The reality of any plan is this: it’s going to change. I’m constantly planning, constantly changing, constantly rethinking, constantly trying to make our days run more smoothly. But I’ve learned that the key to a good plan is how well it flexes. How well does a plan hold when life hits it? Planning for your homeschool is so much more than plotting out what days you do math and when you finish the year. There are toddlers and sick days and unexpected visitors and laundry and overflowing toilets and doctor visits and — life is messy, unpredictable. Planning your homeschool well involves planning for your homeschool challenges, anticipating what can and will go wrong and allowing for the chaos in your plan.
5 tips for Planning for your Homeschool Challenges
Routine vs. Schedule
Over the years, I’ve homeschooled with a newborn, toddler, poop-throwing potty training toddler, preschooler, ADHD times 2, dyslexia, month long stomach flu, and a coast to coast move. Let me tell you, the key to a good plan is a good routine. And I don’t necessarily mean a timer that goes off at 8:30 to indicate school has begun. (I’ve done that, too.) A good routine is a rhythm of life that fits your family. Set up your day by routines rather than specific times; have a morning routine, an after-snack routine, an after-lunch routine, a before-supper routine, etc. The idea is to allow for some distractions and upsets. If your child ends up in the bathroom at 9:00 in the morning and stays there for 15 minutes, you’re not behind schedule; you simply pick up wherever your routine left off.
I am the worst at assuming I can do more than is realistic. But the reality that reigns me in is that I do only have so many hours a day. One of the first things I do when I’m planning a new routine is to list how much homeschool time I really have. What can I personally give my children, and what will need to be done independently? When I had a newborn and was nursing, I had to realize I could not personally provide all the instruction my kids needed. I purchased website subscriptions and online learning games. When potty training, I set up a lot of our homeschool time near the bathroom and in the hallway.
The idea is that we have got to lower our expectations. We simply can’t do it all. Something does have to give. In order to have a successful plan, be realistic about what you can do. I know I can provide one hour of instruction for my daughter and one hour for my kindergartener. That means with my fourth grader, we don’t do every subject every day. I work with her in a few subjects on certain days and the rest on other days. I understand that my priority has to be quality over quantity. In other words, one good writing lesson once a week will get more accomplished than a stressful, distracted, rushed lesson everyday. A good 10 minute lesson will teach more than 45 minutes filled with disruptions. Less really can be more.
System that flexes
My motto this year has been “the next thing.” I’m learning that some days, we knock out a huge amount of work and other days we come to a screeching halt. Instead of stressing over what is or is not getting done, I’m focusing on “the next thing.” We cover our studies one lesson at a time; we move on when my kids are ready to move on. That means we take two weeks for spelling lists instead of one. That means, my son lets me know when he’s ready to take that Latin quiz; sometimes its at the end of the week, and sometimes he needs two weeks. (I do set a two week limit.) Somedays we get through three math lessons with Right Start, and some days I can’t get past the warm up. We move on to the next topic in history when we’ve read the books and finished our projects for the first topic. We take things one at a time, because I’ve seen over and over again that it all washes out in the end.
How does this work in my actual lesson plans? I have an overall plan for the year and for each term; then, I sit down each Sunday night and plot out what I think we will get to in the week. If we finish it, I put a checkmark. If we didn’t finish it, I put an arrow through the box and write it into the following week’s plan. For my kids’ assignments, I don’t write out specific lesson numbers. Instead, I assign “math for 30 minutes” or “Read a chapter in Courage and Conviction.” They move through their assignments in the same way we move through the week, doing the next thing.
Celebrating the little things
Sometimes learning takes on a mind of its own. Your kids find an interest and run with it, a free video lesson pops up in your newsfeed that you know they’ll love, you stumble upon a gem on Netflix that you’ve just got to watch together, you get caught up in your read-aloud and can’t put it down. Maybe your kid writes and illustrates his own comic book, or repairs an appliance in your garage. These are all learning opportunities, and a flexible plan allows you to embrace these moments. Often, I will record these in my planner, too. It’s learning. It happened. I want a record so that at the end of the week when I have that “what have we gotten done” moment, I can see that learning did happen even if all my boxes aren’t checked off.
Willingness to try again
Planning for your homeschool challenges, bottom line, is a willingness to keep planning, to try again. Don’t scrap the whole plan, but be honest about what isn’t working. Maybe your time with your child is awesome, but independent work just isn’t happening; try a new plan. Just try it out. The best inventors and innovators, those found the most success in life, realized that every failure brought them one step closer to success. In the end, these are the life lessons that are the most meaningful for our kids. We are educating more than just their minds. We are teaching them that it’s okay to try and fail and try again. It’s part of the process. It’s part of life.
Homeschooling is challenging and filled with ups and downs. It’s beautiful in the way that birth is beautiful—a painful, messy beautiful. It’s life, and life is unpredictable. Planning for your homeschool challenges means you have a direction, a vision, and an end in mind; but you are also embracing that homeschooling really is about the journey, not just the destination.