A Schedule vs. Page Counts

Having a schedule where time is a greater factor than page counts is a paradigm shift within the CM community.  All around you, there are book lists. Great book list. The PNEU even provided book lists for each term. (However, I would like to note that very often their list included a portion of a book that would be continued over several terms.)

Having a schedule eliminates failure. Some of you are going to laugh at that because you think that having a schedule sets you up for failure. But listen well: if you will adhere to your schedule you cannot fail. Think about it. If you have a 30-minute Plutarch lesson prepared today, and your children attend to the reading, you will complete that 30-minute lesson successfully. Note that I did not say you will have no problem getting through x number of pages.

Let’s look at Plutarch on the schedule:

Plutarch is allotted 30 minutes on the Form II (4-6 grade) schedule. That means we get as much done in that 30-minute period as we can, and then we move on. It does not mean, however, that we rush.
Our first inclination, because we know this is a curriculum of “living books” is to spend that 30 minutes doing two things: reading the selection, and narrating. So we might think we should either read for 25 minutes, then allow maybe 5 minutes to narrate, OR read small sections, narrating as we go, and stop after our 30 minutes are up.  But there is more to consider.

Let’s look at an example lesson from the appendix of Charlotte Mason’s volume 3, School Education.

Click on the image to increase size – so you can read it better.

I think you can see that there is a lot more going on here than to simply rush through a reading and then narrate. Included in this particular 20-minute lesson are the 4 standards when using a book for a lesson: the review, the set-up, the reading and the narration. Notice that in step 3 she specified that “about three pages” be read, but then she clearly specifies to “read this slowly and distinctly, and into the children as much as possible.”

There are MANY more sample lessons in the back of volume 3, and I would strongly advise you to study them. They are not all the same, nor do all of them include the use of a book. There are lectures and a picture talk, history and geography lessons, and even a cooking lesson for handicraft!

Charlotte Mason intended for much to be done during each lesson, and she writes a lot about how to accomplish that, but in fact, this is not a post about how to do a lesson. In this post I wanted you to see that Charlotte Mason intended there to be short lessons and a day that adheres to a time table.

The starting place is your schedule.

Living books are the heart of this kind of education, but we should not start with the book list and then make a schedule around it.  On the contrary, we should create the schedule and then place our books in the correct spot.  Charlotte Mason felt strongly that we must offer the children a varied education, and that means we must establish the wide room before we get cornered by the books.

Preparing a CM Schedule Main Page

18 thoughts on “A Schedule vs. Page Counts

  1. Cindy

    We have always used living books in our homeschool, but when I also try to implement CM's short lessons, I find myself floundering and getting stressed because we can't "do everything"! Thank you so much for this series and especially for this wisdom: "Living books are the heart of this kind of education, but we should not start with the book list and then make a schedule around it. On the contrary, we should create the schedule and then place our books in the correct spot"

  2. Cynthia

    This series of posts was so helpful in last years planning that I am reviewing them again before scheduling this year. 🙂 A question if you have time to answer:
    1. In scheduling this way, do we completely throw out the idea of planning a school year by the books (type and number of) we want to finish? For example, last year was our first time scheduling this way and I didn't know how much my children could read in a given time. So although I *wanted* to read 3 American's biographies, we were only able to read 1 in the time I allotted for Amer. Bio time. Same thing happened in other subjects as well. It is hard to not feel like we failed at accomplishing as much as I had hoped.
    I will have a better idea of what can be accomplished this year. Should I just plan on having a lighter book load? Or schedule our load based on last year? Or instead focus on working to the best of our abilities and have that be enough?

  3. Nicole Williams

    Thank you for your question, Cynthia. You can't let the books dictate. You have to let the schedule dictate. Their reading speed will continue to increase, and more will be accomplished each year, so have that list of books as backup options. You may wish to schedule shorter books if you really want to cover more people/subjects. But knowing one famous American really well, will establish a wonderful foundation for your other studies. I am opposed to "surveys" of history for young children. I think the surveys should be saved until later, when they have established solid relationships with a handful of people first. The whole thing is hard, because something has to give. We can't do it all. Just try to make sound decisions on what is the "best" thing and what are just "good" things.

  4. Rebecca

    Excellent question! I am going through this post series for the first time, Nicole, and finding it so very good. Last year was our first year as well using the time table idea instead of the "get through # of pages" idea. Our year was the best year we've had yet. I have the same types of issues that Cynthia expressed. Some things we accomplished faster than I anticipated and other things we still haven't finished from the year. Thank you for answering her questions. It will help me as I continue to move forward in our planning for the upcoming year.

  5. Nicole Williams

    Thank you for commenting here, Rebecca. I have experienced the same thing with getting more done in certain areas and less in others. But we are structuring our schedule based on CM's schedule, so we are on the right track. When we don't finish a book, we sometimes just continue it the following year. CM did that, so I figure we can too. On the other hand, it is not the end of the world to leave something unfinished if it is a compilation, or you all aren't loving it. For instance, if you read Burgess Bird Book for an entire year, but don't finish it – my kids and I would revolt if we had to pick it back up the next year! On the other hand, my son has been reading some of the same science books for 2 years and will continue with them this year. We only read a portion of them each year, and they are great, so we are happy to pick them back up.

  6. Jo

    I keep coming full circle back to these wonderful posts trying to eek out a path for us to walk on……Having not read cm's 6 volumes but read 'about' her and read a little on AO forum…..do you know if CM expected parents at home to use these schedules the same way she expected the schools to use them? I wonder if being in schools, they would have had the same issues as modern schools – a lot of the time being used on crowd management, getting supplies out and putting away, moving from one room to another etc – if so would Charlotte still have expected a timetable such as these, in the home with fewer students and different ages, to be adhered to? or would she have had some other recommendations for parents rather than those she gave to teachers of classes (who had trained for 2 years to learn her methods!)

  7. Nicole Williams

    One thing to keep in mind, Jo, is that Mason kept a tight schedule even for herself. She scheduled when she would read certain books, spend time outside, etc. So I think she saw value in using a schedule for all of us. However, it has been made clear in everything I've read, that each of our schedules will look different. Having one is important though, (even for those of us, myself included, who DO NOT WANT to live by one,) but not because at 11:25 sharp your kids need to do copywork, for example, but because you know copywork should take about 10 minutes, and should follow directly after whatever else you have scheduled. There is no room for slow transitions. School time is to be highly structured, with a high degree of attention on everyone's part, so that there is more play time later. Unfortunately, by not adhering to a tight schedule, that free time is what gets eaten up, and that time is as necessary as math or reading. I hope that helps.

    1. Samara

      Hi Nicole,
      This, exactly, is what I have been struggling with. The reality is that with a toddler and a baby, our transitions are super slow. It is discouraging to myself and my school-aged kids. They are willing to work hard in order to be able to be done before lunch. But the baby and the toddler take up most of my time! Have you done things any differently in years where you had a new baby? I would sure appreciate your advice. Thanks!

  8. Jo

    Thank you Nicole. I think I struggle with the concept of being tied to / living to a schedule more than the children! although I love the idea of it, I find sheer exhaustion on my part ….(toddler, sleepless nights, 6 yr old , 12 yo and 14yo (high functioning autism) and generally life with 4 boys and their dad is a chef so never here) means I run from one thing to another (whoever shouts loudest!) from the moment my eyes open to when they shut at night – I feel lucky to get through the day with all my hair intact most days! 🙁
    I shall keep trying to find a path for us – I don't want to quit though I start the day feeling defeated before I begin most days!
    Thank you for your blog posts

  9. Kimberly

    I love the idea of working more from the time tables and less from page counts, but I am wondering where the balance is for the quick readers out there. For example, my daughter had a literature book this year and I sent her to read for 12 min (she is 3rd grade). This book was intended to be used for the entire term. However, in that twelve minutes she independently read enough that she would have completed the book in 6 weeks time instead of 12. I know that part of the slow reading is that they have time to sit with their readings and to think about them. So, I’m trying to wrap my head about where we use the time tables and where the page counts might actually be important.

  10. Cynthia

    It’s school planning time and this series has been so valuable that I’m back to revisit it. 🙂 I’d love some insight on planning for the year. With something like history, should we forget the idea of covering a certain amount of time per year like say the Middle Ages? Or can it still be done with a schedule time, but be ready and willing to adjust/tweak/omit certain books ideas as the year progresses? It is very possible with our family situation (newborn) that we will not cover as much as I’d like to schedule.

  11. Samara

    Hi Nicole,

    Thank you thank you for this series! I have spent *quite* a bit of time working through each of the scheduling pages. Where I am getting stuck is what you do with the Ambleside Online books that don’t fit into my timetables? I have a toddler and a baby as well as a 6- and an 8-year-old. I barely get one individual reading done daily! So if the 20 minutes were interrupted 10 times by the toddler, it means that each AO year would take us about two years! Am I missing something? What do you do? How do you choose what to eliminate?

  12. christina

    Bumping this, as I’m also interested in the answer to Cynthia’s question about planning to cover a certain amount of history per year.

  13. Cindy


    I finally decided to read your blog. I’m SO glad I did! I’ve been trying to figure out a schedule and specifically what to get for this coming school year. (I emailed “A Delectable Education” a couple times–probably sounding fairly whiny. I think your blog is what I’ve been looking for overall. I’m not finished reading it yet. I still need to check out your video on how you create your schedule. And I probably really should read Miss Mason’s books (if I have time to listen to a podcast, why not time to read her books?).

    Again, I just wanted to say thank you for this. It’s been so encouraging to read. I don’t have to “do everything”; and I am certainly looking forward to a much shorter schedule this year as far as core school work is concerned (being done by noon…rather than 4:00 or 5:00pm).

    1. Nicole

      Thank you, Cindy! What an encouraging message. I pray this year will be your best yet and that every one thereafter will be even better. Do follow through with reading Mason’s own words. Now that the books are back in print it will be easier than ever. She was a very wise woman with much to teach us. Best wishes to you.

  14. Katie

    How do you deal with other children during the scheduled time? Say there is a 30 minute lesson time but the baby is crying and the 2 year old needs help going to the potty? That alone can take 15 minutes, do you just finish at the 30 minute point even though 30 minutes of lesson didn’t go on? Or do you extend the lesson?

    1. Nicole

      I do stick to the schedule. In short time you should be able to work out a schedule and habits with the younger children that allows you to get through most lessons without interruption, but when interruptions do occur you just need to pick up and move on. It’s not fair for a 30 minute lesson to turn into a 45 minute lesson for your student. Do keep in mind however, that by the time your student is doing 30 minute lessons, they are frequently doing at least some of that work independently.


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