By default, the homeschool life is full of the unexpected.
So how can you, as a home educating Mama, leverage your foresight, creativity, and problem-solving genius to set up easy-to-maintain systems for an amazing homeschool year? Having a strong planner that operates as a dynamic hub for your brain really helps.
Over the next three posts, I (Shelby, the residential homeschool nerd) am sharing my best tips, planning strategies, and proven systems for providing my children a consistent and rich homeschooling experience—even when life keeps on throwing the curveballs.
Use Your Calendar to Ward Off Overwhelm
Homeschooling veterans and experts are always encouraging us not to overload our schedules. We need quiet spaces in our week to guide our students through challenging lessons, work through character development, and establish strong habits.
But that's easier said than done. There are opportunities aplenty for the homeschooling family: co-ops, dance, sports, STEM groups, field trips, road trips, library days, church programs, volunteer projects, play dates, support groups for mama—and the list goes on, and on, (and on). So how do we embrace the best of these amazing enrichment opportunities without squeezing out the quiet space we need to feel at peace and in charge?
- Think of your month calendar as a visual grounding tool. Your goal is to be able to close your eyes and envision yourself living out your role as a home educator in the upcoming month. What feels overwhelming? What is actually logistically impossible? You don't have to commit to a bleak no-extracurriculars default, nor do you have to force life into a straight-jacket routine in order to create peace. But you do have to think things through. Don't let these tangles in your schedules stay buried as landmines that are just waiting to throw off your life-giving rhythms: as a home educator, it's your job to be proactive so that your students have the predictability and mental space they need to keep making progress.
- Always use a pencil for your month calendar so that you can easily rework plans. Once you get all of your commitments on your monthly calendar, it might become obvious which appointments you need to cancel, opportunities you need to skip, programs you need to drop, commitments you need to define, and rhythms you need to reimagine. Working in pencil allows you to revise over and over again until everything feels sustainable.
- Mark the days you won't be available for guiding lessons. Due to my work, re-occurring weekday healthcare appointments, and occasionally traveling without the kids—I know that I can't expect to be sitting down for lessons at 8am sharp, Monday through Friday, every August through May. It's important for me to see the days that I'll be completely unavailable to my children to help move their education forward. Until each of my students is reading well enough to plow through the bulk of their lessons solo (my eldest is only 6, so we're on track), these unavailable days affect their attendance records. If left untended, it could slide to an extreme and slow them down academically. I personally mitigate these things by schooling year-round, often in the car, and usually also on the weekends. The children love it.
- Group and batch commitments that take you out of the house. For protecting your margin in homeschooling, white space is your friend. If looking at your month calendar makes you sweat, there's not enough white space. You and your students are limited creatures—you can't do it all, and that's honestly a good thing. While museum trips and dance lessons are absolutely valuable, some of the most important moments in life happen in the pockets when the quiet ordinary is allowed to unfold. I've found it easiest to accomplish this by having a busy half of the week, and a calm half of the week. Within the busy half, we tack as many absolutely necessary errands as possible onto the classes that take us out of the house. Audio books, catechism songs, and on-the-go zipper binders loaded with independent work leverage our time spent in the car quite effectively.
- Remember what's good about your choices. Even after essentializing, looking at your month calendar can still feel intimidating. Don't worry: you're not doing all of these things you have planned tomorrow afternoon. There will be things you decide to absolutely keep on your calendar—and these things will take effort, and will displace slow mornings snuggled up on the couch with library books. But remember what is good about these choices. Nearly half of my October will be spent traveling (or preparing/recovering from traveling). This can feel overwhelming until I actually look at the trips we're taking. Two are retreats oriented around self-care, and one of them is a family trip to a historically-rich destination (which aligns just perfectly with our focus on American history and geography this year). I proactively created a list of non-essential appointments that I need to call to reschedule or cancel, preserving as many quiet days at home as possible in the other half of the month. The travel will be good, and I exercised my agency to minimize other things to help us have the space we need to really enjoy what we are planning to do.
Use Your Planner to Highlight Only What You Might Forget
You want whatever you write on your planner relevant to your homeschooling to jump out at you.
This means you shouldn't put every single detail about your homeschool into your planner. Simply use your planner as a short-term memory aid, allowing you to zero in on new habits you're trying to establish—as well as key indicators of progress that you need to oversee and check off.
I use the home column on my week grid to track high-level progress on our lessons.
Because my husband and I both work from home, and because we're in a tight-knit community where unexpected visits are frequent, I know that I need a way to track whether the basics are getting done every day.
Right now, this looks like a simple checklist on every day that we're home:
- AM list
- AM basket
In the flex space opposite of my week grid, I have a running todo list of homeschool-related tasks, which helps me to fly through Teacher Work on Monday afternoons when I set up camp at the coffee shop.
The two strategies I've outlined above are the most essential ways I utilize my planner to support my homeschooling journey. In the next two posts, I'm going to dive into crafting life-giving rhythms, brainstorming those trouble spots in your homeschool day, and how to keep your homeschool focused on what matters most to you.
The Evergreen Planner is designed to support you in these endeavors by serving as an effective hub for your brain—a tool that you can use daily to get oriented around the things that matter most, and to get solutions-minded about anything getting standing in your way.
Homeschool on, mama. You totally got this.
And, hey! We're in your corner. Just reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you need us.
Shelby and the rest of Team Evergreen