A “Busy” Mom’s Guide to Weekly Homeschool Planning

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Let me tell you about my “busy.”

It’s 11am. And even though I’ve been up since 7am, I haven’t eaten yet.

I haven’t started teaching the lessons for today yet either. I know I need to start preparing lunch instead of lessons at this point, because if I don’t eat-something-now I may just collapse.

I make a quick sandwich and begin eating.

The 3-year-old sees it and begins whining for food too (I’m never allowed to eat anything without one of the children thinking that they should be given what I have) and the baby works herself from a fuss to a full cry.

Our schedule spiraled out of control all because I was daring enough to take a shower this morning.

All of this chaos keeps me busy. Constantly fighting to keep just a step ahead of the next task, mess, or meal.

This is the type of busy that causes 24-hours to fly by and feel like nothing has been accomplished, and it is often to blame for not planning or setting goals. This is the busy that most often keeps me from my priorities: “inside busy.”

“Outside busy” can be just as troublesome; it is the plague on our culture to book our calendars with good things that take us out of the house.

So, how can I get homeschool planning accomplished if I can’t even make time to eat breakfast?

Homeschool planning guides say something like:

Set an appointment with yourself and ask your spouse to take care of the kids in order for you to focus on planning for the next week.

I tried this.

But it was discouraging because it basically never worked. The “inside busy” always distracted me, derailed my schedule, and discouraged me that I would never have a moment to restfully plan ahead.

And even though my husband is my greatest support, our “outside busy” keeps us from being able to find a concrete time that I can count on to get this task done.

Last year I floundered with our plans. We didn’t have curricula that was highly structured so I could get away with not charting our week or our days. Each day could be planned on the fly. (But I did record everything we did in our Bullet Journals.)

But not so this year. We have dedicated ourselves to a more disciplined path, and with that path comes a higher standard of planning ahead.

So, how do I manage to plan when I have to compete with inside and outside busy?

First, write!

I write down anything I can whenever I can, and it helps me get a little bit done here and there. This was hard at first because I despised having to leave the task unfinished. At first, I also struggled to pick up where I left off. But over time this became normal and helped me understand our rhythms even more accurately which leads me to the second tip for planning.

I'm writing a little bit while snuggling the newborn. It's possible; be creative!

I’m writing a little bit while snuggling the newborn. It’s possible; be creative!

Second, refuse to be distracted by bad planning.

  • Planning is not just arbitrarily writing activities and times in my calendar and then crossing my fingers that it will work.
  • Planning is not writing the same schedule over and over every week without actually using it.
  • Planning is not best accomplished the day of or spontaneously.
  • Planning is not pushing on to the next lesson. Neglecting the child’s understanding of the subject and moving on to more and more lessons without allowing time for the child to master the subject is not good planning.

Third, focus on taking baby steps toward the goal.

Like I said in the first point, writing what I can when I can is a baby step toward the overall goal of writing a weekly homeschool plan.

Start planning earlier than your deadline. I need to have all my plans laid out by Sunday evening in order to start the new week on Monday. I used to wait until Sunday afternoon to plan, but after a busy morning at church and a full belly from Sunday lunch I tend to forget how important it is to be productive. So, I finally learned to start planning for the next week on Thursday. By that time in our current week, I have a good handle on what we’ve done and what we won’t be able to do. I am able to see clearly what pace we are currently working at and adjust for the next week – either faster or slower.

Fourth, set a general plan for the month and keep an eye on it.

Before we start our 6-week term, I write out how many lessons we need to accomplish in each subject. I have already calculated an approximate number of lessons we need to work through for each term in order to finish each subject by the end of our school year. But I only write the lessons in the calendar one month at a time. (I explain this in detail in a video which I will publish soon!)

Fifth, know your week.

Remember this “homeschool stuff” isn’t just added on top of your life – homeschooling is a lifestyle. In order to best accomplish your goals for leading your child in the learning life, you need to know what demands on your time you are going to face for the week. Each week is a little bit different in every home. There are appointments, plans with friends, extra trips to the grocery store, etc. If you know in advance that any of these things are coming up, then they need to be accounted for in your lesson plan. 

Watch this video to see what I mean.

I use my Bullet Journal to chart my week. I write out each day of the week on the left hand side of the page, and then I list the events of that day along with what meal I plan to make for dinner.

These are the 2 major variables: where we need to go and what will be for dinner.

These two parts of my day account for the bulk of what consumes my time. If we have a doctor’s appointment for example, it isn’t just that time of day that we are “busy” but at least an hour beforehand in prep to leave the house. Also, we require a transition period once we get home. I have to be prepared for what I’m going to ask my children to do when we arrive back home. This has to be flexible and take into account their energy level, hunger, and time of day. It’s important that I don’t push them too hard nor neglect them because I failed to plan. (Let me know in the comments if this is confusing and I can explain more about how I plan for our transitions.)

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The same idea is true for dinner. Writing out that we will have pork barbecue sandwiches on Monday night requires more than just 30 minutes before 5:00pm to assemble. Every single dinner meal goes through a thorough “how long will this really take to make” process. There are days when I know I will have time in the morning to prep a crock pot meal and mornings when I won’t. I chart out our Outside the House appointments and then factor in how much time each meal requires. (Again, if it would be helpful to have this explained in more detail, I would be happy to share.)

Finally, always think a day ahead.

Because of the lessons in the evening and morning courses by Crystal Paine, I have been trained to plan ahead. I can’t tell you how life changing this little shift has been! Instead of packing the diaper bag on our way out the door, I pack the night before. Instead of writing the agenda the morning of, I write it the night before – this helps to double check our week’s plan one more time too. I take account of our daily timeline for the next day but this time with a lot more perspective. For example, on Monday evening I look at the Week Plan and see that I want to run a couple errands before the library for our “Tuesday Plan.” But Monday was a very tiring day. We had a busy Sunday and needed more rest Monday to recover which means that we didn’t finish our Monday household chores. So, I move my errands to the next opening in our schedule and try to lessen the amount of time out of the house because I know 2 things: #1 we won’t have the energy to run around town, and #2 if we don’t make time for our chores then our home gets out of balance.

The bottom line is that planning requires consistent, daily management. If you will do the daily work of thinking through your responsibilities, then the weekly spread will come together quickly and practically.

Practice makes permanent! Keep planning and it will become a habit regardless of how busy you are.

Want even more encouragement for the learning journey? Click here to join the Accountability Group!

Looking for a way to make staying at home more affordable?

Grocery University will teach you how to save your money so that you can use it on more important things – like books!

(Affiliate links used in this post. At no additional cost to you, any purchase you make from these links supports my family!)

Write Your Plan: Homeschool Planning Tip #5

HPT 5 Write Your Plan

Feeling the pressure to get ready for the first day of school?

Last year, I wanted to force myself to use my time wisely in preparing for a new school year. So I made my daily work public by writing everyday for the month of August. (You can see the whole list of topics here.)

Depending on your family’s needs, this may be crunch time for getting your homeschool ready for the new year. Whether you’ve procrastinated and have nothing ready or you’ve steadily gathered your resources and feel ready, you’ll make some sort of plan (even if it’s just in your head).

But the bigger challenge we all face is creating a plan that can be put into action (you know, not the “ideal” plan but a “real” plan). 

Here’s how:*

#1 Start by mapping your family’s year. This step is defined for you in this post.

#2 Be the student. Read all the Instructor’s Guides, Introductions, and anything else included for the teacher in each of your resources. Pace yourself; don’t attempt this all at once! I disagree with experts who say that you can schedule a Saturday and crunch this all out. I prefer to read one subject at a time. I mull over the information and I don’t move on until I really feel like I understand it. My main goal for this step is to really grasp the main point of the resource. I want to be able to express this goal in my own words.

Ideal. All my resources tidy and in order while reviewing them.

Ideal. All my resources tidy and in order while reviewing them.

#3 Make it your own! Once you grasp the author’s goal for the resource, then you can define your own measure of success in utilizing it. I ask myself this question: “What will it take for us to master this subject?” In most teaching resources, they include a scope and sequence but it may not be titled as such. It might be the “introduction” (scope) and “sample schedule” (sequence).

#4 Pencil in a plan that fits your family. Don’t over stress the details nor throw your schedule to the wind.

Real. This is what it actually looked like while I read and reviewed my resources.

Real. This is what it actually looked like while I read and reviewed my resources.

Here’s what I do:

Read the introductions and sample schedules

Count the number of chapters and divide the material by the number of weeks needed to account for school (remember to review your state’s requirements for what you need to account for)

Plan for the first term and stop there (Resist the temptation to fill in your blank calendar.) Writing only what I hope to accomplish within the first 4-6 weeks allows me to gain perspective on how we actually handle our resources without the pressure to keep the pace. After the first term, I can then adjust our pace based on the first term without having to rewrite our whole year plan.

Write a sample week including all the subjects (Look for a post – coming soon – “A Busy Mom’s Guide to Weekly Homeschool Planning“) 

Use my Ultimate Homeschool Planner’s monthly and weekly worksheets:

  • Monthly set’s a bare bones skeleton
  • Weekly set’s a limited focus on only what I need to accomplish

Pray and get to work!

If there’s one last piece of advice I can leave you with, it is to have confidence. You can figure out how to use the tools you have, you will be able to manage all the parts of your homeschool (with patience and practice), and you are the best teacher for your child!

Here’s to the start of an amazing 2016-2017 Homeschool Year!

*These tips assume that you’ve already defined your teaching style and have chosen the resources that work best for you and your child. If you’re feeling stuck because you don’t know your educational philosophy or you don’t feel confident to choose resources then check out these posts:

Want even more encouragement for the learning journey? Click here to join the Accountability Group!

Looking for a way to make staying at home more affordable? 

Grocery University will teach you how to save your money so that you can use it on more important things – like books!

(Affiliate links used in this post. At no additional cost to you, any purchase you make from these links supports my family!)

Know Your Style: Homeschool Planning Tip #4

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There is so much more to planning a homeschool year than putting dates and assignments on a calendar.

I wish it could be that easy.

Two years ago, that’s all I thought it took. I opened up all my resources, gathered the time frames suggested in each, wrote out the units on my planner, and mentally clicked on “autopilot.” I truly thought I was not only doing what was best for our year but I was also tricked into thinking that the schedule would somehow run the show.

I thought I was being logical: If we have deadlines on the calendar, then we will accomplish all of our work on time.

This didn’t happen.

Not at all.

To our credit, we were still sort of settling into to what it means to learn at home. It was the first year that I would say my kids were past the “kindergarten” stage of just needing the basics. So, I honestly didn’t know how to incorporate different subjects on my own. That year, I didn’t buy a curriculum-in-a-box with a master checklist of the daily list of to-dos.

Also, this was pre-Bullet Journal and pre-Make Over courses.

I simply didn’t know how to manage a day well. I didn’t know how to manage myself well. My style at the time was still developing, but I didn’t realize the work ahead of me to define a working routine that would bless both my kids and myself.

So, before jumping into the same mistakes I made (or other ones, there are many to choose from) like filling in your whole homeschool planner with dates and deadlines – take a few days to define your style. Your style for accomplishing your responsibilities. There are so many “right” styles, the only wrong one is not knowing what yours is.

Are you energized by a busy schedule?

Are you defeated before you begin if your house is a mess?

Do you thrive on field trips and spontaneous learning?

Or do you need someone to help keep you accountable to check off the lessons in your child’s math book?

We all have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to management and leadership styles in the home. As a home educator, you’re both – whether that sits well with you or not.

I’m learning that my style is slow and steady, housework then schoolwork, in more than out, and the discipline of “withness.” These are the realities that go into my homeschool planning for the year, month, and week. When I prioritize these into each day, it not only benefits our school day but it also fuels me as a person. I feel more alive when I’ve honored the way I’m wired to function.

Notable in November 2

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to recommend Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace (affiliate link). I wanted to tell you about the section where Sarah Mackenzie details the virtue of rest and the 2 vices on either side: Anxiety and Negligence – but I can’t find the page. So, instead I’ll recommend that you think about this (from page 57 – section titled The Truth About You):

“We must look ourselves squarely in the eye and decide what is true about how we operate best, then base our homeschools on those truths, playing to our strengths and providing for our weaknesses. The result? The children benefit tremendously, regardless of their unique learning styles.”

The truths detailed in this little book (seriously, only 81 pages – even non-readers can read this) are worth spending a few weeks with before planning the nitty-gritty details of what you want to learn and accomplish this next year in your home.

Don’t neglect this piece of the planning process! I hope you can be encouraged to spend the rest of this month steeping in truth, digging in to understand yourself better, and committing to steward the resources available to you.

Planning Your Year-at-a-Glance: Homeschool Planning Tip #3

HPT 3 Year at a Glance

Maybe you’re like me and the rush to start planning for the next school year has already faded.

Don’t give up! One thing I continue to learn is that baby steps in the right direction, with the long view leads me not only to my destination but also to a sense of personal satisfaction.

So, let’s jump into the planning tip for today: Get your planner ready now.

This coming school year, I will be using the Ultimate Homeschool Planner. To learn more about this planner, click here.

(Last fall I flirted with buying one of these even while writing all my Bullet Journal posts. A friend of mine picked one up so I was able to see it in person – that makes a huge difference to me when considering any purchase – and I was impressed.)

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I still believe that just using a Bullet Journal can be best for keeping all your thoughts, plans, and agendas in context – the homeschool mom needs to simplify, right?

This year, I wanted to try something different.

The Ultimate Homschool Planner will allow me to write in so much in advance, and for that I’m grateful. With the new baby about to make her arrival in just a couple weeks, I want to be able to have as many ducks in their rows before life takes a major shift in momentum.

Because no matter how much money I spent on the curricula and resources, they won’t use themselves. I need to make a plan.

Start with a “Homeschool Pause” (see picture above). I listed out what my feelings are, milestones to expect, discipline issues (self included), and challenges and temptations. I will use this list (I’m actually not a big journaler, my thoughts and feelings best come out in lists) to fill in the pages of the Ultimate Homeschool Planner.

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Next, beginning to fill it in:

  1. Read everything. I know it’s tempting to skip “Introductions” and I’m all about saving time and being efficient (skimming is fine for some intros), but for homeschool resources – I believe it is best to take in the author’s point of view before forming your own. For example, the creator of my planner Debra Bell recommends setting aside a whole day for your first year-in-advance planning. But I’m not going to do that. I see her point for why she recommends it, but I know it doesn’t work for me. Picture this: I ask my husband for a Saturday away to plan for the next year. Said Saturday arrives and I start off by going to my favorite coffee shop. After ordering, sipping, and finding the “best place” to set up my whole shah-bang I realize I’ve wasted an hour. So, I feverishly start to read the introduction while being distracted by the couple at the next table who just started a political conversation. Ugh. This isn’t going to work. I decide to finish my coffee and pack up in order to go to the library where it will be quieter. But….there are just a dozen other distractions at the library. So, in short: #1 I plan best at home, #2 I plan best in short spurts. But I read her suggestion and I’m implementing it in a way that works for me. IMG_4148
  2. Research your state’s requirements for the number of days you will need to account for school. (Read this in depth post on state requirements for homeschooling.) Then in either your planner or Bullet Journal make a spread of the whole year – block out vacations, holidays, and any other known special days. Gage which months will be heavy school months and which ones should be light. Keep in mind how many total days you will need to account for. IMG_4149
  3. Set goals for each student. This goes back to the first post I wrote on why planning now is important versus waiting until August. Ideals, dreams, goals, and the like get cast off in the rush to just get started when running late. The whole August overwhelm takes over and these important things are forgotten in the face of the urgent. So, do it now! Write just a few short and sweet goals for each child. What are their interests? How have they grown or failed to grow this past year that needs your encouragement and focused attention? List 3-5 character goals, and 3-5 academic goals. These may be items that fall on your shoulders in order to see them accomplished. Don’t expect that just writing down “learn to spell” will magically occur for that child without your direct involvement. So, be very careful how many things you list, especially if you have a larger nest. IMG_4150
  4. Family Priorities. Why do you homeschool? What do you want the greatest point of this next year to be? What makes the people who live under the same roof as you different from everyone else in the world? Honor those things and write them down so that you can continue to pray over the list. Use this list when making decisions so that you can have the confidence to say “yes” or “no” to the many options that will come into your family life throughout the coming year. Seasons will come and go – busy, slow, fruitful, hibernation – these priorities will help to keep you emotionally stable as you pass through these changes. 
  5. Write a resource list. Keep an account of everything purchased and intended to be used this year for each child. This is the time to make cuts and additions. If the list is already overwhelming and you haven’t even began your year – cut it out, set it aside or sell it! Don’t pile on more than you can handle. Chances are your children will do a few things well or many things poorly. IMG_4151
  6. Choose a start date. This will be unique to your family. Some school year round, others start on the same date as the public school system in their area. Whatever makes the most sense to you, start with that month and write out that month. Look for potential setbacks and scheduling conflicts now. This will help you again with making commitments.

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A few other reasons why I like the Ultimate Homeschool Planner are the Monday Meetings, Weekly Reviews, Weekly Planner, Teaching Tips, Reading Lists, Year in Review, and Record Pages. Setting up a planner is more than just writing out dates in advance, it is a means of accounting for your time.

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It all comes down to time management. Whatever helps you to be a wise steward of your time with the responsibilities and talents you have, use that!  

Get your own copy of the Ultimate Homeschool Planner or learn how to use a Bullet Journal for homeschool moms.

Up next in this series: Know Your Teaching Style (How to avoid the vices of homeschool moms.)

Related Posts:

Just jumping into this series? Catch up by reading Tip #1 and Tip #2. Also, note that some links on this site are affiliate links. Thanks!