Do you struggle with making and keeping a homeschool schedule? Have you tried writing out exactly what you plan to do each day only to have those plans crash and burn? When this happens, it can leave you feeling stressed and anxious. The idea of planning out lessons is great, but for some of us, it just doesn’t work.  I am one of those people.  Let me tell you what we have found that works for us.

Finding The Right Level of Planning

After many years of homeschooling, I have realized that the most stressful mistake I can make is planning too much. It is almost guaranteed that if I make an elaborate plan of what we will do each day this week in each subject, someone will get sick and not be able to do the plan. I don’t know what kind of karma I have that makes this happen so often, but it has led me to give up on planning the way a school teacher would plan. However, this does not mean we are adrift with no plan whatsoever.

I have three basic ways I plan. One is big picture planning with curriculums that have set lessons. The second is big picture planning for the year for subjects I am cobbling together, or planning myself. The third is my on-the-fly, weekly, or possibly daily plan of what we will actually do.  Let’s look at each.

Using Curriculums

Some curriculums are designed for your child to do the lessons in order and just move through the program. Math, phonics, and spelling programs are usually like this. They are easy to pick up and use as you go. While some of these programs may require manipulatives, workbooks, or other supplies, you can usually keep them together in one place.

For these programs, I keep my stress low by not predicting which lesson we will do when during the year. We simply get out the book and do the next lesson on the days we schedule those subjects. In my planner, I write after each lesson what we DID do, instead of writing what I think we will do.  This means less stress because we can also spend extra days on any lesson that my child finds difficult. Sometimes, we finish a curriculum mid-year, and sometimes a program rolls over to the next year because we needed to take our time, or had a lot of sick days when we didn’t work. These programs are also ones where if we do finish a level mid-year, we can just start the next level when the child is ready.

If I am using a prepared science, art, or history program, we treat it the same way. We just do the next lesson when we are ready for it. However, I find with those subjects, I do have to look ahead weekly to gather supplies for projects and experiments. Trying to predict how quickly we will get through the program is stressful, so I either buy lots of supplies in advance to have on hand, or I plan week by week.

Doing it Yourself

The areas I plan myself most often are science and history. After many years of struggling, I have found a plan that works for those subjects in our family. At the start of the school year, I make a list of topics we will cover for the subject. That list may be one based on a curriculum I am adapting, various research I’ve done, or just a list of what I think we need to cover. I then put that list in the front of my planner and check off each topic as we cover it.

I do more in-depth planning as we go throughout the school year. So, for example, if I am moving through a list of topics in Ancient History, I don’t worry about planning something for every item on the list at the start of the year. Instead, I start each week by looking at the main list and choosing a topic of the week. Then I plan how to cover that topic this week. I find that assigning each important topic a week for us to learn about it, is a good pace for us. This way, if we have a day full of appointments or don’t feel well, we can usually still cover that topic on other days.

Planning the Week

Let’s say we were going to cover ancient Mesopotamia this week. I would spend time on Monday morning or Sunday night finding videos, reading assignments, and activities we will use for the week’s lessons. A quick Google search will often turn up a few good ideas and I can also hunt our bookshelves for random things that may fit with the lesson. If for some reason we can’t finish this week’s plan, we can roll it over to next week. However, if I find we are dragging and not making progress on a topic, sometimes we just move on to the next topic on the list next week. Moving forward to more interesting topics can be just as important as deep diving when a topic grabs our interest.  I have also found that for my child who doesn’t want to deep dive very often, continuing to move forward to new topics is better for learning than trying to force us to focus for a long time on a single topic.

Next, I go look at where we are in our phonics, math, spelling, or other programs we are using. I try to make a plan for which days we will cover which subjects with which child. As I said, I don’t have to worry about which lesson we are on, we are just going to do the next one in the program. However, I do try to look at the schedule for the week and decide which subjects I will teach on which days. We rarely do every subject every day with every child. That just burns us out.

I may note in my planner the subject I want to cover and then leave room beneath it. This way, I can add notes of what lesson or topic we actually covered. Sometimes, I skip the planning of which day we will do what and wing it. One of my children really likes having a whiteboard up that lists what subjects we will study each day, so for that child, I do that. I write out a list of days and subject areas and adapt my lessons to match.

No Right Way

There is not a right or wrong way to plan your homeschool year. If you struggle with programs that are designed to take 38 weeks of the school year and you can’t make them fit your life, try this method. I also write curriculums without firm schedules so you can adapt them to work for you. 

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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