Homeschooling the First Year: Routines for the Chronically Random

With a few months of this new homeschooling lifestyle behind us, I feel much more confident. Sure, we have problems – the kids have meltdowns, I have panic attacks, we all lose our minds now and then – but we’re in a much better position to deal with those bumps along the way. We’re spending more time together, we’re learning more about each other, and we’re all willing to make changes to better our lives. Despite our successes and optimism, one major road block remains in our path. We’re lacking a daily schedule, routine, or any sort of order to our days.

Now, I know we could easily flit from one subject or activity to another and never follow the same order of operations twice in a row and everything would still be perfectly fine. Believe me, I’ve done my best to embrace that idea and get my kids on board. Unfortunately, no one else is buying my laissez-faire philosophy.

I like to describe myself as chronically random. I never do anything in the same order, and I seem to lack the habit-developing gene. On a good day, I can’t remember if I put on deodorant or brushed my teeth, so I do those things again, just in case. On bad days, I’ve forgotten to rinse the shampoo out of my hair, only to discover the greasy mess several hours later in the checkout aisle.

Try as I might, I can’t seem to do anything the same way more than two or three days in a row. While I am perfectly fine living this way (most days, the rest of the time I’m afraid I stink or have soapy hair), the kids need order in their universe. They don’t handle transitions well, they want to know what they’re up against each day, and they fall apart on unstructured days. Many days, I feel like I must be the wrong mother for them.

But I know in my heart that I’m not. I’m their mother and I know what they need, so it’s time to put my big girl pants on and figure this thing out. Here are some specific areas I plan to work on:

  • image by Sarah Whitcher Kansa

    Ditch the schedule, work on routines – I need to forget complicated charts and spreadsheets with time slots. They never work, they’re overwhelming, and they just fill me with guilt. I need to work on the order in which I complete tasks each day, not filling time slots.

  • Acknowledge my strengths – I’m really good at feeding the girls at the same time every day, and I rarely let them stray from a half hour bed time window. I should give myself more credit for those routines that I do manage to nail, and cut myself some slack on all that muddy area in between.
  • Prioritize – There are certain things I will not let slide – learning, reading, meals – so I don’t need to focus on those. They will get done no matter what. Instead, I need to put my energy into sticking to a plan for incorporating those fun, extra but completely necessary activities that seem to slip away from me – outside play time, art activities, and science projects, for example.
  • Add one new routine each week – I plan to start with the first three things we want to do each day (breakfast, family reading, morning chores) and focus on doing those consistently. It doesn’t matter when we do them, just so we do them first and in that order. Next week, we will add half an hour of lessons (math and French) to that list. The following week we will add half an hour of outside time. We’ll continue that way until we develop some sort of regularity to our days without even thinking about it anymore.
  • Maintain some flexibility – I don’t think I’ll ever fall into such a static routine that I don’t feel like I can throw the plan out the window to do something completely different, but you never know. I always want to remember how important the spontaneity is to all of us.

Hopefully, within a couple of months of following this plan, we’ll have something that resembles structure in our lives. Make that rhythm. I like the sound of a life of rhythm instead of conforming to some rigid structure. I have a feeling we’re all going to enjoy the feeling of a little rhythm in our lives.

Michelle is a wife, mother, writer, and Cajun who prefers everything extra spicy. Follow along at Lagniappe Academy, as she tries to bring order to the lives of her two little girls while maintaining the flexibility and fun they all love.



  1. says

    Thank you for sharing this – we’ve been homeschooling almost 2 years, and I still struggle with setting a routine, you’ve given me the courage! Thank you, thank you.

  2. says

    Yep, solid but gentle routine I think has been a big part of our ease into homeschooling & success at accomplishing everything we set as our priorities. We learned a long time ago (way before homeschooling was even a consideration) that a set rigid schedule led to stress & extreme difficulty if we ever needed to deviate (like for illness).

  3. Krystal says

    Michelle, I’ve seen several of your posts in the past and have always enjoyed them…I’m going to have to subscribe to your blog!
    I have to say, I’m like you…my tendency is to go with the flow. I realized early on we needed a routine, then tried a strict schedule, then went back to a routine, and now I’m on more of a strict schedule with permission to deviate. :) It seems that every time I add another child to our school day, I feel the need for a bit more structure.

    One thing that has really helped us stay on track is workboxes, and recently I’ve discovered that we really have to stick to a time limit per box. Not because I want a harsh schedule, but because my kids would be inclined to stare off into space or play with their pencils for hours rather than complete math work that they are more than capable of handling, usually because they take one look at it and assume it’s too hard. (Turns out that teaching toddlers to try new food is great practice for teaching 8 year-olds math and creative writing.)

    My next goal is a white board or chalkboard to write our schedule on, exactly like the one in your picture. I want to be able to say that family devotions are at 5:30, dinner is at 6:00, and bedtime at 8:00…all so that I can get up and get some work done by 5:30am. That’s the one thing that I’ve learned in the last 5 years of homeschooling…that my actions today vastly affect my productivity tomorrow.

    Well…that was longer than I expected, sorry. This whole area of self-discipline and schedules (routines) and sticking to schedules(!) is one that I’m really focusing in our house right now. What’s the term…”change or die”? Turns out that’s especially true with 4 kids. 😉

  4. says

    i love this!! chronically random sums up my entire life. 😉 we’re also trying to settle into a routine that fits us. it’s slow going, but i think taking our time here at the beginning will really pay off later!

  5. says

    Great post. This is our 1st (official) year of h.schooling. Our set up this year involves spending equal time in 2 states 850 miles apart. By nature our family is very spur of the moment.. but I ‘thought’ that a structured/strict/rigid school day would be best for my kids, since so many other ppl did it that way.
    I quickly learned thru tears and frustration that it doesn’t work for us. It’s reassuring to know there isn’t a ‘right/wrong’ way to homeschool.. and glad there is someone else out there that doesn’t use spreadsheets :)

  6. says

    I cannot tell you how much I appreciated reading this post today, structure of any sort is so insanely important but it is something I struggle with anyway.
    Off to re-examine my daily priorities……thanks:D

  7. says

    Chronic randomness is a big struggle for me, too, and I’ve been a homeschooler for 15 years! You are so right when you talk about finding rhythm in your homeschool.

    Something I changed in my approach just this past summer was to stop looking at my day and prioritizing the tasks, but instead to look at my MONTH first – prioritize that before I get into specifics. If I set four-week-goals first, then my weekly and daily priorities will be an outgrowth of my long-range vision for my kids, my home, and myself.

    It’s been a huge improvement in both my productivity and the peace in the house….a good “rhythm” to dance to!

  8. says

    I know that you will be successful in your endeavor. Adding one new aspect to you routine each week, should really work!
    While I am an organized person, and I do thrive on a set schedule, in my real world, routines instead of a rigid schedule work so much better. I try to do the same things in the same order each day…..not paying attention to 30 minute time slots! My husband is very spontaneous, and I have to force myself to be happily flexible!
    You have a great starting point with meals, reading and chores. Keep up the good work! :)

  9. says

    We are officially homeschooling for the first time this year as well! I tend to be overly scheduled and then when I don’t have a schedule it stresses me out. God has a sense of humor….he “matched” me with a very unscheduled husband. So with all of that said when we (and by we I mean I) meet my husband and the rest of my family somewhere in the middle between unstructured and structured things seem to work and and run very smoothly. Plus, the kids have fewer meltdowns which helps the “school” part of homeschooling go a lot easier.

  10. Elissa says

    Thanks for writing this. Sometimes I feel like the only mother in the homeschooling universe that has this problem. All my homeschooling friends seem to have life scheduled to the minute. I like your ideas about how to develop routines. It’s nice to know there are other scheduling challenged mothers out there.

  11. says

    Yes! A fellow first-time, schedule-resistant homeschooling mom, here. I couldn’t live by the clock if you paid me (well, depends how much), but we do well with a flexible routine too.

    I divide our daily work into chunks: read-alouds, math, LA, science (music and art on Fridays). We always do read-alouds first, but my boys negotiate the order of the other subjects. It works out really well. I keep my sanity, and they have some say in what they learn when.

    Thanks for posting about this subject. It IS too easy to start feeling guilty or inadequate in this area. Let’s hear it for flexible routines!

  12. says

    The chronically random….that is me for sure! I enjoy making lists and schedules…which I then follow for about two days before it all falls apart.

    I enjoyed the article and everyone else’s tips. This is my first year homeschooling as well, and my kids are 5, 4, 2, and four months. Yes, we have some crazy days around here.

  13. Leigh Ann says

    I needed to read this. I am so this way and get overwhelmed by all the things I am not doing. Then I try to do it all at once and start to dispair. Thanks so much.

  14. says

    Hey, I’ve been homeschooling for 10 years and I’ve gone from highly organized to routine to nothing to organized and back to routine. Routines work best for me with our ever changing family size and circumstances. That’s the beauty of homeschooling!

  15. MaryEllen says

    I have a list of subjects we hit each week – some daily, others 2-3 times per week – but I never watch the clock. That just drives me nuts.


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