[T]here is no education but self-education …
— Charlotte Mason (Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 26)
When my son started AmblesideOnline Year 1 back in 2008, I created a simple spreadsheet. (At the time, AO did not provide the PDF schedules that are available now.) I made it for ME — it was easier to divide up the weeks and spread them out over multiple days before school started, rather than trying to figure it out and make decisions on the fly. Too many decisions made during the course of a homeschool day can really burn me out.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that showing him the spreadsheet and explaining how it worked helped him become more independent. Now, he could get out what he needed for, say, math, and be ready when it was time for lessons.
The years went by and the spreadsheet began to function more like an elaborate to-do list. For the most part, I no longer told him when to do certain things. Especially once we began high school, we practiced having him order his day, with input from me in regard to how his plans for himself matched up with my plans for his younger sisters and brother.
Next week, he begins 11th grade. I was pondering his year — how he’s taking literature, history, Bible, and philosphy from Mr. Hall; Koine Greek from Mr. Vegas; Latin from Mr. Thomas (Roma Aeterna, if you’re curious) — how Rahime is still tutoring his math — how I am left with chemistry and a (very) short stack of books I want us to cover together.
I sat down to do what I have done every summer for over a decade: create a spreadsheet for him. It was harder this time, because I had to consider the demands of so many different teachers. I found myself unable to complete even the first week without asking multiple questions of teachers as well as my student. And that’s when it dawned on me that it was time to let go. So many of these things are no longer my domain, and what better way for him to prepare for future studies and real life than to start managing his classes and deadlines and such himself?
Instead of making a spreadsheet, I shopped for a planner. This was harder than you think — most are ridiculously full of goal setting tools, or covered in flowers (not cool if you are a sixteen-year-old boy). After a little research, I settled on a basic silver academic weekly and monthly planner by Cambridge.
Principles of Scheduling
Over the years, I’ve taught my student the basic principles of scheduling set out by Charlotte Mason (and a few others). So, for example, he was having a hard time four or five years ago, and I discovered he was doing all of his hand written work in a chunk, and then all of his reading and narrating in a chunk. He thought this was efficient, but it was killing him by the end of the day. So that was the perfect opportunity to remind him what I’d done with him when he was younger — and what I was still doing with his siblings. We talked about keeping the brain fresh through the use of alternation. He began to mix his activities up, and noticed immediate relief!
I posted a little about this on Instagram, and one question that came up was, “What exactly are these principles of scheduling I teach my children?” Here is my list, each linked to a place where they come up in Charlotte Mason’s work, so you can read about them for yourselves if you’re interested. Please note a number of these principles come up more than once; I only linked one instance. (This is encouragement to keep reading!)
- Change of occupation. This is what I called “alternation” above.
School time-tables are usually drawn up with a view to give the brain of the child variety of work; but the secret of weariness children often show in the home school room is, that no such judicious change of lessons is contrived. (Vol. 1, p. 24)
- Planning it all in advance, with definite work to be done in a definite time. I expect him to plan out his time, with specifics listed. Not just “science,” for example, but exactly what he plans to do in that time: which book, which pages, and whatever other activities (like notebooking or experiments) might be appropriate.
In the first place, there is a time-table, written out fairly, so that the child knows what he has to do and how long each lesson is to last. This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not ‘as good as another’; that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time; and this knowledge alone does a great deal to secure the child’s attention to his work. (Vol. 1, p. 142)
- Free time as a reward for finishing in a timely manner. My oldest prefers to keep going and enjoy finishing his whole day early, rather than frittering away a few minutes here and there. I think this is probably typical of older children.
His writing task is to produce six perfect m‘s: he writes six lines with only one good m in each line, the time for the writing lesson is over and he has none for himself; or, he is able to point out six good m‘s in his first line, and he has the rest of the time to draw steamboats and railway trains. (Vol. 1, p. 143)
- Short lessons, or not spending too much time on any one subject or assignment. If he’s tempted to start day dreaming, or his mind starts to wander, he’s spent too long on it. We want to retain the power of fixed attention that we have built over many years!
The power of reading with perfect attention will not be gained by the child who is allowed to moon over his lessons. For this reason, reading lessons must be short … (Vol. 1, p. 230)
- No homework. This is tricky with teens. This is why I didn’t say exactly what Charlotte Mason says about not working in the evenings. Sometimes teens have jobs or other activities during the day, and can choose to do their school work in the evening on those days in order to get everything done. I think this is one of the huge benefits of homeschooling — the ability to reorganize the schedule in a way that makes sense for the child and family. But with that said, choosing to work in the evenings is different from planning poorly and then working when you aren’t supposed to.
[T]he evenings are absolutely free, so that the children have leisure for hobbies, family reading, and the like … (Vol. 3, p. 240)
- Don’t be all work and no play, and don’t forget to cultivate your whole person. Time needs to be set aside for being outside, for engaging in hobbies, in doing chores, and in not working.
From one to two hours, according to age and class, are given in the afternoons to handicrafts, field-work, drawing, etc. … (Vol. 3, p. 240)
Maturity Grabs the Baton
I doubted myself on this decision to hand over the scheduling completely. Even though the worst thing that could go wrong is that we miss a deadline or have some rough patches during the year, I carried on an internal debate about the appropriateness of all of this. That debate ended when I re-read Charlotte Mason’s preface to the Home Education series in Parents and Children as preparation for my local group meeting. In it, she explains:
[T]he path indicated by the law is continuous and progressive, with no transition stages from the cradle to the grave, except that maturity takes up the regular self-direction to which immaturity has been trained. (p. xiv)
Maturity takes up the regular self-direction to which immaturity has been trained. That was a light bulb moment for me! The self-direction to which we train our children starts from the moment they glace at their daily lists and get out their school supplies without being asked, yes. But it doesn’t end there. It’s a continual progression, with Mom handing over a little more independence and responsibility with each passing year.
When the planner arrived, we sat down and went over the format. It was a simple enough challenge: take the lists from each of your teachers — because even I made a list of what should be done each week concerning the books I’ve selected to round out his studies — and plug them into your planner.
In the middle of over-explaining what I wanted him to do, he said, “Wait — you mean you just want me to make my own spreadsheet by hand using this calendar?” I lamely answered, “Yes,” and that was the end of it.
I realize now that handing over something like scheduling is the end of a long process that happens in small bits beginning from first grade. There is, as Charlotte Mason so aptly said, “no transition stage,” because it’s just one long transition.
And then suddenly they’re all grown up!
Good thing we have a couple years left before I have to worry about that.
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