Words by: Tromila Maile
Background music sets the tone for the evening. Johann Sebastian Bach engenders a serious and pensive atmosphere while the musical group, The Temptations, inspires dancing and frivolity. The host chooses the music based on the type of event. Homeschool rhythms serve a similar purpose, impacting the tempo, the dynamics, and the harmony of our homes.
I was never homeschooled, but I grew up in a homeschooling family. Because I was next to the oldest, I filled a teaching role in our family’s homeschool rather than a student role. It was then that I learned about three important rhythms that feed into homeschool life: the annual, the weekly, and the daily. Each of these is one layer to our background music, and they complement (or potentially complicate) the others. Finding the right combination of songs can be as imperative as it is challenging.
I strongly prefer the word “rhythm” to “schedule” because the idea of a rhythm provides flexibility and fluidity, music to be enjoyed. A schedule feels rigid and invokes a sense of rule-breaking when it doesn’t happen the way it should, like the drummer in a military parade. Not wanting to burden me or the children with a schedule, we instead aim to find our rhythm.
The Annual Rhythm
This is the big picture, a classical symphony that requires decisions on a larger scale with longer-term planning. Growing up, it served our family to have our homeschool mirror a traditional school schedule because some of us were homeschooled, some went to full-time school, and others went to part-time school. Having the entire family on a similar schedule served us well.
In my family today, a traditional annual school beat doesn’t fit our lives well. We travel to visit family while most kids are in school because it costs less money for plane tickets. Summer days can be too hot for playing outside, so we take the cooler days off to enjoy the outdoors. We like to schedule random days or weeks of fun throughout the year. These crescendos and decrescendos mean that an August to May schedule doesn’t work for us. We do some formal lessons in June or July so that in October and December we have more freedom. During periods of transition, we can take a week or two off to ensure that everyone’s needs get met.
As homeschoolers, we don’t have to feel compelled to start school in back-to-school season or to stop school near graduation season. We can take the whole month of December off if it fits our family schedule, and we can school right through if that’s better. There is immense freedom to set your annual background music to the genre that works best, knowing all the while that it can be changed when it no longer serves the original purpose.
The Weekly Rhythm
Akin to choosing a genre, the type of music, the weekly rhythm sets the regular tone. Maybe yours is jazz: free-form, fluid, and adaptable; or maybe it’s closer to pop: catchy, fun, and hearteningly predictable.
Growing up, our weekly rhythm took on that of traditional school, and for the most part, our family homeschool today does as well, at least for now. I have a work-from-home job in tech, and my husband has a 9-5 job outside our house, so schooling Monday through Friday and taking the weekends off works for us. In other situations, especially when families have special needs children with lots of appointments, it might make sense to have a single “appointment day” and then do school on the other four days. This harmonizes with your annual rhythm. Doing school for more weeks a year means there is less pressure to school five full days a week. Maybe three days a week works better for your family, and you prefer spending more hours on schoolwork each day with fewer days a week.
Here we can see how the annual, weekly, and daily music choices complement one another. Each can be adjusted to meet the needs of the family, and an adjustment to one allows more flexibility in the others.
The Daily Rhythm
And your daily “rhythm” is like choosing the structure of a song. Some days it might be verse-chorus-verse-chorus while on other days it could be chorus-verse-chorus-bridge.
There are many families who have a predictable daily rhythm that works well for them. In our family, we tend to be much looser in our daily music choices. I describe our homeschooling style as “Charlotte Mason with an unschooling flavor.” If I have work meetings in the morning, most of our schoolwork happens in the afternoon, and vice versa. If the kids are deep in a project, we may cut out several (or all) subjects for the day to allow them to concentrate and follow their interests. My husband has two subjects that he teaches, so those are either done early in the morning before he goes to work or in the evening after he comes home.
We thrive with this daily flexibility, but some families would feel like they were constantly in chaos. They operate better starting at a predictable time and completing all the formal lessons to have the rest of the day for free play. Some families are late risers and prefer to do most of the work in the afternoons. In the seasons when it gets dark by 4 pm, I invert some of our days so that we do more work in the evening so we can take full advantage of shorter days to be outside. Growing up, my dad was a police officer who worked rotating shifts and multiple jobs, and my mom ran a paper route at 3 am and would go back to sleep for a few hours when she returned at 6 am. The expectation was that the kids would get up, do breakfast themselves, and then get started on the assignments they could do independently, asking Mom questions after she woke up.
Establishing a daily rhythm takes knowledge of your children’s natural schedule and some trial and error to figure out what times of the day they learn most effectively, which changes for us sometimes based on their current interests. Don’t allow a rigid schedule to create conflict when a few adjustments would easily foster peace, joy, and cooperation.
It was then that I learned about three important rhythms that feed into homeschool life: the annual, the weekly, and the daily. Each of these is one layer to our background music, and they complement (or potentially complicate) the others. Finding the right combination of songs can be as imperative as it is challenging.Tromila Maile, homeschool mom
As homeschoolers, we can release ourselves from “schoolish” song choices like an 8 am start time, six hours a day, five days a week, and 36 weeks a year. We can take breaks when our children are sick or go on vacation at an off-peak time. We can maximize their natural rhythms to make lessons short and effective, fostering a lifetime love of learning rather than a “memorize-test-forget” method of education. Play with each of these rhythms to find the music that fits your life, knowing all the while you are free to change the song when it suits your family’s needs.
Tromila Maile is a homeschooling, full-time, work-from-home mom with an anxiety disorder who followed a traditional career path for most of her life but wants something greater, freer for her children and generations to come.
You can follow her stories about the incredible joys and raw challenges of motherhood and mental health through the lens of faith at mommyhoodandministry.com and on Instagram at @mommyhood_and_ministry.