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Daily schedule vs routine vs flexibility

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I'd like to hear pros and cons of having a daily schedule (tied to the clock), having a routine (same daily structure, but not necc tied to a clock), and being more flexible. In particular, if you do best with one of these methods, but your kids maybe do best with a different one? Does a daily schedule necessarily mean you only do subjects for a certain amount of time, but you need more of a routine if they have to do a certain task/amount of work each day (e.g., 10 min math/day vs. 2 pages math/day)? How do you deal with every day hiccups (e.g., "You spent the last hour on the toilet?!" or "You just spent your entire half hour of piano practice time finding your piano book?" --> Aside: we keep all the music books on the same shelf!!) when it's always something different, so you can't predict what it is? I'm struggling to find my groove these days (my kids are 9, 7, 5, and almost 4, and at least three of them are 2E). I lean towards being flexible, my kids *want* to be flexible but do *best* when structured rigidly (attitude-wise: they're just happier and more content when on a schedule), but the daily hiccups always throw off a more rigid schedule. 

Edited by 4KookieKids
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We have structured routine. 😄  That's the best I can describe it.

Every day we get started at the same time.  I schedule 8-3 to be devoted to school things, so there is no draw of t.v. and video games are weekend only, so those are off the table, too.  Then we have a routine.  I try to pencil in work on our schedule that takes roughly the same amount of time each day, but if we don't get to a subject I don't worry - I loop it around for the next day.  OTOH, I don't mind cutting a lesson short, either, if it's not doing what it should.  I just erase the last lesson of the week so we're down one.  I've gotten to the point where I'm a lot more flexible on scheduling lessons because a book doesn't last exactly a year anymore.  I mean, ds will start a new math book at the end of January, but he'll stay in the same language arts until the middle of next fall.  It's more important for me to have that steady routine of time than a strict set of results.  I just keep track of what was accomplished in Skedtrack so that I can gauge my expectations better in the future.
The main thing here is mostly being very up on organization.  I have a master binder with all lessons in it along with anything needed for outside the house.  Actually, two, one for each semester.  Music books are placed directly on the music stand when coming back from the instructor's, and when we leave to go the bag is right next to the music stand to fill it with.  Every activity has its own bag or place for items.  We pack up the car before school (during chore time) or the night before so that I can make sure everything is ready to go.  For day to day items, everything is kept in two caddies right now in the living room.  One for tools, one for books.  It's too cold to use our regular schoolroom, so the living room gets the overflow. 🙂 At lunch, and at the end of the day, I make sure all items get put back.  At the end of the week I remove library books and books we're done with from our own collection.

Once a month or so we do conferences.  That's a pot of tea or cocoa, some pastries, and a notebook.  I do one-on-one time, asking what the kid likes/doesn't like/changes he'd like to see made..and then give my own list.  Between the two of us, we can usually tweak some things and address issues that come up.

They're all just little things but I've found that mine work really well on a strict routine, but a schedule increases the youngest's anxiety if we're not to the minute on time.
 

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2 hours ago, 4KookieKids said:

I'd like to hear pros and cons of having a daily schedule (tied to the clock), having a routine (same daily structure, but not necc tied to a clock), and being more flexible. In particular, if you do best with one of these methods, but your kids maybe do best with a different one? Does a daily schedule necessarily mean you only do subjects for a certain amount of time, but you need more of a routine if they have to do a certain task/amount of work each day (e.g., 10 min math/day vs. 2 pages math/day)? How do you deal with every day hiccups (e.g., "You spent the last hour on the toilet?!" or "You just spent your entire half hour of piano practice time finding your piano book?" --> Aside: we keep all the music books on the same shelf!!) when it's always something different, so you can't predict what it is? I'm struggling to find my groove these days (my kids are 9, 7, 5, and almost 4, and at least three of them are 2E). I lean towards being flexible, my kids *want* to be flexible but do *best* when structured rigidly (attitude-wise: they're just happier and more content when on a schedule), but the daily hiccups always throw off a more rigid schedule. 

I could not have done a daily *schedule.* I don't know if my children would have done better that way, because we didn't try it, because it goes against my unschool-y philosophy. 🙂

We did a weekly, year-round routine for many years:

Monday and Tuesday: Official School Stuff. All Official School Stuff on the kitchen table, no outside activities (until after 3 p.m., at least), no errands, no field trips, no crafty projects for me, nothing. Just...stay home. Children could do their Official School Stuff or not, but often they did, because boredom. There were a few months now and then when I required some Official School Stuff, but we were never very productive after lunch.

Wednesday: Library. Often we went to a large library on the other side of town because there were many things to do. Children could check out as many books as they wanted, or none at all. All books had to be returned the next week whether they had been read or not (the only way we were able to avoid overdue fines!).

Thursday: Field trip. Every week we left the house for a field trip. Sometimes it went along with something we were learning at home, but there were no guarantees. Sometimes we invited a few people to go with us, if I wanted to do something that required a group; mostly it was just the three of us. I didn't do field trips with my support group unless they were on Thursday, or they were awesome and could not be done with just three people.

Friday: Clean house, including all the laundry; monthly park day.

Weekends: free of household chores, lots of time to goof off.

When we did Official School Stuff, I played it by ear as far as how much time we were going to spend on anything. For two years, we did KONOS; our KONOS days were Tuesday and Thursday--KONOS activities only, English and math Monday and Wednesday; park day/field trips on Friday (yeah, housekeeping took a hit, lol). We still finished by noonish.

So the short story is that we had a routine, not a schedule (things like baths and bedtimes and meals were scheduled, because those were real life, not Official School Stuff).

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We are structured in our routine. We typically start around the same time every morning and end most written work around lunch with some reading, experiments, crafts etc in the afternoon most days. I found I couldn't be spontaneous with field trips and other bigger projects and activities with a routine so we have scheduled in every 4th week as a week where we go fun and go immersive on topics and activities. That is working for us. I cannot imagine having a loose schedule with my kids as they are hard working and settled with routine but get lazy and irritable if I keep things too loose. This allows the best of both worlds for us. 

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2 hours ago, nixpix5 said:

I cannot imagine having a loose schedule with my kids as they are hard working and settled with routine but get lazy and irritable if I keep things too loose. This allows the best of both worlds for us. 

 

This is something I identify with, but struggle to articulate, I guess. I'm more of a relaxed, go-with-the-flow person usually, but my kids have really turned that upside down for me. It's really annoying that they get so irritable and quarrelsome when I give them more space/time/freedom to do their own thing (particularly my older kids). It goes against everything I *want* to be true. 😛 

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We followed more of a routine than a schedule (because as you said, life happens!) Routine for us meant an order to our subjects, and also meant coordinating resources (when is mom working with one or more kids, when is the computer available for any computer lessons, when is the piano available, coordinating two kids reading the same book, and other things like that.) I found workboxes hugely helpful in keeping to a routine and making sure things got done, while also allowing for the flexibility of life happening (but with many fewer incidents of lost books because they are stored in the workboxes!)

The only "scheduling" I employed was for subjects where I wanted a cap on the time or a minimum time. I might say, read for 30-45 minutes (so they can read more than one chapter--I didn't want them to stop after a short 10 minute chapter! but they can also stop if it's a really long chapter). Sometimes it made more sense to limit a subject by time rather than by pages or chapters. 

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I had a similar age spread to you when my oldest kids were little. My second old was very much a strict schedule person from the time he was an infant. If it was 5 minutes past his nap time, you knew it because he would be wailing until you settled him down with his favorite stuffed animal and a blanket and then the world was right again. So you can imagine the havoc this would cause if say, we got behind and I couldn't get him to bed on time, every day. The other kids and I were much more go with the flow, loose routine types so I had to learn how to meet both sets of needs at the same time.

I tried to do a strict "Managers of their Homes" type schedule for a while. Second oldest son was happy as a clam, the rest of us were miserable. Even if it was great for second oldest ds, it wasn't going to work. So I ended up doing something pretty similar to HomeAgain, a structured routine. If I got too flexible, things got out of hand quickly. If I got too uptight about getting things done by the clock, we were all miserable so I had to find the sweet spot between the two that worked for our family and during different seasons of life I could be more relaxed sometime and sometimes I needed to be more strict but it was always about finding that sweet spot that kept the wheels in motion with out stressing us all out.

We also did the conferences like HomeAgain mentioned. Especially toward middle school, it was very helpful for letting them know their hard work didn't go unnoticed and addressing things that needed work, like time wasting and dwaddling. We kept notes about what we talked out and what we agreed to work on so that at the next conference, we could follow up and adjust to keep things running smoothly. I also made sure to always start with sometime positive, talk about the more negative stuff and then end with something positive the same way you would approach a critique with an adult. I also took all their thoughts and suggestions seriously at these meetings. 

Another thing we did toward late elementary and early middle school was to start making them more responsible for their work. You spent an hour in the bathroom? Man, it's not going to be fun when everyone else is out playing and you are still stuck finishing your work. I made sure that they didn't waste my time, it was their time they wasted. I proceeded with what I needed to get done, with or without them. If they wasted my instructional time with them, they would have to stay inside while the others went out to play or stay home with me to finish their work while everyone else went with dad on a fun weekend outing. Yeah, it sucked for me too sometimes but I tried to make sure they didn't see that. When they would complain about it, they would get a cheerful reply along the lines of, "I bet next time you'll remember how not fun this is and get your work done on time, huh?" I'm a firm believer in letting them make their own mistakes within reason and not hen peck them into doing things my way. Not only does it make the idea hit home more quickly but we are all less stressed for it.

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The mainstay of our homeschool's functions are my lesson plans. I know what needs to be accomplished each day, so that is what controls our time. But, I never look at a clock except for having to leave the house for outside commitments.

That said, I don't write lesson plans for my kids before 3rd grade. When they are in primary grades, it is much less formal and more about minimal but highly focused time on whatever skills we working on. With kids your kids' ages, I would not do any academics with the 4 yr old. (I have never done preschool activities with my kids.) I would have the 5 or 6 yr old playing with the 4 yr old while I worked with each one of them independently. I would spend about an hr total with the 5 yr old on phonics, letter formation, and math.  Similar with the 6 yr old, but more like an hr and a half total.  

While I was working with them for those 2 1/2 hrs, the 9 yr old would be doing something independent (music practice, reading, writing, handwriting, etc.). Depending on the child, I might work with the 9 yr old on math instruction between the 2 younger kids so that they could work on math while I work with the other one. 

What grade is the 9 yr old in? My just turned 9 yr old is in 3rd. She spends about 3 1/2 hrs on focused work. She spends 45 mins reading silently per day. I read her history and and science.

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I'm going to be really honest with you, even though it makes me sound some kind of not-great way... After several years of  wanting to be flexible, with kids who go bananas  when I "stay flexible" and "open to opportunities," and compromising by being all about our routine (as opposed to our schedule), and having my kids still internalize the routine as if it were a schedule...

The conclusion I have come to is that, really, they just need to do what I tell them to do when I tell them to do it. 

My older kids (11 and 9 right now) seriously don't understand the difference between a routine and a schedule. It's too nuanced a distinction for them. And the moment we don't do something we were "supposed to do," when we were "supposed to do it," they go totally off the rails and flick the 'off' switch in their minds. At that point, the expectation that work time is over and playtime has begun comes from a deep, irrepressible place inside of them and it can not be squelched by carrot nor by stick. And of course, they feed off of one another's energy.

Sooooo for most of this past year I have directed my efforts toward just getting them to do what I tell them to do when I tell them to do it, without making a federal case about every little thing. I am pleased to be able to tell you that they're 95% of the way there. Uh, let's say one kid is 98% and the other is about 86% LOL. A few times in November, we were even able to go out of the house for fun stuff all morning, and then do school work in the afternoon with good spirits. This may sound like NBD to others, but I'm telling you, my kids were practically addicted to putting their time into boxes. Work box or fun box. Work box happened in the am in a particular sequence, or not at all. 

All of that to say... honestly, neither schedule nor routine. We just needed some old-fashioned obedience.

I love our routine. But I am an adult and I can roll with the punches to a certain degree and then just jump back into the stream of our routine midway, after a disruption, and just get on with it. My kids have ADD and simply can't do that yet. So now they better understand that they don't need to watch the clock or remember what comes after what. They truly just need to do what I say. Obviously they resisted this, but now they're so much more relaxed. And they aren't so antsy to get school work done so that they can go play. 

Edited by OKBud
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4 hours ago, OKBud said:

I'm going to be really honest with you, even though it makes me sound some kind of not-great way... After several years of  wanting to be flexible, with kids who go bananas  when I "stay flexible" and "open to opportunities," and compromising by being all about our routine (as opposed to our schedule), and having my kids still internalize the routine as if it were a schedule...

The conclusion I have come to is that, really, they just need to do what I tell them to do when I tell them to do it. 

My older kids (11 and 9 right now) seriously don't understand the difference between a routine and a schedule. It's too nuanced a distinction for them. And the moment we don't do something we were "supposed to do," when we were "supposed to do it," they go totally off the rails and flick the 'off' switch in their minds. At that point, the expectation that work time is over and playtime has begun comes from a deep, irrepressible place inside of them and it can not be squelched by carrot nor by stick. And of course, they feed off of one another's energy.

Sooooo for most of this past year I have directed my efforts toward just getting them to do what I tell them to do when I tell them to do it, without making a federal case about every little thing. I am pleased to be able to tell you that they're 95% of the way there. Uh, let's say one kid is 98% and the other is about 86% LOL. A few times in November, we were even able to go out of the house for fun stuff all morning, and then do school work in the afternoon with good spirits. This may sound like NBD to others, but I'm telling you, my kids were practically addicted to putting their time into boxes. Work box or fun box. Work box happened in the am in a particular sequence, or not at all. 

All of that to say... honestly, neither schedule nor routine. We just needed some old-fashioned obedience.

I love our routine. But I am an adult and I can roll with the punches to a certain degree and then just jump back into the stream of our routine midway, after a disruption, and just get on with it. My kids have ADD and simply can't do that yet. So now they better understand that they don't need to watch the clock or remember what comes after what. They truly just need to do what I say. Obviously they resisted this, but now they're so much more relaxed. And they aren't so antsy to get school work done so that they can go play. 

 

Hmmm... I'll need to think about this more. This might be more of what my kids needs.

6 hours ago, 8FillTheHeart said:

What grade is the 9 yr old in? My just turned 9 yr old is in 3rd. She spends about 3 1/2 hrs on focused work. She spends 45 mins reading silently per day. I read her history and and science.

 

He's also in 3rd. He has about 2.5 hours of academics a day (including reading), 3 hrs if you include piano. He can do all but 45 minutes independently, except that he has a difficult time writing, so I often end up scribing for him during math even though he doesn't need my help for the actual math (when he writes non-math, he's learning to use google voice-typing to help with writing and we're addressing the writing separately). 

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14 hours ago, 4KookieKids said:

 

This is something I identify with, but struggle to articulate, I guess. I'm more of a relaxed, go-with-the-flow person usually, but my kids have really turned that upside down for me. It's really annoying that they get so irritable and quarrelsome when I give them more space/time/freedom to do their own thing (particularly my older kids). It goes against everything I *want* to be true. 😛 

Could not relate more to this. Last year I dropped all of our work to do an entire month of immersive Harry Potter units where we incorporated all disciplines into the theme. I was loving it and while the kids move HP they just could not have been more off that month. It seems my kids do best and work hardest when we do the same schedule every day. I would love to be more free flowing but my rigid littles will just not let me 😝

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So, from the beginning I had a daily plan (a stack of things I wanted to do that day).    That's mostly non-negotiable...it all needs to be done (though in cases of extreme frustration we sometimes would save something for the next day).    I wasn't the kind of person who could handle a "we start at such and such time every day" but I did have a rule that we must at least start by 11 (though I aimed at earlier always).  So start time varied from 9-11.     Also, while I let my son have some screen time in the morning, I absolutely needed him to have at least 15 minutes before screens and starting school cause he didn't do well going straight from screens to school, so I had a hard "you need to be off screens and get some breakfast" by such and such time in the morning.  He then could play with toys in his room until I called him for school.   That worked well for both of us, I think. 

In the beginning I was pretty flexible about what order we would do stuff (I'd let him choose).   But I found that it would often end up that he'd choose to do all the easy stuff first, and then be too worn out to tackle the harder stuff.     So, new learning and difficult subjects I would plan for first thing  OR right after lunch so that he would be fresh and rested when we did those (and I'd sandwhich something easier in between).   Also, anything that took a lot of set up or was more complex to teach I would usually do first thing so that I was fresh and ready.     Routine practice work almost always came after this and usually I would let my son choose order where possible here.    A short PE break (15 mintues for tag or throwing around a ball or jumping jacks or whatever)  often came right after a hard lesson so it would sort of reset my son-- and when those came was very flexible since it based more on his need to have a physical outlet (my son has some learning struggles and so this was a way to tackle his frustration).   During harder days we included more PE sessions to break up the work. 

Doing things in a certain order I think works better (or did for us) than doing things at a certain time, because you can take as long or as little as you need.

 

Edited by goldenecho

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My non-neurotypical, ADHD, black-and-white-thinker kids also get thrown by too much flexibility.

We stick to a pretty rigid schedule, but I always worry when I say that that people will get the impression of dry, boring, school at home.  That is not the case at all.  My kids enjoy almost all of their subjects.  We have fun, move around, "narrate" by drawing comic strips, etc.  It is ironic, but my kids actually have a lot more fun in general when things are running predictably on schedule than if I let loose the reins and allowed them to do whatever their hearts desired.

My kids are 9, 7, 5 and 3.  The older three are all 2E.  I have a couple firm scheduled times.  The older two may turn on their bedroom light no earlier than 5:30am - otherwise they would make themselves wake earlier and earlier rather than get the sleep they need.  The younger two may turn on their lights at 6am.  The older two are to be dressed and report for school at 6:30.  The younger two are not allowed out of their rooms (except for bathroom trips) until 7.  Breakfast is then served at 7:15 and cleaned up at 8.  To some this seems like a draconian schedule, but my kids absolutely thrive on the predictability and clear expectations.

I do not schedule school subjects by the clock.  We use very short, Charlotte Mason-y lessons, and it would be ridiculous to schedule spelling from 8:15 to 8:25, handwriting from 8:28 to 8:33, poetry memorization from 8:35 to 8:40, etc.  Instead, they each have a checklist that spells out their subjects in the order they need to be done.  I am very realistic and conservative about how much I put on each day's checklist.  I actually periodically use a stopwatch to time each subject for a day or two so I ensure it isn't taking more time than I have mentally scheduled - if it is, then I either reduce the daily work load in that subject or I cut something else to free up the time.

Most days, everyone finishes up their checklist just in time to have a quick break and snack and then go to an extracurricular.  Then home for lunch, math, rest time, outside play, dinner, family time and bed.  It is very regimented, probably far too much for many, but it offers the structure and stability that my kids need.

Wendy

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This was something that clicked for me when I heard it.....

Some kids have more or less executive functioning skills.

Kids who have less will need more structure.  They will need more help in planning and organizing what they do, and in completing things.  

It took a lot of the mystery out of things to think of it that way.  

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6 minutes ago, Lecka said:

This was something that clicked for me when I heard it.....

Some kids have more or less executive functioning skills.

Kids who have less will need more structure.  They will need more help in planning and organizing what they do, and in completing things.  

It took a lot of the mystery out of things to think of it that way.  

 

Oh geez. I just stared at the screen for a full minute before I could figure out what to write.
That really does make sense. My kids with the worst EF skills are the ones who melt down the worst when I give them more freedom/play time and the ones who do best with a strict schedule. (Unfortunately, they're also the ones most likely to cause hiccups by staying in the bathroom an extra hour or something silly like that...) Maybe I'll revisit my smart but scattered book as I think about how to structure our 2019...

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26 minutes ago, Lecka said:

This was something that clicked for me when I heard it.....

Some kids have more or less executive functioning skills.

Kids who have less will need more structure.  They will need more help in planning and organizing what they do, and in completing things.  

It took a lot of the mystery out of things to think of it that way.  

I agree completely.  This is why I find it so ironic when people tell me that my kids' ADHD would be "cured" if society just let them play.  It's a nice thought, but their weak executive function skills actually make them really, really bad players as well.  Free play is far too open ended for them to cope with.  Faced with the lack of structure, they will just flit from activity to activity never engaging in anything.  They start perseverating and getting wild and disregulated.  Pretty soon all impulse control has flown the coop and they are snatching toys, hitting, sobbing, etc.  As counter-intuitive as it seems, play time is very tiring and stressful for them; they can only cope with it in small doses interspersed between long periods of highly structured activities.

Wendy 

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My 13-year-old son sets a timer on his phone when he gets in the shower, so that he will get out of the shower when the timer goes off.  He has also done well with having certain songs he listens to and knowing by the time a certain song is over his teeth should be brushed and things like that.  I had some pre-made timers that included songs coming on that he would use in the morning, after I got a smart phone.  

Something else that exists are videos of morning bathroom routines.  I had one we watched with my younger son for him to brush his teeth.  He really liked it.   

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2 minutes ago, wendyroo said:

I agree completely.  This is why I find it so ironic when people tell me that my kids' ADHD would be "cured" if society just let them play.  It's a nice thought, but their weak executive function skills actually make them really, really bad players as well.  Free play is far too open ended for them to cope with.  Faced with the lack of structure, they will just flit from activity to activity never engaging in anything.  They start perseverating and getting wild and disregulated.  Pretty soon all impulse control has flown the coop and they are snatching toys, hitting, sobbing, etc.  As counter-intuitive as it seems, play time is very tiring and stressful for them; they can only cope with it in small doses interspersed between long periods of highly structured activities.

Wendy 

I agree!!!!!!!!

 

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Or play means mom is helping with play plans or play routines!!!!!!!!!!  Lolololol!!!!!!!!!

I have read an entire book about building independent play (aka “leisure skills”) and it is a top recommendation (iirc) from a list of top ten skills to reduce problem behavior.

But it’s not like it’s easy!  

My daughter has always had good executive functioning and good self-regulation, though, so I have gotten to do the self-directed kind of things with her.

My younger son who has autism had a long phase with using a picture schedule to make a play plan and then have help in following the schedule, though.  It is fun too, but it’s not like I just want to do it because I feel like being controlling!  

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https://toolsofthemind.org/learn/what-is-tools/

This is getting off topic, but this was trendy several years ago now, when my oldest was little.

There are a lot of ideas I like, though, it is a place I have seen stuff about play plans.  It’s more complicated than what I have done.

I did things more along the lines of..... having a box with an activity toy, and then the activity can be completed.  That can be a way of having high-structure play. 

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Wow. This has all been so relevant for our day, because my kids are very much showing the effects of being "on vacation", and my poor dh about lost it with my kids tonight. They're so off after being with my in-laws the last week and having no structure at all. I know this is off my initial topic, but thank you guys so much. You've given me a lot to consider going into January.

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We always had a general routine, but allowed for flexibility.  I think the routine part was good because it helped my kids develop better self-discipline. But the flexibility part was good too because, you know, things happen, schedules change, unexpected opportunities arise, and one should be able to easily adapt.

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We have a structured routine that isn't tied to the clock but is tied (somewhat) to a timer.  So, we do our subjects once everyone is up and ready for the day, which can vary by 30-45 minutes or so, but we proceed according to allotted times for most subjects- 15 mninutes Latin, 1 hour math, then 1 hour "pre-k/1st" with my little while bigs are doing independent work, then 45 minutes science...  It seems to be working pretty well this year.  It's the first time I've used a timer and it really keeps *me* on track.

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My kids 3rd and up have checklists.

I work in the morning until 8 (9 when time changes). When I get done we do breakfast and read-alouds and start seat work around 9/10. I start then w/ the k'er  but after that may work w/ the 3rd or the 6th grader- I alternate with them until lunch. After lunch, (around 12-12:30) we do content work together. If there are any core subjects yet to finish those are done after content work.

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