The Unexpected Spoonful of Sugar: Benefits of Structuring Your Homeschool

May 25, 2021 Updated: May 25, 2021

Mother’s journal entry, July 20, 2004: I just can’t seem to stay on top of my game. First, the kids got up and made a huge mess in their room while I was still asleep. Then, after a breakfast of cold cereal, the kids wouldn’t leave me alone during my morning devotions. I put them in front of PBS for a half-hour to dress and brush my teeth when someone showed up at the door. Before I knew it, Matt was home for lunch, and I didn’t even have the kitchen cleaned up from breakfast. He asked what we had been doing since he left for work and I turned red.

“Nothing,” I answered.

“What are you doing this afternoon?” he innocently asked.

“Probably more of the same. The kids just take up all my time. I feel like I am running around putting out fires all day until I fall into bed and wake up to the same problems the next day.”

This was my life in a nutshell prior to homeschooling. Although I had thought of myself as a disciplined person throughout high school, college, and my early career as a speech therapist, this mothering gig was hard, and it flew contrary to what modern philosophy had taught me: Stay-at-home wives and mothers weren’t using their intellect and talents to their greatest degree. In other words, I thought taking care of the kids and the home was supposed to be easy. Every day I used the same poor techniques and got the same poor results.

Adding Homeschooling to an Already Full Life

My husband and I decided to homeschool that summer of 2004. I had a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old, and was due with our third child in September. I bought a very expensive kindergarten kit with all the bells and whistles to educate my firstborn who would turn 5 a couple of weeks after my baby was due. The date I planned on starting our first day of school loomed on the calendar like a colonoscopy. If I couldn’t accomplish desired tasks on a regular day, how was I going to add a new baby and homeschooling into it?

Four kids and 17 years later, I have certainly added a lot more into my days since those early years. I see my former self as brimming with energy and vitality but too indolent to channel it to the things that mattered. I spent way too much time assuming home duties such as the children’s discipline, cleaning, and meal preparation would get easier with little effort on my part. Instead of striving for what I felt like doing, I needed to embrace and master my jobs at home!

What a concept! That meant time spent goal-setting, studying methods, and organizing tasks needed to be applied more rigorously in home life than I had applied it outside the home. This has worked itself out in degrees throughout the years. I am embarrassed to say that even the idea of waking at least an hour prior to the kids was novel to me. As I trained myself to be dressed, have my bed made, have my room cleaned up, have my devotions, and have breakfast made before the kids were even up, I came out of survival mode.

Slowly but surely, exercise was added to my morning routine. Chores were snuck in when I was already in the area, such as wiping the sink immediately after brushing my teeth. The kids, as they grew, also took on chores using a note card system I bought. We were even able to begin music lessons and some service projects. As I grew in these areas, improvement, not perfection, became my motto.

Adding the Homeschool Schedule

Unfortunately, the school schedule still lagged. I spent a lot of money on lesson plans with lots of little boxes to check off, but they didn’t seem to fit our family’s needs. Looking around the internet, I came across all kinds of ideas and finally decided on weekly calendars to pull school, chores, and other loose ends together.

My husband built the spreadsheets for me with hours of the day along the left side and days of the week across the top. I spent many hours dividing the books in our homeschool curriculum into portions and entering the page numbers to be covered each day. Chores, music lessons and practice, and special events were slowly added. Later, inserting my favorite quotes at the top of each weekly schedule furnished a pop of inspiration.

Every school year has its set of 36 weeks and, when necessary, I can rearrange scheduled elements during the summers before the next school year. When my kids ask me what I am doing those summer months at the laptop, I jokingly tell them, “I am planning every detail of your life for next year.”

All joking aside, this statement is the beauty of my schedule! The continual bossing and nagging necessary to get everyone going in the right direction significantly diminished. It was very difficult for me to remember what task everyone should be completing at any given moment every day. How could I expect my kids to know what must be done if I couldn’t keep track? My intentions were always good prior to the school year but they needed to be compiled and organized in such a way that I could communicate what was expected.

An Unexpected Gift

My schedule has given me another unexpected gift. When I give directions verbally, there appears to be a much greater chance the task will be disregarded or forgotten. But as my kids follow their schedule, many assignments go down like medicine with a spoon full of sugar. I don’t know all the reasons for this, but I’m loving it! All the late nights dreaming and planning while making these magic schedules have been well worth the effort.

Tricia Fowler is a homeschooling momma in the Midwest. She currently spends much of her time teaching math, feeding sourdough, and helping with whatever is in season on the hobby farm she shares with her husband and seven children.