Planning for the Non-Planning Homeschool Mom

If you'd ask me a year ago if I was the type to plan my school year over the summer, I would have said, "No way!" That sounded completely overwhelming and also like a big effort in futility.

I mean, why write down what you're going to do every day of the school year in advance? In a house like ours, we'd be exactly 23 minutes into the school year before I'd be erasing and changing all.the.things!

I did't put that many erasers on the school supply list.

Homeschool Planning is not what you think.

Of course, moms who have been at this gig (and who have been planning for it) a lot longer than I have will know that is not what it means to homeschool plan over the summer. It's not about filling in little squares on a calendar or lesson planner which will then taunt you as the whole schedule has to be shifted and adjusted over and over and over again.

Instead, planning over the summer is like putting soda in the fridge so it will be cold when you go to drink it.

We have this cool little device that sits in our fridge. You put soda cans in the top. They roll down the top level to the front of the bottom level and hey presto, the sodas that have been in the fridge longest (and are therefore coldest) are right there within reach.

Summer homeschool planning isn't about deciding what you will do each and every day. It's about setting up your nifty little homeschool-lesson-dispensing racks, deciding how you'll fill them, and getting at least the first batch ready to go.

You need to Sort, Slot, Stock and Select. (Also, try saying that three times fast. Lots of snorts and storks over here as I write ...)

Sort Your Homeschool Plans

First - and this is so basic - you've got to decide what kind of soda even belongs in your fridge. There are so many factors that go into this decision. If you sent your kids into the soda isle and said "Pick whatever looks good" you'd need to dedicate the whole fridge to soda.

In the same way, mom, if you wander the vendor hall at a homeschool convention or pour over a homeschool curriculum catalog or website after ten pm, you could wind up massively overstocked on homeschool curriculum and things you're expecting to accomplish over the summer.

You need to define some clear guidelines for yourself that will help you make wise choices. In the world of homeschool planning, those are usually referred to as Vision and Goals.

Your Vision is a broad statement that helps keep you focused on why you're homeschooling and what you want the atmosphere of your homeschool to be. Goals are more specific and define exactly what particular objectives you want to work on this year.

You'll also want to consider the grape sodas of homeschool planning. You know, that thing that you get every year determined this year you'll really use it ... but it always winds up leftover and gone to waste.

Only get the sodas you'll really use.

(If you want more help crafting a homeschool vision and setting clear goals, I highly recommend Pam Barnhill's complete course Plan Your Year. She'll walk you through the planning process step by step! You can also find the workbook alone on Amazon.)

Slot Your Homeschool Plans

OK, now you've got your soda stash at home. But before you start stocking the fridge, it's time to set up the nifty little soda rack slot thingies. Here's what that means in terms of homeschool planning.

Here's a picture of the box that contained our little soda rack device. See what they did there? They didn't fill up that whole rack with just one kind of soda.

I mean, you totally could. You could have a "Math" rack in your homeschool schedule that contains all math soda. But you could also get creative.

You could have a "Morning Time" rack that you fill with a rotating variety of things like poetry, memory work, hymns, and read alouds.

Or, you could have a "Read Alouds" rack that you fill will books drawn from your history, science, literature, and Bible plans.

Or, you could have a "Skills Practice" rack for independent work time that you fill with things like handwriting or typing, piano, math facts, and more.

Making a homeschool schedule is about setting up your slots. Once you've got the slots in place, it's time to stock the slots.

This may seem kind of obvious, but the number of racks you choose is limited by space in your fridge. You can't dedicate all your fridge space to soda racks. Leave plenty of extra space for the grocery-shopping-day overflow. And leftover cheesecake. Always the leftover cheesecake.

If you like the idea of laying out your schedule on pretty planning pages, check out these free Homeschool Planning Pages from Pam Barnhill.

Stock Your Homeschool Plans

Stocking your Homeschool Plans is the part that always throws people off, because we always imagine that it means we'll need to pick a day and time for each activity. But not with the soda-rack method.

With the soda-rack method, all you have to do is stock the rack. Then the next thing is always there for the picking when you need it next.

You don't even have to stock a whole year's worth of lessons in advance. And it might depend on the subject.

The Math rack might be easy to stock. It might just be filled up with lessons 1 through 175 for each kid.

The Read Aloud rack might be stocked with four or five things you know you want to read to your kids this year, and you can add to the rack throughout the year as you come across new things you'd like to include. As long as there are one or two more on the rack at any given time, you're set.

For most subjects, all you need to Stock your homeschool plans is a sheet of notebook paper, a page in your bullet journal, or a spreadsheet, if that's more your jam.

For some subjects, a list is all that is needed.  For others, you may need to do a little more preparation, like gathering supplies, reading ahead, or searching for something online.

Stock as far in advance as you feel comfortable. The more you can stock, the less time you'll have to spend during the summer on gathering refills. Or, settle on a refill-frequency you're comfortable with and stock for that general time-frame: a month, a six-week term, a quarter, etc.

Select Your Homeschool Plans

Here's the part where homeschool planning actually starts to look like what we thought homeschool planning would look like: things in boxes with dates.

But here's the secret. Don't add dates to things more than a week in advance.

And even then, hold it very loosely.

Once a week, maybe on Saturday afternoon, pick out just the sodas you'll need for the week to fill in the spaces you have for them on your weekly schedule.

Maybe you'll pick the next five math lessons for each kid. Maybe you'll pick the next read aloud, with one-more in your back pocket in case you finish the first one. Maybe you'll pick a variety of tasty options from the "Morning Time" rack.

Then, walk through your week. Use the things you've set up to be ready to go.

For some subjects, you'll be selecting things to put on a general chart that you keep for your own reference. In some cases (and depending on the age of your kids) you'll want them to have a weekly chart for themselves so they can keep track of their own work.

Either way, all you need is a simple chart. You can make it yourself in a word processing program like Google Docs or you can use the Student Weekly Checklist and Daily Plan from this pack.

Some Final Practical Homeschool Planning Thoughts

As you can see from the picture above of my daughter's weekly checklist, I automate as much as possible by typing into the weekly plan as many things as I can that stay the same. Then I leave spaces open for just a few things I need to write by hand (like the numbers of her math lessons or the pages of a book she is reading).

Each week, I print out a new weekly schedule. I start by filling in the things from the previous week that didn't get finished. Then I fill in with new things from the "soda rack" for each appropriate slot.

And finally, I want to encourage you to think about these lesson plans you create like meal plans.

Sometimes you plan and purchase for a week of meals and then something comes up.

Maybe the grandparents take everyone out to eat.

Maybe everyone is sick and you eat Jell-o and chicken broth.

But whatever the case, you understand that the purpose of meal plans is to make sure you are ready to provide a meal when it's needed. You don't ever say, "Well, we didn't use up yesterday's dinner yesterday, so tonight we have to eat two dinners."

Just because you have extra food that didn't get eaten doesn't mean your children have extra appetite.

Lesson plans, like meal plans, are just a way to be ready to meet the needs of the family, to have something ready to serve when they're hungry for it.

The plans serve the family, not the other way around.


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!

  • “You don’t ever say, ‘Well, we didn’t use up yesterday’s dinner yesterday, so tonight we have to eat two dinners.’”

    So. True! That’s a fantastic way to look at it. Just this year (only our second year, but I grew up homeschooling) I’ve been able to let go of the need to make sure every little thing is checked off and stuffing extra readings and things in when we get behind. They never stop learning, and so having a master list of schoolwork can just keep us moving along, even if journey speeds up or slows down at times. Thanks for this post. Very encouraging. And I just ordered Plan Your Year so I can’t wait to use it to get more organized for the fall. Blessings!

  • I absolutely love this analogy! Thank you for breaking it down so simply. I naturally plan in a way very similar to this but it’s give me a new framework to think about the how and why. Much appreciated.

  • I’m a sucker for a good analogy/and this one fit the bill for me today. Planning is like stocking the fridge with soda!!! Love it.

  • Thank you! Finally a post about planning that makes sense for us more intuitive thinkers and “non-planning” types.

  • Thank you!! This SPEAKS TO ME. You’ve helped me so much in my planning. Thank you thank you thank you.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}