Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources
On Time and On Task

On Time and On Task

Training the children to do their tasks on time and in a timely manner is no small feat, yet it can be done with planning, keeping to the schedule, and lots of family prayer throughout the day.

Mornings can be hectic in a Catholic family. Getting kids out of bed, saying the morning prayers, dressing for the day, changing diapers, eating breakfast, and cleaning up the kitchen is a pretty tall order for a busy mom. Getting an early start in schoolwork may seem to be impossible, but decades of experience have taught me that there is no substitute for a regular and early time to start the homeschooling lessons. You might want to try some of these few simple ideas that helped my children to accomplish much more work, and better work, in a shorter time when they were fresh and ready to go in the morning.

A Good Morning Actually Starts the Night Before

Before the children climb into bed, I make sure the children tidy their rooms with soiled laundry off the floor and in the hamper. The children lay out the next day’s clothes, so that each child has clean socks and underwear, and “what to wear” was already decided and easily available.

I kept breakfast simple during the week. I set cereal bowls, a box of cereal, and some bananas on the counter, for the older kids to help themselves and to help the younger ones when needed. I had my children in the habit of putting their dishes, glasses, and utensils, and those of younger siblings, right in the dishwasher after eating. Some parents like to use paper plates and bowls to reduce cleaning up time.

Have a School Bell

One of the main reasons I found success in my homeschooling was my determination to set and keep to an early and regular start time for school work. You might like to purchase a small bell to ring to start the day. It sets a “school tone” when the “school bell” rings. Some children think it is fun and like to take turns ringing the bell each morning.

If you have only one or two children in the primary grades, a 9 a.m. start time may work for you, but if you have older students or several students, a schooling start time of 8:30 or even 8:00 worked much better for me, and may work better for you. Decide on the time, and consider setting an alarm on your stove or microwave for yourself.

At the daily set time for school to begin, have the children say a prayer, such as the Morning Offering, a popular favorite of homeschooling families. Some homeschooling families like to include the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag after the morning prayers. Consider involving the younger children by having them take turns holding the flag during the Pledge. In my family, the end of the Pledge was the beginning for the daily schoolwork.

On Task Right Away

I prepared lesson plans based on the Seton course manuals for each child, using the blank planner that Seton provides. I liked to write several weeks at the beginning of each quarter, but I know some moms like to write their own daily plans each weekend. My lesson plans for the children were very abbreviated, often just writing each subject in the left column and then, under phonics, for example, p.1, p.2, p.3, p.4, and p.5, for Monday through Friday. The children checked off pages they completed, but wrote “Mom” next to any assignment for which they needed my help.

If my daughter had trouble finishing just one section or one problem, she would put an arrow next to the problem so I could go back and help her. If she did not understand how to work the assignment in its entirety, she was to write “Help” in the lesson plan; however, she was to move on to another subject until I could get to her to explain the lesson that was not understood.

With the above procedure, both the student and I could tell at a glance what work was finished, and what still needed to be done with my help. This was a very helpful tool for me when deciding if a particular child could spare time that week to make social plans.

Some moms simply write a date next to the particular daily lesson in the Seton Course Manual for the student to work, especially for the older students. Sometimes, when a lesson needs a second day for practice or re-studying, the parent simply writes the next day’s date for the same assignment. This is particularly true for high school assignments.

Seton has made lesson plans even easier for moms by providing them online, with the computerized ability to re-arrange the lesson plans. This is helpful for students who can do two Seton lessons in one day in one subject, and in another subject, must take two days to do one lesson.

Some children are very astute at choosing subjects that they can finish independently, while other children seem overwhelmed with the details and need more guidance. I number the assignments in the lesson plan indicating what order the student should work on first, second, third, and so on. Some parents, however, arrange a schedule by time, so that religion may be at 8 a.m., math at 8:30 a.m., and so on. Most parents schedule the more difficult subjects for the individual child in the morning hours. For the high school levels, most parents allow the students to choose the hour of the day for their subjects.

When I schedule myself to work with a child with English or a difficult subject for that child, I would schedule the other children with their easy subjects, such as spelling, vocabulary, or handwriting. With that kind of planning, the other children would not interrupt me when I needed to work with the first child on his difficult subject.

Getting Little Ones on Task

Children in Pre-K through grade 2 will not be able to work as independently as older brothers and sisters, but that does not mean they cannot be trained to start every school day on time and on task. I place books or assignment papers set up on their workspace the night before. A nice art project for this age is to make long colored bookmarks for their books, so mom can mark the page that little ones can begin before mom is ready to sit down with them.

Pre-K and K students can practice writing a letter or number they are working on. I would write the letter in yellow highlighter for them to trace. I like to have simple assignments always ready for a student to do on his own either to start the day, or to fill in the time until I can help him. In the Catholic schools of long ago, every student was required to have a book to read in case the assigned work was finished or the teacher was not ready to begin the next subject. I found that always having assignments pre-planned for the children accustoms them to starting schoolwork punctually at the same time each morning and to move ahead if I were not available.

First and second graders can do some simple work, especially if mom has briefly explained it that morning or even the night before. These children like to practice writing the date or the day of the week, or recording the weather, in their notebooks. They also like to write little stories about an experience they have had, or to even write their own little fictional story. Many young students can do the next assignment in phonics, spelling, and math with little or no help. An advantage of the Seton worktexts is that they tend to follow a regular pattern in the way lessons are presented. This allows us moms to better predict what children will need help with and plan accordingly. For example, when I knew that my child could not yet put his spelling words in ABC order without my help, I can still have him practice the words by writing them three times each.

Mom in the Morning

The ideas above are intended to give us moms a bit of breathing room during our busy mornings to change one last diaper or throw a load of laundry into the washing machine. I have found that if my children get in the habit of starting whatever work they can do without me, several good thing happen:

  • They learn to be punctual by starting at the same time each school day.
  • They learn to work independently.
  • The idea that mornings are reserved only for school work is reinforced.
  • They learn not to waste their time.
  • They themselves are surprised and pleased at what they accomplish.

I find I must be careful myself to stay with the children. Because the children are busy at their schoolwork, does not mean I can do household tasks. I, too, need to be determined to focus my time everymorningonthehomeschooling. I have found that unless I am in the same room as the students, working with them, they will almost always lose focus and begin horsing around. Sometimes I must insist that a particularly mischievous child pick up his book and sit where I may be working with another child.

My experience is that I must reserve household tasks for after school time and have the children help. I let phone calls go to voicemail and do not even think about checking email or Facebook. I was most successful if I devoted every morning to home schooling.


  • Start home school the same time everyday.
  • Start as early as is practical.
  • Children start even when I am not yet available.
  • Devote every morning exclusively to schoolwork.

About Ginny Seuffert

Ginny Seuffert has been a leading writer and speaker about homeschooling and Catholic family life for more than two decades. She has given hundreds of talks at conferences and written three books. Meet Ginny | Ginny's Books
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