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.

A peak inside my Homeschool Organization

homeschool organization | homeschooling without a school room

I’ve organized our homeschool in so many different ways. Early in our journey, we had a designated school room. However, for the last four years, we’ve homeschooled without a designated space—at the dining table, on the couch, in the kids’ bedrooms, etc. For years, I’ve organized our homeschool with a system of file folders, one for each school week or unit study topic. But last year, I found myself in a major  “loose-paper-crisis.” My kids were not following through with putting all those assignments away, and I ended up with a house full of loose school assignments EVERYWHERE. It was a nightmare! My solution is not brilliant, but hopefully it will be an improvement. So, here’s a peak into my homeschool organization for this year and my year-long goal to “inspect what I expect.”

A peak inside my Homeschool Organization

Bookcase in plain sight, with shelves for each child

I moved the bookcase to the landing on our stairs. This way, school can still be tucked away when I’m “ready to not see another school book for awhile” and yet, it’s also close enough that I can glance up the stairs and see if each child put away what they were asked to put away. It’s the principle of “inspect what you expect,” and last year I really failed on the inspection side of things. This year’s homeschool organization should allow me to quickly inspect without having to go room to room throughout the house.

At the very top are our portfolios (I’ll explain more about them later on in this post), our timeline, our counting bears and some shared spelling/phonics tools. The first cubby to the left are upcoming books. For instance, when my child finishes a math book or unit, this is the shelf with the new material. Next, shared games followed by shared encyclopedias and resources. On the middle row, each child has their own cubby to keep their specific books and resources. On the bottom row, I store some of the reading books for our current unit study topic.

homeschool organization

School Assignments Bound Immediately

I save money by doing a lot of my own printing from ebooks. It’s also the cheapest way to use Tapestry of Grace, our core curriculum. But to avoid the “loose-paper crisis of 2016” repeating itself, I’ve already “bound” their different school projects and activities into three-pronged folders. My sixth grader has a literature/writing folder and a history folder; my fourth grader has a literature/writing folder, a history folder, and a math folder (for her Math Mammoth curriculum); my kindergartener has a math folder (for his Math Mammoth curriculum) and a history folder (with his Story of the World coloring pages).

homeschool organization | make your own student notebooks

Clip-boards for projects in Progress

For each child, I purchased clip-boards that include storage. My idea is that our lapbooking/notebooking projects that we are working on can be stored inside the clip-board, while also providing them a hard work surface for coloring and writing. Once the projects are completed, we will immediately place them into our portfolios—and I will personally direct this to ensure that those projects actually make it to their final resting place. (“Inspect what you expect;” it’s my new school motto.)

homeschool organization | organizing lapbooking and notebooking supplies

Portfolios for final projects

Previously, we kept all school work in each child’s Case-it Binder until the end of each term. Then, we’d transfer to our portfolios. I’m sure you can see where my “loose-paper crisis of 2016” had its origins. What did make it into the Case-it binder (and wasn’t lost in every nook and cranny of our home, specifically the kids’ bedrooms), often got lost in the transfer process. I think as the kids got older and the amount of work increased, our old system became much, much too complicated. So this year, our homeschool organization includes direct and immediate transfer directly to the portfolio; there is no transitional holding place. It will be part of our completion of each unit study; we don’t move on until it’s in the portfolio.

Shared Supplies

All colored pencils, crayons, and markers are my personal possession and must be returned to me. I’ve had it with lost pencils and fights over siblings borrowing from each other. We started this summer, and so far so good. With all of their creative endeavors, I still own what I originally owned. And we all know where it is. Plus, with only one set of supplies, it’s much easier for me to “inspect what I expect.”

Thankfully, my oldest is pretty good with organizing himself if there is a good system in place. My middle child needs me to keep her on a shorter leash, to hold her accountable after each subject. And my youngest will need to fit into the same routine I’m establishing with his older sister: “put this away and get out your next subject.” Besides, all that running up and down the stairs will be a good brain break for my active learners.

While I’m hopeful that our new homeschool organization will remedy some of our past problems, experience has taught me that there is never a final ultimate solution to end all chaos. But I’m definitely ready to give it a try.

A peak inside my Homeschool Lesson Plans

a peak inside my homeschool lesson plans

Over the years, I’ve taken the whole idea of customizing our homeschool to a new extreme. Our homeschool style is largely classical with a Charlotte Mason twist, and my homeschool lesson plans tend to be just as “custom.” I plan some subjects in the most traditional sense; I loop-plan other subjects; and I just record what we accomplished for still other subjects. Because my homeschool lesson plans are so unique, finding the right homeschool planner can be a little tricky. Which is why this year, I’ve ditched the traditional planner and just picked up a cute graph-paper notebook from Plum Paper Planner

Take a peak inside my homeschool lesson plans.

Planning by Terms

I love the Charlotte Mason method of planning the year by three 12-week terms. We have one term in the fall, a one-month break for Christmas, followed by a winter term and a spring term. Each term, I change things up. We finish certain books or subjects and add in others. We finish certain topics in our classical-style history cycle and begin others. It also gives me the freedom to tweak our schedule every 12 weeks and re-evaluate what is working and what isn’t.

Planning the “Discipline” Subjects

My “discipline” subjects like math and grammar and spelling are easy to plan in the traditional sense. I figure out how much we need to get accomplished each term, dividing the number of pages or lessons by the number of days. I usually also assign how much time I expect the assignment to take, just to help us set goals and manage time well. From here, I type out a printable weekly assignment sheet that my kids use to actually check off their work.

homeschool lesson plans | term 1 schedule | dialectic stage

Planning the “Inspiration” Subjects

Our “inspiration” subjects include history, science, literature, and some writing. Although I assign certain books for my kids to read and plan for when I think we will get to those books within the term, I tend to loop-plan these subjects. As in, we move on when the topic has been covered. When we finish our projects and books on the Vikings, we move on to knights and castles. When we wrap up one writing project, I introduce the next. My younger two (K and 4th grades) will be continuing with science in this same fashion, looping through different biology topics. My 6th grader, on the other hand, likes to take his science more seriously, with weekly assignments.

In my homeschool lesson plans, this loop-planning looks almost like bullet journaling. I write in the projects, books, and audiobooks I expect us to get to in the next few weeks. As those assignments are completed, I’ll check them off. If they don’t get completed, it’s no big deal. I’ll write an arrow through the box and move the assignment to the following week.

homeschool lesson plans | weekly plans
For privacy, I’ve deleted my kids’ names from these plans, but you get the idea.

Planning “Meeting Times”

The time I spend one-on-one with each child is what we call “meeting time.” And I plan this time pretty loosely, mostly just recording what we’ve done. For my 6th grader, we plan to meet once a week, similar to last year. I’ll check over his work, hand back graded assignments, and answer questions on the upcoming assignments. New to this year, we’ll also be adding a discussion time with some questions about his reading and history topics, in a very classical model.

The “meeting times” with my younger kids are much different. For my kindergartener, all of his assignments require one-on-one with me. We’ll cover reading and phonics as well as math, and his time with me should take about 45 minutes or so each day. As those assignments are completed, I will circle the letter for the day of the week we worked together. At this stage, I usually work through subjects for an allotted amount of time, doing a little extra if he’s in the mood or a little less if he needs more playtime, rather than forcing him to complete an entire lesson on a particular day. I’ve never had any trouble completing subjects this way, and it gives my littles the flexibility they need early on.

My “meeting time” with my fourth grader is done very similarly. Because of her dyslexia and other learning challenges, she needs a lot more of my attention to get her harder assignments completed. Our subjects together include math, grammar, spelling, and some writing, but I adhere to the Charlotte Mason “short lessons” principle. All together, we’ll spend about an hour, and I’ll circle the letter for the day of the week that we got to each subject, alternating some of the subjects each day. 

Planning for flexibility

As you might have noticed, I don’t have daily homeschool lesson plans. I like to see my week and customize each day to get done what needs to be done. This allows us some flexibility and margin when we have busy weeks or bad days or sickness or whatever else life throws our way. On their good days, my kids will knock out quite a bit of the week’s work. On our bad days, we may only get to math. But by the end of the week, it works out—and I don’t stress about being “behind.”

We also have a unique schedule for easing into Mondays, which includes projects, game-schooling, art, and other casual learning opportunities. I don’t necessarily have a lesson plan for Mondays.

Though our system may not work for everyone, it’s perfect for us. Just like your system should be one that works for you, regardless of whether or not someone else could do it your way. That’s the nature and beauty of homeschooling—finding a learning lifestyle that fits your family, your personality, and your planning style.

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