Planning Your Homeschool with Ease
Planning tips for your Homeschool Year
Have you ever felt unsure about how to begin planning your homeschool year? Have you stared at a blank homeschool planner and thought, “what do I do first?” Recently, a coaching client and mom of four reached out with this same dilemma.
She was excited to plan for her new school year, but felt stuck. In the past, she had used a curriculum with everything laid out. However, she was feeling stifled by it and wanted more freedom to do things that fit her unique family better. She has four children, between the ages of 9 and 9 months. Keeping everyone fed, clean, clothed, and educated while tending to their home and property is a big task. We had spoken before the baby was born and I helped her create a plan, which had worked well for that season. Now he’s more active and her other children’s needs have changed. So she came back asking for help fine tuning her new schedule and planning for a different season in her homeschooling journey.
She loves a slow morning and prioritizes quiet time, short daily movement activities that help her feel her best and getting chores done early in the day. Her children love playing outside and have daily therapy that requires her help. She wondered if this schedule would still work or if she would need a more traditional schedule of school in the morning and saving chores, outside time and self-care practices for later in the day.
This mama has done a lot of Connected Families foundation work and knows herself well. She knows she can better show up for her family when she spends time with the Lord and gets a walk or some exercise in. When her house is in order and things run smoothly with visual clutter under control, she feels more centered and at peace. Her kids do best when they can get outside for some fresh air, sunshine and meet some of their sensory needs by running, climbing, jumping and exploring! Once they come back inside, they all feel ready to learn and begin their schoolwork.
Maybe her school day looks different from the one described in the podcast she just listened to or the reel that just popped into her feed showing a lovely morning time followed by some math and language arts. That’s OK! Homeschooling is different in every home and family. What works for you may not work for your friend or that social media account you follow. There’s freedom in homeschooling, and that is what this client wanted to embrace. She just wasn't sure how. Here are some suggestions I gave her and thought you might find them helpful too.
It’s so tempting to just dive in and start planning. It’s exciting to think of the new books you will read and the shiny curriculum you will use. Who doesn’t love fresh pages and new stories to fall in love with? Starting the new year with open hands allows us to follow where the Lord leads. This sets us up to focus on His plans instead of our own. Praying for our year, our children and ourselves is the very first step and allows us to keep our hearts and minds focused on the One who knows our strengths and weaknesses and will guide us as we pursue to disciple and educate His kids, for His glory. Take some time to be still and pray about your school year. Include your family in this process and be attentive to what God shows you about His plans.
Knowing what worked and what didn’t work in the past helps direct our steps in the future. I love interviewing my kids at the end of the school year and hearing their thoughts about what they loved and would enjoy doing more of, as well as what needs a little tweak or maybe what needs to be let go of all together. Long time homeschool mom Mary Wilson has a wonderful free resource that I use. I enjoy reviewing highlights from the year and hearing my kids’ thoughts about what they want more and less of. It also makes a sweet keepsake! This process helps me think about our challenges or things we didn’t like and investigate why that might be. You can learn a lot by asking curious questions and staying open to the answers, even if it’s difficult to hear. Evaluation has been a helpful way to get my wheels turning and helps inform my decisions about which curriculum or classes to invest in. For example, my boys let me know a few years ago that they needed our morning time to be shorter. As they were getting older they wanted to jump into their individual subjects sooner and get some momentum for their day. That was valuable feedback and a simple thing to implement. It has made their school days work better for them, which means it works better for me. Reflection and evaluation are time well spent.
Determine if you will school year round and when you plan to take your breaks. Six weeks on, one week off? A more traditional summer break? Will you take advantage of your climate and schedule your long break when the weather is best for outside exploration? Pencil in your first and last day, vacations and holidays. Don’t forget to add field trips, meetups or co-op dates too.
Begin with the End in Mind
It’s helpful to brainstorm the things you want to make sure your kids learn in your homeschool. Life skills, character development, social-emotional skills, passing on your faith, preparing kids for life after high school…. These are important things to consider and make note of. What are your long-term goals? What is most important that you want to prioritize? Once you identify your long-term goals, you have the foundation for your plan. Now you can start putting everything together.
I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy of big rocks being added to the jar first. When we focus on adding those big rocks first the smaller things can slide in around them. For us, that is language arts, math and morning time. If that is all I can get done on a busy, grumpy, or doctor's appointment day, we are doing well. Some days we take the day off from “lessons” to focus on connection and morning time, reading aloud and playing a math game or doing kitchen math may be all we can handle. When kids are stressed, not feeling well or dysregulated and need a day to regroup, focusing on connection and helping them regulate their emotions is important. Kids can’t learn when they are dysregulated. Taking the time to get things back on track will enable everyone to be ready to learn more the next day. The big rocks are the primary focus and happen nearly every day, even if it looks a little more relaxed. These are subjects that make you feel accomplished when they get done first, or even when that is all you can do in a day. Big rocks take up the most brain space. When those get completed, you feel less anxious and have more peace and mental energy to enjoy your day.
These are subjects that don’t need to be touched daily and can be put on a loop or rotating schedule. For us, those include history, science, art, poetry tea time and things my boys have asked to learn about. I like to plan the little rocks quarterly because it keeps things fresh. I use the interview questions mentioned above to guide these planning sessions and include seasonal activities as well. Little rocks are done daily on a loop schedule. This means that if we don’t get to them, we just pick up where we left off the next day. No pressure and no need to feel behind. There is freedom in both the big and little rocks, which allows for the next step in my planning process.
Connection and Margin
Life is full of daily tasks, opportunities to build character and teach life skills. I am a big proponent of connection over curriculum. The Connected Families framework is built on foundation (what’s going on in me?) and connection (what’s going on in my child?). In order to be the best mom and home educator I can be, I have learned that as an introvert and highly sensitive person; I need to plan plenty of margin in my day. Taking time to get myself in a good physical, mental and spiritual place helps me handle the demands of running our home and learning alongside my boys. That has looked different in the different stages of life. However, it mostly includes moving my body, spending time in God’s word and making sure my house is running smoothly, keeping visual clutter to a minimum. You may have different needs that make you feel your best. Identifying those is so worthwhile and can really improve your days, making them more enjoyable for everyone. I often included my boys in these activities. Teaching kids about chores and responsibilities and showing them how to take care of themselves by setting a good example helps them build habits that will benefit them for a lifetime. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn and a long journey.
I have learned how much my foundation depends on these things. In order for me to be regulated and emotionally safe for my kids, margin is critical. Squeezing too much into our day and expecting everything to go smoothly is unrealistic. Helping my boys regulate big emotions and work through sibling issues or meltdowns over math requires time and effort. It also requires patience, which can only happen when I’ve taken care of myself. I wish I could say that I have always done this well, but truthfully, this has been a tough lesson too. Parent Coaching helped me understand the importance of knowing myself and my boys so I can better handle all the curveballs that come my way. Margin also allows me to connect with my boys whether that is through sitting next to a stressed out kiddo doing a lesson side by side, preparing a snack to tame a hangry boy or throwing the football around after a concentrated time working diligently. It also looks like pivoting to play a game or take the dog for a walk when things are just too much for everyone. Brain breaks are important in our days and don’t happen without a little margin built in. Margin + connection = a happier homeschool.
My plan relies heavily on the Connected Families framework because homeschooling is really just parenting everyday all day. Before learning how to use the framework, I was more stressed out and my boys were more dysregulated. I also have practiced taking my anxious thoughts to the Lord. By prioritizing my own wellbeing, focusing on God’s truth and staying grounded in the Connected Families foundation principles, I’m able to enter my homeschool days with more peace and confidence. The connection and coaching parts of the framework have helped me to prioritize relationship and skill building over curriculum. Because of these principles, our days are smoother and filled with more joy!
By listening to her children and taking their ideas and interests into account my client felt a renewed inspiration about planning. She is leaving room for rabbit trails, hobbies, life skills and character development. She is putting her big and little rocks in their proper order and feeling more freedom. Not every box will get checked every day, but her quarterly loop schedule is in place so she can relax and enjoy her kids more. She knows this will be an ongoing learning experience. The baby’s nap schedule will probably fluctuate, so she’s planning in margin and has a flexible mindset to help her navigate these changes.
This is such a wonderful way to start the year! Her excitement will spark her children's excitement. She knows how to set up her daily routine in a way that honors herself and her family and is grounded in the Connected Families framework. This means when things fall apart, and they will, she has a plan to get everything back on track. I’m looking forward to walking alongside her on her journey and supporting her as she continues to educate and equip her children. I love hearing her enthusiasm as she puts these pieces together.
If this resonates with you and you would like help on your homeschool journey, I would love to support you. Parent Coaching and homeschool mentoring are excellent ways to get the encouragement and help you need. You can get your questions answered, and have a seasoned homeschool mom to talk things through with. Planning your homeschool year doesn’t have to be stressful. I’d love to invite you to book a free consultation and see if this is the right fit for you. Hopefully, these tips will take a little of the overwhelm out of planning your next homeschool year. I’m here for you and am cheering you on!