Here are the strategies that will bring peace to your home school life by bringing order. They are simple and few. Complex systems that require too much time to maintain fail very quickly. These are the ones that have lasted at our house over the years.
Strategy #1: Long-Range Planning
A peaceful and well-managed home school begins with a commitment to plan. You can't invest too much time at this end of the spectrum. Long-range planning and weekly goal-setting will eliminate unnecessary day-to-day decision-making and give you confidence.
Summertime Is Planning Time. I use this time to regroup and do my long-range planning. After soliciting feedback from my kids, I scope out our year. First I focus on areas of weakness. I prioritize these and set goals for improvement. I'm never going to correct all of them in a year's time, but I am determined to keep chipping away at the list.
Add Faith. Don't let unmet goals discourage you. You'll get more accomplished in life by setting goals and not meeting all of them than by not setting goals at all.
Bring faith to your planning. Treat your goals as a prayer list. Sometimes I feel as though we aren't getting anywhere, or worse, we're moving backward. But when I look at my goals from previous years, I'm encouraged by the gains that have been made. Often God brings special opportunities our way that allow us to meet our goals in unexpected ways. Just putting the goals on the list makes me more conscious of God's commitment to our success and my awareness of His intercession on our behalf.
Write Objectives. After tackling our weaknesses, I then write out objectives for every subject for each child. I use this plan throughout the year as a yardstick for our progress. It is easy to adjust or change as the year progresses. Planning is the strategy that will help you hit those targets you are aiming at. But don't let it enslave you. Always be ready to adapt your program to the needs of your children.
At the end of each school year, I go into my objectives file on the computer and enter a brief paragraph indicating whether or not the objective was met, partially met, or not met and then detail evidence to support my evaluation.
Strategy #2: Weekly Planning
You aren't done yet. Planning is an ongoing discipline that allows you to maximize your time. Without it, you will waste time daily gathering resources, making decisions, and solving problems you didn't anticipate. So carve two hours out of your schedule regularly to prepare for the coming school week.
Before my older children began managing their own time, I spent an afternoon every week at our local library working on our home school program. I used the time to anticipate problems and prepare for them, to gather books, and to script out my goals and schedule in my plan book.
Remember: Time on task determines mastery of a skill or subject area. Plan so that your children can use their time wisely.
Your Schedule Will Be Uneven. When setting up your weekly schedule, don't shoot for even allotments of time across the board as they do in a traditional setting. This strategy does not help children achieve mastery in any area.
Some families do science first semester and history second. We found science once a week, with at least two or more hours devoted to experiments and study, worked well for us. As a rule of thumb: Skill areas are mastered through practice. Handwriting, spelling, mathematics, reading, etc., should be on your daily schedule. But content areas such as literature, history, science, etc., are better learned through fewer sessions in larger chunks of time. These also require more setup time on your part; so doing that once a week or for one semester is often better time management.
Strategy #3: Establish Policies and Procedures
In my home, at the office, and at the co-op, I am a manager. I invest my time in developing organizational systems that allow everyone to know what his or her job is and how to do it without my constant oversight or direction. How does this translate into your home?
Make a Rut to Run In. Routines may get boring, but they still make things run smoothly. (If you can't take consistency, just cut a new rut periodically.)
During the school year, kids should have a set bedtime and rising time. You should, too. I begin losing control of my day the minute we sleep in. From there, maintain a loose routine for the day and week. Food is a pretty important motivator for my kids. I have minimum standards that must be reached before lunch and then before supper.
Just Say No! Remember the anti-drug slogan from a few years back? I used to have it hanging on my phone because I was tempted to say yes to anything anyone asked of me. My goals for the day would quickly go by the wayside as I let the phone calls control my day.
Get an Answering Machine. I not only use an answering machine, but I've also turned all the phones in the house off so I don't even know when they ring. If someone wants to reach me, they have to send a fax or e-mail. Minimally, an answering machine will save you loads of time and prevent your day from slipping away from you with phone calls that turn into long conversations.
Strategy #4: Use Organizers
Pocket-Size Organizers. A personal organizer is an essential life-management tool. I've kept an organizer now for nearly twenty years. The essential premise is this: Use an organizer simple enough to take with you everywhere you go. Create a section for every area of your life that you currently need to manage. Include a monthly appointment calendar and a section for frequently used addresses. I've found an eighteen-month academic calendar is the best for my needs.
Every morning I make a list of what I need to do that day and record it in my organizer. I prioritize this and check things off as they are completed. It takes no more than ten minutes because it is an ingrained habit.
Central Calendar. We keep a central calendar on the refrigerator and everyone keeps his or her appointments there as well. It helps my kids feel more in control of their lives. I'm a great one for planning things and not telling anyone else. As soon as I put up the new monthly calendar, my children hurry to see what's coming up and then transfer that information to their own daily organizers.
Teacher's Plan Book. A teacher's plan book is the only other organizational tool I use regularly. Quite a few that are designed for home schooling are on the market, but my favorite is The Homeschool Journal, published by FERG N US Services. It's the simplest, that's why, and the most easily adapted to different families' needs. Recently FERG N US released a plan book for students, and my kids now use this as their own daily logbook where they record their weekly academic goals.