There are several ‘first questions’ that new homeschoolers ask, and one of them is: “Do I need a detailed schedule and a dedicated schoolroom?”
I remember the way my elementary school smelled of floor wax, pencil leads, crayons, chalk, and the oddly sweet smell of mimeograph ink. There were posters on the wall about fire safety and prevention, and displays about an upcoming holiday or school event. The desks were lined up in rows facing the chalkboard and teacher's desk, and books were lined up on shelves under the window. When you walked in, there was no doubt you were in a place designated for the education of children.
Because of our own school experiences, we picture learning as taking place at a specific time in a special space, requiring one-piece desks, chalkboards, charts, and other schoolish trappings. Some find the idea of doing anything else intimidating and even frightening.
Homeschooling frees our children from classroom constraints and conditioning, and allows us to find our unique learning style.
I write quite a bit about deschooling and delight-directed learning. The idea behind deschooling is to break away from the classroom dynamic, and do away with the traditional school methods that are harmful to children, such as ignoring their physical need for sleep, regular nutritious meals, and exercise; a teacher centered environment with passive students; disconnected subject areas; strict lesson plans.
Deschooling and homeschooling do not require parents to forsake textbooks and structure altogether. Many textbooks and educational programs are rich with information presented in a logical order. They help us provide thorough instruction and find supplemental materials and interesting projects.
- Structure aids us in maintaining a peaceful home life. If we didn’t have some structure, it wouldn’t be long before the fridge was empty and no one had clean socks or underwear!
- Goals give us our path and motivation. Without objectives, we have no direction or sense of accomplishment.
What I want to communicate about homeschooling if you plan to use a detailed schedule and dedicated schoolroom, don’t compartmentalize learning into specific times of day in a specific space, especially if your motive is convenience.
If you homeschool, education must become a priority. It is more important than your desire to have a spotless and beautifully decorated home. It is more important than talking on the phone, chatting online, playing Candy Crush, and going shopping with friends. You must communicate to your children that their education is a priority, and this won’t happen if you get upset every time you find a sketchpad and markers on the kitchen table, or a book lying on the sofa. It also won’t happen if you put your hobbies and social life above their needs, or neglect caring for your home so that it is a healthy, enjoyable environment.
Having a homeschool room does help with keeping books and supplies corralled and organized away from areas like the living room and dining room. Unless, of course, it’s my house.
I tried for years to have a ‘schoolroom’- we have the space for it, but we always ended up back in the living room or dining room. Maybe it’s the large windows and comfortable chairs, or the proximity to the kitchen and snacks. But after awhile, I gave up and moved all our books and supplies to shelves and storage in the living/dining room area, and it’s been like that ever since.
Being a perfectionist type, it was a struggle for me to not try to compartmentalize school into a specific space. I wanted things neat and clean. I’m a bit of a minimalist - I like bare walls, bare windows, and bare floors. I could see that if I tried to force this on my kids, it would rob them of the joy and fun of learning.
Now my motto is: “I use my home and my stuff - it doesn’t use me”. Because we homeschool, education is a large part of what our home is used for, and it reflects that on every surface in nearly every room. I’ve found I can live with that.
Another reason to not obsess about keeping your homeschool in a defined space is that as homeschoolers, we are often home. No matter how many classes, co-ops, and activities you participate in, your family is probably together more often than not. It is more important that we be comfortable, relaxed, and encouraged by our living space than in competition with it.
A schedule is also a good thing, but requires a balance.
You don’t want a routine so rigid that you come unglued if something/someone interrupts, but without any plans or goals, you and your kids will be rudderless and wandering.
A consistent part of our schedule over the years has been a short period of reading and discussion in the morning, usually curled up in chairs or on the couch with hot beverages on hand. It's a pleasant way to start our day connecting with each other. It’s fun to read interesting books to them that I know they’d never pick up on their own and to hear their thoughts on a variety of subjects. We have many shared experiences because of this time together, and if that time goes a little beyond the scheduled 30 minutes, that’s OK.
The message here is: You are free to find what works for you and your family. Evaluate your family’s needs and wants, and work together to create a homeschool schedule and environment that feels right for you.