My Scheduling Journey

My Scheduling Journey

Ice surfaces are a scarce resource, even in the Detroit area. Figure skaters compete with hockey skaters for access to this precious commodity. Junior skaters compete with senior skaters. And singles skaters compete with ice dancers. The quest for ice is so difficult that school hours are enticing. Many skating families choose to homeschool just so they can access the ice in late morning and early afternoon. We are a rarity in the skating community. We chose to homeschool first and then to skate. Usually it happens the other way around.

We made our decision to homeschool back in 2003. Shortly after making that decision, I was told that I also needed to decide which philosophy of education I would be teaching from. It didn’t take long for me to settle on Charlotte Mason, although it did take me several years to develop a working understanding of her method. That method includes clear guidance on scheduling. Thus one might think my scheduling journey over the years has been relatively predictable, or even monotonous. Eventually I must have discovered the Parents’ Union School time tables and simply started following them. Every day I must have started at 9:00 AM and ended just after lunch. Followed by afternoon activities. Year after year, until my children went off to college.

Well, the reality is that my scheduling journey has been anything but monotonous. The reason for this is that my entire homeschooling career has been an exercise in perseverance. Life has presented me a steady stream of reasons to stop educating my children at home. One obstacle after another has come my way, each seeming more insurmountable than the previous. But I refused to take the hint. In the council of my life, my circumstances said I should not homeschool. My heart said I should. My heart won.

My journey began with a set of commitments none of which I was willing to compromise. I was (and am) deeply devoted to a wife who never aspired to be a career educator. I cherished (and cherish) her happiness too much to force upon her an overwhelming responsibility that was not her own dream. Homeschooling was (and is) my dream. She was willing to give her very best to support me and help me with that dream. So she spent countless hours educating our children. But I could not ask her do it alone.

I also have a vocation. I have been programming computers since my age was a single digit. God gave me the interest, the skill, and the opportunity to create software. I have worked with software engineers around the world to build teams, platforms, and products. It is my job; it is who I am. I was not willing to give it up. Nor was I willing to only work at it half-way. I had to do my best.

And finally, my children skate. It’s part of their identity and part of who we are as a family. It’s the arena where they developed their athletic ability and their artistic expression. It’s where they learned to dance and stretch. It’s where they interpreted rhythm and took to the stage. It’s where they made friends and found companions. It’s where they learned to celebrate the highs and process the lows. And it’s an arena that’s only available certain hours of the day.

Into this lifestyle entered the ideas of Charlotte Mason. What started as a seemingly harmless investigation of educational techniques turned into a life-changing adventure. I became a new person as Charlotte Mason’s ideas opened my eyes to a world of beauty and delight. It turns out that this adventure didn’t begin a moment too soon. When I walked through a valley of the shadow of death, I had the living water at my side.

So what was I to do? I love the Charlotte Mason method, but it said to do lessons when I was at work. I love the Charlotte Mason method, but the time tables didn’t explain how mother can teach some subjects while father teaches others. I love the Charlotte Mason method, but the time tables didn’t tell me how to prepare my children for the ACT or the SAT or to get into the colleges of their dreams.

Something has to give, right? Quit my job, force my wife to do 100% of the schooling from 9 AM to 1 PM, or give up Charlotte Mason. Or maybe become “Charlotte Mason influenced.” Or “Charlotte Mason inspired.” But not authenticCharlotte Mason. I was disqualified. My life wasn’t neat enough, simple enough, predictable enough for Charlotte Mason. The pure method was for “others.” I could only have second-best.

Or maybe not. There are two things I like to ask the purest of Charlotte Mason purists:

  1. What foreign languages do you teach your children?
  2. Do you do school from 9 AM to 1 PM on Saturdays?

If the answer to (1) is “Spanish” or the answer to (2) is “no” then I tell them they’re actually not Charlotte Mason purists. Actually I don’t tell them that. Rather, I use this illustration to explain that the Charlotte Mason method has always been about principles and never about rules. A Charlotte Mason purist adheres to principles; someone who adheres to rules is not really following in Mason’s footsteps.

But it’s not just about the 20 principles. Mason taught many principles that were not laid out in clear-cut propositions. She taught many principles that were never fully articulated. Many of the principles can only be found by studying the practices. But we study the practices not so we can slavishly imitate them. We study the practices so we can bring the underlying principles to life in our time and place. I call this “Applying an Authentic Interpretation.” It involves more work than simply following the historical pattern. But I think it is the approach that Mason would have wanted. I believe that the decline and demise of the PNEU was due in large part to their failure to understand this model.

With this model, we don’t simply insist on school on Saturday because the PNEU did school on Saturday. Rather, we ask the principle behind their choice to do school on Saturday. Then we explore how that principle would express itself in our 21st century North American life. We don’t simply insist on French, German, and Italian simply because the PNEU taught French, German, and Italian. Rather, we ask the principle behind their choice to study these languages. Then we explore how that principle would express itself in our 21st century North American life. For many families, that means teaching Spanish instead of French.

In the same way, principles are the foundation of my scheduling journey. In the Parents’ Union School time tables, we observe that:

  1. Lessons are in the morning.
  2. Lessons occur at predictable times with definite start and stop times.
  3. Lessons are short.
  4. Lessons follow a thoughtful sequence.

Let’s explore each of these observations one-by-one.

1. Lessons are in the morning.

Anyone who is been in Charlotte Mason circles for more than a month knows that Mason advocated morning lessons. But we need to take a step back and ask why. She lays out her answer clearly in Home Education:

It follows that the hours for lessons should be carefully chosen, after periods of mental rest—sleep or play, for instance—and when there is no excessive activity in any other part of the system. Thus, the morning, after breakfast (the digestion of which lighter meal is not a severe tax), is much the best time for lessons and every sort of mental work… (p. 23)

So morning is chosen on the basis of the physical condition of the brain. The principle is beyond dispute; I know that I can do my best and most creative work in the morning after a good night’s sleep. But on that same page, Mason goes on:

… the children’s wits are bright enough in the evening, but the drawback to evening work is, that the brain, once excited, is inclined to carry on its labours beyond bed-time, and dreams, wakefulness, and uneasy sleep attend the poor child who has been at work until the last minute. If the elder children must work in the evening, they should have at least one or two pleasant social hours before they go to bed; but, indeed, we owe it to the children to abolish evening ‘preparation.’ (p. 23)

Just let those words sink in: “the children’s wits are bright enough in the evening.” Indeed they are! I know from my own experience that I get a second wind after dinner. That is a time when I can do much creative writing. Just make sure it is not carried on “until the last minute” before bedtime. And regarding “evening ‘preparation,’” that’s Mason’s word for homework. In other words, don’t make your children do two shifts: lessons in the morning and homework in the evening.

I am faithful to Charlotte Mason. I trust her when she says “the children’s wits are bright enough in the evening.” They’ve been bright enough for me!

2. Lessons occur at predictable times with definite start and stop times.

Charlotte Mason writes:

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. (Home Education, p. 142)

In these sentences, Mason provides two powerful reasons for lessons to have definite start and stop times. The first is that it forms habits. In my experience, I have found this to have a very positive effect on my children. Sometimes I hear parents talk about how their children are reluctant to get into lessons. To be honest, I rarely had this problem. Our lesson schedule was very predictable and it became second nature to my children. If they weren’t in the mood for a certain lesson, they knew it would only last for twenty minutes. And they knew there was no point in asking me to make an exception, because I wouldn’t.

The fact is, that children are conservative. Helen Webb wrote:

… we may all have observed how, even to the little child, the fact that anything has already been done, or done in a certain fashion, forms the most powerful reason why events should ever after follow the same course. This is the reason of all the misery of nurse’s evening out. The mother has not realised exactly all the details of the process of going to bed, as usually carried out by the former, and baby feels the very foundations of the world to be shaken because an unfamiliar order is followed. He is not accustomed to it, therefore it is wrong. (PR40, p. 433)

There was a time when I experienced resistance to lessons. That was when we didn’t follow the routine. It was “an unfamiliar order.” Patterns and schedules in homeschool form habits. Charlotte Mason was right. They open the door to learning.

3. Lessons are short.

Mason writes:

Again, the lessons are short, seldom more than twenty minutes in length for children under eight; and this, for two or three reasons. The sense that there is not much time for his sums or his reading, keeps the child’s wits on the alert and helps to fix his attention; he has time to learn just so much of any one subject as it is good for him to take in at once… (Home Education, p. 142)

The biggest benefit to short lessons is that they cultivate the habit of attention. Mason rightly points out that this is perhaps the most important habit for learning, and it is a requirement for success not only in school but also in work and in life. Dawdling must never be tolerated or allowed. Living books must always be employed. An often-overlooked reason for the insistence on living books is that they alone have the power to hold the child’s attention thus building the all-important habit of attention.

4. Lessons follow a thoughtful sequence.

Mason writes:

… if the lessons be judiciously alternated—sums first, say, while the brain is quite fresh; then writing, or reading—some more or less mechanical exercise, by way of a rest; and so on, the programme varying a little from day to day, but the same principle throughout—a ‘thinking’ lesson first, and a ‘painstaking’ lesson to follow,—the child gets through his morning lessons without any sign of weariness. (Home Education, p. 142)

Again, Mason rests her principle on brain science. Mental rest during the day is achieved not by cessation of activity but by variation of activity. The home educator who ignores this principle does so to his or her peril. How many parents get frustrated with their children when the real problem is the schedule. Parents must always respect the physical limits of their children, and the brain is physical. The thoughtful sequence involves frequent change of activity so that the child’s mind is always fresh and able to receive.

Principles in Practice

We see all four of these principles in the Parents’ Union School time tables. They are wonderful, masterful implementations of these principles. If I were a full-time home educator and my children were not figure skaters then I would follow something pretty close to those historical time tables. But I am not a full-time home educator. And my children skate.

My general pattern over the years has been to spend two hours on weeknights in lessons with my children, five hours on Saturdays, and a few hours of family lessons on Sundays. Barbara takes the skaters to the rink during normal school hours, and then does her set of lessons in the afternoon. We divide up the subjects. For example, for many years, I followed a very consistent pattern with my son where we spent 20 minutes on Bible, 20 minutes on French, and 20 minutes on math every night. I taught all my children to read. I never taught any of them to write. (Thank you for doing that, Barbara!)

The structure and schedule evolved over the years. As my firstborn was approaching college, two hours per night became three or four hours per night. Saturday sometimes meant seven hours of lessons, with some subjects spilling over to Sunday. I don’t regret a moment of it. He wanted to study mechanical engineering. I wanted to homeschool. I made that decision on his behalf. I owed it to him to supply his need. He got into the engineering school of his choice.

I did learn that the transition from homeschool to college is tough. A major challenge is getting used to managing one’s own schedule. The routines are gone and the parental accountability is gone. I decided to give my daughter more practice in preparation for college. I no longer schedule her time. At all. At the start of the week I give her a physical printout of all her assignments for the week. I tell her they are due on Saturday night. It is up to her to figure out how and when she will get it done. Including scheduling time with me.

As my career has advanced, I have been required to travel more and more. I have kept up a strong relationship with my son in college and also worked with my youngest child. I get pulled in a lot of different directions. My daughter has had to factor all of that in. She knows when I will be traveling; she knows which subjects she will need help with; she knows it’s no fun to have it all left over for Saturday.

Each day I let my daughter know where I’ll be in the world. I let her know what hours I can meet with her. I make every effort possible to have options for her. That means finding ways to do school on the road. We use Zoom. I have electronic versions of almost all of her books. I have done lessons with my daughter over Zoom while at Charlotte Mason events. While on trips in the States. While in Australia. And while in the UK…

Preparing for the ACT was tough. We had a long wind-up for sure, emphasizing the math proficiency and the fundamentals of grammar. But it was still hard. As the weeks began to count down before the test, I wanted to be there for my daughter. I wanted to give her the best I possibly could. I owed it to her. I’m her dad.

Then I received heart-breaking news. I had to go to the UK for a critical set of business meetings. And it was the last week before the ACT! I faced the awful choice yet again. What would I compromise? My job and my career? Or my homeschool responsibilities? I refused to compromise. I would do both.

Before my plane took off, my daughter and I had marked off the times in our calendars when we could meet. Two hours each evening for me, which was afternoon for her. We adjusted it around her on-ice times and my dinners and meetings. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday all went well. Then came Thursday.

I was staying in Manchester and the Armitt was a train ride away. I wanted to take the chance to visit. But it would take me well into the evening to get back to the hotel. But how could I miss the chance? And yet… it was Thursday, the last day I could work with Anesley before the test. (You’re supposed to take a break on Friday before the test on Saturday morning.)

There are no Ubers in Ambleside. You can’t hail a taxi in the street. You have to reserve a cab ride home when you set out. Like so many other days when I’ve been in Ambleside, it was raining. The cab dropped me off at St. Mary’s. We had an arrangement that he would pick me up again at 5 PM at the church. I set off to prepare for the Living Education Holiday and go to the Armitt again. I was on my own until 5.

I had a great day. I finished everything. I was getting tired of the rain. I went back to St. Mary’s. It was 3:00. “What are the chances I could find a cab?” I thought. I had been in this situation before. The schedule is locked in. No reservation, no ride. Period.

I called the taxi company. “I have a reservation for 5 PM, but could you pick me up now?” I was shocked by the response. “Yes, no problem.” Moments later I was at Windermere train station. I had no idea when the next train would depart. To my amazement, the train to Manchester was leaving in 5 minutes. I hopped in.

At Manchester station, I called an Uber who showed up right away. I looked at my watch as we approached the hotel. It was 6:55 PM. My daughter had only two hours free that day, from 2-4 PM Eastern time. I texted her. “Are you free? It looks like we can do school after all.” The door to my hotel room was just snapping shut when the clock struck 7 PM for me and 2 PM for her. I could never have orchestrated that timing. It was a miracle. We did one final round of prep for the ACT.

I was home by Friday night. Saturday morning I drove my daughter to the high school to take the test. She said that this was the first time she had ever entered a school building. Almost every student walked in alone. But she wanted me by her side.

I was ready to sign up for two or three more ACT tests. But I never had to. Her score that morning was so far above anything she had ever gotten on any of her practice tests that there seemed no reason to take it again. Within a few weeks she had the acceptance letter from the college of her choice.

What is the point of this story? It is that there is another principle behind scheduling in the Charlotte Mason method. It is a principle that can get lost among the notions of morning lessons, short lessons, alternating lessons, regular lessons. It is the principle that when we undertake the education of our children, we do not do so alone.

Every circumstance in my life, it seemed, opposed my effort to homeschool my children. But I had something much greater than circumstance on my side. I had the God of the universe. He controls the sunshine and the rain, the schedules of taxis and trains, and His providence never ends. If I had only my willpower and good intention, I would fail. But Charlotte Mason taught me who is the Supreme Educator. It’s the Holy Spirit. It’s my God.

The world tells me I can’t homeschool. The world tells me I can’t follow the Charlotte Mason method. The world tells me I can’t be a Charlotte Mason purist. That’s fine. Jesus tells me, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

23 Replies to “My Scheduling Journey”

  1. Art, thank you for this article on this day. We had a family crisis in January that created trauma. As February has started, I have been struggling to get us back to our lessons. Yesterday I told myself that we MUST do lessons today, but when I woke up this morning I thought I could not. I was completely overwhelmed with the thought. Then this article came to my inbox. Thank you.

  2. What an encouraging post. Could we get sneak peek of the weekly schedule with assignments due on Saturday? My junior could benefit from time management skills.

    1. To be honest, the printout I give my daughter is not a schedule but rather a list of assignments. For example, I may assign pages to read and narrate, a précis to write, math problems to complete, and so on. My daughter then writes her own schedule in pencil on the paper, deciding on her own which days she would like to do which assignment. It works well!

  3. Can’t tell you how timely this is as I was worrying again about whether I can make this work as a full-time working parent preparing to formally begin school lessons in another year or so. We have had goals for me to cut back in hours by the time my child reaches age six but it may not be feasible. I’ve spent more time fretting over this than I can say. But just today I had a thought—with some adjustments could we make this work even if I am still working as much as I do now? And (almost right away), I saw this. Timely on every level! Thank you.

  4. I had always wondered how you managed to be so involved in your children’s education as well as doing a job. Thanks very much for sharing!

  5. This is such a timely post. I’ve been struggling with 2 kids (ages 10 and 7) who dread lesson time and fight every minute of it. I was wondering what I was doing wrong, since we’re keeping to a schedule (9-12 lesson time, afternoon occupations) and I use living books. But after reading this, I see some important changes I need to make, like having a time table with lesson times clearly stated, and sticking to a better routine so the lesson time is more predictable. Thank you for your seasoned advice!

  6. Art what a beautiful and encouraging story! I was moved. Thank you for sharing it, I’m sure this will be blessing to many of us out there!
    Mariana

  7. This was an amazing article. So spot on for high school . I feel much more confidant now about the last 3 years than I have in a while. Appreciate you writing this..

    1. Thank you for this Art! Did you give Ainsley full responsibility at a specific time during high school or was there a transition of partial responsibility to fully managing her time?

      1. Thank you for this question. I made the transition at the start of Anesley’s senior year in high school. Prior to that, I was making the scheduling decisions myself. However, due to our life constraints, we have always had to work together to maximize our joint lesson time.

  8. So enjoyed listening (podcast) to this article and I can so relate! We had the same experience with our oldest now off to college and another almost about to graduate. I love the CM philosophy but do realize that every child and family is different and how it is a journey where no two families are alike…listening to the Holy Spirit to guide your steps. Great reminder for us all!

  9. Thank you for this post. I am encouraged to continually be in prayer about our schedule and seek the help of the Holy Spirit.

    Would you please share what resources you found best to prep for the ACT? It is knocking on our door, and it would be good to have a launching point.

    1. The real ACT prep was the years of math and grammar study that we did according to the Charlotte Mason method. For test-taking strategies, we used the outstanding live online class offered by the Princeton Review. I highly recommend their program. I worked through all the test-taking strategies and materials with Anesley, and I watched all the videos of the lessons myself.

      1. Thank you for the encouraging words pointing to what we are already doing. I also appreciate your sharing this resource and your example of completing this side-by-side. We are going to start with the free practice test.

  10. Art, what a beautiful application of these principles. Thank you for persevering in sharing how CM has affected your personal life. I see from the comments that your daughter started managing her own schedule late in high school, so maybe she is handling it with ease, but I am curious what kind of natural consequences are in place if she fails to accomplish all of her tasks, especially regarding scheduling time with you. I assume you keep a transcript for state requirements or at least college admission. That is where my mind went reflexively and I can’t seem to think of anything else. I suppose I want to ask two questions. What are the consequences of failing to schedule appropriately, and how much is she aware of/does she care about her grades and the way in which they affect her future?

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