5 tips for Planning for your Homeschool Challenges

homeschool challenges | homeschool planning

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.

Realistic Expectations

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.

Homeschooling through a Rough Start

rough start to homeschool | homeschooling rough starts and failures

In spite of well-laid plans and brand new supplies, the beginning of each new homeschool year seems to bring it’s own unique challenges. Ours is no exception. Our first year of homeschooling, I shut the whole thing down after our first month to revamp everything that wasn’t working. One year, everyone caught the flu on “start week.” Another year, we moved across country, arriving in our new home in September. With all of these challenges and changes, both good and bad, I’ve learned that there is something to say for “soft starts” to a new year and easing in. There’s also nothing wrong with homeschooling through a rough start.

Because we have a few of those unique challenges this year as well, I started a couple of weeks earlier than normal to allow ourselves the opportunity to ease in and break for life’s surprises. Our first day was beautiful! The picture-perfect day of happy kids elbow-deep in clay and learning.

homeschool first day

The next day, I went head-to-head with one of my kiddos, repeating for the millionth time that conversation of “it’s against the law for you to not do school, so you better work with me here.” Day three was somewhat better, and the week slowly improved. Our second week has been up and down as well, and I’ve already decided our math curriculum might not be working out. We’re off and running to our usual rough start.

But experience has shown me, we will get through it, and the year will run its course of smooth turns and rough patches. My friend, that’s life! That’s parenting! That’s definitely homeschooling. We always have visions of the ideal, but we have to remember that rough starts aren’t failures— they are simply rough starts.

3 things to remember if you are homeschooling through a rough start:

  1. A rough start does not characterize your year. Every good book opens with a conflict. Every good story involves overcoming challenges. The fact that your year may be off to a rough start does not mean you are going to have a terrible year. But it may help you to understand the challenges, the conflict, that will be part of your homeschool story this year. And just like a good book has twists and turns, ups and downs, your homeschool year will, too. The greatest stories are about those who overcome the challenges. Your rough start is merely chapter 1 of a great adventure.
  2. A rough start does not define you (or your child). It’s easy to let those difficult moments define us, to think a failed attempt means that we are failures. But that isn’t the case. Often, we can see that in everyone’s life but our own. Your rough start doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for this. Your child’s rough start doesn’t mean she will be impossible for you to teach or even that she will always be this challenging (though it sometimes feels like it). Accept God’s grace each day, for yourself and for your child. I’ve had some rough patches with my kids, but we love this journey together. And each year, we make great memories. The challenges are often part of those good memories, as we learn to overcome together. 
  3. A rough start is sometimes part of gaining momentum. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike how difficult the first few pedals were? You wobble along trying to keep your balance until that momentum picks up, and then you are off! Sometimes, a homeschool year has that wobble at the start. You push and push and push. Then, the momentum of learning picks up and things get a little easier. Each time we stop for a break, there is that wobble of beginning again. But just like learning to ride the bike, you hang in there, knowing that if you push past those first few ungraceful moments, you’ll make it.

Are there exceptions? Are there rough starts that just aren’t meant to be? Of course, everyone’s story is different. But as a friend who’s been there a few times, let me say that if you are homeschooling through a rough start, take heart. Chances are, it’s only the beginning.

3 tips to brighten your homeschool blues

ideas to recharge | homeschool blues | homeschool discouragement |

January and February are the toughest months to homeschool. Just about everyone will tell you that. I’m not sure if it’s holiday hangover or the dreary winter weather or just the fact that the newness has worn off. Whatever it is, the “homeschool blues” are in full swing this time of year. If that’s you, you are not alone. 

Our first week back to school at the beginning of the month was rough. After a month off, no one was really feeling like buckling back into the structure of daily school, least of all me. But each week, it’s gotten progressively better. My daughter’s dyslexia gave us some major challenges in that first week, but a few adjustments had her motivated and excited again. So, how do I battle the homeschool blues when they hit?

Here are a few ideas to recharge your year and get back on track.

3 tips to brighten your homeschool blues

  • Recharge with something new. Add a new subject or unity study. Purchase some fresh school supplies, even if it’s just fresh crayons or a new notebook. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or expensive, but adding anything new gives you all something to be excited about. For my daughter, I picked up a couple of new dyslexia apps for her to use and a new pack of colored pencils. She’s raring to go now. That’s all it took. Other years, I’ve purchased new binders and organizing supplies. Work within your budget, but just a little spark can add a lot of energy.
  • Bring back an oldie-but-goodie. Pull out a favorite book you haven’t read together in a while. Play a favorite game, educational or not. Spread a favorite blanket on the floor and do school on it. Take your school work to a favorite location you haven’t been to in a while. Take advantage of those fond memories. The energy connected with that fun memory can recharge everyone as you make new memories.
  • Shake things up. Don’t make this harder than it has to be. Maybe you need a new schedule or a new order of doing things. Maybe you just plan to do a few things “out of the norm” for you: a pajama day, backwards day, or star wars day. Let them dress up and do school as their favorite superhero or sports figure. Have a tea party for reading time and play legos for history. I think a lot of the “blues” comes from just needing to air out. Change the scenery. Do school at your local library one day, or at Barnes and Noble, or at the mall Food Court. Anything to surprise your kids and add a sense of adventure.

And here’s a bonus: do something that recharges you!  “Secure your oxygen mask before assisting others”—kind of thing. This is not the same for all of us. I can tell you how I recharge, but that may do absolutely nothing for you. Maybe cleaning and organizing your school area will do the trick. Add a new Bible study, exercise routine, or arts & crafts time. Or perhaps, schedule some time alone with a cup of coffee and a good book at Barnes and Noble. In other words, let’s take care of ourselves. We can’t fill cups from an empty pitcher.

In my small group at church, we are going through Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God study, and I’m journaling through Ephesians. I’m reading Uninvited by Lisa Terkheurst (my favorite author) and Craving Connections by (in)courage. And I write. Writing is therapeutic for me. I write to empty my head and shush those thousands of voices. But I’m muddling through, too. My dishes are behind, I just finally put away Christmas, and there’s a thick layer of dust and dog hair on everything it seems. I’m behind in so many areas of life. I’ve survived the holidays with no energy left for this next lap. But I know one thing: it get’s better. Yes, this lap is hard, but I’ve pushed through before and the sun does shine again. The energy does return. In the meantime, God’s strength and grace is sufficient, if I’m willing to receive it.

Hang in there, friend. If you are already feeling discouraged and burned out, don’t make recharging your homeschool something intimidating or overwhelming. Pick a few small changes to bring a little sunshine back to your day. Just a little light can go along way in brightening those homeschool blues.