Time Management Hacks for Homeschool Moms

Time management is one of those things that we are all constantly getting better at and growing in. I don’t know about you, but for me, time management has been an ongoing journey. Some seasons it seems to click, others I have to revisit the drawing board. While I may not have it mastered, there are a few hacks I’ve learned as a homeschool mom that make my life easier. I share my sage wisdom with you here, not as one who has it all figured out, but as one who is learning, too. 

Rhythms vs Schedule

Children do better with a routine. It’s a commonly known fact. If you haven’t already experienced that, try a little experiment in your home. Choose a day to simply have “free time” most of the day. No routines, no clock watching. No expectations. Just whatever, whenever. Observe, journal and document how the day went: behaviors, whining, discipline, energy, family dynamics, your frustration level, etc. On a different day, implement and make note of your normal routines and schedule throughout the day. Then journal the same metrics as before. 

Now compare the two. Do your kids behave and respond better with a routine? I’d venture to say most parents don’t even have to do the experiment. You probably already know that attitudes and dynamics improve with a routine. Kids need some amount of structure. They need to know when to expect meals and can depend on some stability throughout the day. And we parents need that, too!

Some people enjoy a strict schedule, down to 15 minute blocks. Their whole day is planned out in advance, perhaps with small blocks of free play. Maybe you totally love color coding your kids’ toys and alphabetizing their book collections. Personally, I don’t have time for all of that! If the books make it back to the shelf in an upright fashion, we’re doing good! I look at time management similarly. Give me a general flow over a strict schedule any day! 

A strict schedule feels like pressure. For me, if things start to go off the rails (a baby has a blowout or a toddler meltdown happens), suddenly I feel like the whole day was a loss. Adversely, with a rhythm, those things can happen and then we jump right back in where we left off. 

Year Round vs School Year Education Calendar

I like to start with the big picture and then zoom in. In homeschool we have options! There are pros and cons to each choice for yearly rhythms. Ultimately, you have to experiment and decide what works for your family. 

The first thing you have to do when you start homeschooling is strip away the public school dogma. Don’t leave a broken system only to rebuild it at home! Just because the public schools have class sessions September through May, doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it! But if you travel in the summers or feel like that would suit your family best, by all means stick with it. 

One option is to have a year round schedule. This means learning doesn’t completely stop during the summer months (although, we know learning never stops anyway, but that’s another post entirely). In a year round schedule, you would block out your holidays and break weeks throughout the year and then fill in your school days. 

Year round schooling works better for our family. We never really stop learning and so we don’t have to spend the first 2 months of the school year reviewing what we did last year. Also,we don’t have to fight to get back into a school routine in September. Less stress for mom (and the kids)!

Here’s how to plan out a yearlong school schedule: First, know what your state laws require. My state requires 180 days of school. We’ll define “school” in another post, but for now, let’s say that’s intentional learning happening 180 days of the year. So with a highlighter in hand, take out a yearlong calendar like this one. Highlight the holidays and vacations you’ll want to take.

In our home, we celebrate birthdays instead of national holidays. We also live in an area where winters are long and harsh, so instead of snow days, we like taking “sunny days!” That said, we usually take the entire month of December off from school to focus on celebrations, baking, midwestern cozy days (like an American version of Hygge) and family time. We also usually take the month of July off for camping and fun outdoor adventures in our short summer. 

Sabbath Rhythm

This is a great place to mention the Sabbath Rhythm. With a yearlong homeschool calendar, we need to build in pauses throughout the year. So rather than taking 3 full months off during the summer and restarting in the fall, you can build little respites throughout the year. This has been the hardest and yet one of the most crucial to stick to in our homeschool. As an achiever, I hate stopping for breaks. But, oh is it needed by my kids and myself equally. Sabbath Rhythm is simply this: 6 weeks of school, 1 week of break, rinse, repeat. 

So after you block out your big vacations, birthdays and holidays, block out a full week of rest every 6 weeks. It’s a wonderful time to pause and consider what is working and what isn’t and make small adjustments in your homeschool. It can be a nice little break to just reset in small increments. And, most importantly, it can be a week for refocusing on connecting as a family. Sometimes, we get so focused on the doing and checklists that we forget to be kind to ourselves and each other. I can’t encourage you (and myself) enough to implement the Sabbath Rhythm in your homeschool in some way!

At the end of highlighting all your holidays, count out your “school days” to make sure you meet your state requirement. I like to give myself a little wiggle room by scheduling an extra 14 days or so for “flex days.” These can be used for sick days or sunny days. But this margin allows me to relax and take a day off when I need to without tacking on make-up days or stressing about having enough school days on the books. 

Weekly Rhythms

Zooming the camera in a little on your schedule, it’s important to consider weekly rhythms. In fact, for me, this has been one of the most important steps to creating consistency and connection in our homeschool. As a homeschool mom, you’re probably doing a little more than just school. I’m willing to bet that you also cook the meals, oversee household management, and about a million other things! If you also work from home, add that to the list! 

Weekly rhythms are something I stumbled across when I was looking for a way to keep up on the never ending housekeeping list. You may have already heard of things like having Mondays for Laundry and Tuesdays for Gardening, etc. We do something similar in our school and it has been a game changer. Maybe Monday is Messy Projects Day and Tuesday is Take a Hike Day. While the themes for the day are fun, the most important aspect of weekly rhythms is to organize the whole life, not just the homeschool. This is where the “doing it all” magic happens. 

I LOVE the Fly Lady. If you haven’t checked out her blog and 31 day FLY Lessons, start there. I do not recommend starting her method all at once at the same time as you are trying to get homeschool up and going. That’s a recipe for disaster and self-sabotage. Get your homeschool routine going for a couple of weeks then start her recommended, slow-paced, one new habit at a time process. Or do school in the morning and household chores in the afternoon (we did that for the first several years of homeschool). I do my morning routine before the kids get up and when they’re eating lunch, I do my afternoon activities. 

I like a little flexibility (in case you haven’t figured that out yet) and my calendar looks a little different each week, but here’s a general idea of what I do. Sunday evening is my planning time. I get out my handy dandy day planner (I prefer paper) and my weather forecast. Next, I look at my upcoming week (Mon-Sun). I pick one day as my Errands Day. That’s the day that I have chiropractor appointments, grocery pick up (Can I just interject that grocery pickup has changed my life?!) or other running around in the afternoon.

It should be noted here that our mornings are protected and sacred for learning time. I NEVER schedule appointments before 1pm. I give all the other days a label based on what’s happening on the family calendar and the weather. 70 degrees on Thursday and no other appointments? That’s totally going to be a Garden, Park Playdate or Hiking Day! Snowy and bitter cold on Tuesday? That’s going to be a “we don’t go anywhere” Cozy Day! (And, yes, that can happen in the same week around here!) I always pick 1 day for our Weekly Home Blessing. That’s a day when I focus on catching up on housework and we do more homebound stuff. You get the idea. 

Next, I make my menu plan for the week based on my availability and themes. If I know I’m going to be home all day, I’ll make something from scratch for dinner. On co-op days or errand days when I know I won’t be home, I plan for a crockpot meal. One of my goals is to use as much as I can from the ingredients in the pantry to save money. 

Once my menu and daily themes are set, I plan out our homeschool schedule for the week (which days will be field trips, co-op, park days, nature walks, special topics, science experiments, etc.). More on how I homeschool without a curriculum here.

Daily Rhythms

Sit down with a notebook (or excel spreadsheet) and a cup of tea (or whatever cozy drink you prefer). Plan out the “ideal average day”. Be realistic about the tasks you expect to complete in the average homeschool day and how long those tasks actually take. Leave margin for mishaps! What time would you get up? What time should your kids? And then write out an activity flow. Now rather than scheduling every day tdown to the 15 minute increment timeline, think of your ideal day in blocks or chunks. Here’s an example of mine. 

7:00amMom wakes up, coffee, “Be Still” time
8:00am Kids wake up, breakfast, morning chores
Morning‘Big Stone’ schoolwork
NoonLunch/check meal plan for dinner & take out meat to thaw
AfternoonExplore passions/appointments/funschooling
5pmDinner
EveningFamily time/social activities
8pmStart bedtime routine and end of day chores
Sample “Ideal” Homeschool Day

As you can see, I have anchors to the day like when to wake and when to eat, but everything else is a flow. That is for stacking habits and not stressing myself out about when they get done, but instead prioritizing what gets done!

MIT

Do you ever get to the end of the day, lie down in bed and think of all the things you meant to get done but somehow forgot them in all the regular activities and distractions of the day? Or sometimes do you lay awake at night, unable to sleep because you keep thinking of all the things you need to get done the next day? 

One of the life hacks that has helped me with prioritizing my days is the Most Important Things list. It’s kind of like a bitesize Daily To-Do list. Each night, before I go to bed, I list the 3 most important tasks for the next day. These are specific tasks and usually time sensitive. They are things like Pay the Bills, Weekly Budget or Place Grocery Order. This is not to be confused with the daily theme from the weekly schedule part, but may be tasks that lend to the theme.

This list helps to bring order to my days and keeps me on task with the most important things. It also allows me to brain dump before I go to bed. If I have more than 3 things, I’ll pick the 3 most important things that are most urgent and then put the rest on a running master To-Do list to pull from on subsequent days.

Grace!

Hopefully this all gives you some helpful tools and isn’t too overwhelming. I would encourage you to implement just 1 or 2 of the time management strategies above. Lean in to it for a few weeks before adding the next and so on. Like I said before, mastering time management has a steep learning curve, so be gentle with yourself. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. 

What’s your best time management hack? Share in the comments!

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