There’s a first happening right now: almost every parent is homeschooling. My friend Sarah Mackenzie has a brilliant but simple idea to make it a little easier.
Loop Your School Schedule | 20
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This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
There’s a first happening right now: almost every one of us that are parents are homeschooling. And for many of you, this is a brand-new thing, something you’ve never experienced before. It completely feels like being thrown into the deep end. I get it.
We’ve actually homeschooled here and there over several years, and the past few years my kids have gone to a 3-day school where they do the rest of their schoolwork at home on the other 2 days. I do this while also working from home full-time, so as you might guess, my life has not been turned as upside-down as it might have for some of you listening. But I feel for you, I really do. It can be a very different way of life and experience for some people.
Well, I wanted to talk to one of my dear friends about this, because she’s been homeschooling for a long time. She and I are actually writing accountability partners, across the miles with her in Washington and me in Texas. Her name is Sarah Mackenzie, and she runs this thing called Read-Aloud Revival, an online membership program that helps parents make the most of books and storytelling in their homes. She’s also a mom of 6, and a homeschooler. And she works from home, full-time, with her husband. So, she’s the resident expert on what it’s like to work from home, homeschool, and not go insane.
I wanted to chat with her for The Good List because she has this radically simple idea (I even call it a non-idea, because it’s so simple) that legit changed the way I homeschooled a few years ago. And I thought it might be encouraging to some of you right now, especially if it all feels overwhelming, or like you’re not doing enough, or you’re worried that certain things are falling through the cracks.
So, here’s a recent chat from a few days ago with my friend Sarah Mackenzie. I hope you find it helpful.
Tsh: All right, Sarah. I have told you before how you had this little hack about homeschooling that really changed the game for me a few years ago and it’s almost so simple. It’s a non-thing, but it really was a game-changer for me. I would love for you to tell my listeners, especially those of you who are homeschooling for the first time in your life and you feel like you just jumped in the deep end, Sarah, tell us more about what you discovered in your own homeschooling life.
Sarah: Yeah. And actually sometimes I think those simple things that seem like they should be non-things to use your word there ended up being the most useful. It’s called loop scheduling. It’s really just a scheduling method that helps you know what to do next and not get derailed by getting behind. I think one of the things that gets frustrating when you’re homeschooling, when you’re teaching your kids at home and it’s really just frustrating in parenting in general, even if you take the schooling out completely, is the feeling like you’re getting behind on certain subjects.
When you plan a loop schedule, you’re thinking in ratios, although that sounds more complicated than it is. You don’t assign a particular subject to a particular day. Instead, you just make a list and then you do the next thing on that list, no matter what day it is. For example, I might say that from 9 to 11 or 9 to 10, it depends on how old your kids are and how many kids you have and all that good stuff, right? But I might say from 9 to 11, we’re going to do our daily things, the stuff needs to get every done every day, math, reading, piano practice, whatever that is in your family. And then I might say from 11 to 12, we do the next thing on our loop. And our loop would include subjects like history, science, maybe watching documentaries or nature shows, going on a nature hike, geography, that kind of thing. You can throw fun things in there, like playing games. The idea behind it is that you’re not going to try and get to every subject every day. You pick a list of subjects, books or activities that you want to get to regularly but don’t need to happen daily. You put them on a list and then you have a time set aside in your schedule where you just do the next thing on that loop, if that makes sense. And now you don’t feel like you’re, oh, we never have time to get to science so we never have time to play a game or whatever because you’re working those kinds of things into, I guess it’s more like a rhythm, like if you think of us as a stack of cards. You’re just picking up the next card on top and it says read the chapter from your history book and then you put at the bottom of the stack and you’d pick up the next one and you just sort of get to as much as you can in the time you allotted for it and then move on.
The idea behind it is do the next things, just telling you what the next thing is so that you don’t feel like you have to do all the things all the time and you’re behind on the stuff that matters to you.
Tsh: And I think one of the reasons this is so revolutionary is that so often we try to recreate school at home the way we know of school in the traditional model where at 10 o’clock on Mondays you go to art class and you have lunch and then you have social studies at 1:00 and that works in a classroom setting because you’ve got classroom management as a priority. Whenever you’re homeschooling and that’s not a priority and suddenly things take longer or someone hurts their knee and you got to address that issue or there’s just a million things that can happen because it’s in the midst of real life, you instantly feel behind.
Then you’re faced with this dilemma, do we just move on to the next thing and therefore skip this thing we actually want to do yet again because it didn’t happen or do we just let it go and just address the next thing on the list. I think that’s what’s so brilliant about it is that it’s sort of being the boss of you. Nobody’s telling you it needs to be at a certain time on a certain day. You just want to get to the things you care about.
Sarah: Exactly. Two things about what you just said. One, that, of course, things are going to interrupt your schedule. People are going to get sick or the schedule is going to get upended for lots of different reasons. The toilet’s going to overflow, whatever. You can’t predict when those things are happening. It’s a way to sort of build in buffer without knowing which days you’re gonna need more of that. The only thing though, I think that’s really useful is that, especially when you’re learning at home, because it’s not like you’re not working with the same kind of classroom management style or model as you are in a classroom, you have more freedom to dive into something that really peaks your child’s interest if you have margin built-in. But for a lot of us I think we think, yeah, I want my kids to be able to deep dive into something. But then you know if you’ve got 20 minutes or 45 minutes or whatever set aside for history chapter and then it’s time to move on to the next thing. It can feel like there’s not really time built in to spend any extra time with your child expresses interest in something. So having that loop schedule says, okay just do the next thing and it might take you five minutes and it might take you an hour but that’s fine. And then the next day you just pick up where you left off and then, of course, the idea is once you get through that list, that’s why it’s called a loop because you loop right back up and you work through it again.
Tsh: I want to say that you have a second non-idea that is just as great.
Sarah: I so many non-ideas.
Tsh: It dovetails really well with this idea of loop scheduling and it’s just this idea of notebooks. Explain that a little bit and how that works for your kids because just for the listeners who don’t know, Sarah has been homeschooling a long time and she has six kids and you work full time from home, so you do this all the time. This isn’t just a quarantine specific life for you. Tell me about notebooks and how that makes all of this work better.
Sarah: Yeah. This really is going to sound way too simple, but it’s helpful. If you’re finding yourself frustrated with your kids not knowing what they need to do each day or you not knowing what needs to be done that day, this might just work, you might want to try it. I know when my friend suggested I try it, I had just had the twins, so we had three kids that were toddlers or babies and then these three older kids I was trying to homeschool and it just felt like madness. She told me get these spiral notebooks, the cheap kind. you get at the supermarket that are lined paper and you just write the day at the top. Each of your kids has one of these, these work best I think for kids who can read on their own. You put the date at the top and then you just write down everything that child is expected to do for school that day. I might write their math sheet, reading for a half an hour, do this map work in your geography book, whatever they have to do. And then I also put time with mom if they need to sit and do phonics with me or writing with me or whatever it is. And basically as soon as they’re done working through that list, it sets a lot of expectations for them. They know what’s expected from them right at the outset of the day. But also because your handwriting it, it’s a funny thing. It helps us, number one, be more reasonable with how much we put on their list. Because if you’re writing out a ton of things and filling up the entire paper, you realize really quickly, this isn’t even doable. It manages your expectations, it manages theirs. One of the things that’s been really helpful, especially because I work from home, like you mentioned, we have a lot of kids, it can be really easy to lose touch with some of your kids sometimes not really know where they are in certain subjects so it’s a really helpful way at the end of the day, I just take a second to look over where they were, oops, they forgot math today. I’ll make sure I put it on tomorrow’s list, and put a note, start with this, with a little smiley note or something. Sometimes they’ll leave me notes back and forth in it and it just ends up being a good way to check-in. And because like we were just saying, you can get behind, your day gets derailed because you’re just writing, at the end of each day I’ll write out a quick list for the next day. If we don’t get to something, it just moves to the next day. It’s not like it messes up our whole lesson plan or color-coded printed out schedule or anything like that. It’s very basic.
Tsh: I like that you said that because that’s the way I started homeschooling. I had this beautiful vision of these spreadsheets that we would print and hang around the house and the kids would just know what to do at what time cause it was this particular day and they would be of course inspired to do science right now, that kind of thing. The simplicity of the notebooks is what I think makes it work. I’ll just add a little on top of that. I have one kid that gets easily overwhelmed even by checklists. He’s got some high functioning details. I have found a little hack that sometimes helps him is instead of writing it in a notebook, I will write it as a stack of sticky notes. What I do is I stack them on top of each other and so he literally can only see the top thing, so it’ll just say math and whatever it is that he needs to do and then when he’s done he tears off that sticky note and then it’s the next thing. He’s not overwhelmed by, oh my gosh, I have 10 things on my list. He just sees something in front of him and then if he stops at the end of the day at that whatever thing and the sticky note list isn’t done, that’s fine. That just goes to the top then. It’s the same idea. It just helps the kid that is even overwhelmed by seeing like a very loosely written page of things. For whatever reason that stresses him, my other two kids love checklists. It’s just a kid by kid thing.
Sarah: Well, actually that post-it idea feels like loop scheduling on a post-it, right? Because if he doesn’t get it all done, that’s goes to the top for tomorrow and then you add whatever at the bottom. Then you get to what you can get to. I kind of feel like it’s hard for a six to hand out grace to ourselves, but also to our kids. You can only get to what you can get to and sometimes our expectations aren’t just aren’t reasonable. It’s okay to admit that and help our kids realize like that’s just kind of what it means to be alive. You’re not gonna always get to all the things on your list. I think having some practices like that, simple notebooks or loops scheduling, whatever, that are, especially right now when everyone’s feeling distracted and a little out of sorts to say the least, it just feels like a good time to say, we can get to what we can get to. Let’s figure out what matters to us and put it on the list and we’ll see how it goes.
Tsh: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I think this is the most grace-filled way I can think of homeschooling right now, especially for those who are suddenly homeschooling. Because if your kid’s not used to it, if you’re not used to it and none of us are used to this whole quarantine life, it’s all a giant question mark. To me this is just giving both your kid and you so much wiggle room to be a person and to have grace and you know when it’s a sunny day out and you need some outside time, you can just say, you know what, that’s going to be a huge chunk of our checklist. We are going to be in the backyard and we are going to do work on the lawn or we’re going to just sit outside and read books and because that’s what you need right now. The idea of loop scheduling is perfect for that. I’m so glad you shared it with the internet many moons ago, who would have thought that it would be more apropos now than ever.
Sarah: Exactly. Thanks for having me, Tsh.
Tsh: I love your wisdom and I love your normal person approach to homeschooling. I think that’s what we all need now, more than ever.
You can find Sarah’s work at readaloudrevival.com, and you can follow her on IG at readaloudrevival. And also check out her podcast of the same name. Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us.
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Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you in just a few days — thanks for listening to The Good List.