Mix Structure with Freedom

What Works! 

Homeschooling, like all things in family life, requires balance.

Some folks love the carefree and loosey-goosey approach to homeschooling, while others perfect a strict routine and discipline with a school-at-home approach. Some folk wake and start school early, while others flow lazily into a relaxed, informal day.  Some families work in a classroom environment, while others love to learn everywhere, anytime.

Whatever your homeschooling approach is right now, it should fit your family lifestyle. I encourage you to find the way that works for you and your children in this season of your life.

If you’re a mom with lots of young children, then I encourage you to create a simple  predictable routine for their day.  Mix in free time for unstructured play and exploration.

Here are some of the main family events that should follow some form of predictable routine ~

  • Morning wake up, washing & dressing
  • Making beds
  • Breakfast
  • Start homeschool time – circle time or Bible story, songs & prayer
  • Short, sweet seat work lessons
  • Tea time and short outdoors play time
  • Core and read alouds and other schooling or learning
  • Lunch time
  • After lunch nap or quiet play
  • Free afternoons
  • Clean up & pack away toys from the day’s play
  • Bath time
  • Supper
  • Bedtime

Habit-training is a vital part of creating an easy, stress-free day.  Work on your routine, focusing on one aspect at a time for several weeks until this is established. (Start with the routine that causes you the most stress and frustration in your family.)  Once your children can cope with that routine, move on to focus on the next area that causes you the most stress.

Many new homeschool moms have very high ideals and expectations.  Most new homeschool moms struggle to maintain a formal, strict regimen every day, and they can easily burnout.  May I suggest that your homeschooling plays a minor role in your day when you are teaching young toddlers, pre-schoolers.  If you are working with multiple ages, focus on the most needy first and then focus on the rest.

Truth be told, you can’t do everything with every child every day!

Especially when children seem bored, frustrated or aimless, look to switching the rhythm and approach of your homeschooling.

  • Change the routine and start with subjects that you normally do later in the day.
  • Change your homeschool room or learn somewhere new/ outside/ at a library
  • Change your approach and make things fun
  • Switch to a new activity such as a lapbook or project instead of reading a read aloud that just doesn’t “fit” you or your kids.
  • Do drills or physical movements instead of seat work.  This works really well if a child is struggling with a subject like maths or spelling!  Rather do jumping or skipping or ball tossing or jump on a rebounder while doing skip-counting or times tables, spelling,  etc.
  • Leave the workbooks and find hands-on activities instead.

Charlotte Mason perfected this switch of rhythm with her principles ~

Structure and discipline (Seat work lessons)

  • Short, sweet lessons
  • Perfect / excellent quality work
  • Attentiveness and discipline
  • Memory work and copywork

Informal and unstructured approach (while still requiring focus and attention)

  • Narrations
  • Fine Arts
  • Poetry
  • Nature Study

I found that having one FREE DAY worked for our family.  Although I say “Free” it was rather an INFORMAL day where we focused on Fabulous Fine Arts Fridays.  These days made the rest of the week feel better and help prevent burnout and stress.

What works for your family?  Please share in the comments below.

Blessings as you find what works for your family, Nadene

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4 thoughts on “Mix Structure with Freedom

  1. Hi Nadine

    Thank you again for your wonderful life giving posts. As always they are a soothing balm:)

    Just a quick question to settle my heart a bit. As you say in the post below everyone is different in their approach to homeschooling. I have heard some people say they don’t really do any prep, just take the day as it comes while others work on school things the whole weekend. I have not found my balance, When I sit down to do prep i can get drawn in to lots of different things, researching better ways, understanding new concepts, more information on a particular topic etc until I have been there for hours and things are falling apart in the house around me. Then I will want to avoid it for days after that and just slip in to do a tiny minimum, 5 minutes on each child.

    It seems to be wearing me down and I want a little bit of positive talk for myself around it but don’t want to lie to myself either – what is enough preparation and what is totally insufficient!

    I know you have a lot of followers – the following is probably a bit of catharsis for me writing it down, I won’t be offended if you don’t have time to read it, my main question is in the subject line!!

    In terms of the actual structure of days and what we are covering I think we are doing ok and Pre -term prep does carry us through a bit, but sometime there could have been much richer learning experiences if I had prepared a little more.

    Just a quick overview (I have three boys, one in grade 8, one in grade 4, one in grade 2 – we start with bible/devotionals and missionary stories, move on to personal work for about an hour – for the little one that includes reading aloud and maths games too – and then after a little break we do the other subjects – mostly as read alouds with a little bit of map work, time line, nature study, art and music spread through the week. The grade 8 does afternoon work twice a week with science experiments and whatever else he hasn’t got to. we also visit an orphanage once a week where they play soccer with the children there and my oldest occasionally goes to the farm workshop for angle grinding or welding lessons.)

    But I still feel it’s not enough and we are not really properly note booking – just drawing in sketch books while i read aloud, sometimes about what I’m reading sometimes not! The narration is going well and I’m amazed by their retention of facts but still mostly verbal. I am never well prepared for the extra subjects, for example nature study is what comes on the day, art and poetry are the same. For the history time line there is a big one on the wall that we write on and I am not sure much of it is going in. I made a book of centuries for the older one but we haven’t got around to copying it all in. I have a few other projects on the go (e.g. helping the orphanage register with the government and some family events) and I realize how little time is left over for school. I am struggling to get to any real prep done at the moment and constantly feel guilty.

    They have a maths program, maths-u-see, so that at least is ok. Copy work, a little bit of dictation, some creative writing, typing are the english lessons, older one doing more grammar stuff from a text book. Just feel like I am playing at school sometimes with the rest of it!

    Probably the main problem is that we are going back to school next year! Moving into cape town and for various reasons rejoining formal schooling after 2 years of homeschool. Mixed feelings but so glad to have had these two special years. Had to do an assessment, grade 4 is flying but grade 2 is weak/slow as they put it! I’m glad I know some things about how to help him now.


    Mandy Liddle


    • @Wild Way of Wonder {{{Big hugs}}} Big sigh and breathe … I think we have all had our moments of planning and frustrations. Here’s a few thoughts in response ~

      1. Although you are stressed and feel that you are not doing enough, it sounds like you have a very full, balanced education and your kids are definitely learning!
      2. It helps to plan big for the year for each child and then break it down into months. Break that into weeks, and you have a simple plan.
      3. Combine your kids on one Core and Fine Arts, Bible, Nature Study, Science etc.
      4. Encourage narrations – spoken narrations after reading. You might not have measurable proof, but you will definitely know what your child knows.
      5. Regular informal lessons deposit enormous appreciation and affinity for the subject.
      Keep going! These are tough but exceptionally precious years with our children!


  2. Thank you for the encouragement. To work on the most stressful part of our day. Get that right first and then move on to the next. That gives me great comfort !


    • @Candice Hattingh I am always encouraged to just focus on one thing first and not feel overwhelmed by too much. Wishing you every blessing as you work on one thing at a time!


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