

Within the structure of our routine, we move fluidly from one activity to the next. I like larger chunks of time to do what we need to do. When we are done, we move on; no need to watch the clock and hurry up; no wasted time either.

3 Reasons a routine works for us where a schedule has failed

  1. Transitions are hard. Transitions can be especially tough for little kids. And who wants to interrupt a kindergartener who is coloring just because it’s time to do math? The math can wait 15 minutes and I am happy to use that time to squeeze in something extra from my to-do list.
  2. Too many interruptions. It’s no secret that kids frequently don’t do things according to your plans. Interruptions come fast and frequent with kids. No matter how carefully you plan ahead, there’s going to be some last-minute diaper change or disaster with a pet that can wreak havoc on the most carefully crafted schedule. When I tried to squeeze these interruptions into a schedule, all I ended up was frustrated. With a routine, it’s much easier to deal with the interruption and jump back into the routine where we left off.
  3. No reason to be tied to a clock. A flexible routine allows us to move on from one activity early or hang out a bit longer if something good is happening (like a toddler who is contentedly playing by himself). Or we can squeeze in something extra if we like. If the weather is beautiful, we may go on a walk instead of reading picture books with the little kids.

That’s the beauty of being at home with my kids – I don’t have to function like a school or a train station. Once I’ve got our priorities, goals and to-dos set, I am free to work on them at a pace that suits me and my kids.

Do what works for you

Do what works for you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 13 years of being a parent, it’s that you have to do what works best for you. A system may work great for someone else but she doesn’t have YOUR house and YOUR kids. (<– Tweet this!) Some kids may thrive on a scheduled day. If your kids go to school, of course you’ll have to get them out the door on time.

So please, take what I’m suggesting with a grain of salt.

If it works for you, great; if not, by all means, don’t give it another thought. I would hate to see you try to squeeze your life into a concept that just isn’t right for you. That would make your life miserable; just like a schedule was for me :)

Your turn! How do you organize your day?

Photos by Sam Felder, medically_irrelevant, J L

Comments

  1. Kelly says

    I definitely prefer a routine over a strict schedule. I’m a person who is easily stressed and a perfectionist to boot! So you would think a strict schedule would work for me but it terrifies me and I would be kicking myself all day for not being able to stick to it because of the reality of our life with our kids and our home! Glad to know I’m not alone. Some people insist everyone should have a schedule and I just need to not listen and go with what I know works for our family!

  2. Jenny says

    This post helped me realize that I’m not alone! It’s a good feeling. I am in my fourth year of homeschooling and I learned that it was impossible to keep to a strict schedule with four kids. I created a routine as well which has worked wonders. I painted a large chalkboard on our kitchen wall over the desk. On it I drew stairs and on each step I wrote a task or tasks that had to be accomplished before they could move to the next step. For example, the first step has “clean room, brush hair and teeth, get dressed”written on it. Once those tasks are completed they can move onto the next step labeled “breakfast” and “read scriptures”. The next step is choose 2 lessons and the following is a snack/break and so on until they reach the top which is FREEDOM. What I love about this method is that my children know what’s expected of them and I don’t have to be on top of them to get it all done. Also, they have a say in the routine by choosing the order of their subjects. I don’t care about the order as long as they are progressing. They can also earn 5 min. of electronics per step completed in a timely manner and without whining. So far this has been the best system we have used!

    • Sarah says

      Jenny,

      I LOVE your stair step visual – what a fantastic idea! It’s so helpful to give kids an easy visual, isn’t it? I find that I can have a very clear plan in my head but I sometimes forget to convey that to the kids. Your system would take care of that problem.

  3. says

    This is EXACTLY how we run our home. I too have done all the schedules… from an every 15 minute schedule to every hour and this is the ONLY thing that has worked for me… routine based around activities. It is my saving grace. :) Awesome post. Love it! :)

  4. says

    This is fantastic, Sarah! Thanks so much for sharing! I have implemented a similar “routine” for our summer (b/c I desperately need some sort of structure!). I only wish I had learned this so long ago…it would have saved me so many meltdowns! :)
    Nancy@ThereIsGrace recently posted…Through the StormMy Profile

    • Sarah Mueller says

      I had to stop reading aloud 27 times this morning to take my potty-training toddler to the bathroom. Toddlers = flexibility :)

  5. says

    I think this is one of the greatest pieces of advice for ANY mom, homeschooling or not, but ESPECIALLY homeschooling moms…figure out, through prayer and planning, what works for YOUR family, and do it (and don’t worry about what others do! :)) We, too, do so much better with routines than schedules, and our routine has had to flex and change over the years as life has changed. Really appreciated the reminders here this morning as we are in yet another transition period!
    Jen Harris recently posted…A Little of This, A Little of That, and a Little of the Other…My Profile

    • Sarah Mueller says

      Thanks, Jen. It’s so easy to get caught up in what works for others (and it might be a lot easier if we didn’t have to figure it out for ourselves, wouldn’t it?)

  6. says

    We’re beginning homeschooling next year and this was a question I had – do we need a strict schedule? I love the idea of just having a routine as a guideline for your day. For my kids I will have to work in a few scheduled things, like one of my kids does much better overall if she eats every 2 hours. Thank you for sharing, this really gives me a better idea of how I would like to set our days up :)
    Tracee recently posted…Summer Planning: Part 1My Profile

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