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Practical Homeschooling® :

Joyce Swann’s Organization Secrets, Part 1

By Joyce Swann
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #8, 1995.

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Joyce Swann

Interruptions often steal many hours of our homeschool day. Robbing us of precious hours that should be spent teaching our children, these time thieves can keep us from accomplishing our goals and leave us feeling inadequate and guilty. Yet, by planning ahead, we can make provision for both internal and external interruptions.

Most external interruptions fall into one of several categories:

  • phone calls from friends
  • appointments with doctors, dentists, hairdressers, etc.
  • appointments with plumbers, appliance repairmen, and other service personnel

External interruptions are easier to control since you usually can anticipate them ahead of time, and plan to make them less intrusive.

Phone Rules

When we began homeschooling, the first thing I did was let my friends know what we were doing and tell them our school hours. Most were considerate enough not to call while we were in school, but when one did, I talked to her for few seconds and then told her that we were in school. I then asked if I could return the call and set up a specific time to do so. This usually worked quite well. Some, of course, were displeased with the arrangement, but I soon discovered that they were not so much opposed to having their call returned as they were to the idea of homeschooling.

Now that my children are older, I try never to answer the phone during school hours. If someone calls, I have one of the children take the name and number, and I return the call as soon as we finish school.


I also quickly discovered that a successful homeschool depends on strictly adhering to school hours and planning the rest of our lives around school—not vice versa. Appointments with doctors, dentists, hairdressers, etc., were set up so that they would not cut into school hours. I made it a rule to tell everyone that I could not take any appointment before 3:00 p.m. Of course, the receptionists tried to talk me into taking the appointments most convenient for them, but I always responded, “That is not possible. I cannot come in before 3:00 o’clock.” After all, I was paying them and I felt that I had every right to insist on appointments that worked best for me.

I handled appointment for plumbers, appliance repairmen, and other service personnel a little differently. If I knew that all I had to do was open the door and point the way to the appropriate repair job, I allowed them to come during school hours. Since these kinds of appointments are not usually disruptive to school, I felt it best to accommodate the repairmen.

Ready to Teach

Internal interruptions require a little more effort since they are more difficult to control. Generally, internal interruptions stem from one of the following:

  • lack of preparedness on the part of the home teacher
  • lost or missing school materials
  • breaks—bathroom breaks, recess, etc.
  • general discipline problems

Coming to school prepared to teach prevents many major disruptions to your school day. This means you must know what you are going to be teaching before the school day begins. If you do not use a curriculum which includes a daily lesson plan, make up a written plan in advance so that you will know how many pages each student will be covering in each subject. In my lectures I recommend that this daily lesson plan be made up several months before the school year begins. You should also make certain that you have read the material your students will be covering that day and that you are prepared to answer questions and help them with math when problems arise. Having your students sit idly while you prepare to give them assignments, look for answers, or try to figure out how to solve a math problem, robs them of valuable study time and plays havoc with your school day.

School Materials In A Box

Lost or missing school materials can also be the source of major disruptions. In our house, we assure that everyone has his materials on hand at all times by giving each child his own cardboard box in which he keeps his text books, syllabus, a pad of paper, pencils, erasers, a ruler, a compass, a protractor, a pocket-sized spelling dictionary, and any other materials, such as flash cards and art reproductions, that may be included with his course. When it is time for school, the children bring their “school boxes” to the table, and we are ready to begin. When school is over, they return their materials to their boxes and store them in their closets. Thus, we NEVER waste time looking for materials.

Breaks & Recess

Breaks are planned interruptions which should either be eliminated or kept to a minimum.

In our home, we are in school for three straight hours with no breaks. While it is sometimes necessary for someone to use the bathroom, it is rare for any of my students to leave the school room until school has ended for the day. By having children use the bathroom and get a drink before they come to school, these kinds of interruptions can be largely eliminated.

Another major disruption for many homeschoolers is recess. Because most of us are products of the public school system, we tend to believe that recess is necessary. However, in my nineteen years of homeschooling I have never given a recess and do not believe that it serves any useful purpose. Homeschooling mothers who do give their children a recess tell me that these breaks frequently extend to twenty or twenty-five minutes since children often do not return to their seats on time. In addition, it takes a while for them to “settle down” and resume their studies. With thought processes interrupted, children often have a difficult time picking up where they left off. The homeschool teacher often finds that what was supposed to be a brief break to refresh her students has turned into a serious interruption which results in a longer school day for everyone.

The most obvious interruptions to the homeschool day are likely to stem from general discipline problems. Children sometimes try to manipulate the classroom by bringing up subjects unrelated to their school work.

Since we want our children to know that we value their ideas and think their questions are important, we may feel it is necessary to put aside lessons and discuss those subjects immediately. This approach will, however, probably result in everyone being distracted from his studies for an extended period.

I handle this problem by telling my students that I am “very interested” in what they have to say but that we will have to discuss it after school. Later that day I remind them that we were going to talk after school, and I then spend as much time on the subject as they like.

Classroom Rules

I discovered quite early that the key to a well-disciplined class lies in establishing a few simple rules to insure a quiet, orderly atmosphere in which little scholars can thrive. Here are my rules which have governed our homeschool for nineteen years:

  • No talking about anything that does not pertain to the lessons being studied.
  • No staring out the window.
  • No food or drinks in the classroom.
  • No talking to other students.
  • No wasting time.

While no one can create a homeschool that is entirely free of interruptions, each of us can eliminate many of the predictable interruptions by planning ahead. Controlling the external interruptions and setting up guidelines to minimize the internal ones is the best way to provide your students with a quiet, stress-free atmosphere which encourages learning and promotes good scholarship.

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