Maybe this secret is well-known to homeschoolers today, but it took me twenty-one years of homeschooling before I heard about it and tried it. The “secret” is using a flexible schedule design with a “free from textbook” day each week.
I started out my homeschool career with two preschoolers and one first grader. It was relatively easy to keep track of where we were in the curriculum and where we wanted to be at the end of the year. If we wanted to go on a field trip, it wasn’t hard to make up a day’s lessons. By my fifth year, I was teaching three students and had one preschooler. There was definitely more to keep track of, and it was not so easy to make up a day’s work.
Unschooling? Not Me!
I was never the “unschooler” type. If the fourth-grade English book had 307 pages and 12 tests, I made a schedule that would account for every one of them. I would take the number of pages in a textbook and divide this by 180 minus the number of test days. I arbitrarily picked 180 because it was usually the number of available school days between the beginning of September through the third week of May. The result was the number of pages that the child would have to do each day on non-test days. The above example [307 ÷ (180 -12)] results in 1.83 pages of work a day in English. This would be rounded to two pages per day, giving a nice assurance of finishing the book.
By my ninth year, I had four students and four preschoolers. Life was hectic, but I kept using the same method. I would schedule the whole school year for each student before the school year started. I did learn to make the schedule less frustrating by labeling the days as Day 1 and Day 2 rather than September 1 and September 2. Inevitable interruptions (a field trip, a dental appointment, sick days), however, would result in a lengthening of the school year.
Fast forward to my twenty-first year
By my twenty-first year of homeschooling, I had four homeschool graduates. But there were still five students. One was a girl playing homeschool basketball and one a boy playing homeschool basketball. Think countless basketball practices, long drives to far-away games, and overnight stays for many tournaments. I knew something drastic needed to be done with my normal way of scheduling.
I don’t remember where I heard about the “secret,” but I immediately liked the idea of only scheduling four days each week of textbook work. Instead of 180 days of textbook work each school year, there would only be 144. A student would have to do more textbook work on those four days, but there would be a “free from textbook” day each week.
On this “free from textbook” day, the family would be free to take a field trip, travel to a tournament, or schedule a whole day of dental appointments without getting behind in textbook work. Mom might even be able to catch up on grading or be able to give a child extra attention. Our week would still consist of five school days, but only four would have scheduled textbook work. (On weeks when a free day wasn’t needed, the students could do five days of textbook work to get them ahead and reward them with an extra “free from textbook” day when needed.)
School Can Be Fun?
My students liked the idea and never seemed to mind the small amount of extra textbook work each day. And I was no longer bound to an unbendable schedule. I finally felt free, for example, to plan a special field trip or activity on a Tuesday without feeling that it would ruin our textbook schedule.
I should note here that Nebraska requires hours and not days of instruction (1032 hours for elementary and 1080 hours for secondary grades). Whatever the number of days you want to take to acquire these hours is up to you. I should also note that our “free from textbook” days almost always consisted of activities that could legitimately be considered hours of school. For example, physical education, art, field trips, music lessons, home economics, watching a documentary, reading a book at the dental office, or discussing a topic while traveling to a game can all count as hours of instruction.
We used this method of scheduling through the last ten years of our homeschool. It served us well through the basketball seasons and other outside activities of three boys and two girls, including the last girl who played both basketball and volleyball.
I still tell new homeschoolers not to stress out about finishing a textbook as I’m quite certain that most public school teachers don’t make it to the end of every book. Also, anything important at the end of a grade school math or English book will be repeated the next year.
But if you just have to conquer every textbook, or if you just want more flexibility and less stress, give this weekly “free from textbook” day a try.