Homeschool Planning 101 for Ordinary Mothers

Ironically, while I was writing a post on organization, I was working on two different computers and accidentally saved a previous version of this post over a later version, obliterating many of the notes I’d made on the books listed toward the end.  In the interests of finally publishing this post and actually getting some content on my blog, I’m not going to redo the notes, but if you want to know how I use any of these books (or what I think of them) just ask and I’ll happily discuss them in the com box!

This is probably the tenth planning post I’ve begun in the past month. At this point I’ve unwritten more than I’ve written, which I imagine says more about my planning process than anything I could ever tell you.  Actually, dignifying the whole thing with the term “process” is probably a bit of an overstatement, as the way I prepare for the new school year is never that efficient and varies from year to year. It depends on how many babies are around, usually, and how many kids are growing into different stages and needs, and how many kids I’m actually supposed to be teaching, and what state we live in.  The year we were moving I made a careful chart of geography and history books linked to all the states we’d be driving through.  I had a file crate set up for all the little bits and pieces of paper — book lists, blog posts, etc. — related to the subjects I thought it would be good for me to plan out, and as I packed, I put books I thought we would read into a Rubbermaid bin, which all went into one of our two vans instead of the moving truck.  I thought I was pretty organized, considering I also had C-section complications and a two month old, and we were making a 1000 mile move. Of course, when we arrived at our new house, life became even more topsy-turvy for a while, and all the carefully made plans were thrown out the window.  We got by that year mostly with simple ideas I held in my head: Read fairy tales to the little boys.  Settle on some subjects the big kids want to learn and make sure they have good books.  Make sure the big kids each have a math textbook. Try to teach George phonics.  That was about it.

Years like that do work, often (blessedly often) better than we expect.  The truth of the matter is that you don’t need fancy charts, spreadsheets, or planners in order to homeschool, and I think even mothers who enjoy making use of all those tools would tell you the same.  Whenever I meet someone and they find out I homeschool, I can usually predict what they will say next.  It’s, “Oh, you must be so organized,” usually followed by another remark that implies that although homeschooling may be possible for the superhuman, it isn’t for the disorganized, ordinary masses, of which they are a part.  But homeschooling is a little like having twins.  It may force you to become more organized, but organizational ability isn’t a prerequisite.

All you really need to homeschool your child is love (and probably a library card).  Just as superior housekeeping abilities are not the basis of motherhood, the ability to make pristine plans (or to keep everyone scrubbed and clean and seated around the kitchen table while they follow them) is not the basis of homeschooling.  That said, don’t think I’m dissing planners.  I am most definitely not.  I remember when we first brought our twins home from the hospital.  As the newborn swelling went down, it became clearer and clearer that they were actually identical.  My husband was afraid to cut off their ID bracelets for fear we would mix them up, so we really did (you hear stories about this all the time) color Dennis’ big toe with a Sharpie, and we were very rigid about color-coding their outfits.  (To this day, Huck wears blue, and Dennis wears red.  Each will tell you it is his color.)  We also put up a chart on the refrigerator that said when each had been fed.  As they grew, any time they required medicine, a medicine chart went up, so we could keep track of who was dosed when.  Otherwise, it was frighteningly easy to mix them up.

All this is to say that we were certainly not the kind of people who made medicine dosage charts for our children before we had twins, but the learning curve was really steep.  We learned that charts helped us, so we used them.  If the charts hadn’t helped, you had better believe we would have tried something else.  As our family grew, we learned to keep some things — like shoes and laundry — more organized, although in a big family, I’m not sure that shoe and laundry organization is ever really possible.  Anyway, we learned to make it better — not perfect — and that’s how I’d like to frame a post (or a series of them) on planning.

I’ve struggled over the years to learn how to keep a better handle on the learning that goes on in my house.  Mainly because my children are usually flying around the corners at a million miles an hour, fish-tailing in the gravel, and I am holding on for dear life, trying to keep us from getting too banged up. I dislike doing things a certain way just because they happen to happen that way.  If I’m going to let the kids poke around all day on their own, I want to be doing it on purpose.  I want to choose to unschool, in other words, because it’s not really unschooling, in my opinion, unless you mean to do it.  If you don’t mean to do it, and you don’t believe in it, you just spend your time feeling hopeless and guilty.  In my experience. In any case, I’ve asked a lot of dumb questions over the years about planning, because nothing about planning is self-evident to me.  Fortunately, there are some very gracious, generous women out there who happily give of their time, knowledge, and ability to help organizationally-challenged moms like me.  And over the years I’ve taken their advice and experimented with it and crashed and burned a number of times, and this year I think I am finally starting to get a handle on some things that might work for us...  and some that might not work for us.

What I’m thinking is that I’ll do a series of posts on how my planning went/is going this year, bracketed with what happened when that planning met up with my kids in the real world.  I usually start getting ready for a new year by re-reading my favorite books and posts about homeschool methods and the planning process itself, and whenever I hit a snag I do what comes most naturally to me: I do research. :-)  So here are a few of my favorite resources to start you off, in no particular order:


The Latin-Centered Curriculum: A Home Educator’s Guide to a Classical Education
 The Complete Home Learning Source Book: The Essential Resource Guide for Homeschoolers, Parents, and Educators Covering Every Subject from Arithmetic to Zoology

 Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education

 The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition)
(A note on The Well-Trained Mind… I mainly use this book for its resource lists, which is why I somehow have managed to own all three editions.)

 The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom

 Unit Studies Made Easy

A Little Way of Homeschooling 

Internet Resources

My friend Jen at Wildflowers and Marbles has a wealth of planning information on her blog, from a Charlotte Mason point of view.  Most of what I’ve learned about being more organized in my planning I borrowed from Jen.  Here are two of her posts which I’ve found to be most helpful for an overview of the planning process:

Planning the Days  
A Considered Booklist 

This year I discovered the blog Simply Convivial, which I am really enjoying. From her About page:

Mystie was raised to be a reader in a home full of books. At her father’s knee she learned the first step to any hobby or undertaking is to check out 5 books on the topic from the library — and read them. She now passes on that book dependence to the next generation, while maintaining it in her own life. Having read dozens of books on childrearing and education, and participating in online discussions on the topics, she is settling into her own hybrid of Charlotte Mason, classical education, and — much to her chagrin — Christian unschooling.

When I read this, I thought, hmmm, sounds familiar…

Anyway, she has a great planning series entitled Homeschool Planning: a Year at a TimeI printed all the posts and stuck them in my binder so I’d have them for next year.  They’re keepers. 

Becky at Academy of the Good Shepherd has also begun an overview of her planning process.   

A post about organizing learning for elementary-aged children: Could It Be a Storybook Year?

And finally:
A 4real thread with lots of helpful resources:
Creating Assignments/Lesson Plans



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  1. Ha! I have every one of those books except two! Can’t wait to read the rest.

  2. You are so inspiring:) Looking forward to reading more.

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