A “Busy” Mom’s Guide to Weekly Homeschool Planning

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Let me tell you about my “busy.”

It’s 11am. And even though I’ve been up since 7am, I haven’t eaten yet.

I haven’t started teaching the lessons for today yet either. I know I need to start preparing lunch instead of lessons at this point, because if I don’t eat-something-now I may just collapse.

I make a quick sandwich and begin eating.

The 3-year-old sees it and begins whining for food too (I’m never allowed to eat anything without one of the children thinking that they should be given what I have) and the baby works herself from a fuss to a full cry.

Our schedule spiraled out of control all because I was daring enough to take a shower this morning.

All of this chaos keeps me busy. Constantly fighting to keep just a step ahead of the next task, mess, or meal.

This is the type of busy that causes 24-hours to fly by and feel like nothing has been accomplished, and it is often to blame for not planning or setting goals. This is the busy that most often keeps me from my priorities: “inside busy.”

“Outside busy” can be just as troublesome; it is the plague on our culture to book our calendars with good things that take us out of the house.

So, how can I get homeschool planning accomplished if I can’t even make time to eat breakfast?

Homeschool planning guides say something like:

Set an appointment with yourself and ask your spouse to take care of the kids in order for you to focus on planning for the next week.

I tried this.

But it was discouraging because it basically never worked. The “inside busy” always distracted me, derailed my schedule, and discouraged me that I would never have a moment to restfully plan ahead.

And even though my husband is my greatest support, our “outside busy” keeps us from being able to find a concrete time that I can count on to get this task done.

Last year I floundered with our plans. We didn’t have curricula that was highly structured so I could get away with not charting our week or our days. Each day could be planned on the fly. (But I did record everything we did in our Bullet Journals.)

But not so this year. We have dedicated ourselves to a more disciplined path, and with that path comes a higher standard of planning ahead.

So, how do I manage to plan when I have to compete with inside and outside busy?

First, write!

I write down anything I can whenever I can, and it helps me get a little bit done here and there. This was hard at first because I despised having to leave the task unfinished. At first, I also struggled to pick up where I left off. But over time this became normal and helped me understand our rhythms even more accurately which leads me to the second tip for planning.

I'm writing a little bit while snuggling the newborn. It's possible; be creative!

I’m writing a little bit while snuggling the newborn. It’s possible; be creative!

Second, refuse to be distracted by bad planning.

  • Planning is not just arbitrarily writing activities and times in my calendar and then crossing my fingers that it will work.
  • Planning is not writing the same schedule over and over every week without actually using it.
  • Planning is not best accomplished the day of or spontaneously.
  • Planning is not pushing on to the next lesson. Neglecting the child’s understanding of the subject and moving on to more and more lessons without allowing time for the child to master the subject is not good planning.

Third, focus on taking baby steps toward the goal.

Like I said in the first point, writing what I can when I can is a baby step toward the overall goal of writing a weekly homeschool plan.

Start planning earlier than your deadline. I need to have all my plans laid out by Sunday evening in order to start the new week on Monday. I used to wait until Sunday afternoon to plan, but after a busy morning at church and a full belly from Sunday lunch I tend to forget how important it is to be productive. So, I finally learned to start planning for the next week on Thursday. By that time in our current week, I have a good handle on what we’ve done and what we won’t be able to do. I am able to see clearly what pace we are currently working at and adjust for the next week – either faster or slower.

Fourth, set a general plan for the month and keep an eye on it.

Before we start our 6-week term, I write out how many lessons we need to accomplish in each subject. I have already calculated an approximate number of lessons we need to work through for each term in order to finish each subject by the end of our school year. But I only write the lessons in the calendar one month at a time. (I explain this in detail in a video which I will publish soon!)

Fifth, know your week.

Remember this “homeschool stuff” isn’t just added on top of your life – homeschooling is a lifestyle. In order to best accomplish your goals for leading your child in the learning life, you need to know what demands on your time you are going to face for the week. Each week is a little bit different in every home. There are appointments, plans with friends, extra trips to the grocery store, etc. If you know in advance that any of these things are coming up, then they need to be accounted for in your lesson plan. 

Watch this video to see what I mean.

I use my Bullet Journal to chart my week. I write out each day of the week on the left hand side of the page, and then I list the events of that day along with what meal I plan to make for dinner.

These are the 2 major variables: where we need to go and what will be for dinner.

These two parts of my day account for the bulk of what consumes my time. If we have a doctor’s appointment for example, it isn’t just that time of day that we are “busy” but at least an hour beforehand in prep to leave the house. Also, we require a transition period once we get home. I have to be prepared for what I’m going to ask my children to do when we arrive back home. This has to be flexible and take into account their energy level, hunger, and time of day. It’s important that I don’t push them too hard nor neglect them because I failed to plan. (Let me know in the comments if this is confusing and I can explain more about how I plan for our transitions.)

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The same idea is true for dinner. Writing out that we will have pork barbecue sandwiches on Monday night requires more than just 30 minutes before 5:00pm to assemble. Every single dinner meal goes through a thorough “how long will this really take to make” process. There are days when I know I will have time in the morning to prep a crock pot meal and mornings when I won’t. I chart out our Outside the House appointments and then factor in how much time each meal requires. (Again, if it would be helpful to have this explained in more detail, I would be happy to share.)

Finally, always think a day ahead.

Because of the lessons in the evening and morning courses by Crystal Paine, I have been trained to plan ahead. I can’t tell you how life changing this little shift has been! Instead of packing the diaper bag on our way out the door, I pack the night before. Instead of writing the agenda the morning of, I write it the night before – this helps to double check our week’s plan one more time too. I take account of our daily timeline for the next day but this time with a lot more perspective. For example, on Monday evening I look at the Week Plan and see that I want to run a couple errands before the library for our “Tuesday Plan.” But Monday was a very tiring day. We had a busy Sunday and needed more rest Monday to recover which means that we didn’t finish our Monday household chores. So, I move my errands to the next opening in our schedule and try to lessen the amount of time out of the house because I know 2 things: #1 we won’t have the energy to run around town, and #2 if we don’t make time for our chores then our home gets out of balance.

The bottom line is that planning requires consistent, daily management. If you will do the daily work of thinking through your responsibilities, then the weekly spread will come together quickly and practically.

Practice makes permanent! Keep planning and it will become a habit regardless of how busy you are.

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Cara’s day in the homeschool life (ages 8-,6-,2-and 1-on-the-way)

a day in the life

My family has been officially homeschooling for 5 years. And the one thing that I’ve been striving for since the beginning is: how to have consistent, good homeschool days.

Here are some things I’ve learned so far about what the most important components to a good homeschool day are not:

It isn’t about the curricula. (I put all my eggs in this basket, and – shocker – the checklist didn’t do the work for me.)

It isn’t defined by times of day. (There isn’t something magical about getting lessons started first thing, middle thing, or last thing. There’s only magic in having it done.)

It doesn’t depend on sibling relationships (the presence or absence of squabbles).

It won’t be ruined by getting out of the house. (This one has to be in balance. It goes back to not thinking there is a magical time of day.)

It isn’t about feelings. (Even though sometimes it is.)

Last year when I wrote our day in the life, I started with our evening routine, and I still believe that our best days begin with a good evening and rest the night before.

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In the evening:

I write out our lesson plan and schedule for the next day on our chalkboard. I have one kid who relies on this to be done and one who gives me less of a hard time because they can see it written down. 

I write who will take care of the puppy for the whole day. (This has put an end to a lot of squabbles.) 

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And who will clean the kitchen. (This is a bonus for me. Since they are obsessed with everything being fair, I got to add a chore to their plates because of the arguing over caring for the puppy. Win, win.)

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In the morning:
5:00-7:00 Personal time for me.

This time of day is when being pregnant really tests me. I know I need this time alone before my children wake up. I gain so many rewards for using this time wisely that I almost always regret sleeping in…but the baby growing inside me makes me feel so tired. Which is why I have decided that, for me, homeschooling isn’t about feelings. Consistency, personal growth, and doing the hard, good things add up to so much more than living by the standard of do I feel like it.

Popcorn for breakfast is not unusual.

Popcorn for breakfast is not unusual.

8:00 Breakfast and free time

Free time in the morning is vital for one of my children. It’s important for her to be able to warm up to the day slowly without being told 10 things she needs to do right away. She has no problem looking at the board to see if we have appointments or obligations first thing in the morning, but she doesn’t do well if she has to receive her instruction verbally. The writing on the wall saves our relationship. (Seriously.)

9:00 Get dressed and tidy bedrooms

The second most important thing for a good day for us is my with-ness. I’ve learned that I have to do most of the main daily tasks I require of my children with them. Not for them, and not holding their hand, but at the same time. If I ask them to get dressed, I need to get dressed. I’ve tried and tried to live on my own schedule while keeping them on theirs, and it never works well. They follow my lead 100% of the time.

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10:00 Household chore

For at least 30 minutes, we all tackle one household chore. Laundry, bathroom, floors, whatever. Again, it’s important that we do this together.

11:00 Free time

When I didn’t write out our schedule in times of day, the kids would have their free time, but they wouldn’t realize that they were getting it. Or they would not use their time on what they wanted most to do and then be upset when I asked them to stop. So, now that we use hour schedule blocks, they plan for what they are going to do and have much better attitudes. They always got free time before they saw the words on the board, but now we all honor it more. I don’t bug them to do chores in that time, and they feel more fulfilled in knowing they can have that time to themselves. (And I use that time to do what I want to do too!)

Sometimes that looks like this.

Sometimes that looks like this.

12:00 Lunch and tidy kitchen

With-ness is important here too. I tend to eat “off schedule” to my kids. They graze in the morning while I eat a meal at 9:00am. I’m not always ready for lunch at the same time as they are and vice versa. But I’ve learned that this sit down time for us at the table is an important informal meeting time where they just naturally share what’s on their minds – about the day, the week, their feelings, whatever. So whether I’m ready or not, I sit down and eat with them!

1:00-3:00 Toddler lays down for a nap and the rest of us start our lessons

My current youngest still takes a 2 hour nap, and we have learned through many disasters (see this post for more proof) that it’s best to do lessons (history read-alouds, unit studies, lapbooks, etc.) while he is asleep or in his bed.

I just started having the kids make their own entries in their journals.

I just started having the kids make their own entries in their journals.

I write on the board all the subjects we need to cover for the day and what we will do. Then they have to copy that list into their Bullet Journals. (If you haven’t started keeping a daily journal for your kids, you should definitely try it. This has been the #1 key to our consistency this year. Read and watch how we use the kids’ Bullet Journals here.)

Vis-a-Vis is a handy tool. My kids love it when I write on the windows.

Vis-a-Vis is a handy tool. My kids love it when I write on the windows.

With-ness is important here too. While half of their lessons require me to read or teach, the other half does not, but that doesn’t mean I’m free to move about the house on other business. I usually do my Bible study while they work through their math, or I read a book while they read alone too. I want to be close so that any question they may have doesn’t become frustrated by having to track me down.

4:00 Kids finish their work or enjoy screen time while I prep dinner

I almost always listen to a podcast while preparing dinner. I love this time.

5:00 Eat as a family and dad reads aloud

We are doing the Read-Aloud Revival reading streak! We’re on day 59 and we are loving The Green Ember (afflink) right now.

Read-aloud time can look like this.

Read-aloud time can look like this.

6:00 This time is variable depending on the day

Mondays the kids have Bible study in the evening with my husband, Tuesdays we go to the library, Wednesdays we have a friend over from our homeschool program, and the other days are open so this time is again free time.

7:00 Prep for bedtime

Snacks, water, comfort items, books to read in bed, etc. The parade to get up the stairs can be quite impressive. I find it best to plan for this by starting early.

8:00 Bedtime

Once the kids are prayed with and sung to, the evening routine starts all over and I write the next day on the board. 

And that’s it! Our usual day. Like most families, we have many variables like errands and doctors appointments that get thrown into the mix, but for the most part I try to keep our routine simple, and home-based. This is what works for us. I hope you have found something encouraging or comforting by reading about our day!

This post is linked up with SimpleHomeschool.net and the Day in the Homeschool Life series. Click here to see all the other amazing homeschool days. Do you have a great routine or questions about creating a routine? I’d love to see it – comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading this post. I had fun detailing our real day. If you want to learn more about how to create a solid routine that serves your family while honoring your personality - I would love to encourage you. Sign up for TheHomeLearner via email and get more information on my program: How to become your own, best accountability partner.

Setbacks: 1 Lesson from This Week

1 Lesson from This Week Setbacks

My husband and I bought a house this week. Closed on Monday, keys in hand.

Tuesday, we couldn’t go to the house at all.

Wednesday, the kids and I went over to the house to start cleaning during the morning. We didn’t get very far on the list of rooms. Just the bathroom truly cleaned, walls and all – they were such great workers.

In the evening, we went as a family to pick out paints and supplies for giving our old/new house a fresh look.

My mom, my kids, and I set out to go to our new house Thursday morning. I needed to make 2 stops – each place had a list of 4 things I needed to pick up.

It was in the second store that I realized that I had set us way back by picking up quite a few more things than just the 4 on my list. I wasn’t impulse shopping, but it seems like my mind is always thinking of one more thing we will need.

Even though we were setback in timing, I noticed we all had great attitudes – and that wasn’t something I wanted to damage. I took to heart that we were flexible – that’s not easy for me – and positive about the timing (also not easy).

I thought to myself this setback is a test of my commitment to choose a good attitude. (I’ve been learning a lot about the power of influence my attitude has. More on that another time.)

Left to myself, I tend to be a realist. I plan for worst case scenarios. I’m pretty good at estimating time, and when faced with large projects I get quickly discouraged because I calculate the commitment involved and it makes me want to crawl back in bed. So normally, setbacks bring out the negative side of my view on life.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This whole process of buying a house has not gone according to what I had thought. The. Whole. Process. So even though we have our very own keys, four-walls, a roof, and land it doesn’t mean that the mindset of waiting patiently is no longer needed.

My attitude has been tested, my commitment to trust that the Lord has a good plan has been at stake. I don’t want to hide flaws in my character, I want to allow these setbacks to confront them, and by leaning into the lesson of being brought lower and lower my trust in God’s goodness grows.

A friend of mine once said while her family was moving out of state that, I just want to move and not sin. I love the determination in her heart to stay true to the Lord and not allow sin to get the best of her in thoughts, words, or actions.

My statement would be that I just want to move and confront my sin right there in the moment. Even if that means walking away from a difficult situation to pray. I know what bottling it does to my heart and I can’t afford to allow it to fester there.

On Friday, while cleaning (and just after sharing this picture on Instagram) I found that the perfectly good looking carpet in our house is disintegrating. Forcing us to decide how to proceed. What was supposed to be a few hour cleaning job to prep for painting became a full-stop setback.

Setbacks always come at bad times. Things take longer than planned. The work is more difficult than expected. My attitude is always a choice – none of these have the power to make me think, do, or feel anything that I know is wrong.

The lesson from this week: Learning how to handle setbacks before they handle me.

Weekends can be for…

What is the weekend for?

If I had answered this question 2 weeks ago, I would have said work and managing unmet expectations.

But I’ve been focusing a lot this past week on Making Over My Mornings (more like making over my thinking). It has been proven true that having a before bed routine will set up my next day for success.

This morning I was thinking about my next week and writing out my goals, and it occurred to me that the weekend is sort of similar to an evening routine in that I can use it to set up my next week for success.

Weekends can be for 1

In the past, I had viewed the weekend as a chance to make up for all that my week had lacked. 

Scrambling to finish housework, cramming in extra outings and activities that didn’t fit into our week, and stretching the hours in Saturday well past my bedtime in order to include some special relaxation.

Because what’s the weekend without rest?

Operating this way, I was so unhappy on Sundays. I had piled up weeks of unmet expectations for how I thought the weekend should have gone. Frustrated from mentally holding my breath all week just waiting for the weekend for the work, demands, and messes to pause so that I could actually sit and take a break – during the day. That’s what I thought Saturday should look like for me.

Over the first 5 years of marriage, my unmet expectations of the weekend revealed my attitude toward my husband. I didn’t realize that what I needed from the weekend, I was unconsciously expecting him to fulfill for me. How is that even fair? It was my choice to work non-stop Monday through Friday – dawn to dusk – pushing and punishing myself that the work of managing a home was never complete.

I dishonored myself by disregarding my natural limits, and I harbored bitterness toward my husband for taking time to rest when I wanted him to work for me so that I could rest.

Then God allowed a season of intense trials in my life to teach me self-control and break me of self-centered efforts.

I was a single parent for 7 months, and I had no idea how it was going to change me – being the only adult in the home, caring for children.

This most difficult season in my life bore the most rewarding fruit because it was ordained by God to teach me the deep and enduring lessons of self-control. I understood on a daily basis what it was to come to the end of my strength.

I had never before felt so inadequate.

Yet because of the limits, I was free to stop trying to perform. I could embrace that I was only human – full of flaws, shortcomings, and unmet expectations of myself. Once I accepted this the new birth happened almost instantly – I was filled with grace, forgiveness, and acceptance of who I was because of who I belonged to.

Recognizing my limits brought me face to face with my true identity.

I saw that it was perfectly OK for me to not be able to do it all. I also saw how much pride I allowed to run me ragged and nearly cost me my relationships for the way I constantly pushed myself and expected others to do the same. I had a lot of unmet expectations to repent of because they were simply selfish to begin with. I repented of my bitterness for regarding myself as more important than the needs of others.

Bitterness was such a sneaky foe. It began as pride – “I’m so important” and continued into “my husband should notice all the things I do” then turned into entitlement “I deserve a break from all that I do” which doubled back to pride “but he should recognize that I need a break before I take one or he’ll think I’m weak” and when he didn’t perform according to my secret-selfish-script that’s the moment bitterness’ roots grew deep.

And designing an evening routine reminded me of all this because I’m still battling my pride, entitlement, and bitterness by actively learning self-control through limiting myself.

Setting up a healthy routine for how I will spend the last 30 minutes of every day has taught me that I had been working aimlessly with a complaining spirit. A healthy routine revealed that I had an attitude of laziness – I was masking with non-stop movement, and it was leaving me feeling exhausted and unaccomplished.

30 minutes has had the power to change my whole outlook on the day behind and the day ahead. 

I listened to the advice of a woman I consider a mentor, and she told me to take time to intentionally order my days so that I live from a place of peace, purpose, and order. Not only so I can simply get more done in a day, but so I may also live well within my limits.

So that I can bless my family not only by my efforts but also by my attitude.

So that I can repent of the sin in my life and live to share the rewards of faithfulness with others.

I almost didn’t accept the challenge to learn again. I mentioned that my pride wanted me to believe I was doing all right on my own in the post I wrote Wednesday. I realize this morning that sometimes intense seasons of trial makes me very vulnerable – the lesson learned goes very deep.

Taking this time to commit to relearning and remembering the season of intense self-control training has together made an impact on my heart and life.

I want to see the weekends as a time of both reflection on the work I committed myself to and as a time to give thanks for all that lies ahead. It requires faith to rest. It tests my self-control to know when to say stop. It realigns me to my husband in our partnership and support of one another.

And it reminds me again that I can’t rely on my husband or anyone else to limit me – I must be actively engaged in redeeming the time, in stewarding my talents, and in submitting to the Spirit.

Weekends can be for learning to say no, gracefully. Weekends can be for learning to say yes to owning my life.

Join me on the journey of learning to live with intention by checking out these 2 resources that have greatly impacted my life:

Own Your Life: Living with deep intention, bold faith, and generous love by Sally Clarkson

Make Over Your Mornings: A 14-day Online Course by Crystal Paine - The Money Saving Mom.

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