Fifteen years ago, as a brand new homeschooler, I had certain hopes and visions that were high priorities for my homeschool:
- I wanted a solid biblical foundation for my children’s education.
- I wanted to educate my children well, that they would grow in knowledge and wisdom
- I wanted my kids to learn how to think, rather than merely what to think.
- I wanted them to love learning.
Those would define my ideas of what a successful homeschool would be. But then, I also had dreams of how this would be carried out and my hopes for what our days would look like… Whimsical dreams of curling up daily to read aloud together, getting carried away with fun projects, and exploring wherever rabbit trails in our studies might take us. I believe these are where fond memories are made and a love of learning is nurtured.
Over the years, my goals have largely stayed the same, although each year has looked different than the others. I’ve had to make changes to accommodate the dynamics of our growing family, constantly changing age groups, varying personalities, and my own health and energy levels. Some years we have done better than others, but overall, I think we have managed to keep that touch of fun and whimsy in our studies. Over this past summer, I spent some time praying about and planning how we could spark more joy in our homeschool.
To give a taste of what homeschooling is like this year, we have, from oldest to youngest:
- A full-time college student
- A high school student taking college courses with dual enrollment
- A high school student in “regular” homeschool
- Two middle school students
- Two elementary students
- One kindergartener, and
- Two busy little girls who like to keep us on our toes.
Those are a lot of educational needs to keep up with! In addition to my hope for more joy in homeschool, I also felt a need for more simplicity in our schedule, to keep our days running at least somewhat smoothly. Our good God provided me with a rather dramatic answer that is proving to be a wonderful change!
This new method we’ve been using is…
Block scheduling is an idea I began to toy with after seeing how my college students’ online courses are scheduled. Each of their 16 week semesters is divided into two, 8-week terms. They typically take 2-3 courses per term, which amounts to 4-6 courses per semester, or 8-12 courses per year (or more, if they continue courses through the summer). Since the 8-week courses are condensed into a short period of time, they are rather intense and require a lot of focus. However, the work is very doable since they are only taking two or three classes.
I realized that my homeschooled students are studying quite a large number of subject areas every year! Eight to ten subjects on their clipboard checklists can be rather intimidating visually for the kids, even if some subjects don’t require much time. Also, eight to ten subjects per child can be rather intimidating for me to oversee, even if some courses are “family” courses that we do together.
Taking the idea from the term-based scheduling of my college students, I decided to try dividing my children’s homeschool subjects into shorter periods of time which are more intensely focused on particular subject areas. I divided their subjects into four categories:
These are subjects that the kids are always keeping up with. Taking a block of time away from any of these would be detrimental, and doubling up for more intense focus would be too much.
Keeping in mind that each child’s daily list is slightly different, these studies may include:
- Foreign Language
Language Arts are skills-based subject areas and, I believe, can be given intensive attention for four-week periods, or “blocks.” During a four-week block, we double up on some of these subject areas, but not all. Having time to focus mainly on Language Arts allows me the opportunity to teach more demanding writing classes (Institute for Excellence in Writing, for example). Classes like these are incredibly beneficial, but often difficult to work into the schedule when we have 8-10 subjects per child to tackle.
Once again, Language Arts studies vary by child, but may include:
- Language Lessons (Charlotte Mason)
Content Areas such as History and Science are knowledge-based subjects that we quite enjoy studying intensively. These are subjects that we can get lost in. Doubling up on these subjects has been fun and natural for us, as there is no pressure to stop reading the inspiring stories or skip the science experiment so that we can move on to the next thing on a massive list!
During Content Area blocks, we study:
- Historical Literature (I also assign a few selections for the kids to read during the other blocks.)
Since there are only a few major content areas, we can also throw in other skills-based subjects to round out our time. Extras that we may also include (typically only one of these per child) during a Content Area block:
- Art (skill)
- Sign Language
- Music or Art Appreciation
Project blocks are different and special! First of all, project blocks last only one week, not four. Secondly, project blocks are more delight-directed for the children and more hands-off for me. Projects are primarily inspired by our History studies, although I would never say no if a child wanted to do an in-depth science experiment, building project, or something else they delight in!
The main resources we use for project ideas are:
Project weeks are opportunities for the kids to run away with projects they lack time for during the other blocks. They might create a short historical movie, create an art or craft project, write a story, make a game, perform a skit, write a song, write a poem, or simply give a presentation.
- The kids’ favorite aspect of block scheduling is being able to give history the spotlight for a few weeks at a time. My history buffs love to get wrapped up in the stories and projects, and love not having to abruptly switch gears because Grammar calls. Honestly, that is probably my favorite aspect too. Not much can compete with the joy of seeing your kids enjoy learning!
- I also love having time to focus on teaching my kids to write. Writing is a time-consuming process. When my mind is juggling too many subjects that I need to cover with my kids, it can be difficult to give the study of writing its deserved attention.
- Project week is awesome! I love seeing the creativity of these kids! Without block scheduling, we probably would not have time to do these projects, as they are quite involved.
- Variety in our days! 180 days a year that look relatively the same does get a little boring. But changing our studies every few weeks shakes things up and makes it a bit more exciting!
- I like being able to focus on grading just a few subjects at a time. Math tests, science tests, spelling tests, grammar tests, history papers, and book reports require a lot of time to oversee! And even though my kids are producing twice as many tests or papers in any given subject, somehow I find it more doable to keep up with when there are fewer subjects to cover. During a Content Area block, for example, when I sit down to grade science tests, there are quite a lot of them! But I can grab some coffee and work through them all without having to switch gears to start grading grammar tests.
- Block scheduling seems to be the natural way I operate, and I suspect this may be the case for a lot of others too. When I work on certain “big” household chores or projects, I rarely do it in short bursts daily. Rather, I take a day or two, or perhaps a week, or two weeks, and pour myself into the task until it is done. Honestly, it would drive me crazy if I had a list of fifty tasks to check off every day, even if each task required only five or ten minutes:
“Weed three feet of the garden… Paint one baseboard… Declutter something for five minutes… Organize one item in the garage… Clean one refrigerator shelf… Wash one window… Organize one kitchen shelf… Go through one child’s shirts to partially fill in wardrobe… Donate three items to thrift store… Pay one bill… Spend five minutes on budget…”
I can not operate that way. I’d rather tackle those tasks occasionally and intensively, then ignore them for a while.
- We still cover the same amount of material and spend around the same amount of time each day, but we all seem to be able to give more of our attention to the task when we have no pressure of a lengthy list to get through.
- I like how the timing works out. Two-week or three-week blocks would also be great amounts of time to devote to fewer studies, but four-week blocks works out in a neat way:
4 weeks Language Arts
4 weeks Content Areas
1 week Projects
And when 9 weeks are complete, we have just completed a quarter of the school year!
Do that four times, and it’s time for summer vacation!
While we are still working through the details as we go, block scheduling is proving such a blessing to us! Bring on the rabbit trails!
If you are looking for a way to add some variety, simplicity, and joy to your homeschool, you may want to give this a try! Have you ever tried anything similar? Please share your experiences in the comments!