Three Simple Homeschool Planning Strategies to Prevent Burnout

Are you a mom who looks forward to marathon sessions of homeschool planning - all the books and resources laid out on the table where you can lovingly shepherd them towards their divine destiny in your idyllic homeschool year?

Or do you dread the thought of slogging through hours of work to get read for yet another school year ... when maybe you're really not so enthused about hopping on that merry-go-round yet again?

If you're feeling exhausted and overwhelmed with homeschooling, piling up mountains of curriculum so that you can figure out what on earth to do with them next year may sound like just as much fun as  scrubbing the floor behind the toilet. (Woo hoo!)

You can almost imagine that all those textbooks are whispering "Yea, right, lady. You know there's no way you're going to manage all this." Why spend your free time wallowing in fear of failure? Isn't it better to just face the inevitable when the school year starts - even if that means constantly winging it - than to taste the pain proactively?

But, mama, there is another option. There is a happy medium between the imaginary bipity-bopity-boo of idyllic homeschool planning and the I'd-rather-just-wing-it that inevitably leads to overwhelm.

I'll show you how to approach homeschool planning the simple way - and with an eye for preventing yet another year of exhaustion and burnout!

Yes, Your "Why" Really Does Matter

I've heard many a homeschool mom poo-poo the idea of crafting a homeschool vision and setting goals for the year. I know, it sounds kind of froo-froo. Like corporate-speak for something "consultants" with PowerPoint presentations tell people in board rooms to do.

But here's the thing. Unless you know where you're going, how can you know when you get there?

One of the most frequent concerns I hear from homeschool moms is "How can I know if I'm doing enough?"

Oh, Mama. Don't you see how you set yourself up for anxiety each year? You're a homeschool mom! You are overflowing with a deep yearning to provide your children with a rich and beautiful education. You have a limitless imagination for things that could be such wonderful additions to your homeschool.

If you measure yourself against the visions in your head, it will never be enough. You will never be enough.

Stepping foot into your homeschool year without a clear vision and concrete goals is like stepping foot into the grocery store with no meal plan or shopping list ... and you're hangry. No matter what you add to the cart, you'll never know if it's enough, because you don't know what needs you're filling and you're being driven around by your emotions.

Do This Instead

Set aside some time to consider what you're doing and why. It doesn't have to be a weekend away. You can do this in an hour or so. Yes, it's great if you can work on this before a new school year begins. But if you're overwhelmed with homeschooling, do it this week.

A simple way to organize your thoughts is to grab a copy of Pam Barnhill's "Plan Your Year". It will help get the juices flowing with targeted insights about homeschool vision and goal-setting, and then walk you through the process step-by-step.

It's a workbook-style resource, so you don't need an avalanche of office supplies. Just pop it into your tote bag and jot down your thoughts and responses to the question prompts while you wait for the kids to finish piano lessons. Bonus: it is brightly colored and super-cute, so you'll feel like a planner girl even without the pretty pens and washi tape!

Filter, Filter, Filter

You can't do it all. We can agree on that, right? And as a matter of fact, most of the time, when I talk to homeschool moms who worry that they might not be doing enough, the truth is that they are trying to do too much. (Blame that limitless homeschool mom imagination. And Pinterest.)

Now that you've got a vision and a clear set of goals, use them to filter, filter, filter like crazy. Here are the two things your homeschool plan must include. (Yes, just two.)

  1. Resources to help you meet your goals.
  2. Margins. Plenty of margins.

Yes, you need tools to help you accomplish the things you want to accomplish. Those tools might be textbooks, an online subscription, a list of read-alouds, or any number of other options. But you don't need six ways to meet each goal. You need one.

And you need margins. You need white space in your day. You need it for mama's sanity. You need it for flexibility. And you need it for optimal learning.

We say we want to grow life-long learners. We say we want children who are self-motivated and creative problem solvers. But do they even have time to build these mental and character muscles in their day?

Do they have open-ended time to pursue their own projects? Do they have time to process the things they have been learning and make connections with other ideas?

Or are their days (and yours!) crammed full to the edges with endless activities all geared towards assuaging your never-ending anxiety about "doing enough"?

Do This Instead

As you are shopping for curriculum or considering adding in extra curricular activities, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Does this specifically help me to meet one of our goals? (Or, related, do I already have another resources that works towards this same goal?)
  2. Will adding this in unnecessarily limit our margins? (Don't think "Better safe than sorry"; think "Is it really worth giving up margins for this?")

"Plan Your Year" is a great resource for this part of the process, too.  Pam includes a meaty section on the most common homeschool methods (from Classical to Unschooling) so that you can get a feel for your preferred flavor.

She'll also help you to understand the difference between skill subject and content subjects - and the best ways to approach each. She's included lots of great suggestions for the factors to consider when evaluating resources, too.

Flexibility is a Must

Freedom and flexibility are two of our greatest assets as homeschoolers. And yet, I constantly watch homeschool moms voluntarily sign away their rights by enslaving themselves to a "classroom" approach, or chaining themselves to a curriculum as taskmaster rather than tool.

Just because you've decided that a particular curriculum or resource will help you to meet your stated goals doesn't mean that you are then obligated to use it just the way it's written.

You don't have to do the lessons in the lesson-plan guide every day for 170 straight days. You don't have to make your kids write out answers to all the discussion questions at the end of the chapter. You don't have to do all the math problems on every page. (Really. You don't.)

Also, you are just asking for burnout if you don't come to terms with the real-life factors that are going to shape your homeschool days. Planning without taking into consideration the pokey-procrastinators, the math phobias, and - especially - the preschool and toddler crowd isn't "the power of positive thinking". It's a failure to maintain a grip on reality.

Do This Instead

There are so many ways to think outside the box about your homeschool day. But it's hard to do it from down in the trenches. Step back and ask yourself how your family and your day naturally flows and then make a schedule that conforms to this organic atmosphere.

Instead of six subjects a day, five days a week, what about a four-day week? What about loop scheduling (like rotating through a handful of content subjects during morning time) or block scheduling (taking a deep dive into one subject for a period of time and then moving on to another one)?

Plan Your Year includes not only processes and forms for homeschool planning, but also a plethora of articles and ideas for making your materials work for you. For example, Pam provides three different ideas for how to adapt a pre-planned curriculum to meet your specific needs.

She also includes tips for managing homeschooling when you've got multiple kids in the mix - including those in the preschool and toddler category.

Give Yourself this Gift

I know the curriculum budget might be tight. But "Plan Your Year" is a treat worth giving yourself because it will exponentially multiply the effectiveness of every single other homeschool resource you purchase for your family.

Not only does it include vision and goal setting, schedule planning resources, and abundant ideas for flexibility, but it also includes tips for things like planning your own unit study and keeping all of your homeschool materials organized.

Grab your copy from Amazon or from Pam's website.


Lynna Sutherland is a homeschool mother of eight always-homeschooled kiddos ranging in age from high school to kindergarten. She loves to encourage parents in the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling and offer creative ways to manage a large family and a multi-age homeschool!

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