Strategies & Planning

Homeschool Planning, an Ultimate Guide: 7 Steps to a Fantastic Year

Homeschool planning is one of my favorite times of the year. After having our heads in the books for almost a year, it is such a joy to look back on what we’ve accomplished and look forward to what’s ahead. 

But it can still feel like an overwhelming task. There are so many things to think about, so many options to consider. 

Here are seven quick steps you can follow to make a solid plan for the year ahead without getting overwhelmed. 

Ultimate Guide to Homeschool Planning | 7 tips for a successful year

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In the earlier days of our homeschooling life, my homeschool planning ritual began sometime in the early spring when colorful curriculum catalogs started arriving in my mailbox. I would spend hours poring over them, circling everything I wanted–which was way too much by anyone’s standards–and making list after list of what we might dedicate the next year to studying. 

This process of academic salivating was then followed by a trip to our annual homeschooling convention, a four-hour drive from home. We’d make a weekend out of it, carefully planning our itinerary so as not to miss any of the inspiring talks, while also leaving ample time to, you know, shop. 

Dragging a large suitcase behind me, I’d traipse through two vendor halls, buying the things that were on my list and many of the things that weren’t. I’d quickly run through our homeschooling budget for the year. 

Then I’d get home and go online to order everything I wasn’t able to get at the fair. 

Slowly, our shelves would fill up with all the shiny new books and I’d break my new homeschool planner in by carefully plotting our course for the coming year. 

And, inevitably, I’d be overwhelmed by October. 

Yes, I have always enjoyed the task of homeschool planning, but my process wasn’t always very conducive to having the best year we could have. 

Learning to Rein It in

If there’s one thing that’s consistently wonderful about homeschooling, though, is that each year is another chance to try again. To learn from your mistakes, improve your processes, and create better systems for your family. 

With wisdom gleaned from some of my favorite books, like Teaching from Rest and The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, as well as from my own experience, I refined my homeschool planning system over the years to make it both simple and effective. 

Curriculum catalogs no longer arrive in my mailbox en masse and I don’t even go to a homeschooling convention. I can get my planning done in a weekend and I don’t spend nearly as much money on books as I used to. 

I’ve also learned that one of the keys to a successful homeschool is flexibility. It’s important that we learn to adapt the plan if it’s not working. This might mean changing or dropping a curriculum if it’s not meeting our expectations or working with a different set of learning outcomes than is prescribed in your state/province. 

That is to say, your homeschool plan is an essential starting point, but it’s not written in stone. Don’t get overwhelmed trying to make it perfect, because you’re always free to adapt it later. 

That’s the beauty of homeschooling. 

Homeschool Planning Is a Breeze with These Seven Steps

I wish I could have promised you a 2-step or 3-step plan for getting your homeschool planning done–fewer steps always makes it seem easier, doesn’t it?

But I think I would be doing you a disservice if I whittled it down that much. There are important steps in the planning process that are too easily overlooked in our rush to get to the fun stuff, i.e. spending money on shiny new curriculum and supplies and scheduling way more activities than we have time to do. 

Reflection is the cornerstone of the planning process, allowing us to enter into the other, more active stages with a keener sense of direction. 

Here are the seven stages in this homeschool planning method:

  1. Reflect on the previous year
  2. Goal setting
  3. Budget setting
  4. Courses and curriculum
  5. Finishing touches
  6. Scheduling
  7. Purchasing supplies

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

1. Reflect on the Previous Year

This is often one of the most encouraging parts of the process: looking back on what you’ve done over the past year. 

Depending on where you live, you may or may not be required to do this by your local homeschooling laws. We’ve had some years where we were required to report on our progress and other years where we weren’t. 

My advice to all homeschooling parents? Reflect anyway. 

When you’re slugging through the year, just trying to make it through each day, finish each course or curriculum, mark each essay or report, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. 

It’s even easier in years where life got in the way of your plans. A new baby, a move, a pandemic–as well as many less world-altering events–can quickly throw off your plans and leave you feeling like you aren’t accomplishing anything in your homeschool. 

I have that feeling every single year. 

But then June rolls around and I am required to meet with a learning consultant and give her a progress report to show what we’ve spent the year (or term) doing. There’s no judgment in this process and it feels more like a show-and-tell than a did-you-or-didn’t-you, but nonetheless, I take my reporting very seriously. 

In the days leading up to our meeting, I pull together grades, work samples, videos of dance and piano recitals. 

But I don’t really do it for the learning consultant. 

I do it for myself. 

Because I need the reminder. 

The encouragement. 

The proof that all the hard work and sacrifice actually led to something meaningful. 

This is also the perfect time to reflect on the year, everything that you did and didn’t do, and discuss it as a family. 

What Worked?

First, give everyone a chance to share the highlights of their year. What did they enjoy? What new interests were discovered? What stood out the most?

As a jumping-off point, consider the following categories in your discussion:

  • Events
  • Classes
  • Curricula
  • Projects
  • Extra-curriculars
  • Field trips
  • Unit studies
  • Scheduling

To jog their memories, maybe come to the conversation prepared with lists of what you’ve done, photos, or their work portfolios if you have them. 

What Didn’t Work?

Often, this list will be easier for kids to come up with, especially for those things fresh in their minds. You probably won’t need to prompt them with a list for this one–the things that really didn’t work aren’t so easily forgotten. 

What Needs to Change?

Now’s the time to dream big. Without putting any limitations on your discussion just yet, imagine the changes that would make your homeschool more satisfying for everyone. 

Are some kids getting more attention than others? How could this be better managed?

Are you spending too much time rushing around to myriad extracurricular activities? What could be dropped?

Brainstorm together to come up with ideas that could make a difference. Sometimes just knowing what the ideal scenario is opens doors to making that scenario a reality. 

2. Review Your Existing Goals and Set New Ones

I’m a strong believer in having a road map for where you are headed as a homeschooling family. 

I’m not just talking about your academic objectives for the coming year, but your bigger plan, your answers to the important questions. 

Questions like…

  • Why do you homeschool?
  • How do you hope homeschooling will shape your children?
  • What skills, knowledge, and values do you want them to have when they graduate?
  • What are your dreams for them?
  • What are their dreams for themselves?

The answers to these questions can be put together into a homeschooling mission statement. 

This can be something as simple as: We homeschool because…

Then fill in the blank with the most important answers to the questions above. 

But a mission statement on its own isn’t enough. 

You need goals to help you break your mission down into actionable steps. 

Long-term goals for your homeschool might look like…

  • We want our children to be financially literate so they can take care of themselves when they start their own families. 
  • We want our children to have the academic skills needed to succeed in university. 
  • We want our children to develop compassion and learn to put the needs of others ahead of their own. 
  • We want our children to develop a strong faith life and feel confident holding and articulating their beliefs. 

Knowing these goals will help you maintain perspective as you plan your year. Time is our scarcest resource and we want to ensure we’re spending it in the most important ways. 

It would be really easy to fill up all of our homeschooling time (and then some) just making sure we check off all the learning objectives our state or province decided were most important for our children, but if that’s all we focus on, we might finish our homeschooling journey feeling like we missed some of our marks. 

Setting out with the end in mind makes sure we’re incorporating these overarching goals into every decision we make about how we spend our time and resources. 

3. Set the Budget

There are two things to think about when you’re budgeting for the homeschool year: money and time. 

I used to start from a monetary perspective, but after reading Teaching from Rest, I realized that time is the aspect I need to worry about more. We can usually find more money, but we can’t find more time. 

Your Time Budget

To avoid a frantic year, start with a “time budget,” the total number of hours you have in a week (196). Subtract from that budget all the essential things you have to do. 

Things like:

  • Mealtimes
  • Exercise
  • Chores
  • Sleep
  • Family time
  • Date nights
  • Other recurring commitments

Subtract these from your 196 hours and you’re left with your time budget, the maximum amount of time you can fill with homeschooling, extracurriculars, social engagements, and other activities. You’ll also want to leave about a ten percent buffer to further reduce stress and the likelihood of ‘running out of time.’

You might be surprised by how little time is left in the week for all the things you want to do–I know I was when I first did this exercise. 

But looking at your time through this lens is the best defense against overscheduling. 

Your Financial Budget

Homeschooling can be super affordable, quite costly, or anywhere in between. It really depends on how you approach it. You can make it work within any budget, as long as your expectations are realistic. 

There is typically a trade-off between time and money when it comes to curriculum resources. The programs that require the least prep time and effort from parents are typically on the more expensive side, and those that are cheaper tend to take up more of the parents’ time. 

Putting together unit studies and lesson plans yourself is one of the most affordable ways to homeschool, but it’s also the most time consuming. 

Look at your household budget and estimate how much you have available to spend upfront on curriculum resources and how much you can afford to spend on a monthly basis for lessons and other recurring expenses. 

Don’t be dismayed if the numbers are lower than you’d like. There are tons of free and low-priced resources available online that you can pull together into a more than sufficient program.  

4. Courses and Curriculum

Now comes the main event, the task most people immediately think of when they hear the words homeschool planning: choosing the curriculum. 

Although it’s tempting to pick every great curriculum you come across (or even accept every used curriculum offered to you by another homeschooling mom), you really don’t need that much, and anything you pay for or bring into your home will probably induce guilt in you if you don’t use it, so be very picky!

Setting Objectives, Subject-by-Subject

So now that you know the long-term goals you have for your children, it’s time to figure out some short-term (1-year) objectives. These are the things you’d like to accomplish with each child over the course of the school year. 

Think of your overarching goals as a lens through which you view your subject-level objectives. Not every objective will directly relate to the goals, but they should align with the bigger picture. 

The other factor that will impact your academic objectives will be the state or provincial learning outcomes in your jurisdiction. This is especially true if you think your child may transfer into the school system at some point. You will want them to be roughly on par with their age-level peers. 

The rules of your area will determine how closely you need to follow those guidelines, and the expectations vary widely from one place to another. It’s important to be aware of the regulations that affect you and to work within them. 

However, if you are in a place that allows for more flexibility in what you teach, I highly encourage you to take advantage of that. Follow interests as much as possible, go down rabbit holes, spend an inordinate amount of time immersing yourself in a specific topic. 

This intense love of learning should be encouraged. 

To get started with your objectives, make a table for each child covering each subject you want them to study.

Here are some subjects you will probably want to include:

  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Math
  • Science
  • Physical and Health Education
  • Fine Arts
  • Languages
  • Applied Design and Technology
  • Career Prep

On each child’s table, write down some key objectives you’d like them to accomplish in the next year. 

To get an idea of the standards in your area, visit one of the following webpages:

US State Standards

Canadian Provincial Curriculum Guidelines

Australian Curriculum (currently under review)

England’s National Curriculum

Choosing Courses and Curriculum to Meet Your Objectives

Once you know what your objectives are,  you’ll have a much easier time finding courses and curriculum to help you achieve those objectives.

You may want to use a mix of traditional curricula, online lessons, unit studies, co-ops, workshops, field trips, lessons, etc. to meet your objectives. 

Again, be selective about what you buy. Ask yourself how much time you’re going to have to commit to using the resource and whether or not it will help you achieve your objectives. 

Here are some resources for finding the best courses and curricula for your kids:

Make your curriculum/resource wish list and divide it into three categories: already have, can borrow, and need to buy

5. Finishing Touches

Of course, curriculum and lessons are far from the only learning opportunities homeschoolers take advantage of. We still need to make time in our schedule for all the fun stuff, such as:

  • Field trips
  • Co-ops
  • Special events
  • Extracurricular activities

You may want to make another table for each child so you can plan the rest of their activities. 

For us, we tend to make a lot of changes to our extracurricular activities each year based on the “what worked/what didn’t work” conversation. This is where we make the changes we talked about and figure out what the new schedule is going to look like. 

Some co-ops and community classes run all year or are scheduled well in advance and can be registered for and slotted into your schedule as early as the end of the previous school year. Others will arise throughout the year, so you may want to set aside a bit of your time and money budgets so you can take advantage of some of these as they spring up. 

Field trips are another great way to supplement your lessons. Consider scheduling a few special ones in advance either just as a family or with your local homeschooling group, and again, being open to some spontaneous outings throughout the year.

6. Scheduling

Once you get to this point, you have already laid all the groundwork for finalizing your weekly homeschool schedule. 

You have budgeted your time and know exactly how much is available for teaching time and other activities. 

You have chosen the curricula and other resources you will use. 

You have determined your extracurriculars, co-ops, and field trips to the best of your ability at this point. 

The only thing left to do with all that information is to put it into your schedule so you have a rough idea of what your days and weeks will look like. 

I use Google Calendar for our family’s schedule so we can all keep track of who is doing what when. It has the big picture stuff that stays the same from week to week as well as appointments, meetings, and other one-off things like that. 

I use Google Sheets for the kids’ specific weekly task lists so they know exactly what they’re supposed to accomplish during their work time. 

For more tips on how to schedule in your homeschool, check out some of these posts:

7. Purchase Supplies

Finally, it’s time to go shopping. Order your curriculum, sign up for any necessary lessons, and replenish your school supplies. 

If you’re just setting up your homeschool space for the first time, and aren’t sure what supplies you might need, check out this post on organizing your homeschool room. 

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If this ultimate guide to homeschool planning seems overwhelming to you at first, don’t worry. As you start working through the steps, you’ll find that things will fall into place nicely. Remember, it’s almost always better to start with less and add more later if there’s space to do so.

With a plan in place and your margins in mind, you’ll be well on your way to a successful homeschooling year!

What part of the homeschool planning process worries you the most? What challenges have you faced when trying to plan your homeschool year? Let us know in the comments section.

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