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.
In the last post, I wrote about the best ways to optimize your planner for looking at your month as a whole, and also how to utilize your planner when getting into the details of each day and week. Today, we're diving into how life-giving rhythms can support your homeschool day!
Use Rhythms and Visual Cues to Keep Things Going—Not Just Your Planner
Once upon a time, I tried to write down every bit of information relevant to our homeschool somewhere in my planner. After a few weeks of that, I realized I was duplicating my work and crowding my planner with notes I didn't really need it to hold.
This also meant that the reminders in my planner that needed to jump out to me were lost in a sea of detail.
I was trying to force my planner to hold a ton of information that I didn't really need it to.
As a homeschooling mama, there are three groups of information I need to keep up with:
- This Week: What we're doing this week, materials we need prepared, and finished work needing to be assessed.
- Upcoming: Where we're headed, how options and opportunities may fit into the bigger picture, and the resources I need to still acquire.
- Past Records: What we've already done, and examples of the progress that my students are making
I really only use my planner to support me in two of these categories:
- to keep up with key tasks for this week,
- and to brainstorm ideas for upcoming educational pursuits,
- —oh, and to develop and maintain rhythms and habits that strongly support and nourish our homeschooling as an entrepreneurial family lifestyle.
This photo shows the full system I use to manage our education. Let's unpack each stage of my simplified workflow:
1. This Week (Rhythms & Environmental Cues Keep Our Education On Autopilot)
I've totally bought into the Charlotte Mason concept of creating an "atmosphere of learning"—and for me, that means I've literally organized my house to put our education on autopilot.
Here's how my house is organized to facilitate learning and essentialize my own workload:
8am: We have a Morning List for each student hanging on our refrigerator. Immediately after morning hugs, I ask them if they have completed their morning list yet. They know they need to finish their self-care and chores before breakfast, and that they have to complete their school / practice responsibilities before asking about anything related to screens or adventurous play. If I have time, I spread a "feast of learning" alongside a simple breakfast.
9am: Our Morning Basket is stored next to the breakfast table, making it a cinch for me to select our current devotional while my children finish eating. Then we listen to catechism songs, and whatever else is up next in our Bible/history/science/enrichment subjects.
11am: My children's Independent Work Binders are stored in a ready-to-go tote in my bedroom so I remember to reload them every evening when I'm tidying up my desk. After morning basket, I tell them to go get their binders and get started on their reading and math assignments. I chose the curriculum they use for these skill subjects (All About Reading and Singapore Math) for their excellence, low-prep nature, and conduciveness to independent progress. Sometimes my 3yo wanders off to do something from his Montessori shelves while I'm working with the 6yo. I store key language and math manipulatives close by, enabling me to quickly whip up a supportive lesson if my daughter needs it to accelerate mastery.
Afternoons: Our afternoons are kept flexible. Sometimes I need to work, and so I send the kids outside to play until quiet time. Sometimes we hop in the car as soon as Daddy emerges from his home office to go find a waterfall on the mountain. We always keep our river hiking shoes, picnic blankets, field guides, nature journals, richly illustrated books, and front-porch nature shelves ready for action.
PM rhythm: I refresh our Montessori shelves in the living room when I get the hankering to during evening cleaning rhythms (I usually feel like it every 2-3 weeks). I put out self-teaching, self-correcting activities that are geared to especially engage my 3yo (although my 6yo certainly strengthens her skills with them). He often asks me to do something from the shelf with him, leading to wonderful quality 1:1 time.
PM rhythm: Our Ready-to-Go Tote is always kept stocked with their Independent Work Binders and the key supplies we'll need to complete assignments even while on the road, as well as the read-alouds assigned for the week by our spine curriculum (usually I write this, but this year we're doing Playful Pioneers). I reload their Independent Work Binders every evening when I'm cleaning my room and resetting my desk for work the next morning. (I kept their skill work curriculum on my desk for a while as a visual cue for establishing the habit.)
PM rhythm: The children's independent assignments are placed in the To Do pocket of the folder they have in their respective Independent Work Binders. Their binders were selected for portability, and stay stocked with sharpened pencils, colored pencils, glue sticks, safety scissors, relevant flash cards and readers. The work they finish is placed in the Done pocket. When I reload their Independent Work Binders with fresh assignments, I check their work. If something needs to be corrected, I write "Try Again" with a repeat symbol at the top right-hand corner. They can always come to me for assistance with their independent work, and I'll make sure to provide extra support for anything they don't seem to be grasping. (My children are 3 and 6. This system has been phenomenal for keeping my emerging reader 6yo moving forward even in the busier weeks, and my bookish 3yo feeling intellectually nourished.) Completed work is moved to a folder in my Mama's Morning Basket Binder (the leather zippered binder pictured) so I can select the best examples to file in our Records Binder when I'm doing deep teacher work.
I'm a total nerd, so brainstorming the future of my kids' education is basically my favorite hobby.
- I use the flex space on my planner's Day Spreads to sketch out random ideas I have whenever inspiration strikes (it helps lodge the best of those ideas into my long-term memory, so they come back easier whenever it's time to do something with them).
- I use Trello to brainstorm future syllabi and save resources, Google Docs & Sheets to put things in order, and Canva to create visually interesting resources for my kiddos.
- I use the flex space of my Week Spread to keep a running list of homeschool-related tasks I want to do.
- I create a few goals for each of my kids every January, April, July, and October when I set ROOTED Goals. I keep single page that reminds me of my overarching goals for my kids' education in the very front of my Mama's Morning Basket Binder, which helps me to navigate opportunities that arise.
I go wild when outlining plans on my Trello boards—and then tame them into a more realistic syllabus later.
3. Past Records
It was really liberating when I realized I didn't need to keep any records in my planner. For a long time, I'd been trying to create systems for recording what we did each day, and then harvesting those details at the end of each week to be filed into my long-term record system. Then I realized I was asking my planner to be too much.
The purpose of my planner is to ease my short-term memory workload. And as perfect as our Annual is for preserving memories, it is still not really designed to be a critical archival system. When I untethered myself from unrealistic expectations, I ended up with an organic workflow that's really minimized the amount of work I have to do in record keeping.
Here's how it works:
- I write most of our Bible/history/science/enrichment curriculum, so in my Mama's Morning Basket Binder, I keep a loose syllabus for the week. It includes our week's selections for catechism, Bible reading, hymns and folk songs, poetry, composer study, art study, geography, and a list of ideas for hands-on enrichment. As the week progresses, I highlight what was accomplished and add notes about anything additional learning experiences that happened. The 4-5 syllabi we have for the week are filed in the appropriate long-term Records Binder. (This year, we're doing the Playful Pioneers, so these plans are already done for me!) I keep our spine curriculum in our Morning Basket for easy daily access.
- I take pictures often. I try not to distract my students with the camera (I only ask them to stop and smile if they're showing completed work), and since I'm not personally on social media anymore, there's no pressure to stage the photo, or make it interesting / aesthetic / understandable to anyone else. When I'm preparing long-term records for our Records Binder, I can easily go through my camera roll to harvest notable learning events and activities that I should include. This is honestly way more reliable than making sure I covered all of the records on my syllabus.
- Every 1-2 months, I sit down and update our "Books We Read This Month" Lists, and file them in our Records Binder.
- Our Records Binders are organized thusly: we have one binder per form (I=preschool, II=elementary, III=high school), and each binder has a divider for each student. I keep work that displays progress, effort, and/or heart. The children's work is marked clearly with their name and date, and is sorted chronologically.
The Evergreen Planner is designed to support you in crafting effectively daily rhythms 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