A beginner’s guide to scheduling the homeschool

Contributor Amida blogs at Journey into Unschooling

I have a confession to make — contrary to my inclination towards freestyle homeschooling, I love making schedules. For someone who also tries to keep the line between learning and schooling thin, I can spend hours on the computer, making up tables and lists for a running agenda of what I’d like to get done (or more specifically, what I’d like the kids to get done).

I have a Master List, with a year’s worth of work, broken down into assignments to be done and chapters to be completed within specific weeks, and soon, you can have one, too.

To start off, it helps to do a little brainstorming of exactly what you want accomplished.

Gather all the books you plan on using and browse the web for other goodies to add to your curriculum. Don’t forget to dig through your closets for all those forgotten science kits and half-completed workbooks from previous kids — they are totally usable for those younger siblings (and for the record, most little kids love filling in workbooks — I know I did!). You may want to spend a week on this.

The Master List

After you have gathered your supplies, you are equipped to make the Master List.

Make a two column table, labeling the first one the name of the “subject”, and the second one “assignments”. If you are keeping grades, you can add another column for that. You may choose to add a list of all major books and websites you plan on using of this subject. Underneath the subject, put the beginning date of each week of the year.

Now comes the fun part — filling in the assignments! If you’re using a textbook, count up the number of chapters and divide it by the number of weeks in your school year. This will give you an idea of how much (or little) needs to be done per week.

For instance, if there are only 20 chapters in a workbook, you can choose to spread it out over a year and only work on a chapter every other week, or complete one chapter a week and finish within a semester. Don’t forget to add in quizzes or review weeks to make sure they are on top of things.

Alternatively, you can make a list of skills to accomplish each week, rather than chapters. For instance, instead of “complete Lesson 3”, write “be able to write and draw a variety of angles using a protractor”. This shifts the focus to the topics learned, rather than just completing the lesson.

Do this for every core subject: math, science, language arts, social studies/history, art/music. I also throw in school-free weeks here and there to account for vacations.

The Weekly List

I find it helpful to have a weekly schedule that my kids can work from. It’s basically the same list but in a different format. The first column has the dates broken up by weeks (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, etc.).

Then there is a column for every subject. Within each corresponding cell are the individual assignments (or goals). We work in four week increments, so each table covers just those four weeks. This way, they can see at a glance exactly what needs to be completed for that month. It is a guide and they can speed up or slow down within each subject as long as they complete everything by the last day.

This was especially effective during those final days of school when my son (who had fallen behind on assignments) had a specific workload to complete.

And that’s basically it! Now sit back, enjoy a cup of tea, and admire your new brilliant plan. You now know exactly what needs to get done every single week in order to complete the year.

Photo by photosteve101

Follow it religiously for a week or two — and then realize that it is a totally unrealistic agenda and go freestyle for a bit. When you have a moment, compare what actually got done to what’s on your list and you will have a better idea of a more realistic schedule. Cross things off, add things on.

Use your schedule as a guide to remind yourself every now and then of some of the things you would like to complete, and also how you would not like your kids to spend their days. The first draft of my schedule is always purposely overkill. But I do it anyway. I love editing.

I reevaluate constantly, comparing what actually does and doesn’t get done. I observe how my kids are reacting to it.

Maybe they work well with it for two days out of the week and the rest of the time, we do something else. Maybe eight core subjects isn’t going to happen this year. Maybe I’d rather give up history so they have time to pursue their own interests. It all becomes much clearer after a few assessments. Follow, abandon, evaluate, edit, rinse and repeat. Then move on.

Remember, the schedule is there for occasional guidance (for those days we feel we’ve lost our way). You are not a slave to it so for goodness sake, don’t ever feel restricted.

I love my lists for the preliminary exercise of gathering my thoughts and getting ideas down on paper. It is also a great tool for teaching my kids a little organization and time management, especially for those courses that aren’t directed by me.

It is a fantastic tool for any homeschooler, no matter your style. Try it and see how it works for you!

How do you manage your homeschool? Does your schedule work for you?

About Amida

Amida is the mom to three darn kids. She used to stress about state standards and test scores but has since come to her senses and enjoys blogging about her family's journey into unschooling.


  1. I too love lists. But I have finally learned to let them guide us instead of restrict us.
    Steph’s latest post: My Greatest Fear for My Child

  2. Thanks for the examples – I like the idea of starting with the “big picture” of planning for the year first, then breaking it down to specific assignments. I’d have to do mine in pencil, though…our lives change constantly! 🙂
    Jeni’s latest post: Creating Content Pinterest Users will LOVE

  3. I think when we began homeschooling I was so caught up in what had to be done on what day… It has taken me years to be the flexible home-schooler I that I thought homeschoolers were. Now I know we have so many weeks of school in a year and one or two more are an easy price to pay for an exceptional outing or a lazy day to recover. We have a schedule, reading and a couple of workbooks everyday… and I do split them in half and in half again – so we pretty much cover quarter of the books during each quarter of our school year. But I am much more conscious now of the things that are important to our family, creating together, exploring together… time together. I think if you have a well established “intention” for your homeschool then it is a lot easier to schedule or reschedule according to what needs to be done.
    se7en’s latest post: Se7en + 1 Tips On Facing The Challenge of Venturing Out With Kids…

    • Sounds like you have found your family’s rhythm! I get those moments of peace and contentment now and then (more with each year of experience). For those days when I feel I’ve lost it — there’s the list to guide me!
      amida’s latest post: Popsicle Frame

  4. Finding that balance of learning to let my schedule serve me and not dictate my every move has been key. I still fall into traps, occasionally, but giving up the schedule altogether has not been helpful either. I need the list, but I also need the flexibility.
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: Working With Our Body to Maximize Self-Control

  5. Your master list looks a lot like mine. When I began homeschooling, I was only planning for one child and I didn’t feel the need for a master list for the year, just a week at a time. But now I have 4 kids to track at 4 very different levels, and the master list is my savior. As you said, it doesn’t have to be followed religiously, but it helps to stay on track. That way there is no late night panic wondering how you are progressing in comparison to your plans. This post is a great resource for new homeschoolers. Thanks!
    Jen@anothergranolamom’s latest post: Plein Air Painting — Unschooling Art

    • Thank you! I also have 4 kids and know how crazy it gets and how easily it is to forget what I meant to do… It will be a great resource to look back at when the younger kids reach the stage of the oldest (or next in line). I can say, oh yeah, we used this book/resource/website and it was great!
      amida’s latest post: Popsicle Frame

  6. I feel like I wrote this, myself! I am exactly the same way. I love tweaking the schedule throughout the year- now… how to STICK to the schedule when you get close to the end of the year… that’s the hard part! Thanks, Amida!
    Tori’s latest post: First Grade!

  7. Just wanted to say that I’m an unschooler who also personally loves schedules!!! My excuse for making them is that my kids are young (6 and 2.5) so the schedule is really to motivate me to do cool things (get art supplies out, strew intersting books around, get out the math manipulatives and start playing with them on the kitchen table). 🙂
    Chessa’s latest post: Just Fall

  8. I loved this! We’ve been planning the past weeks/months and one of my favorite things is peeking at how others do things. We’re very eclectic and lean towards unschooling and I find doing master planning helps anchor us. And it seems we have the most fun and do the best organic learning when mom and dad have planned ahead and made time and space, both on our schedules and in our heads.
    Hillary’s latest post: Why I Chose Midwives (Video)

  9. “Follow it religiously… Then… Go freestyle.”. Best line and totally describes our year so far! I love planning for the big picture, check in on it once a month or so, but from day to day, I just want to do the next thing, whatever that is! And tweak as we go 😉
    Brenna’s latest post: Science Windows & Book Nooks

  10. I kinda like making lists but if I am honest with myself, I waste more time making the lists when I could just be out there hanging out with the kids, seeing for myself what needs to come next and not worrying about a year long schedule.

    I totally think it’s useful for some people to have stuff like this so it’s awesome you’re providing it!! You women are so awesome and organized and inspire others to take the next step in their journey. I know a lot of mom’s who prefer to plan it all out ahead of time with permission to deviate from the plan.

    But I know myself and what it’s been like for me in the past. I enjoy the making of the list, the collating, the color coding as much as the next organized mom, but in the end…I usually do something totally different, or found that what I’d imagined wasn’t, in reality, what my child needed. 🙂 When that happens, I think about all the time I spent on the plan and wonder what would have happened if I’d just engaged the kids instead of the computer?

    Maybe people will look at our rhythm and think it’s crazy cause it’s not based on a master plan, but luckily I feel confident cause I know my Master has a plan! 😉 And the truth is…He usually only reveals one or two steps to me anyway.

    Don’t get me wrong, that won’t stop me from dreaming about the future or planning ahead at time! But, more often than not, I think I’ll relax and enjoy the ride as we go.

    Lana Wilkens’s latest post: What is art?

    • I should probably have mentioned that one, I work on these crazy lists when my kids are preoccupied, asleep, or eating. 😉

      And the fact that this Master list is mostly done for my oldest, who is in high school, and kind of have a more structured course of study. No such list exist for the younger ones, except maybe a mad scribble of “things to do” so I can remember to touch on some activities with them, especially ones that worked well with the older ones.

      • that really helps cause I bet it comes in handy when there are more requirement for transcript stuff etc in high school. my kids are still little 🙂 so if I’m not doing academic work with them, it’s usually character stuff or just having fun. That makes me feel a bit better! 🙂 haha
        Lana Wilkens’s latest post: What is art?

  11. I’m the same way! This year I discovered the donnayoung.org website, which has free printable planning pages. I loved being able to take one subject and break it down into the daily, weekly, and quarterly assignments — even when the master list falls through I can still find where we are in a given subject and move on from there.

    • I remember donnayoung from waaaaay back. It was a great resource when we were starting out. I also loved the printables for my littles. Thanks for the reminder, looks like I need to revisit!
      amida’s latest post: Popsicle Frame

  12. Amida, wonderful advice! Thanks for sharing. I am finally, after starting year 8 of homeschooling, learning to follow the tips in this post. And moms, don’t forget to schedule in time for yourself! I’ve found this a total necessity in order to keep my attitude positive and my strength at its maximum.

  13. Nice post! I do something similar–my kids work from weekly schedules, and it’s up to them to manage their time and complete the work. Since we’ve been homeschooling for over a decade now, I’ve gotten a lot better at realistic scheduling than I was in the beginning 😉 However, life sometimes throws us a curveball, and the schedule helps us get back on track when we fall off.

    Because the kids are older now (12, 13, and 16–or 7th, 8th and 12th grade), it’s great real life experience in breaking down a larger task into smaller, daily tasks, and it gives them the freedom to fit their work into the flow of having a life. Also, because they are all ballet dancers, there are certain times of the year that are crazy busy with extra rehearsals on top of their regular class schedules. We usually push a little harder in the “off” seasons so that the workload is manageable and everyone gets enough rest during the busier times.

    • Yes, I think the scheduling works great for kids in this age group. It puts them in control of their day/week/month. I know my son has lots of interests outside of school work, so this helps him organize his time and get everything done. He still seems to do the “fun” subjects first and leave the rest for later… and I totally leave it up to him. He’ll learn… 😉
      amida’s latest post: Popsicle Frame

  14. I started off thinking I would be very relaxed, but like you, I like being organized and making lists. We’ve recently started a new routine – though a light one – and I think it’s helping everyone in the family, especially since my husband is now working at home full-time. I send my son an agenda by e-mail every morning, and we look at it on his computer. I alternate a reading/math lesson, and then we do some kind of of project, and then book time. By lunch time we’re finished, so he has the rest of the day free. It’s really helped me to think about what we’ll do everyday and send it in advance. I actually feel much more relaxed than I did during the summer when we had no agenda, but we were so busy with summer things and things my son wanted to do. Now I can still let him pursue those things, it’s just a little more manageable, and I have free time too.
    shelli : mamaofletters’s latest post: On Homeschooling, Socialization and Religion

  15. Shaunte Oakley says:

    I am an OCD Mom and think that I need to get it done that day and that week….I could really use some prayers to help me be less rigid/stressed out, b/c in the long run its just stressing out my kids and at times making homeschooling not so fun like we thought it would be.
    Thanks for posting this, I really needed it.

  16. Jennifer M. says:

    The scheduler in me loved this post. But the homeschooling mom part of me said, “What about the rabbit trails?!?” If we had done any scheduling this past year, we would never have discovered as much World War II history as we did. We’re still researching it. We’ve made patterns for 1940’s style pants, styled my daughter as Rosie the Riveter, read many historical fiction and non fiction books about childrens’ experience from all over the world during the time, we attended an impromptu mixer with two women from our area who were interned in a Japanese camp, and we put all the books down and enjoyed a Yule School this year, based on the countries we had read about–tying in our family’s traditions with new ones from around the world–we made Christmas crackers, learned to play dreidle, usw. But i get where you are going with this…it just seems like it would stifle delight directed learners or project based homeschoolers.

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