How much structure do homeschoolers need?

The 5-day school week is a vestige of schools training kids to be factory workers. So once we started homeschooling in our family there were no weekdays or weekends. As an entrepreneur I never had weekends anyway — startup founders always work — so it felt natural to me to make every day the same. But in practice what that meant is that we had a very loose schedule.

So we could stop everything and go visit my brother a couple of hours away at University of Iowa where he was a grad student. We could coordinate our trips with a rugby tournament, an Iowa caucus, or my brother’s dissertation defense. The boys loved my brother’s ancient Atari  (hello, Pac Man) and I loved Prairielights Books.

What I found, though, is my own lack of structure started to wear me out. For example, I thought not having a schedule meant I could write any time, but in practice I never knew when I would write because I didn’t have a schedule so I’d worry about it all the time.

Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness, coaches families on how to create family structures that promote everyone’s happiness. One of the first things she does in a coaching session is ask about routine. Because predictability and routine create more openings for family happiness.

What does that mean, more openings for family happiness?

We inspire each other. If I wrote on a schedule I wouldn’t have to worry all the time about when I would write. And families work in systems so if one person in the family works on a schedule the other people in the family will have an easier time with a schedule.

Family fun feels best when it’s in the context of family accomplishment and responsibility, so adhering to a schedule and making time for fun feels better than having no idea what we’re doing and being surprised when fun pops up.

Focus and attention is the real opening for family happiness. Because knowing when it’s time to not be with family gives us permission to devote time to focus on connecting with each other. There are lots of ways to connect with each other. But none of those ways can happen if you are doing something else at the same time.

My son just called me from college and said, “I’m unhappy. I’m not having fun. I don’t know what to do.”

And I said, “Do you have a schedule?”

He said, “Mom. You use a schedule as a solution for everything.”

“If you don’t put fun on your schedule then you end up trying to have fun during a time when you feel pressure to be studying.”

“Fine.” Click.

This conversation is my homeschool report card: I did a great job of showing my kids how schedule makes time for what’s important, and I did a terrible job teaching phone etiquette.