I admit it. Even though I insist everyone needs to have a plan, and write a schedule, even if it is a simple rhythm based schedule, I don’t like wasting a lot of time on the planning process. To me, the point of planning is to make my days run smoother. Sometimes planning itself becomes a wild beast which is adding stress to our lives, instead of taking it away.
I don’t have room in my life for any more wild beasts than already live in my house! Nor do I have space in my brain or heart to dedicate to unneeded stress. So, I am a reductionist when it comes to homeschool planning.
Calling myself a reductionist homeschool planner is just another way of saying I am a lazy homeschool planner. But it sounds nicer, smarter, like I PLANNED to NOT SPEND HOURS ON END PLANNING. Calling myself a reductionist makes it sound like something I do purposefully. And I am purposeful with how little time I spend planning, because the point of life is not planning, and the point of planning is just to make daily life a little more enjoyable because of the efficient smoothness with which it runs.
Is that even possible in a homeschool? Well, yes, as long as your first accept that homeschooling will have some built-in chaos. It won’t be smooth sailing every day. But you can have a default of smooth sailing. You can have smoother sailing by planning for reality instead of the perfect dream you think a homeschool day should look like.
Accepting the reality of our days is the first step to creating efficient smoothness in our homeschools.
Because when we try to jump out of our real life and live like we just jumped out of Pinterest pictures we create a lot of big waves. Waves that knock our kids of their little floaty boards. Waves that make it hard for us to steer the boat. There is a lot of splashing and everything gets wet.
This is why I force myself to write a schedule every year. And over the years I have realized it is smarter to write the schedule before I buy curriculum or materials/supplies for all the great things that I have planned for each child.
Because when that list meets the confines of time, you may find that several things need to be cut off that list. This is the process of pruning, or editing. Many great things are unruly, unpredictable, and a bit ugly if we skip the step of editing or pruning. Try not to be heart-broken when you have to ditch some of your Perfect Day Dreams. Letting go of those will create the efficient smoothness you yearn for. Because no one, not us, not our kids, and not our spouses, needs us to arrive at the end of every day crying in frustration for the things we could not do instead of rejoicing about all the things that we DID get to do.
No one needs that.
The Fancy Materials You Need to Become a Master Lazy Homeschool Planner
So yes, I plan. But I don’t buy a planner. Are you kidding me? I don’t have time to fill in all those boxes and lines. And I don’t journal everything my kids do every day. I can’t imagine dedicating that kind of time to record-keeping. I have important things to do, like walk around my house and smell the roses or go tell my ducks that they are beautiful ladies. Because those things are part of efficient smoothness, underneath those pointless acts lies the beauty of living in the moment with a grateful heart. And without creating the space of time to do those things we forget how blessed we are and how great life is.
So, no planner, and no journal.
I do use paper and more often than not a spreadsheet.
Here is how I plan a whole homeschool year (for six kids) in a day or less. (‘Cause I am NOT dedicating a whole summer to planning, that would cut into my floating in the pool doing absolutely nothing time, which is an integral part of my well-being!)
At the end of every year I think about where each kid is at. I think about what they need to improve. I think about what things they are interested in. I also ask them what things they are interested in. Sometimes I have them write down things they would like to learn about the next year, and sometimes it is just a simple conversation that naturally unfolds during the course of daily life.
I get out a piece of lined paper. Sometimes it is a loose piece of paper and sometimes it is in a spiral notebook. Honestly, I just grab whatever is closer because it REALLY DOES NOT MATTER what paper we use!
Then I get a pencil, or pen, or fine-tipped marker, this really depends on my mood. Sometimes I like things erasable and other times I get dorky and write each kid’s list in their current favorite color.
Step One of Your Lazy Homeschool Plan – Know Your Kids
Once I have gathered these complex and expensive planning materials, I write a brief plan for each child. This plan includes any skills I want them to work on, any curriculum I already know I want to use, and any topics they want to learn about. Once I have a list, I look for balance. Where/when will they get physical education? What about art and music? Life isn’t just academic and my lists always reflect that. Because if we don’t plan for life to be more than academics we can easily get caught up in an academic schedule that is strangling the life right out of us. We don’t need that.
Rinse and repeat for every kid. Some things might be the same on every list, like math-Life of Fred. Other things will be different for every kid. And some things might be the same for two or three kids because we are learning something together. For example, my 3 teens all studied economics together last year. I read an economics book aloud; we watched videos, and had conversations.
With my younger kids I often teach science and history with multiple ages. As my kids get older, they do more of ‘their own thing’, studying independently, and there are fewer things we do together. But we ALWAYS do something together, because that creates family bonds, culture, conversation skills, and community. Connection is not optional.
Step Two – Weave the Individual Lives and Plans into One Beautiful Family Plan
Once I have my six lists (you may have more lists, or less, depending upon the amount of mayhem in your house), I spread them all out in front of me and get out a spreadsheet. Now, sometimes I need 5 spreadsheets. This is really sad because it means it takes 5 times as long to plan, but if I have to, for example, drive a kid to dual enrollment college classes on some days and not others, I may need a different schedule each day of the week. But most years I can have a schedule that is pretty much the same every day.
Maybe if I know that a few afternoons are taken up with outside activities then I plan to put a subject in that slot that does not need to be studied 5 days a week. The spreadsheet has time slots on the left, and children’s names across the top, with mom included. Putting my name there ensures that I do not plan to read economics books to the teens while simultaneously teaching a younger child a grammar or spelling lesson. Life is a lot easier if you don’t have to do two things at the same time. So I plan no to, that doesn’t mean I never DO, I mean, life happens, it just means I do my best to avoid it.
Master Lazy Tip: Write a schedule to ensure that you don’t plan to do more than actually fits into a 24 hour day. And so you don’t have to think about what to do every morning when you wake up. That is just too much work!
In the boxes on the spreadsheet I write or type, what each person is doing during the time slot on the left. I include things like chores, cooking, free time, and outside time in this magnificent life planning tool. And I also make sure I am not cramming things into time slots that will be too small. When my kids were little I multiplied everything by 3. A 10 minute reading lesson? Plan 30 minutes.
Either all goes smoothly, and you have a breather before the next thing. Or, the baby needs a diaper change, the toddler dumps blueberries all over the floor, and the child who is having the lesson gets so excited about the blueberry spill it takes a good 5 minutes to get their focus back to the lesson and you finish right at the end of the 30 minutes slot you had blocked. PHEW! Good job! THAT is smooth efficiency in real life.
If things are not fitting in my neat little boxes I cross stuff out. This, of course, requires deciding what is the most important to leave in, and that can change from year to year. Many academic skills can be learned in a few years and there is no reason to put them on a child’s list for 12 straight years of their life. Just keep that in mind when you have to delete something. And remember what it is you are giving up that information for. You are sacrificing your child knowing a few more things for a noble cause, the cause of calm days.
Don’t Let Your Homeschool Planner Suck the Joy out of Your Homeschool Life
The cause of efficient smoothness, of having time to live and learn and play. Time to dig deeper, to create, to hang upside, to float around in a pool, to get distracted in lengthy conversation, to be in love with life and learning and just soak into the blessing of everyday life. Because without that time we forget. We become stressed. Learning becomes an item on a to-do list instead of an adventure to be had. And life becomes mundane. We then seek to escape our every day.
You know you have mastered this planning game when your every day is exactly what you want it to be. You are living your dream, because you accepted reality, made priorities, and let go of the fact that you can’t change how many hours are in a day. Your dreams do not become less just because you take the time to refine. If fact, you will find, over the course of years, that aligning your dreams with reality is not much different than aligning reality with your dreams. To have a good life we need to practice both sides of wonderful. The side where we add things in and the side where we cut things out.
For everything we can’t do with our kids every day, there are many things we ARE doing with our kids every day. Are they the things that matter? Are they the things we want to be doing? Are they the things that give us life, freedom, and joy?
I confess, I am a lazy homeschool planner, who plans laziness into my homeschool days because it is just that important.
If you need more tips on getting your plans in alignment with your life check out Avoiding Overwhelm From the Inside Out, which you can also listen to if you prefer audio content.
Have a lot of littles causing you to trip over your plans (both literally and figuratively)? My Series Homeschooling When Your Youngest Still Eats Crayons is for you.