How To Create A Homeschool Calendar That Works For Your Life

Preview: Your homeschool calendar should complement your life instead of adding stress. Learn how to create your homeschool calendar so it works for your family.

Every time I tried to create a homeschool calendar for our upcoming year I ended up frustrated. I had read about various scheduling models to create a homeschool calendar, but none of them worked for us.

Finally, I had two epiphanies that allowed me to let go of the rules and think outside the box so I could create a homeschool calendar that actually worked for our life instead of trying to fit our life into a school calendar. After all, that’s one of the blessings we love about homeschooling—the flexibility it offers us. 

In this post, I’ll explain how I create our homeschool calendar. You’ll learn:

  • About homeschool calendar options.
  • How to break your school year into terms.
  • Factors to consider when determining your homeschool calendar.
  • How to create your homeschool calendar.
  • Tips for adjusting to a non-traditional school calendar.

At the end of each section, I’ll tell you how I blend all of the options to create a homeschool calendar that complements our life.

For a more personal look at how I create our homeschool calendar, you can listen to the podcast episode.

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Homeschool Calendar Options

There is no one right way to schedule your homeschool year. Below are some ways you could schedule your year. You may find that you use a combination of methods depending on your changing needs over the years.

Traditional School Calendar

Using a traditional school calendar, homeschool days are scheduled between August and May, usually taking off a week in the fall, several weeks around the holidays, and a week in the spring.

This type of calendar works well if you also have children in a traditional school setting, participate in a co-op that follows a traditional school calendar, or participate in activities during the summer.

Sabbath School Calendar

A sabbath school calendar gets its name from the concept of a sabbath occurring every seven days. Families who employ a sabbath school calendar schedule school days for six weeks and then take a week off.

This type of homeschool school calendar works well for many families, especially if you prefer to utilize unit studies, loop scheduling, or block scheduling of your subjects. You can choose one particular focus for six weeks and then move on to a different focus after your break.

This is also a motivating method of scheduling your homeschool days for many families because you know that after working hard for six weeks, you will have a week off to rest or work on other projects.

Year-Round School Calendar

Using a year-round school calendar, homeschool days are scheduled throughout the year, taking breaks as needed.

This type of calendar works well in many situations including:

  • It is unpleasant to be outside some months of the year due to your climate. (In Oklahoma, where we live, July and August are too hot to be outside much so we continued lessons during those months many years.)
  • You travel during the school year.
  • You prefer a more relaxed approach and take off when you need to during the year.

Some families who school year-round start a new school year in August while others start a new school year in January. Some people refer to starting a new school year in January as a “Calendar School Schedule.”

Our Experience

We use a combination of traditional and year-round scheduling. I tried using the Sabbath scheduling method and it never worked for us because our schedule was always too sporadic. We begin a new school year in June and start counting school days. We usually take June off but I do record school days for any academic summer camps or field trips. Some years we start school lessons in July if we don’t have other activities (summer camp or visits to family). In other years, the summer is too busy and we don’t start school lessons until August.

How many days of instruction do you need to plan?

A school year is generally considered 180 days of instruction. This may vary by state. Check with HSLDA for your specific state’s requirements.

Because most curriculums come with 180 days of lesson plans, we often assume we need to plan and teach 180 lessons from the book. In this episode, I share why this approach did not work for our family and what we do instead.

  • Why a boxed curriculum with 180 days of lessons did not work for our homeschool. Hint: It was too restrictive and left little room for flexibility, field trips, and special events.
  • Why planning 3 12-week terms as many Charlotte Mason homeschools use left us feeling frustrated and behind. We follow the homeschool laws for our state and get in the appropriate number of days of instruction but it is structured in a way that works for our homeschool.
  • How evaluating our homeschool’s needs helped me settle on a solution that works well for us. We wanted to enjoy learning and wanted to incorporate trips, field trips, and special learning opportunities.
  • Our new approach to lesson plans and days of instruction. My broadened perspective allowed me to let go of other’s expectations and ideas of what our school year should look like.
  • How many days of instruction I currently plan (as of the date of this podcast episode): 22 weeks of content, 2 weeks of exams, 1 week of teacher workdays, 4 weeks of trips, and 7 weeks of other learning.

How to Break Your School Year Into Terms

It is not necessary to break your school year into terms. Some families choose to do so while others just schedule the total number of days on which they want to count as school days. Some benefits of breaking your school year into terms include:

  • You can schedule exams at the end of the term to evaluate your student’s progress. Click here to learn more about using Charlotte Mason-style exams.
  • The end of a term provides a natural break to remind you, as the teacher, to evaluate your student’s progress and the overall atmosphere of your homeschool. Click here to learn more about how to conduct term evaluations.
  • Completing a “term” of school, however you choose to define it, provides a sense of accomplishment for students and teachers. Doing something special at the end of a term, such as getting ice cream, is a great way to motivate your students and celebrate the progress they’ve made.

There many ways you could break your school year into terms. Below are some of the most common.

School Year Terms For a 5-day School Week

  • 2 90-day semesters (18 weeks)
  • 3 60-day trimesters (12 weeks)
  • 4 45-day quarters (9 weeks)
  • 6 30-day Sabbath terms (6 weeks)

School Year Terms For a 4-day School Week

  • 2 90-day semesters (22 weeks each plus 1 more week)
  • 3 60-day trimesters (15 weeks)
  • 4 45-day quarters (11 weeks each plus 1 more week)
  • 6 30-day Sabbath terms (7 weeks each plus 3 more weeks)

Our Experience

None of the above options worked for us. If you haven’t figured it out by now, my family embraces the flexibility homeschooling affords!

I tried scheduling our school year using a Sabbath approach of 6 weeks on and 1 week off, but our trips kept falling in the middle of one of the 6-week blocks.

I really liked the concept of 3 12-week terms because we follow the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education and most Charlotte Mason resources are designed for 12-week terms.

But none of these worked! It was stressful trying to fit our unique schedule into one of the molds above. So I broke free of the mindset that I needed to strictly follow a term schedule. I now schedule 2 11-week terms plus 14 additional weeks. They consist of: 11 weeks for field trips, travel, and special interest units; 22 weeks of content, broken into 11-week terms; 2 weeks for exams, one at the end of each 11-week term; and 1 week for teacher workdays, spread throughout the year.

Factors to Consider When Determining Your Homeschool Calendar

Because every family is unique, no two homeschool schedules look exactly the same. We have had years we finished school in early April while our friends continued lessons through to July or August. When considering how to schedule your homeschool year, keep the following situations in mind.

Special Circumstances

Will you have special circumstances in the coming year that will affect your school calendar such as trips, special events, seasonal interests, hobbies, or sports?

School Week Length

The number of days each week you have lessons affects the length of your school calendar. If your school week length is 5 days, you will need 36 weeks of school. If your school week is 4 days, you will need 45 weeks of school.

Co-op or Outside Class Schedule

If you participate in a co-op, online learning, dual enrollment, or other group learning, you will need to adjust your school calendar accordingly. You may need to schedule your school year around the outside class schedule. If you have other children attending a public or private school, you may want to follow their school calendar.

Definition of a School Day

Knowing your goal of education and what you consider a school day will help you determine how to schedule your homeschool calendar. (Click here to learn how to write your homeschool mission statement.)

Our Experience

Each year has looked different for us.

Some years we traveled a lot. (Our trips were usually 2-4 weeks long.) During those years, we typically took a break the week before and the week after a trip so we could prepare for and then recover from the trip. While we were on the trip, we counted every day as a school day if we visited a site of significance or completed a basic set of lessons. During trips, we recorded 5-7 days each week as school days.

Some years we served at a local food pantry twice a month. Because we value service to others, those days counted as school days.

Years during which we participated in a co-op, I planned our school calendar to more closely mirror the co-op calendar since we would need to complete some prep work for those classes.

How to Create Your Homeschool Calendar

You can replicate a traditional school calendar based on your looking at your local school district’s calendar. Basically, choose a starting and ending date, cross off days you want to take off, and schedule your 180 days of school.

To create a Sabbath school calendar, choose a starting date, and schedule six weeks of school followed by one week off. Repeat this pattern until you 36 weeks of school scheduled (assuming you are using a 5-day a week school model). You can allow for additional time off around holidays, trips, summer, or other events as desired.

Since you are still reading this post, I am assuming you don’t want to use a straight forward approach to create your homeschool calendar. If you, like me, need a little more flexibility in creating your homeschool calendar, here’s what I do.

  1. Decide if you want to break your school year into terms.
  2. Choose a starting and ending date. Your ending date doesn’t have to be set in stone, but having a rough idea of when you want to finish can help you know how much time off between the two dates you can afford.
  3. Cross off any dates/weeks you do not want to schedule school days.
  4. Indicate any dates that are special events or trips.
  5. Be sure to schedule breaks.

Our Experience

You could use a calendar for this process, but I prefer to use a spreadsheet. Instead of counting days, I can let the spreadsheet calculate the totals.

I enter our starting date for the school year. Next, I make notes about special events or trips. Then, I start counting up the days. Some years we have fewer than 36 weeks of school even though we complete the required 180 days of lessons. This happens when we have 6 or 7-day school weeks during longer trips.

To help you in this process, I created a Google spreadsheet so you can see an example from our school year. Plus, you can create your own school calendar. When you click this link, you will be prompted to create a copy of the spreadsheet. You can watch the video below to learn how to use the spreadsheet.

Tips for Adjusting to a Non-Traditional School Calendar

It is liberating to create a school calendar that works for your life, but it can also be a challenge. In many ways, it reduces stress and guilt. But it does require changing your mindset. Below are some tips that help me create a non-traditional homeschool calendar. Plus, I’ve included answers to questions readers have asked about this topic.

Do you include questions on your term exams for what your children learned while on a trip or field trip?

Yep! When it’s time for term exams, I ask my children questions about anything they learned during the current term. This could include academic subjects, field trips, trips, or Bible study classes at church.

What do you do when your curriculum has scheduled assignments that do not fit into your homeschool calendar?

Curriculum companies often create yearly lesson plans with 180 days. In theory, this makes sense, but in reality, no school completes 180 days of academic lesson work as scheduled by a curriculum company. I’ve heard that many teachers consider a book complete if they finish 75-80% of the book. It’s okay to let go of the guilt if you don’t finish a book! In this post, I explain several ways you could handle not finishing the book.

How do you schedule breaks without guilt?

I know that we need a break after 6-10 weeks of lessons. The length of time varies depending on how difficult the lessons are and what else is happening in our lives. And I know that we learn and function best when we have downtime. In addition, I try to under schedule our days—academic work and extracurricular activities—so we have time to rest and recharge.

It is important for me to keep in mind the goals we want to achieve in our homeschool. Our goals include that my children love to learn and that they pursue their passions. In order to achieve that, they need to have breaks and a reasonable schedule.

I have had to adjust my mindset to know that we cannot and often will not finish all of the books. We may not accomplish everything I hope to at the beginning of the year. But I see the progress they make each year and know that it is enough.

Taking a break is important, but it can be difficult to find your homeschool rhythm after a break. In episode 84 of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast, you’ll learn what you can do to make your transition back into a school rhythm smoother.

Do you have questions about homeschooling?

Watch the FREE Homeschool 101 Workshop. It’s an on-demand workshop you can watch at your convenience.

Want a little help?

Homeschool Coaching might be a good fit. Through our 1:1 sessions, we can help you create a homeschool you love. Schedule a free Discovery Call to start your journey today. (Or, click here to learn more about Homeschool Coaching.)

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