Why this type-A mom doesn’t plan her homeschool year

Why this type-A mom doesn’t plan her homeschool year

Why this type-A mom doesn't plan her homeschool year

When I first started homeschooling, I was as excited about the planning as I was the actual schooling. I was the kid who loved school (and who would happily be a career student now if only it would pay the bills), especially worksheets and workbooks, and planning is pretty much all of the best parts of school without any pop quizzes!

In those early years, I viewed planning as a basic job requirement. Setting aside hours to plan at the beginning of the school year and another hour or two each week is simply what you do, right?

I thought so, and despite the time commitment, I rocked it.

The only problem? It turns out that I’m terrible at execution. I don’t like being put in a box. I don’t always want to stop at one chapter read or read just a little bit from 12 different books. And I don’t want to be told what to do (even when it’s my own plan doing the telling!).

I want the flexibility to skip math on some days and double up on others. I like being able to change course on a whim. And I need to be able to declare “snow days” any time during the year when I’m snowed under with work.

It turns out that most plans don’t allow for the kind of flexibility I’m looking for, and I end up discouraged and behind pretty much out of the gate.

A couple of years ago, I stopped planning altogether. I choose our curriculum at the beginning of the year, and we just…do it. No planning out how much we’ll do every day. No scheduling units or lessons. No planning for extra projects or enrichment activities like Barbie mummies or veggie skeletons.

The only planning I do is adding to our book collection and selecting titles from our home library that fit with our current studies.

Why this type-A mom doesn't plan her homeschool year

How exactly does that work? Something like this:

  1. Choose a subject area to study.
  1. Consult booklists & Amazon and buy as many books as we can afford.
  1. Select our curriculum in other subject areas.
  1. Start every day with two simple goals: Do the next thing on our list. Follow the rabbit trails.

1. Choose a subject area to study.

(Currently: Africa)

As I’ve shared, our family decided to study Africa this summer. All of our history, geography, social studies, and science is based around the African continent. I haven’t set an end date, although we are breaking for the Olympics next week.

Because Africa is a huge, diverse continent, we are picking one country to study at a time—first Kenya (where I could have parked for even longer than we did!) and now South Africa. We’ll keep going until we run out of books or, more likely, lose our enthusiasm, and then we’ll choose a new topic area!

2. Consult booklists & Amazon and buy as many books as we can afford.

(My handbook for this study: Give Your Child the World)

Once we decided on the part of the world we wanted to explore, I got a ton of books recommended in Jamie C. Martin’s Give Your Child the World and added a few more from our own collection. Then I filled our downstairs shelves with them so that they’re easy to grab during school time or just when the kids are looking for something to read.

3. Select our curriculum in other subject areas.

(Notably: math, language arts, Latin)

Although I lean heavily toward an unschooling approach in these early years, we do still use a set curriculum for math, language arts, and Latin. But I still don’t plan them. Instead…

4a. Do the next thing.

Rather than planning out what we’ll get done when, we simply do the next thing. We pick a new book from the shelf. We turn to the next lesson in the math book. We read the next chapter.

I never feel “behind” because we’re always making forward progress, and there’s no arbitrary scheduling telling me that I should be further along. We can take breaks when life gets busy or when one of my kids is struggling in a subject area, and then we come back to it a few weeks later.

4b. Follow the rabbit trails.

And finally, not planning allows us to follow rabbit trails as they pop up. We can use a study of Nelson Mandela to talk about our own government and election process. We can compare the painted houses of South Africa with different houses around the world. We can write our own stories about talking animals after reading Doctor Doolittle. When we’re done following the rabbit trail we circle back around and do the next thing on the list.


And that’s it! I don’t worry about getting all of the books read. I don’t calculate how many days are left in the school year and whether we’ll complete the curriculum by then. I don’t stress out when everybody is out of sorts and we need to go spend some time in nature instead. I should probably do better about writing down what we do accomplish, but I’m not even very good at that.

P.S. Are you a work-at-homeschooling mom? Be sure to download this free ebook today and bust through the myths that make life harder than it needs to be!

Why this type-A mom doesn't plan her homeschool year

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. It’s like you know me. LOL!!
    I am beginning my 20th year as a homeschooling Mama this year, and despite never using boxed curriculum or following any plan to a T. my kids are wonderful well rounded homeschoolers. Shared this on FB.

  2. LOL!

    I’m glad to hear from someone who’s further along that it will work out to do it this way! 🙂

  3. Oh yay! Now I don’t feel like I’m slacking. I’m making a choice! Whew this took a load off my shoulders knowing I’m not the only one doing it this way. Thanks!!!

  4. Just curious how this would work with needing to keep up with state requirements of 1000 hours per school year, 600 for core subjects and 400 for electives? I’ve never had anyone ask to see my records, but…one never knows. I can see myself doing what you do because that is pretty much what we always did when we lived overseas for 17 years, but now that we are back in the US, I feel more pressure to keep track of our hours and it’s driving me crazy!!!

  5. When I was a new mom, a very experienced mom told me that she makes “Done” lists instead of “To Do” lists. Maybe this would work for you. Instead of planning ahead, at the end of each day, fill in a diary of what you did.

  6. This is one of the few articles where someone articulates my philosophy. When I hear “we’re behind” I literally have no idea what that means. So, thank you!

  7. Goodness – in England – there is no requirement to do anything other than offer an education that is suitable

    My daughter spent the first 10 years or so up a tree on a pony or in a stream

    Along the way she learned to read and write and be sociable and play nicely with friends and say please and thank you to adults.

    We didnt start any formal work until a young teen when we were preparing for exams – taken early as we have to pay for them – plus a handful of exam “passes” are useful for the next stage in going onto more learning opportunities.

    Other than that – and even formal exams are optional – there are pretty much no “rules” as such

    Doesnt mean to say that some Counties dont try and implement some – however – as generally speaking we are a fiesty bunch – they are soon shown the error of their ways

    Guess sometimes it is handy living in such a small country when all English Counties have the same regulations

  8. I live in South Africa. Also a homeschooling mom of 4 boys. I’m happy to share with your kids more info on SA if you’d like.

  9. As a 16 year homeschooling veteran with 6 more to go, two graduated and working and one middle school aged, I think it’s important to do what works for you. I did “do the next thing” for one stage of my homeschooling life when it worked for us and I’ve done and am currently doing “plan it all out” and have it prepped in file folders for the week for the entire school year by the first day of school. Each has its merits and drawbacks. The important things to keep in mind are 1. Be diligent and 2. Be flexible enough to make a change if a change makes sense in your situation.

  10. Well, I’m not anywhere near an A-type, but I struggle with feeling like I need a plan, since I’m so laid-back I’m worried nothing will get done without one! And, like you, I’m terrible at executing my plans. Thanks for the encouragement that it’s possible to thoughtfully wing it and not end up with kids who are “behind.” 😉

  11. “Start every day with two simple goals: Do the next thing on our list. Follow the rabbit trails.” BLESS YOU!!! Rabbit trails are a GOAL 🙂 🙂

  12. This is exactly how and why we want to homeschool. Our family doesn’t want to plan our lives around the rigidity of school. I do love planning, and when I was a school teacher years ago I spent hours getting ready for each week, mostly so anyone who walked in our classroom would see a detailed plan in place. We veered off my plans every week, but my students always passed state assessments! So, I already know I will naturally take the same approach homeschooling: plan, veer, succeed…I hope!

  13. I’ planning to home school my now 5 and 1 year old and am very type A. This post describes, just they type of schooling I want to do for my children. I don not plan to do school officially until my son turns 8, but we are always leaning, reading and so forth just in normal every day life.

  14. Aahh, yes! I’m hoping to do this type of home schooling with my 4 and 2 yo in a few months. Not much needs to be done at this age, so I’m more or less taking an unschooling approach. 🙂 But thanks for the ideas. I may take this approach going forward, too!

  15. Oh yes!! I needed to hear that! This sounds like me, homeschooling 4 kids trying to stay on a schedule that never works anyway ;-). Thanx for the encouragement. And enjoy studying Africa. We live in South Africa and just came back from Uganda! Awesome <3.

  16. I am and INTJ work-at-home-schoolng mom who is just getting started on the homeschooling part of the journey. (I have a 4.5 year old.) I have been scouring the internet researching INTJs homeschooling to get ideas on what might work or not work for me. I loved this article because so much of what you wrote sounds just like me and may have just saved me a lot of frustration. I love the idea of not having a very specific plan so I can focus on progress not day to day goals. The day to day goals can turn me into a monster that looses sight of the more important goals.

  17. Thank you for the information I going start with Homsechool the next school year and I don’t have any idea how I need to do and what I need to do? But this information open my mind thanks a lot.

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