Monday, July 20, 2015

Block Scheduling on a Budget

We are a busy society. There are simply so many things to DO. As a homeschooling parent who has a life outside of homeschooling, I find it challenging to fit everything I need to do during the week into a manageable chunk of time. Adding to the chaos is the fact that two of my children have specialized learning needs. One has ADHD, and my other is dyslexic. These two conditions necessitate me being involved in the day-to-day lessons more than perhaps most middle school/high school parents need to be, but it is my reality, and I have learned over time to embrace it and work with our differences. One of the ways I maximize efficiency is by block scheduling.

Block scheduling is a method whereby I schedule our days into distinct time slots ("blocks") that help keep us efficient. While it works very well in our family, complete with all our special needs, it also functions quite well in homes where there is only one computer or other resource that must be shared by the family members or homes where there are a wide variety of age differences and many children. While there are many methods for accomplishing the scheduling, I need to thank my dear friend, Jeni, for showing me this method way back when my oldest (now 18) was in first grade.

Here's what I do...

  1. I begin with a notebook and a pen. I take each of my children and write down the subjects they are studying for the year. Once I do that, I put an asterisk by each course that will require my one-on-one time with them. Finally, I assign the amount of time that is to be dedicated to that subject each day.
  2. Once that is done, I assign a color to each child as well as the shared resource (in this case, me).
    I purchased these cards from Walmart for less than $2.00

    I always make the shared resource the brightest (and I like pink!).
    In this case, I am hot pink, my daughter is yellow, and my son is green.
  3. Next I count out the right number of cards for each color for each activity. A full card counts for 60 minutes, and half a card counts for 30 minutes. By checking the asterisks and the time listed, I can quickly determine how many pink cards are needed, and the same is true for the yellow and green cards.  
    The cards have been counted!
  4. Beginning with the shared resource, I start out by writing the subject on each card and put the child's initial on it so I know who is working with me. For instance, both kids are doing Fix-It this year. Through the years I have learned that my ADHD child works best with minimal distractions, so even though they will be doing the same course, they will be doing them at separate times. Each child has a card showing "Fix-It," but with their own initial on it. Since Fix-It only is scheduled for 30 minutes, I cut the card in half.  
    Cutting the cards in half for 30 minute classes.

    Labeling the cards (complete with child's initial) for shared time.
  5. I continue on through the colors and cards until I've completed them all. At that point, I begin to block our time in two columns, one for my son, and one for my daughter. The important thing to remember is that there cannot be two pink cards in a row or overlapping, because I can't be in two places at once.  
    Daughter's pile is on the left, and son's is on the right.
  6. I look at my schedule and ask myself questions. Am I double booked anywhere? Are the kids working on subjects that allow them to focus in different areas of their brains? Is what I'm asking of them manageable?  
Here's the tentative schedule.

7.  As a final step, before I put everything into my database (I use Homeschool Tracker), I write out on white recipe cards blocks of time in one-hour increments. I begin our day at 8:30. This allows us to eat breakfast and shower and read Bible, as well as get my oldest son off to college for the day. I lay the hour increment cards over to the left of the columns. It you look below, you will see that I stop at 11:30 and then pick up at 1:00. That allows us to take lunch and have a short break. I don't show that break graphically, because it doesn't affect the block.
I realized after taking this photo that I had a problem with lunch hour. Physical Science and American Lit spilled over into that period. It was super easy to simply go back to the blocks and shuffle them around until I ended up with this schedule...
Easily revised!
You will notice that I don't have any pink cards showing up in the late afternoon. That's because I tutor in the afternoon beginning around 3:30 in the day, so I knew all of my pink cards would need to appear before then.

 8.  All that's left to do at this point is snap a photo of it and then input it into my Tracker database. Of course, this is not a necessary step. For those who prefer, it's also very easy to simply write down the schedule in your paper planner or put it into whatever software system you prefer.
The schedule I worked up this year was fairly simple. I didn't vary it by day, as I anticipate working on all of these subjects daily, excluding our co-op day. If you had a varied schedule, and needed to schedule for each day, you would simply prepare cards for each different day. Some people work on some subjects only Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and then do different subjects Tuesday/Thursday. Block scheduling works well for that as well.

Block scheduling is effective for me in that it is concrete and defined for my ADHD kiddo, and it motivates him to finish quickly, so he can spend time before the next subject commences doing something he enjoys. It allows me to spend the time I need with my dyslexic daughter without my son having to wait around for my help. In short, it keeps us all sane.

There are many different variables you can explore with this scheduling method. One family I know blocks out the washing machine and dryer. Another one blocks out usage of the family computer. As a visual person, I have found it to be highly effective at keeping me from overdoing things or overscheduling our family. Give it a try in your family; you may find it saves you time so you can experience more margin and more peace in your own life!

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