Discover how to create a homeschool schedule that maximizes learning through “just-right” challenges that are based on developmental milestones. This comprehensive guide explores why age-appropriate learning activities and developmental goals are a must for your child.
I'm a pediatric physical therapist for my outside-the-home job, and a crucial part of what I do is utilizing developmental assessment tools in order to gauge a child's abilities and how and deficits are limiting their participation in daily routines. Because I live and breathe developmental milestones, I'm somewhat of a crazy person about nurturing optimal development in my own children. The early years of a child's life are so insanely crucial for outcomes later in life–how they learn to cope with stress, how intelligent they can be, and even how empathetic they are. Though I specialize in motor development and often use those niche assessment tools, developmental professionals use more broad standardized assessment tools such as the Batelle in order to get a picture of all domains speech, language, cognition, gross/fine motor, social-emotional, etc.
As a homeschooling mom, it's so obvious that all of the things that we do in our daily activities can serve as opportunities to nurture a holistic set of skills. We are the ones spending the entire day pouring into our children, so of course the activities we choose to immerse our families in will impact how they mature and grow and master skills. Now I don't recommend getting ahold of a Batelle and scoring your child in excruciating detail for each developmental domain (that would make all of you go nuts), but having a general idea of where your child should fall will help you as the expert on your child give them opportunities to refine those weaker spots.
Knowing where your child is at and where they should be also helps them succeed. When children are tasked with work that is either too difficult or too easy, motivation is lost and that spark for learning wavers. In this guide, we will explore how to create a homeschool schedule that effectively supports your child's developmental goals, covering all developmental domains.
1. Assess Your Child's Needs and Goals:
Before crafting your homeschool schedule or coming up with any new activities to make a part of your day, it's essential to understand your child's developmental stage, strengths, and areas that need improvement. This will help you set clear objectives and expectations. When watching them next to same-aged peers, are there any skills you've noticed them seeming to be a little behind in or slower to catch on? The CDC has a page with age expected developmental norms and also a Milestone Tracker mobile app. You definitely don't need to obsess about milestones and if your child is meeting every single mark, but it is really good to at least have a general idea of what's expected in case they are struggling. Due to the brain's malleability in the younger years, the earlier you provide support and help them work through it, the better the outcome will be.
2. Prioritize Developmental Domains:
After determining what areas your youngster might need a little bit extra support with throughout the day, identify the key developmental domains you want to focus on. These could include:
- Gross Motor Skills: Activities like running, jumping, and playing sports.
- Fine Motor Skills: Tasks such as writing, drawing, and hand-eye coordination.
- Language Development: Reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.
- Cognition: Critical thinking, problem-solving, working memory, and creativity.
- Social Development: Reading facial expressions and other social cues, demonstrating empathy, regulating emotions, attachment/bonding, and learning to manage outbursts.
And of course if your child is right on track, it's always a good idea to nurture a well-rounded blend of opportunities within the school day to practice all of these. For example, even if your child is where they should be with their motor skills, incorporating gross motor games such as a jump rope break as a little way to split up the day can help them improve focus and blood flow to the brain and thus improve academic outcomes.
3. Set Realistic Goals:
Establish achievable goals for each developmental area based on your child's age and abilities. Keep these goals specific, measurable, and time-bound. For example, for language development you could make a goal of, “By the end of the school year, Sally will speak without using any final consonant deletions (i.e.: saying “ye” instead of “yes”).” Keeping this goal at the forefront helps you embed more practice in your learning activities. Maybe you are having a unit about snakes and you really want to practice that tricky “s” sound she keeps omitting, so you make a game of hissssssing like a snake. You can get creative with it!
4. Create a Flexible Weekly Schedule:
Design a weekly schedule that accommodates all developmental goals. Ensure a balance between structured learning time and free play. Here's a sample schedule to consider:
- Monday to Wednesday: Morning academic lessons (e.g., reading, math), followed by gross motor skill activities (e.g., outdoor play or exercise).
- Thursday: Focus on fine motor skills (e.g., arts and crafts).
- Friday: Language development day (e.g., storytelling, writing).
- Saturday: Family adventure day to stimulate cognitive development (e.g., science experiments or museum visits).
- Sunday: Free play and relaxation.
While the above might work for your family, I personally like to mix things up more with my family to help keep them more engaged. One way I do this is by finding activities that overlap in regard to what skill it is they're refining. For example, instead of working on language development and fine motor skills on separate days, we might have a sensory bin activity to reinforce concepts previously introduced. Last week we were talking about sea creatures when homeschooling my 3 year-old, and so we got some tongs for her to dig around in the bin and pick up different critters (strengthens grip and precision), name them aloud (retrieving information), and count them into a pile (math). We also did a variation where I'd say, “Find me an animal that has to come up for air,” and in this way she was able to develop problem solving skills and sequence multiple steps of motor patterning.
Things really do overlap so much more than we even realize, so just knowing this information alone can give you much more peace of mind with doing activities at home that are not always strictly “academic” in nature. See more on this below.
5. Integrate Learning into Daily Routines:
There are a lot of other ways to incorporate developmental goals into everyday activities instead of just play activities. For instance, cooking together can enhance fine motor skills, and bedtime stories promote language development. Some others include:
- Nature walks-cardiorespiratory fitness (gross motor), picking up nuts/leaves (fine motor), naming things you see (cognition/language), regulates sensory systems and enhances mood (sensory/social-emotional), etc.
- Mealtimes-mastering using utensils (fine motor), relating foods to real-world concepts such as “Where does this fruit come from/why does it have seeds?” (language/cognition).
- Outings-identifying and connecting real-world concepts and objects to ideas learned about in books (cognition/language), playground outings offer practice for pretend play (social, gross motor, etc.), learning manners and etiquette in other places (social-emotional)
I realize my examples are very young-kid oriented because of my own kiddos, but you can get creative with it for your older ones too! Challenge them with cultural experiences, more advanced activities that encapsulate multiple skills (knitting, woodworking, building a website, etc.), or even small odd jobs from family or friends (great opportunity for personal finance discussions!).
6. Set Milestones and Track Progress:
Create milestones for each developmental goal and regularly assess your child's progress. Adjust your schedule and activities as needed to ensure they are challenged but not overwhelmed. One way you can do this is to look at widely accepted standardized assessments (usually expensive if acquired legally!) or through the Center for Disease Control's resources on development. Their Positive Parenting tips give you a nice overview of what can be expected in various age ranges without getting too far into the weeds.
7. Stay Adaptable and Patient:
Remember that every child is unique and may progress at their own pace. Be patient and adaptable in your approach, making necessary changes to the schedule and goals as you go along. We adopted my nine year old through foster care at six years of age. She missed out on a lot of formative experiences and has suffered severe trauma which further impacts learning capabilities (plus she came to us during the year the Corona stuff hit the fan!). All this to say, learning is a challenge, and that is putting it lightly. It's hard for me to not despair when I see my three year-old almost caught up with her in many areas. But I have to remind myself daily that she is her own person with her own story and that her journey will be different. And different is okay. Everything needs adapted for her and everything requires creativity to frame it with a “non-educational” feel or else she shuts down. Part of this meant deciding that public school was part of her journey (so many reasons for this but a huge one being the social aspect and just being surrounded by peers who are *hopefully* excited to learn instead of just her way-younger siblings all day as she slowly watches them creep past her in progress). I've had to learn to not feel guilt about not full-time homeschooling my oldest like my other kids, but a different approach is literally what's best for her and I would be doing her an injustice if I tried to fit this square peg in a round hole!
8. Seek Resources and Support:
Utilize homeschooling resources, online courses, educational apps, and local homeschooling communities to support your child's development and your teaching efforts. We used Lexercise tutoring support online to supplement our oldest's learning journey. This program provides dyslexia therapy/tutoring as well as interactive games to reinforce concepts.
9. Encourage Self-Directed Learning:
Empower your child to take ownership of their education. Allow them to choose some activities and projects that align with their interests and developmental goals. One of my main goals with homeschooling is to foster a love of learning! It's so difficult to cram information into the mind of a not-so-motivated learner. The Charlotte Mason approach I've found to be very good about developing this wonder and curiosity for the world around us.
10. Celebrate Achievements:
Acknowledge and celebrate your child's accomplishments. Positive reinforcement can boost motivation and self-esteem. If you've had an explicit goal that you've been working on and they've mastered, praise them for it!
Why a Developmentally Aligned Homeschool Schedule Matters
Understanding your child's cognitive and developmental milestones is key to creating an effective homeschool schedule. We as the parents have to be cognizant of where each child is at and how to adapt activities to the appropriate level of challenge. Here's why this is essential:
- Optimal Learning: Tailoring activities to your child's developmental stage ensures they are neither overwhelmed nor bored, promoting optimal learning.
- Confidence Building: Meeting developmental goals builds your child's confidence and love for learning.
- Respects Cognitive Development: It respects the natural progression of cognitive development, fostering a deep understanding of concepts.
Still wondering about specifics of what skills are appropriate for what age group? Or maybe how can these concepts really be tied into academics? This post I wrote (kind of like a not-so-standardized test), goes into a friendlier, freer, and not too cumbersome discussion of what skills we should be seeing in each age range, along with specific examples of activities you can do throughout your day to foster development in each of these areas of focus.
Creating a homeschool routine that aligns with your child's developmental goals is a rewarding endeavor that enables personalized, holistic learning. By assessing needs, setting clear objectives, and maintaining flexibility, you can provide a nurturing and enriching educational experience. Embrace the journey of homeschooling, and watch your child thrive as they grow academically and developmentally.