Thursday, July 21, 2016

Scheduling for Fall - How I Create Our Schedules

Having a weekly schedule (click here for what that means and what it doesn't mean) for our family of 11 is crucial to fostering family life and healthy relationships.  With a schedule we have productivity, predictability, consistency, and on average - balance.  It helps to produce peace and eliminate chaos.  Not that we don't ever have stressful times with home and family - but they are brief and do not become a life style.

Every fall when we begin a new school year I sit down and create a new weekly schedule for our family.  When that's done I've then proactively thought through what should happen when during a typical week, Monday-Friday, and I can eliminate about a hundred decisions for myself per day, because those decisions and possible alternatives are already now made in advance.  And, those decisions are made at a time when I can think straight and when I can focus, not on the fly or amidst chaos.  When I decide things in advance I can make my best possible decisions for our family and eliminate mistakes, which would have wasted my time and energy and others'.  With a balanced schedule there is time to work, time to play, and enough time to rest.

When I haven't had a schedule in place, things have felt stressful and chaotic.  Sometimes we haven't had one because we needed an updated one and I hadn't made one yet, or perhaps we've just had a baby and we're winging it a bit while readjusting, or even just because it's been summer and we've been very busy with unusual things.  The stress results because I've been making all of our decisions on the fly, and with every choice I'm trying to consider in that instant 11 people simultaneously and how my decision will effect each person, asking myself if there is a better choice I should be making, missing many things I simply can't think of every moment, making mistakes, and having regrets.

Without a schedule I've spent pretty much all of my time reacting to kids' poor choices instead of helping them make great choices.  Stress comes for children (young ones especially) when there is unpredictability and inconsistency.  They don't know what's happening next or later, they don't know how long they're going to be left in a pack-n-play (for example) so they do not typically play peacefully and contentedly for 30-60 minutes.  They don't know when they'll have my attention next, so they're hanging on me and whining or crying, and I've usually been brushing them off because I'm "putting out fires" all over the place.  Doesn't feel good to any of us, I can tell you.  And without a schedule Daddy certainly can't come home to an orderly, clean home, with the smell of dinner cooking, children pleasantly occupied or playing, and a wife who is smiling and looking fairly rested and ready to sit with him for a while and talk.  Having a schedule in place establishes a home.  And I don't want the urgent to take place of the important.  So I start by organizing our time by creating a schedule for our family's daily and weekly activities.

Having a schedule is living life proactively, not re-actively; living life ON PURPOSE.  *smile*

Okay, so here's a sample of our schedule for a school year.  This post will be very practical; step-by-step for how I approach making up a new schedule for our family.  Click here for more on scheduling - why we schedule our week; why is scheduling valuable; what it looks like exactly; considering, is scheduling too restrictive? etc.  Here in this post I'll simply share with you what I do first, second, third when I sit down to the computer. My other posts on scheduling are more in depth on why our schedule looks the way it does, and the thinking & reasoning behind each aspect of it.

(click to enlarge, and again to enlarge a second time)
(You may like to print a copy of the schedule for reference while I'm talking about how I create it.)  

Note:  I use Microsoft Excel for scheduling (which all Microsoft Office users have by the way) so I'll be talking about Excel a bit here as I go along.  But I used to make my schedules in Word using "Tables", which is very nice, too.  My husband taught me how to do the few basic functions I need in Excel which I now prefer.  *smile*  It's very easy to use, actually.

How I Create Our Schedule, Step-By-Step

~ First, I make sure I have uninterrupted thinking time, usually during the children's afternoon naps and play-alone-times, or on an evening (not preferable - not my best brain-squeezing time being a morning person), or when Bob has taken all of the children to the park for me for a few hours.  I'm about to draw to the forefront of my mind all of the needs for 10 people (everyone but my husband) and balance them and puzzle them all together for an entire week's worth of time, for the entire school yera - I have not been able to simultaneously jump in and out of conversations with children while thinking this all through, much less get up every couple of minutes to help children with things.

~ Next, I make sure I have something yummy to drink while I work.  *wink*  Hot or cold, depending upon the time of year, but it must be yummy.  This makes me smile, builds my courage, and I'm sure it helps me focus.  *laugh*  And I'll put on some of my favorite music.  And I get my slippers - even in the summer; I love my slippers.

~ Then I'm ready to begin - comfy, smiling, alone and quiet.  I print out and place on the desk in front of me our most recent, old schedule, and highlight with a pen those things I want to make sure I remember to include for certain people still this time. Things that are maybe unusual or new that worked well and I don't want to forget to include again, school subjects so I don't miss any of them in our new schedule, etc.  I can't work on our current schedule in the computer and view our old one simultaneously, so I look at the old one on paper.

Now I like to get the frame work of our schedule in place first.  I just think best this way.  I don't want to have the old and the new information all jumbled together, that would confuse me.  I like to see the whole page with established things already in place (i.e. meals, naps, times, morning and evening routines that will stay the same), and empty places where I'm going to fill in our new plan - this is mostly our whole school morning.

~ I open up the old, most recent schedule for me to work from, "Save As" renaming it to the most current draft title, while still keeping the old one as a back-up just in case.  This way I won't forget to do this later and accidentally hit "Save" while I'm working (instead of "Save As") which would erase my old schedule completely.  No sense in re-inventing the wheel and re-creating something from scratch when most all the formatting I need is already there, just needing to be tweaked.

~ I change the children's ages across the top of the schedule so that they're accurate.

~ I then delete the body of information on the old schedule between the times of 9:00 am and 12:00 pm, except the times listed on the left-hand column.  All of my schedules have those time blocks of 30 minute increments (but some are joined together to make longer blocks of time).  I also erase any other individual blocks of time on the schedule that will now change.  I need to start with a clean slate.

~ I un-merge any of the cells in this block of time in the morning (and anywhere else on the schedule where appropriate) because this will all change.  (If you're not familiar with Excel, merged cells are the ones where I joined 2 or more cells in to one big one, which to me is a simpler look on the schedule).  Starting fresh with individual cells.

~ I add back in all of the borders I had erased previously, again so that I can start a fresh with the changes I'll make, and simply erase the borders/lines I don't need from there on out.

~ Here is a sample schedule where you can see the general lay out. Boxes are arranged into mostly 30-60 minute blocks of time and before creating a new schedule I erase the boarders to show this. Sometimes two or more children share a block of time so it spans both columns for those children, again boarders erased. I shade the meal times so I can easily see at-a-glance what is happening between those breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and dinner. (click the image to enlarge)

~ I fill in the baby's schedule first because that's the least flexible in order to help her feel her best: when she'll need to eat during the day, and when she'll need to sleep.

~ Then I fill in the established parts of the day, such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner (the timed they begins usually don't change).  I fill in nap time from 2:00 - 4:00, and the other children's activities during that same time block.  I fill in the whole beginning part of the day, wake times, jobs, showers, etc. which rarely change, either.

~ At this point I'm ready to creatively fill in the rest of the day and week, so I always stop and pray.  I go to my Heavenly Father and ask Him for wisdom, clarity in my thinking, good recall in what each person needs, and for the ability to really focus and not be distracted even in my thinking.  I desire to do my best for our family, and the Lord knows each of the children and me better than even I know them and myself.  I ask Him to help me see outside the box, so to speak (pun intended); and I ask Him to lead me in what He would have for us to do with the time He's given us.  This is the most important step.  *smile*  And God loves us so much, He always, always meets me where I am.  I've been so pleased and delighted at the number of times when the Lord has revealed to me a good plan when I began to think, " can I fix this part..."  Or, "...How can I meet this person's need while meeting this other person's simultaneously."  I remember that the Lord has already gone before me as He is not bound by time, and He has a perfect plan for each person in our family - and He desires for me to understand it, and implement it.  *sigh*  This gives me such peace.  (...And so does my hot cocoa, so I take a sip of that, too.  *wink*)

The Managers of Their Homes book I learned from teaches how to consider and list what each person in the family needs to have in their 24-hour day, and then how to puzzle all of those needs in to one week.  It's a longer process than I can explain in this post, but it's invaluable for grasping so many aspects of scheduling.  I did that a couple of times when we first began scheduling but now I no longer have to include this process as I have it in my mind, and have already worked out the framework of our schedule for our family.  From a formatting perspective I know what we like to have each day look like, and how to meet everyone's needs.  I can recognize when someone is short on something they need, such as time with me or a sibling, giving that then direct attention.

~ I'll begin at the top of the day and work my way down to bed time.

~ My own day as well as the children's will begin 30 minutes earlier than it did during the summer months because we need to fit in all of the young kids' school pretty much before lunch time, and most of the older kids' school.  We'll also go to bed 30 minutes earlier now to enable us to get up earlier and still have an adequate amount of sleep.

~ Getting up early, I make sure I'm totally ready before the children get up, otherwise there is not time for me to shower until nap time at 2:00 and I'm not willing to wait that long.  I am totally ready mentally and physically after I've showered, and I'm ready to answer the front door, open our home to a friend in need, welcome my Hubby home for lunch if he's able to come, feeling pretty, or leave the house to take someone to the doctor if we need to without dying of embarrassment.  *chuckle*  After a shower I feel alert, energetic, and ready to be the best mom I can be.

After my shower I need Bible and prayer time.  I've made time to open all of the window blinds in the main living areas, start some laundry, and turn on some nice music for the morning.  It's a nice way to begin, and is worth it to me to sacrifice some free evening time and go to bed on time in order to bless my husband with a smile and a wife who is happy in her role as his helpmeet.  And, the children know I'm ready for them and ready to invest my time, talents, and energy in them.

~ Seems like Anna Marie is old enough and responsible enough this year to take on Brandon's last year's morning jobs, and I'll give Brandon new jobs this year.  The Maxwell's books, Managers of Their Homes, and Managers of Their Chores offer great advice on teaching kids to do jobs around the house, and for understanding what jobs children are capable of doing at what ages.

One of the things the Maxwell's advise (with their 8 children) is having each child do a job/chore for an entire year, rather than switching jobs all of the time for variety.  We have loved this principle.  By having children do this they become very competent in those jobs, learn how to do a great job, do it efficiently, and to not need very much management from me.  The children become competent, feel successful, and I can enjoy the fruit of my effort to teach them.  Their efforts to be helping and serving within our family are so appreciated and noticeable, and this makes them feel needed and adds to their sense of value.  The Managers of Their Chores book provides a lot of really great information on children and chores.

I am also always looking to see which is the youngest person that can do any one job.  Another great Maxwell principle.  This way the younger ones are participating with our family and having their own jobs just like the older children do, and I do, and daddy does (going to do his job every day at work), which they love.  *smile*  It's so good to get young ones in to this mindset when they are desiring to help at a young age, rather than forcing them to begin helping when they're teenagers. The "middle kids" are then always increasing in their abilities to learn new jobs each year (and through out the year with smaller jobs), and the oldest children are not over-loaded.

~ This year Riley will also take on a morning job, but his will not change day-to-day as the older children's do.  At a young age he needs one job that he can do well every day.

~ Breakfast will become much more stream-lined this year at only half-an-hour as everyone is a year older and able to get their food eaten in a time-efficient way.  (Older children were also able to keep things going while I was feeding the twins as babies.)  Prayerfully this timing will work out for the first time this year.  *chuckle*  (It's always taken an hour in past years, to prepare, eat, and clean-up breakfast and be ready to move in to our day.)  We need to get breakfast done in a timely way because we have more children homeschooling this year which will take more time.  If we're not able to get things done in this time frame then I'll have to drop one of their school blocks of time, leaving out one subject.
Having a schedule doesn't mean nothing changes, by the way.  It means that things change as they need to in a predictable, manageable way.  Everyone benefits from this.
~ As I'm filling in the schedule I make notes to myself on a large post-it note when I think of things to consider later, such as, "When can I exercise?"  And, "Could I correct the kids computer work at a later time of day?"  I initially fill in the schedule as best as I can, knowing that some blocks of time are set temporarily, but it's not my favorite time slot to have it in.  Later when I can see the whole completed schedule I can consider if I can move that item to somewhere else as I refine the schedule, timing, and coordination.

~ As I'm filling in what will probably happen and when during our day, I've often struggled with some activities that I want to work a certain way, but what actually needs to happen is different.  For example with this schedule, I really don't prefer to check on the kids Switch On Schoolhouse computer-based school work from the previous day at 6:30 in the morning, I would much rather check my email and see what's on my plate for later, but I don't currently see a better place for that task later in the day and it needs to be done before the kids need to do more in it today, so at 6:30 am it goes for now.  I can reconsider that more later.  (note to self)

~ I've also often struggled with thinking that a particular task should take a certain amount of time, and it feels like a waste of time to put more time in the schedule for that task.  For example, in the past I had a couple of school activities for the children which I knew should take maybe 45 minutes at the most, so I planned for a 60-minute block of time.  In reality it always took 90 minutes because it just happened to be the same time of day when I had to switch the laundry, change a few diapers, use the bathroom myself, have a quick snack myself, and check on a couple of siblings so that they could continue in what they were doing.  I did not want to schedule in a 90 minute block of time for something that seemed like it should take only 45 minutes.  I resisted for a long time - but finally I just did it, and I was so much more relaxed.  *chuckle*  Rather than having to skip the next school activities and which I always missed due to the interruptions, I just went smoothly along with the appropriate time set aside - 90 minutes.  Kids were happy, and I didn't feel frustrated.  I'm learning to listen to the Lord's lead sooner.  (I had asked Him for help, but then didn't want to do what He suggested *laugh*.)  Tasks take the amount of time they take, when the children are at the ages they're at; I need to just go with it and plan accurately, rather than ideally.

~ I fill in the oldest girls block of time for school.

~ I put Character First directly after breakfast while every one is still at the table, as this character curriculum is the most important and must be prioritized first.  It's best for me to have CF done before everyone goes in to their separate school activities.  Also, the children really look forward to it so this is all the more reason to begin our day with CF.

~ Then I fill in the subjects that the boys, Brandon and Riley should start with, determine who I should help directly first and where Anna Marie should be while I'm helping the boys.  The boys will both start with math, and then Brandon with hand writing; Anna Marie (5) will start with computer learning activities which I count as her language arts.  (These computer activities are educational, not video games).  I've found that I need to jump right in in the morning while the boys especially are "fresh", before they run out of steam and an ability to focus and persevere.  Then the boys can be more independent with their other school activities while I work with Anna Marie in math.  Math seems to be a subject for us that needs a lot of hand-holding for now.

~ I fill in all of the children's morning school activities knowing that my morning is dedicated to their education, so I fill in my column later just by reading what their columns include.  I think through where I am as I'm filling out their schedules, but I don't actually fill in my column until after I've filled in their morning until lunch.  

~ Then I plan for Spencer and Tyler to start their days off with independent activities while I focus on the 2nd-grader and kindergartener's school.  Spencer and Tyler will alternate restricted play space, with freedom for a little while, and then another structured activity, and then time with me.

~ I try to stay right together with the "middle kids" and get them through their core subjects while every one's fresh, then we'll work in to the easier more favorite curriculum like the game and computer learning (Science for Brandon, playing the violin for Anna Marie).

~ Story time includes, amongst the library books, a book for science, and one for history and geography, and we talk about those books especially during and after reading them.  That's science and history/geography for Anna Marie, Riley, and Brandon even though Brandon will also do science learning through his computer curriculum later in the morning.

~ I have in my mind some "Educational games" I'd like to play with the younger children that review and practice their phonics, telling time, and using money.  This can happen at 11:00 am.  But I don't want to forget what games I had in mind specifically so I make a note to self listing those 4 game ideas, for reference later if I forget.

~ When the twins were babies, sometimes I am holding them one at a time, or they also play in the jumper, or the mega saucer, or a sibling who's finished their subject is playing on the floor with them.  Sometimes one of our oldest children wear them in front packs for a while.  When Lacey & Lilly were walking and able to get in to more things then I structured their play times and areas a bit as well.

~ I only school the "middle kids" for the morning before lunch time and then we stop no matter what we accomplished or didn't.  Sometimes if I know that the preschooler missed his preschool learning that day then I'll grab him up in the evening and give him a little of that one-on-one time with myself or Bob.  I don't feel that the young ages of kids need more seat work than that morning time in a day.

~ I feel that Tyler and Spencer need a little more time in their schedule with a sibling or myself, but I'm not sure how to work that in yet.  They do sometimes sit with me while I'm working with the "middle kids", but they could use more one-on-one learning activity time with someone's dedicated attention.  I'll have to see if one of the older children regularly finishes their school work before lunch time (they often begin doing it the night before or early in the morning so that they can be done earlier in the day).  If that is the case I'll probably have one of them take some regular time with one of the little boys until I am able; or, they could teach the educational game with the middle kids, for example, while I had time with the little boys.  Either way, this is a note to myself to work that in once I see how the day pans out in actuality.  I also take these types of needing to see "outside the box" problems to my husband, and he always has good input to help me work out a good solution.

~ Lunch time is a little busy and takes a while.  The 9-month-old twin babies, Lacey & Lilly, needed me to feed them, the toddlers needed to be fed by an older sibling (Karen prepared the toddler's food and then a younger one feeds it to them on the tray), an older child prepares lovely cobb salads for us every day (cost effective, and healthy) to go with our lunch, and then we get everything cleaned up and put away before we all leave the table and kitchen.  It's a group effort, plus salads take a while to eat (much longer than peanut butter sandwiches take), so this is an example of one of those areas where I wish it took less time but it just doesn't.  So we go with the flow right now while there are so many young children.

~ So!  I then fill in the rest of the afternoon and evening spots that have changed, such as who will set the table for dinner, who will help toddlers have snack.  In the past I have enjoyed the older girls being dinner-prep helpers, which is good one-on-one time with them and myself, too.  But they began participating more with the breakfast and lunch duties when the twins were born and needing my attention, so I try to give Karen and Melanie the afternoon "off" from very many responsibilities.  I need them helping more right now when Bob is at work, and less when he's home from work, so this is a plan which the girls enjoy as well; good balance.

~ Creating a new schedule usually takes me about 3 hours, however this time I did a lot of coming and going from my preparations over the course of several days (and getting my concentration back each time, figuring out where I left off and where I'm going takes more time this way) so I can't tell you really how long it took this time.

~ Once I think I'm finished I click on the "Print Preview" icon at the top of the screen which let's me see the schedule all on one page just as it will be printed, without the invisible lines but only the ones I've set boarders around.  I can more easily then look at each person's column one at a time and consider if they have what they need in good balance.  I can then also see where I've made mistakes in my lay out and where boarders need to be created or taken out.

I'll be making some changes after the first week or so if I find that real-life timing doesn't match my scheduled timing in any one area, or if I find that I'm missing something for someone.  And I'll make a couple of changes later in the year as young children need something different, or when the babies droped their morning nap and then needed more structure in their day, but most of this stays the same.  

The first week or so has always been a huge time of adjustment for everyone, so I don't make changes until after that time has smoothed out.  I really try not to expect perfect success in our first few days - but this has always been really hard for me.  *chuckle*  I prefer instant success.  *laugh*  I have always spent this first week thinking, "I can't do this...I can't maintain this pace...this is too much..."  This is another example of one of those things that I wish were different but it just isn't at this stage of the game, so I'm learning to go with the flow better.  We all need to adjust to having more structure and restricted free time again after summer.  We need to learn the new daily & weekly jobs,  settle in to this year's curriculum, get creative with how to move kids along, get the computer curriculum bugs worked out, and adjust to new bed times and wake times.  Then we can re-evaluate how well this schedule will work for us.

By having a schedule in place then I can make the changes we need, from plan 'A' to plan 'B'.  I can come up with something specific and implement that, and change that specific thing later if I need to, rather than just feeling like our day is "Just not working out" in general, and without the ability to target a specific problem and solution.

After just a few days in our new schedule Karen had already told me that it felt good to her to be back in a routine, working on curriculum, doing good work again after a break in summer.  *smile*  Always music to my ears.  It can be rough these first few days, but we're working towards a good end goal that will come soon.  We'll persevere - and I'll pray a lot, asking God for extra joy, peace, patience, and faithfulness that I've felt I run out of so quickly in my own ability, and He is so faithful to meet me where I am.  I encourage you to invite the Lord in to your efforts and plans.  He so desires to love on you as you serve Him.

If you would like to have any of my charts, lists, or schedules that I've shared you can download those from this link.

Blessings on your efforts,

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