As the school year is beginning, many families are learning how to navigate back to school routines, distance learning routines, new homeschool routines, and more. Increasing productivity is at the utmost importance if families want to be able to accomplish necessary tasks while still being able to tend to their kids when they are home. For us, that answer was in block scheduling. Block scheduling is vital to keeping our family running smoothly.
What is Block Scheduling?
Block scheduling can be simply described as committing a block of time to a certain group of activities and only those activities. The most common usage of block scheduling can be seen in many middle and high schools in America. Instead of having six or seven school subjects everyday, students are given only four subjects in longer blocks of time. This helps the teachers have enough time to adequately teach the material they need to teach while also making sure the students have time to ask questions. Most times, worksheets or homework are completed in class instead of taking it home like traditional school scheduling often dictates.
Block scheduling has had a wonderful effect on students in school and so it only makes sense that adapting that model would also work well for families! We started block scheduling in January this year as part of a New Year’s resolution to increase productivity and help bring more order to the home. It was a fantastic change that instantly made an impact on how much we got done everyday.
Currently, we are still dealing with the pandemic and the opportunities to go out are few and far between. The wonderful thing I found is our block schedule is still completely relevant, even in times like these. We switched a few things around on the schedule and it was good as new!
What Our Block Schedule Looks Like
As you can see here, our initial, or “pre-Covid” block schedule is pretty generic. The purpose for the schedule itself is to make sure that our family is able to get everything we need to get done in a day while still leaving time to have fun family time. It works best for us to break up our blocks into 3-4 hour segments in order to get as much done in each time slot as necessary. However, the blocks themselves can be somewhat fluid as long as the tasks I accomplish fall within that category of block.
The blocks that we were following this spring included:
- Morning Block – This is everything that we have to get done before we leave the house in the morning. Generally a lot of waking up, early morning chores for the kids (making their beds, etc), getting ready for the day and getting off to school. I complete certain morning chores during this time as well. I will unload the dishwasher or throw in a load of laundry while the kids are completing their tasks or eating breakfast.
- Outing Block – After we get my oldest off to school, this is the time I allotted for my two younger kiddos to accompany me on errands. I try to do grocery shopping (or pickup) during this time as well as any doctor appointments, etc. If you have kids, you know how frustrating it is to get kids in and out of car seats all day long, so do yourself a favor and get all of your appointments and outdoor stuff done at one time! This is also the time we reserve for playdates/babysitter times, visitors, library storytimes, etc. We pick up the preschooler from his AM preschool and get back home for lunch, finishing up the Outing Block for the day.
- Quiet Time Block – Unanimously the favorite block of the day for 99.9% of parents. After lunch, the babies take naps, the older ones play quietly in their rooms or at my feet while I sit in my office and work away at blogging, my nonprofit organization, or other mom duties I have to finish that day. This block usually lasts until my 1-year-old wakes up from her nap. I try to get a solid three hours of work in but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, she’s up at 2:30pm and then I have to abandon what I didn’t get done until later in the night or the next day.
- Home Block – Why is it that the favorite block is always followed by the craziest block?? Everyone up from naps (sometimes still cranky), trying to get dinner going, parents coming home from work, kids coming home from school… sometimes I feel like an air traffic controller during this block. We focus on getting through each minute and we always survive. But this one is rough. My kiddos have to complete their afternoon chores while I make dinner, we get to eat as a family and while one parent cleans up the mess left behind, the other distracts the younglings. I should name this block “Survival” instead…
- Bedtime Block – Ahh, another goodie. The troops clomp up the stairs into their waiting baths and then out again in orderly fashion. While one parent mans the tub, the other usually helps the freshly bathed children into clean PJs, get clothes out for the next day, etc. Everyone gets a story or two, or sometimes three if Mom is feeling generous, and then it’s light’s out. Mom and Dad clock out on the parent gig and get to clock in on adulthood.
- Night Block – Ideally, the children are sleeping or at least quiet, and the adults get to just hang. This is the time that my husband and I like to reconnect and share highlights from the day or just be together. As he gets up for work early in the morning, he tends to go to bed early so he usually falls asleep by 9pm. When he does, I can slip back into my office to finish up any loose ends that I didn’t get to during my quiet time block that day. Additionally, this would be the time that I would relax, scroll social media, list items that need to be on the schedule for the next day, switch out laundry. Basically whatever I want to do to unwind and chill out.
- Sleep Block – I did not include this in my schedule, but I try to be done with work and relaxation by 10:30pm every night. Whatever I don’t get done by that point can wait until the next day. Sleep is incredibly important for our health and well-being so I always try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. For more information on how to determine how much sleep you need, you can visit my blog post Good Quality Sleep is Worth the Sacrifice.
How my Block Schedule Changed During the Summer/Pandemic
This is something that I wanted to include in this post because, like many of you, I had children that were out of school during the spring and entire summer. Our block schedule did change to suit the new requirements of our family and even more so now that we have decided to homeschool our kids this year. So what does a block schedule look like for homeschooling parents? Something like this!
As you can see, our schedule didn’t change very much. We took out the Outing Block and replaced it with a School Block and added grocery delivery to this time. Instead of homework during the Home Block, my kids can select some educational apps or TV shows for a little screen time while I cook. If you want a nice list of the TV shows and apps my kids use, you can find it on my Educational Apps and TV Shows Your Kids Will Love post. The entire spring and summer has been an incredibly easy adjustment for my kiddos and I fully attribute it to our use of this block scheduling system.
Things to Keep in Mind When Establishing a Block Scheduling Routine
I wanted to leave you with some very important things to consider when block scheduling. Following these tips was crucial to seeing the vast improvement in my productivity level during the day as well as watching how my children reacted to the new scheduling system.
- SET TIMERS – This is so, so, SO important. Probably one of the most important things I can stress to you. When you live by a block schedule, do NOT assume that you’re going to pay attention to when you are supposed to move to the next block. It doesn’t happen! Set an alarm to remind you. I don’t care if you set it on your phone, on your Alexa speaker, on your stove, etc. Make a reminder alarm for the beginning of each block, set it to repeat Monday through Friday, and listen to it! Does this mean you will have 6 alarms going off everyday? Yes! And if you’re like me, you will have closer to 12 alarms because I like to set an additional alarm about 10 minutes before the actual alarm so I know I have a set amount of time to finish up whatever it is that I’m working on before I have to switch gears and move on to something else! Think of it like a warning bell at school – time’s almost up but not quite. Finish up what you’re doing and get ready to put on another hat! NOTE: This warning alarm also works great to get kids out of the door and in the car if you have somewhere you have to be.
- FOLLOW THE ALARM – Can I say it again? When your alarm goes off, stop what you’re doing, take a breath, and move onto the next task. Whatever you were working on can probably wait until later on tonight or tomorrow. In fact, there are actually very few things that can’t. This is why I like to have that warning timer though. I hate the surprise of the block alarm going off. It ruins my flow. But if I have a warning alarm, I can at least finish my thought, scribble it down on paper, or figure out a way to keep my thought so I can come back to it later. But do not, I repeat, DO NOT keep working through the timer. The minute you give one block more time than any others, you will already be behind on the next one. Don’t do that to yourself.
- GET YOUR FAMILY INTO IT – When I first started setting alarms and making schedules like a drill sergeant, my husband thought I had lost my mind. He would shake his head in disbelief every time my alarm alerted me to the fact that it was time to nap, make dinner, put the kids to bed, etc. However, that skepticism didn’t last long. About 3 days into the new schedule, my husband commented on how much better the kids were going to bed at night, eating more at dinner, and more agreeable to getting clothes set out, getting dressed in the morning, and more. They explained to him that they loved the alarm because it tells the kids what is expected of them. They know when the alarm goes off, it’s going to be time for bed soon. The alarms, combined with our visual schedule system, lets them know when to do certain chores or tasks. Shortly after that, I caught my husband setting his own alarms for the kids on weekends when I’m at work!
- IF YOUR SCHEDULE DOESN’T WORK, CHANGE IT – Block scheduling is not something that is cut in stone and is never to be changed. It should be a fluid document that can change as you see fit. Of course, there are occasions where we are unable to get a morning doctor appointment or maybe grocery pickup isn’t until after dinner. But as long as the majority of your days follow the schedule, you’re doing great! And if you’re struggling to meet your blocks, change them! Make them longer or shorter (but not shorter than 2 hour segments!) depending on what you need. This should make your life easier and more productive.
I strongly encourage you to try block scheduling for your family. It’s been incredibly helpful for our family and I know it will help you too!!
About the Author
Emily Seddon is the content creator and owner of The Crispy Family, a family blog specializing in gentle parenting, budgeting and family support. In addition to her blog, she also spends her time working with Omaha Better Birth Project, a local nonprofit organization. She currently lives in Nebraska with her husband and three children.