How To Plan Your Homeschool

My first year of homeschooling I had four kids, including an infant, ages five and under. We lived well below the poverty line and I probably don’t need to tell you that I received way too little sleep at night and, despite striving for perfection (or maybe because of it), was a little on the crazy side.

Also, I was the first person I knew to ever homeschool. So I built the only thing I knew, styled after the government schools I’d grown up in — bottoms in a seat six hours a day, five days a week, nine months per year, with occasional holiday breaks. We were going to study math, grammar, literature, writing, Latin, ancient world history, chemistry and Spanish.

It was a disaster.

Nobody wanted to sit in the desks and they all disappeared every time I left to change the babies diaper. And when we were all in our “schoolroom” it felt like the ape house at the zoo.

How do teachers manage classrooms of 25 when I couldn’t manage my four?

Last year was my nineteenth year of homeschooling. Four of my eight children are in college and live away from home, so I again just had four children, ages 8 to 16.

It was a night and day difference, partially because I know what I’m doing now, but also in large part because I sleep at night. With eighteen years of experience under my belt, our “homeschool” looks a whole lot more like part of our regular daily routine and and a whole lot less like “school”.

We learn for about 3 hours a day, but the only subject I require each day is math — the rest is child-led, independently learned and chosen by my children. Most of their subjects are literature based and my kiddos are voracious readers, and read voluntarily.

I almost never have to nag and my commitment to school is only about an hour a day. It is heavenly!

Instead of taking a 3-month summer break, we travel frequently throughout the year and leave our books at home so we can focus on the natural learning that happens when you immerse yourself in a foreign culture.

Your family circumstances will differ from mine, but I can unequivocally and universally tell you that, no matter what your particular situation or homeschool style, a more relaxed plan will serve you better.

In fact, I’ve learned that I’m happiest if I take what I think I can manage and reduce it by half. All I can manage might feel okay for a few months, but by Christmas I’ll be drowning.

You know yourself and your limits best. Just make sure you don’t fill your schedule to the very edge of your limits.

Here are the steps I use for homeschool planning:

1. Create a year-long calendar.

If your state has a minimum attendance requirement, this will help you to make sure you’re meeting it. Some people like to plan backward. For example, they check their child’s math textbook and see that it contains 120 lessons and 16 tests. They then divide 136 total days into quarters and plan their homeschool calendar that way. Public schools are usually in session for 36 weeks a year.

Homeschooling is much more efficient, however.

Me? I don’t care when my kids complete their textbook, so long as they do indeed complete it before we start the next one. I’m not really a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl, I’ve just learned from experience that this type of planning is happiest for my family.

So my homeschool planning looks more like making sure Field Trip Fridays, holiday breaks and all of our trips are on the calendar, and that I haven’t scheduled myself to be in two places at once, regarding orchestra, music lessons, classes, extracurricular classes and fun homeschool activities. In other words, I schedule life first, then pack the learning in around life.

2. Decide when school will begin and end.

We homeschool year round because we like to travel for months at a time during the off season, when everyone else is in school and things are cheaper! Homeschooling during the summer also helps us stick to a routine for my sanity! But it’s also fun to have some back-to-school and last-day-of-school traditions, which we couldn’t have if there was never a beginning or end. So I do stick a little week-long summer break in there. I can handle the insanity of not having a routine and just letting the kids go hog wild on books and video games with no bedtime for one week.

3. Check subject requirements.

If you’ve only got elementary kiddos, you probably have very few required subjects if any. At a minimum, they should probably study math, reading and grammar. If you are unsure, just start with math and a weekly trip to the library. 9th grade and higher students should check the requirements for where they plan to attend university, if they plan to.

4. Set some goals.

If goals are your thing, this is a great time to set goals. I don’t set goals for our homeschool because I encourage my kids to set their own goals (and because — let’s get real — I can barely manage my own goals!). That could be part of your homeschool planning for the year if you wanted it to. This could include things like wanting to pass the AP test in the spring or learning a new piece and auditioning for a concerto concert in the fall.

5. Create a plan for achieving your homeschool goals.

If it’s not written down and mapped out, a goal is just a wish. Hah! I’m such a hypocrite because I don’t even set goals for our homeschool. But if you’re more organized than me, I think they could be very valuable as part of your year-long planning.

6. Encourage participation.

What do your kids want to learn this year? Of course, mine have probably never chosen math and I still require it. One year my kids chose to learn cake decorating, which led to baking, which led to cooking — all of which were great opportunities to learn math and chemistry along with life skills. If your kids choose their subjects, they are probably much more likely to complete the curriculum with less fuss.

7. High School planning has additional requirements.

Homeschooling High school does actually require a little more planning in order to make sure you cover the basics before your child graduates. Read this if you are homeschooling high school.

And that is how you plan your homeschool!

Does that sound WAY too simple? Unless you are creating a homeschool plan for a high schooler, it is very simple.

There is honestly no need to make homeschool lesson plans, to schedule out dates for specific math lessons or to push to have everything you started done by May 31st, unless you AND your children like it that way.

You’re a homeschooler now!

Little Susie doesn’t need to complete 3rd grade math at age 8. Little Johnny doesn’t need to have 371 sight words memorized before first grade. The standards schools set aren’t terrible in and of themselves.

After all, I appreciate that the construction company who built my house followed construction standards that were checked by a licensed inspector so that I don’t have to worry about electrical fires. You know?

The problem is when standards are arbitrarily applied to an entire group of humans.

Kids don’t work that way.

Six of my eight children read fluently before the age of five. Two of those six taught themselves to read. The other two of my children, both boys, were completely uninterested in reading until about age seven.

Both of those boys happen to be incredibly athletic and they were busy learning other things. Neither of them are even remotely behind academically. One is studying electrical engineering at an excellent university with three full-tuition scholarships. The other is 15-years-old, finishing up Calculus and reads for fun.

If I had pushed either of them to read, it would have been frustrating for both them and for me, and they would probably have felt dumb and would have been reluctant to continue to try. So instead I read aloud to them, focusing on the most adventurous, appealing books I could find.

I took all of my kids to the library every week and let them earn D.E.A.R. camps (Drop Everything And Read) as a reward. I’d let my non-readers choose books they really wanted to hear, but not be available all the time to read them aloud.

I’d give them reasons to want to learn to read.

And then they would approach me and request some phonics lessons.

And they would voluntarily and even eagerly put in the work. You can make things easier and infinitely more pleasant if you just relax from the start.

Do I need a homeschool planner?

I’ve tried using various homeschool planners and they haven’t worked for me. But some homeschool moms swear by them! It’s up to you! 

If you have to track state requirements, you might like a planner that helps you do that. I’ve homeschooled in both Utah and Texas and never had to (thank goodness).

If you do use a planner, don’t schedule too far out. Life almost always gets in the way. While you do want to have a general idea of what you want to accomplish, planning out exactly which lessons you are going to teach which days will just be frustrating.

Let your children’s needs and desires direct your plans and not your planner. There will be days when math doesn’t make sense and your child misses half of the problems and you will want to repeat the lesson the next day. Planning should always be flexible enough to meet individual needs.

I know how exciting it is to imagine your precious little person discovering the cure for cancer and thinking he’d better be proficient in biology first, so you should get started now. I also know from sad experience how quickly that type of thinking leads to burnout!

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