"We do this..." That's not so hard.
But the more I thought about it, the less I was inclined to give a straight answer. You see, what works for me might be a disaster for you. By saying "We do this..." I risked laying a burden on someone who hears, "This is the right way to do it, so you have to do it my way." We all get 24 hours each day, but how we spend them is going to look unique for each family even if we follow the same principles, like the ones that drive a Charlotte Mason education. How does someone go about creating a schedule for their day?
Eventually, this simple question turned into a series on my blog, A Generous Education. In Part I - Finding the Given Times, I wrote about attending the Living Education Retreat and being inspired to make huge changes to how I organized my day. In Part II - On Your Mark; Get Set..., I discussed some of the things I did to lay the groundwork for successful change: how did I figure out what I needed from a schedule, what I was currently spending my time on, and what needed to change? This post is Part III, where we finally get to sit down and do the fun part―putting pen to paper (or color to spreadsheet box, whichever you prefer) and figuring out what we want our days to look like.
- We need a schedule: "This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not 'as good as another'; that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time..." ~Vol 1, p.142
- It needs to be posted for us all to see: "...let us look in at a home schoolroom managed on sound principles. In the first place, there is a time-table, written out fairly, so that the child knows what he had to do and how long each lesson is to last." ~Vol 1, p.142
After looking at the things that were tripping me up in my time management, it was time to play with some ideas of what might work for me. First off, you have to know yourself. My system might sound perfect and look so shiny and pretty, but if you are constantly fighting your natural bent, it’s not going to work for you. I have a hard time transitioning, I work better with my kids one-on-one, I get decision fatigue quickly, if I feel like I am running behind I tend to steamroll people who get in my way, I need structure but get bored when there is no variety, and I resent a system that makes me feel trapped. That's me; you need to know you. A good system plays to your strengths and protects your weak areas.
I decided that I really liked the idea of big blocks of time. Some would be the same every day (sleep, chores, meals, school work) while others could be flexible depending on what I needed to do that day (projects, errands, appointments). Blocking out more time for a task meant fewer transitions. That’s good for me, because transitions aren’t a strong point for me or my kids. I also need margin. Instead of planning an hour’s worth of work to fill a one-hour block, I plan only 45 minutes worth. That was especially sad when I had to cut some beautiful things from our morning time. However, it means that morning time has gotten done nearly day over the last time. Leaving margin means that you don't get derailed by the unexpected.
Ultimately, here is what I came up with:
My kids and I have lived with this schedule for the past six weeks. It's not perfect, and neither am I. Some days are a train wreck, so we give up the schedule, do the best we can until bedtime, and try again tomorrow. Most days, however, it has worked really well. It is easy to rearrange if necessary. For instance, my kids have evening classes twice a week, so I put dinner in the crock pot and we do chores earlier in the afternoon. Once a week we hike right after lunch, so I plan lighter assignments and cut out the last hour of school. The beauty of having a basic plan in place is that it is easy to adjust as needed.
Your plan probably won't look like my plan. Maybe you need more structure, and those big, hour-long blocks make you feel anxious and directionless. Maybe you have babies or toddlers (or babies AND toddlers), and a solitary morning quiet hour is flat-out impossible. Maybe you are a night owl, and the idea of being up at 6am makes you want to pull the covers back over your head. It's okay! Your day doesn't have to look like mine to have structure. The key is to be realistic about where you are now and what you want, and then find something that works for you.