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How Can I Plan My Daily Homeschool Schedule?

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Pam Barnhill, homeschool mom and Founder of Your Morning Basket
Jacqueline Wilson, author, educator, and homeschool mom
Flexibility on how to manage your day is one of homeschooling’s main benefits. Yet families can still feel pressure to follow a traditional seven-hour school day. In this episode, we talk about how to plan your daily homeschool schedule.
One of the biggest things that we can do as parents is throw out the idea that school has to go from 7:30 in the morning until three in the afternoon, Monday through Friday.
- Pam Barnhill
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How Do Daily Homeschool Schedules Differ by Grade Level?

One of the best benefits for a homeschooling parent is the small class size. Even when working with students from a mix of grades, homeschooling parents rarely teach more than one to four learners at a time. That small class size allows them to be more efficient and particular with their time.

When setting your schedule, remember that not every hour spent at traditional school is an hour spent teaching. In a seven-hour school day, elementary teachers typically spend about one to four hours in direct instruction. Once your student gets to middle school, the school day might extend a bit, but that does not automatically mean you have to plan for a full seven-hour day.

The pressure comes from parents thinking they need to fill every minute of a typical seven hour school day. And they don’t.
— Pam Barnhill

Thus, a homeschool parent shouldn't feel compelled to fill a seven-hour day for your student, regardless of age or grade level.

For elementary and middle school students, you probably need to plan for about three or four hours; for high school students, it's maybe four or five. Also keep in mind that as your student gets older, you will want to save some time for independent learning too.

Why Your Homeschool Doesn't Need to Stick with a Traditional School Day

You should always set a homeschool scheduling routine that works best for your family.
— Jacqueline Wilson

Your homeschool does not have to run from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday, like clockwork. Studies show, for example, that high schoolers need more sleep. So a high school student might do better if they sleep in and start school in the afternoon. Elementary schoolers often go to bed early and wake up early, so you might consider starting them first thing in the morning, and have them wrap up by midday.

The best approach is to look at your family and decide what works best before getting started. If you find your child works best with a relaxed schedule or more independently, you can change your routine accordingly. And if you have multiple children, keep in mind that they do not need to move in lockstep together throughout the day. One student may find they learn best in the morning, and the other in the afternoon or evening.

It’s also a good idea to check with your local homeschool group to find tools that will help you stay organized, regardless of the schedule you and your family ultimately settle on.

How to Backward Design Student-Learning Outcomes

Especially if homeschooling is new to you, it’s important to think about your vision for education. Start by thinking about your learning goals over the academic year and then work backwards. Be aware that if you're planning out a school year for three or four different students, you won't be able to work on everything equally over a sustained period of time.

A good rule of thumb is to focus on two distinct areas — the child's strengths and the child's weaknesses. Choose three to five strengths and weaknesses that you want to work on with your child. That way, if your schedule gets scrambled or you’re juggling curricula for a few children, you can adjust without losing track of those learning priorities. Remember to include the things they really love to do, and make those a priority on the schedule!

What to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed

You're going to feel overwhelmed at the beginning. But with homeschooling, you have the flexibility to change things up. So do it.
— Jacqueline Wilson

If you are new to homeschooling, it's going to feel overwhelming at times. It will be a new learning process and, like every learning process, you'll make mistakes. Don't let those mistakes get to you — there are also going to be moments where things click and you experience huge success.

Feel free to change what you do when it isn't working for you. Change doesn't mean failure. In homeschooling, change means that you are customizing an education to your child's unique strengths and opportunities. As a homeschooler, you have that flexibility to try something new, evaluate, stop, and then try something else.

Emergency Homeschool - Episode 9 Transcript

Narrator (00:00):
We've had so many parents reach out to us and say, "We're trying to be prepared for whatever happens this fall. Can you recommend curriculum for other subjects, like what you offer for Math and Language Arts with Beast Academy, AOPS Academy and AOPS online?" To help them out, we surveyed our Art of Problem Solving families to find out exactly what curriculum they use for their curious and motivated students. See their homeschool recommendations for yourself at That's

Eric Olsen (00:34):
If you could go to bed and wake up at any time you wanted, what would it be?

Child (00:42):
Probably if I go to bed between around 7:30 to 8:30 is best for me. And the best wake up time is probably if I can wake up when I naturally wake up, instead of setting an alarm. If I had a super busy day, sometimes I need to sleep in a little more.

Eric Olsen (01:04):
So this Spring it took you about two weeks before you figured out that you could double up on school on Thursday and get Fridays off. What else have you thought about in terms of your perfect school timing? What part of the day do you like learning or think the best?

Child (01:23):
I like getting an early start and getting my work done early. So I have the rest of the day to relax and do whatever I want, like cuddle up and read books.

Eric Olsen (01:36):
I'm Eric Olsen with Art of Problem Solving and this is the very first time we've ever considered homeschool options for our nine year old daughter. She loves her public school. She loves her teachers. She loves her friends, but we just don't know what traditional school's going to look like, come Fall and want to be prepared either way. So in this series, I interview some of the best minds in the education and at home learning spaces to figure out our options and learn how to craft an at home learning plan that's right for our family. This is Emergency Homeschool.

Pam Barnhill (02:07):
So the pressure usually comes from parents thinking they need to fill every minute of a typical seven hour school day. And every minute doesn't need to be traditional schoolwork. One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is the schedule flexibility that it provides.

Eric Olsen (02:25):
This is Pam Barnhill, educator, homeschool mom, and founder of Your Morning Basket. How might a daily homeschool schedule look different for an elementary student, a middle schooler and a high schooler?

Pam Barnhill (02:39):
I think the biggest thing is the amount of time that you're going to spend. And one of the things that we really have to think about when we're thinking about a school schedule, a homeschool schedule versus a schedule for kids at school, who are in a traditional school building, is that you are getting what every teacher everywhere wants. And that's a small class size, right? I mean, I was a former school teacher. I was desperate for small class sizes. And so as a homeschooling mom, your class size working with an individual student, an elementary student, a middle student, a high school student is one for the most part, one to three or four, depending on how many kids you have. And so you're going to be so much more efficient than what you're going to have in a school.

Pam Barnhill (03:30):
There was a study done way back in like 1981. They did a study of how much educational direct teaching was being done in a second grade classroom. You want to guess at how much this was? An hour and a half in a seven hour school day. There was about an hour and a half of direct teaching time being done in a second grade classroom. And so it's going to be much shorter. You're not going to sit and fill a seven hour day for an elementary student. Now, when you get to a middle school student, it's going to get a little bit longer than that, but probably not much more than three, three and a half hours. And then for a high school student, you might reach four or five hours, but even so you've got all of this efficiency that's going on when you're teaching kids, one-on-one, you're working with kids one-on-one and they don't have all the distractions that comes with being in a classroom.

Eric Olsen (04:28):
Let's talk about structure and routine. Is the necessary level of structure very dependent on the personalities, the ages, the preferences of the students and their families?

Pam Barnhill (04:41):
I think so. You're going to have some kids who work very, very well with structure. Actually, I would say most kids, even if they tell you differently, are going to do better with some kind of structure in place. And this can be as simple as a list of what they need to accomplish that day. Whether you make that list for them because they're an elementary school student, or you sit down with your high schooler and you work together to make that list, maybe even ahead of time and you schedule out the entire week, but sometimes kids just perform so much better knowing what it is they need to do and the fact that when they are done with those things, they are done for the day. And the same with moms. A lot of times we run into moms who are like very relaxed and like, "Oh, I don't need a lot of structure. I can just roll with it." And they're surprised to find out that their kids work better with the structure.

Pam Barnhill (05:38):
They're moms like me, who absolutely love the structure. So even when I had a pre reader, even when I had a child who couldn't read the list that I was writing for them, I was still making that list for myself just because it eliminates decision fatigue. You're sitting there in the day and you're like, "Okay, have we done math? Have we done reading yet?" If you have it all out on the list, all laid out for you. You can just check those boxes off and mark them off. At our house, we do it in a spiral notebook. It's so simple. We don't buy fancy planners. We don't get anything special. We just get a spiral notebook.

Pam Barnhill (06:18):
I love to make my list at the end of the school day for the next day. And the reason I do it is twofold. One, if you're making the list at the end of the day, you're tired and so you're not going to plan too much for the next day. And then the other thing is I am right there knowing what my kids accomplished today and how they did on it. Were they successful with their math unit or do they need more practice? And I'm able to assign more practice if I need to. Whereas if I sit and do it for the entire week and we get bogged down in some kind of skill or something, then I can't anticipate that at the beginning of the week, if they're going to need extra practice or not. So I just do it in the day to day.

Eric Olsen (07:08):
Help us think through the academic structure of your homeschool. Does it help to start by thinking about your learning goals over the term or the academic year, and then working backwards? How do you break knowledge outcomes down into daily and weekly academic schedules?

Pam Barnhill (07:24):
That's exactly how we teach doing it. So we have a homeschool planning course and in that course, the very first module is all about creating a vision for your homeschool. What about education is important to you? And I realized that for families who are kind of thrown into homeschooling, that might not be the first step that they want to take. They may have never really thought about what a vision for education was. And so the second step that we teach, is working on those goals. And one of the things that we tell parents is if you're sitting here with three or four different kids in front of you and you're planning out your school year, you cannot work on everything equally with all of those kids for a sustained period of time. And so we tell parents to focus on two distinct areas.

Pam Barnhill (08:14):
One are their child's strengths. And the second one is the weaknesses that your child is having. And I really hesitate, like don't sit there and make a list of everything you think your child does wrong. Pick like two or three things, two or three areas where you really want to work. And so maybe you've noticed some kind of deficiency in writing. Maybe the writing skills are not where you would want them to be. Or maybe you've noticed that there's a problem with retaining math facts or some kind of math, computational skills. You need some extra practice there. Or maybe you've that they have no idea when World War II happened, who was involved with it, whatever the case may be. And so you choose to focus on that area, like one or two different areas that you're... It's not that you're not doing the other subjects, but you want to make sure that these subjects are the priority.

Pam Barnhill (09:17):
So if you're sitting here with three or four kids in front of you, and you're trying to get to everything, there are going to be days where something has to give or something doesn't get the attention it deserves. So what thing is going to get dropped off? And what are the things that you never want to get dropped off and maybe it's that math or it's that writing or something like that. And then the strengths, I really want to emphasize this, make sure that as you're writing goals for your kids or you're looking at goals for them for the school year, what are some things that they absolutely love? Especially with this kind of pandemic schooling that we're in right now and so many of the things that our kids love to do are getting dropped off of the schedule, they're not able to do it.

Pam Barnhill (10:02):
So look at their strengths and the things that they absolutely love and make sure you write a goal for one of those strengths for the year. So just to give an example, my daughter has developed a great fondness for mythology. She absolutely loves it and so we're actually going to take the National Mythology Exam next year. And it's one of our goals to work towards that. And so she's always going to have something that she loves doing that's on our schedule for the school year. So keep those in mind too, as you're writing your goals and maybe three to five goals for each kid.

Eric Olsen (10:38):
When you think about times of the day, days of the week, what are some different school time options you've seen work well for different families?

Pam Barnhill (10:47):
I think one of the biggest things that we can do as parents is throw out the idea that school has to go from 7:30 or eight o'clock in the morning until three in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. Working with your body's natural rhythms... Studies have been done for years and years about high schoolers needing more sleep and working at a sleep deficit because their body is wired to stay up later at night but most high schools in the country start really early in the morning and so they're constantly losing sleep. This is an unhealthy state for them to be in. Embrace this flexibility as home schoolers that maybe you're not doing a lot of school in the morning, maybe you as the parent are getting up and getting some work done in the morning and then your school day is starting at one o'clock.

Pam Barnhill (11:40):
On the flip side of that, there are a lot of little kids who they're done by that time of day. And so you are going to have to work with them earlier. So look at your family, look at what works for you and different kids can work at different times a day. Maybe you get up earlier and spend an hour and a half with your second grader, but your eighth and ninth grader doesn't get started until one o'clock in the afternoon. They're going to be more independent anyway. You're not all having to move lockstep together.

Eric Olsen (12:13):
Not forcing yourself to hold fast to the traditional school day schedule? Jacqueline Wilson, author, educator, and homeschool mom agrees.

Jacqueline Wilson (12:23):
You should always set a homeschool schedule and routine that works best for your family. If you go on one of the homeschool groups and you asked a hundred home schoolers about their schedule, you're going to get a hundred different answers. And honestly, that's how it should be. So people, I want you to stop asking everyone what you should be doing.

Eric Olsen (12:40):
I'm sorry!

Jacqueline Wilson (12:44):
If your kids work best under a very structured schedule, then that's what you should create. If you find that you have kids that work better under a more relaxed or an independent schedule, then create that.

Eric Olsen (12:57):
Any tools or resources you recommend for staying organized and keeping your homeschool on track?

Jacqueline Wilson (13:04):
The first thing that parents need to do is check. You have to check your state guidelines and your state requirements to find out what you need to track for your homeschooling. Every state is different. Some states have more stringent, homeschool tracking requirements and reporting requirements. Other states have little or no requirements. So you need to start there and understand what you need to track and submit as a report. Beyond that, I think definitely use some kind of planner. You don't have to be a real write-down-everything kind of person, but a planner. Even if it's a paper based planner, a regular old calendar that you just put on your wall, or even an app on your phone, that's going to help you keep you on track. Believe it or not. Home schoolers spend a lot of time outside of the home. I mean, generally in another environment, but they do a lot.

Jacqueline Wilson (13:54):
So just having something that, "Okay, we're going to do this meetup. We have this class outside of the home. We know today is a home day." That really helps keep you on track. And one of the things that I've started doing, my daughter's going into seventh grade, but since fifth grade, I got her, her own planner and I got her one of those fun ones where it has the stickers and all the things she can decorate too. But it really gave her, I think, more ownership of her learning and a lot more autonomy. And also being able to plan and follow, maintain your own schedule is an important life skill. So if you get your kids involved in doing their own planner, it's really helpful. She reminds me of stuff now.

Eric Olsen (14:38):
For the listener who is hearing this and feeling really overwhelmed, is that a good indicator that at home learning might not be the right choice for their family? Or do you think they just may need some additional encouragement and support?

Jacqueline Wilson (14:51):
You're going to feel overwhelmed at the beginning. My first day of homeschooling my daughter, I hid in the pantry and cried. You're going to feel overwhelmed because any time that you're doing something new, especially something new that pushes us out of our comfort zone, it feels overwhelming. And there are going to be moments that you fail, especially in your first year, but they're also going to be moments where things just click and you have huge successes and you think, "Wow, this is really what it's all about." But don't be afraid to change things up when they aren't working. I think we're so set in our ways of, "Oh, that means I'm failing if I change." But it doesn't, it's not failing when you change things up in homeschooling, it's actually customizing an education to what works for your child. And that's going to take a lot of starts and stops sometimes. So when you're homeschooling, you have the flexibility to change things up. So do it.

Eric Olsen (15:46):
Jacqueline. Thanks so much for your time today.

Jacqueline Wilson (15:48):
Happy to be here.

Eric Olsen (15:50):
And that's it for season one of the Emergency Homeschool podcast. Thank you for listening. As we interviewed the experts to navigate our at-home learning options together, we hope you feel more empowered and at least a little less overwhelmed heading into the school year and please visit for even more resources.

Narrator (16:12):
You've been listening to Emergency Homeschool, an Art of Problem Solving podcast. Since 1993, Art of Problem Solving has prepared hundreds of thousands of motivated students for success in prestigious universities and STEM careers through engaging curriculum, expert online instruction, and local academies. To learn more, visit That's