Homeschool Planning: A Guide to a Successful School Year

Whether you’re a seasoned homeschooler or just beginning, here are some homeschool planning ideas and resources to help you along the way.

It’s nearing August and that means I’m in the midst of homeschool planning. To be honest, I’m not a naturally detailed planner. However, I actually really look forward to planning our curriculum each year.

I figured I’d share my personal planning process in the hope it will help anyone who may be feeling a little overwhelmed, or perhaps doesn’t know where to begin and is simply looking for a place to start, or someone who is just seeking some new ideas or resources to make homeschool planning easier.

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Homeschool Planning: Six Steps to Success

1) Homeschooling Goals

Setting goals for your homeschooling year is crucial. At some point through the course of the year it’s pretty much a guarantee that life will become busy or you or your children will experience burnout or apathy. It’s during these times the homeschooling goals you established at the beginning of the school year can help ground you, providing support, encouragement, and motivation. Or at least a bare-bones framework to guide you through the rougher parts of the school year.

Homeschooling goals can be as formal or informal as you’d like to make them. Remember, ultimately it’s about finding what works for your specific family.

Create a Vision Statement

Establishing a vision statement is one way homeschooling families can begin setting their goals for the year. Some questions to consider include:

  • What are your family’s core values? What do you care about most?
  • What do you hope to accomplish this coming school year? What personal goals do each of your children have? What about their academic goals?
  • What gifts and talents do you hope to nurture in each of your children? What do you hope to spend time cultivating over the coming year?
  • What is your unifying theme for the coming school year? Is there a topic that would be worth exploring more in depth?

Allow a Topic or Theme to Guide You

One thing I like to do each year is select a topic for exploration or a unifying theme that guides our curriculum and studies. This helps steer me toward big picture thinking when it comes to planning our curriculum. Otherwise, I have the tendency to get distracted and overwhelmed by the myriad of resources.

Identifying Personal and Academic Goals

Once I establish our theme, then I sit down and consider both personal and academic goals for our family. Character education is a principal component of our homeschool. This year, for example, we will continue our study of virtues, seeking our examples of virtuous behavior in the books we read and learning about and practicing universal values.

Big picture thinking helps guide our academic goals as well. What substantial academic achievements should we work on? What do we hope to accomplish over the next year? Once you identify these goals, then you can segment them into more manageable and achievable tasks to work on throughout the school year.

I use a comprehensive scope and sequence and browse free curriculums for ideas on academic standards and goals. Indeed, there’s a plethora of exceptional resources available to homeschooling families these days. It may take a little time, but I like to think of it as a treasure hunt. What can I find that will help inspire our family’s learning adventure each year?

Once you identify both personal and academic goals, then it’s time to narrow down what subjects will be included. Again, these can be as formal or informal as you wish. For elementary ages, I include the core subjects (math, language arts, culture + geography, and science) alongside character education, creative arts, practical life, and handicrafts.

Education is not a preparation for life; Education is life itself.

John Dewey

2) Ask and Observe

As homeschoolers we’re in the unique position to where we can 100% individualize our children’s educational experience. Of course, we should totally take advantage of this!

Seek out each of your children’s input as to what they would like to explore over the coming school year. Pay attention to their interests, needs, and learning styles. Observe their level of engagement with various subjects and activities. What motivates them? Inspires them? What makes their eyes light up with enthusiasm? Intentionally seek out and include resources that your children enjoy.

3) Homeschool Curriculum Planning

Now, are you ready to embark on a treasure hunt? First, you’ll want to decide if you prefer building your own curriculum or will you be using an already made curriculum to guide you. Or, in our case, you can do both. We’ll be using a pre-made curriculum for math this year, so I can focus more of my time and energy on our special topic of study.

If you’re opting to make your own curriculum and you’ve already identified which subjects you’d like to include and a possible unifying theme or topic of exploration, then it’s time to select which books and resources you’ll be including.

Ask other homeschooling parents about possible curriculum resources. Once you know what types of learning activities work best for your child, you’ll be able to weed through the suggestions. When considering curricula and resources, factor in how much time and money each will cost and which aligns best with your family’s core values and beliefs.

Then, simply carve out a bit of time to search the Internet, browse Pinterest, or ask questions in Facebook homeschooling groups or on Instagram to gather ideas from other homeschooling parents about what resources you’re searching for and feedback and user reviews. Jot down the suggestions and then preview the resources yourself. I find *most* educational resources and curricula offer a free preview and/or sample lessons. YouTube is another place to check for in-depth sneak peaks and additional information.

4) Homeschool Routines and Daily Rhythms

Okay, so at this point you’ve established your homeschooling goals and selected the curricula you’ll be using. The next step is to create a predictable homeschool routine. I know, I know, it’s not the most fun. Trust me when I say sticking to a routine can be HARD, but the benefits, at least for our family, are well worth it.

Creating a Weekly Framework

At the beginning of each school year, I construct a basic weekly framework that lays out which subjects and activities will be our main priorities each day. Here’s a snapshot of our weekly framework for the upcoming school year:

You’ll notice Science and Poetry aren’t mapped out completely yet since I’m still in the process of planning those subjects. Google sheets allows me to easily update and edit our homeschool planning information as needed.

I use Google Sheets to create the draft, and once I feel pretty good about our weekly layout, I’ll transfer the information to a weekly planning sheet (Scroll on down to grab a copy!) and print it out and stick it in our homeschool planner.

Establishing a Weekly Routine

I’ve found that when our subjects and activities are mapped out like this, it allows us to more quickly establish a weekly routine. For the first time, we’re assigning “themes” to our homeschool days this year. I read about that idea in The Call of the Wild and Free: Reclaiming the Wonder in Your Child’s Education earlier this year and thought it’d be fun to try.

Also, I suggest color coding the different subjects to help break up the information. Assigning colors to different subjects is something regularly found in Montessori classrooms, and while we don’t color code our shelves, I’ve found it’s been helpful to color code some of our planning materials, e.g. weekly routine, elementary work planning sheets, certain printable resources, etc.

How Will Your Break Apart Your School Year?

It’s also a good idea to go ahead and think about how you’ll break apart your school year. Do you plan on following your local public school’s calendar? Or do you prefer to school year round? Perhaps a trimester schedule? How many days per week? Again, there’s no “best” option here. It’s simply whatever works for your family. Here are a few of the more popular ways I’ve seen homeschooling families schedule their school year:

  • Year-Round Schooling: This option provides the most flexibility. You simply take days off as needed.
  • Public School Calendar: This one is pretty simple. You’ll just follow your local public school’s calendar. It’s not for us, but I can see the advantages to it.
  • Six-Week Segments: Here, you’ll plan on lessons for six weeks and then schedule a 1-2 week break. Of course, there’s still learning happening during these breaks, but this gives you a designated time to plan the next six weeks ahead and allows your children time for more self-directed learning activities.
  • Trimesters: With this option, instead of having a formal 3-month break during the summertime, you’ll segment the year into trimesters. School for three months, and then take a month off. We followed this schedule the year before last, and it was nice having the months of April (gardening!), August (summer!), and December (holidays!) off.

Of course, as you get started, things may shift around. We re-evaluate our schedule throughout the year, noting what’s working and what’s not. There may be some things we’re never getting to on a certain day. Is this because there’s too much other stuff going on that day, or is it because that resource/activity is no longer serving our family? Remember, it’s okay to abandon resources that just aren’t working anymore.

5) Homeschool Planning Resources

So, you’ve come up with your homeschooling goals, selected your curricula and resources, and have begun working on a weekly routine. Now it’s time to organize everything so it’s readily accessible to you throughout the school year. The homeschool planning resources I’m using this year include the following:

  • Google Sheets: I think spreadsheets are one of the most efficient ways to organize and display information. I use them for planning our curriculum and tracking our progress through specific resources.
  • Notion: It’s the best homeschool lesson planner and calendar I’ve found.
  • A Homeschool Planner: We use a planner to record our daily and weekly tasks. My kids, especially my oldest, enjoy recording what works they’ve completed each day. As a result, it’s become more of a family homeschool planner now.

Homeschool Planning: Google Sheets

Google Sheets has always been my main form of “computer” planning. As much as I love a good, old fashioned paper planner, I need something that enables me to shift information around. I’m a visual person. Although I know some homeschooling parents use sticky notes in a similar fashion, I enjoy the convenience of Google Sheets. Plus, it’s free to use which is always a plus in my book!

Best Homeschool Lesson Planner

Notion is my current obsession. I began using it for homeschool planning earlier this summer, having just stumbled across it a couple months ago. While there is a bit of a learning curve at the beginning, if you sit down and play around with it for a few hours while watching a movie, it becomes much more intuitive.

Free templates are also available to make it even more accessible to new users.

The Benefits of Using Notion for Homeschool Planning

Here’s a few of the reasons why I love Notion for homeschool planning:

  • All-in-One Organization: Notion uses both databases and pages to streamline planning. With the use of tags, it’s easy to both find and filter data sets. In addition to lesson planning, you can easily create an interactive table of contents, add web bookmarks and links that correspond to each lesson, generate a daily or weekly tracker, make personalized book lists, keep a daily journal or observation log, and the list goes on and on.
  • Flexibility: It’s ridiculously easy to switch lessons around. Swap to calendar view and simply drag and drop them into place. Or, click on the tag and swap it for another. While we have a weekly framework that helps structure our homeschooling days, it’s inevitable that we’ll end up going down a rabbit hole sometimes. Besides, who am I to squash all that glorious enthusiasm and vigor when they stumble across a topic that just connects in all the right ways? It’s much easier, and more respectful, to re-schedule any other planned activities that day to later in the week.
  • Same Information, Different Views: Visual learners, rejoice! Once you create a database, you can see it in different views. Options include tables, calendars (!!), timelines (!!), galleries, and kanban boards.
  • Cost: The best part of all, the personal plan costs nothing! Yep, it’s completely free to use!

Evernote and Trello are also popular planning apps that are helpful to a lot of homeschooling families. While I do like Evernote, I end up not using it as effectively for note-taking as what Notion allows. Although I haven’t gotten rid of it yet, I’m increasingly finding no need to make use of it as much anymore.

Homeschool Planner

Even though I mostly use Google Sheets and Notion for the majority of my curriculum planning, our paper homeschool planner is still essential for us. And, yes, I say “us” because my kids actually use this planner alongside me. We use the weekly work planning sheets to record, first, what lessons will be presented in the week ahead and, secondly, what self-directed learning activities they would like to explore. My oldest likes to record her completed works in the planner every day, and my youngest likes to fill in the bubbles for our daily tasks and any trackers we’re using.

The Homeschool Planner is perfect for record-keeping when it comes to homeschool planning each year.

Grab the Homeschool Planner Today

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It also helps to have our meal planning sheet and cleaning checklist readily available. For record-keeping purposes, I log which resources we’re using for each subject and keep our homeschool calendar log updated.

6) Stay Flexible

At this point, your basic homeschool planning framework is finished. To that end, I think the most important thing to remember is you do not have to plan out the entire year, or even the semester really. Nothing needs to be set in stone.

In fact, I encourage you to remain flexible and keep most of your planning open-ended. In doing so, you’ll be able to follow the rabbit trails of curiosity and discovery that’ll spring up throughout your school year.

Do you have any awesome homeschool planning methods that you’d like to share? Don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell me all about them!

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