7 Steps to an Easy Big-Picture Homeschool Plan: Simplicity, Freedom, Flexibility, and Orderly Structure

Homeschool Planning

What if I told you that there was a way to incorporate freedom into homeschool planning?  A way to blend flexibility and a well-ordered day? Here are 7 steps to a big-picture, easy homeschool plan.

In our family, clear expectations and consistent checklists generally lead to less fighting and more peace.  But I still desire freedom and flexibility in my day-to-day life.

Big-Picture Planning gives me the ability to craft weekly assignment lists for the kids (and myself) without having to type out any lesson plans, write out lists of page numbers, or feel bound by dates on the calendar!

Have you chosen a course of study for the year? {Remember to ask these questions first.}  You’re ready to create your own Big Picture Easy Homeschool Plan!  Don’t miss the video at the end of the post!

Easy Big Picture Homeschool Plan

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Try these 7 Big-Picture Steps for an Easy Homeschool Plan

1. List each subject for each child and any books associated with that topic. Then, come up with a “how-to-finish” basic plan.

I prefer to do this rough draft with paper and pencil, but you could certainly type it up as you went along.  My handwritten lists are never longer than one page front and back per child, and often shorter for the early years.  I’m all about uncomplicated, simple, and achievable!

For example, for my 6th grader, I brainstormed this simple list for her writing curriculum:

Writing and Rhetoric:  14 Chapters.  ~2 weeks/chapter, 4 days/week.  Read lesson and look over all chapter assignments, narrate/discuss with Mom, review “Memoria” daily, complete writing exercises/first draft, revision

You’ll notice this is so far from fancy that it’s almost a little embarrassing to share.  It wouldn’t look good on Pinterest.  However, it simply establishes the basic steps my daughter will consistently loop through to be “finished” with any given chapter.  It’s the same for each chapter, so I do not feel any need to write out each lesson requirement individually.  Some chapters she may progress through more rapidly, some more slowly.  We’ll just do the next thing.

2. Estimate how much time each subject will take. When planning, be a pessimist. Analyze the sum total of time required, look at the time you actually have available, then revise.

It is better to be an extreme pessimist when estimating how much time any given subject will take us during the planning stage.  Building in plenty of buffer on the front end enables us to have the freedom to finish more quickly during the school year.

Pessimistic Homeschool Plan Optimistic Execution

Pessimistic planning equips me to be an optimist at the end of April when we’re so close to completing our goals!  And wouldn’t you rather have that burst of energy at the end of the long race instead of sprinting out full of vigor at the beginning and limping to the finish line?

As an example, this year I estimated that my 3rd grader will require 45 minutes a day to complete her Latin.  When I created a time-flow chart for her week, however (see step 7), I gave her an hour block for her daily Latin.  Some days she may need all that time if the 3-year-old has a distracting meltdown in the room down the hall.  Some days, however, she’ll have the feeling of finishing “early,” and I think that is an incredibly motivating and encouraging experience!

Just like you would never walk into a store and buy everything on your wish list, neither should you create an ideal school plan that is unattainable.

If you only have $30, but spend $250 at the store, you’ll go into debt.

If you try to fit 36 hours of education into a 24-hour day, you’ll just spend lots of time feeling like a failure and crying into your chocolate.

Ask me how I know.

Are you familiar with that fabulous Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin creates a snowball too big to throw?  He collapses to the ground wailing, “reality continues to ruin my life!”  (This cartoon strip tends to be the story of my life.)

Don’t let reality ruin your beautiful and elegant homeschool plans.  Face reality with clear eyes during planning, and life will be much more peaceful and joyful during the execution!

3. Find creative ways to include the things that are important to you, even if they don’t initially seem to fit in the time budget.

You may really love a good steak, but you have to save that purchase for special occasions.  There are, similarly, important desires we have for our school days that can still be enjoyed, just less frequently.

You can do this in many different ways.  You could incorporate elements into your morning time.  You could attempt loop or block scheduling.  You could move things to a monthly, instead of a daily or weekly, list.

For example, I would like to make sure my 8th grade son and I have a regular, concentrated time to discuss literature.  The reality is I that cannot do that (at least formally) every week.  I decided that once a month our literary discussion time would replace his usual humanities-reading time.

Goals without a plan rarely actually get done.

I immediately headed to my calendar and scheduled a Friday appointment with my son each month through the school year.  We can always adjust that if needed as any particular week demands, but rescheduling is much better than forgetting to do it at all!

4. Include non-negotiable “appointments” in your time estimates.

Do you have an outside-the-house class or co-op every week?  A midday exercise class you want to attend on a regular basis?  Piano class, sports activities, or choir?  Don’t forget to include those time-estimates in your plan!

I have been much more faithful in my personal exercise routine since I incorporated a few YMCA classes on the actual homeschool schedule.  Moms are people, too!

Easy Big Picture Homeschool Plan

5. Create weekly checklists for the kids that follow a pattern, not specific page numbers.

If I ever tried to assign certain pages or chapters to certain days, I feel sure that my husband would come home to find me weeping over Tension Tamer tea in the corner while the kids ate cheerios for dinner.

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And frankly, I do not want to spend my evenings or weekends after long days of Mom-ing writing out the next day’s or week’s assignments.  I want something that is reproducible, but also flexible enough to meet us where we are through the changing seasons.  Did a child get stuck on a math concept and need 3 days for one chapter?  Or maybe they wanted to “get ahead” so they could have a free day with their friends!  Can I create a plan that combines flexibility, freedom, and a disciplined routine?

Here is a method that works really well for our family:

There are some subjects I would like the kids to work on each day, without the pressure to complete a certain chapter each day.

For example, my oldest son will be studying precalculus this year.  My goal is for him to actually understand the material, not hit a certain page number goal each day.  But in order for that claim to carry weight, his assignment sheet needs to reflect that perspective.  Thus, the precalculus portion of his weekly checklist looks like this:

Precalculus (60-75 minutes each day):    M            T              W            Th           F

Pages Studied:__________________ Videos watched:_________________  Test:__________

He can record in the blanks the material he actually completed.  I can also see at a glance if he is faithfully hitting the daily math goal, or if he gets off track one week.  But the goal is faithful consistency and habit, not meeting certain benchmarks.

On the other hand, there are some items for which I have a certain number goal each week.  I would like my 3rd grader to complete 3 reading journal pages each week.  She may do more reading on Tuesday and want to complete 3 pages, or she may want to spread the assignment out over several days.  I want her to have that freedom and flexibility.  Her checklist looks like this:

Reading Journal:               1              2              3

She can mark the reading journal pages off as she completes them, no matter when that occurs during the week.

You’ll notice that in both cases, one of my primary goals is to encourage my children to develop diligence and self-control, while also giving them space to work at their own pace.  I don’t want them to feel the pressure of being “behind,” but neither do I want them to be unmotivated.  This format seems to work well (most of the time) for our family.

6. Create checklists for the teacher, too!

I admit it; I cringe when I hear other homeschoolers say they went a month or more without checking their child’s math homework.  But I also understand, as a mom of many, that life happens and my brain is full and it’s a given that important things will sometimes slip through the cracks.

But I take my job as home educator very seriously, and I want to plan for success as a mom and teacher.  This means that I also have a daily checklist.  This includes things like “Check Math: J, E, S, G.”  (See, I don’t even write out the kids’ names!  Every day I can just cross off the initial when I’ve checked their work.) It also includes items like, “read a book with the 3-year-old.”  Yep, idealistic past-self, there comes a time in every mom’s life when she has to include the obvious on her list so it actually gets done!

I also have a weekly checklist.  This includes things that at some point each week I need to accomplish: check on reading journal pages, check Latin worksheets, piano lessons, etc.

And, finally, a monthly checklist: literature discussion with Joshua, logic discussion with Emma, and map work with the girls.

Once again, I have created a structure of accountability to encourage self-discipline, but because I am not tied down to a certain day or date there is freedom to be flexible in my daily schedules.

7. Create a weekly time flow chart

First, a massive caveat.  I have never in my entire life actually lived according to a strict time chart.  In fact, the thought of having blocks of time rigidly scheduled every day gives me the eebie-jeebies!  But when creating a big-picture plan, it helps to take the time estimates (see Step 2!) for each child and see if it can actually work in a weekly schedule.

Additionally, while my own personality cringes at the thought of doing “A, B, C” in the same order every day, some of my children actually thrive on this approach!  Creating a time-flow is a way I can show love and care to them.

One of the most helpful things this does is help me as the teacher balance out my own energy.  Certain subjects for certain children require my regular oversight.  I’d be exhausted if I did them all in a row!

By playing around with our weekly assignments on a time-slot chart, I can figure out a way to equitably balance out my own energy and my children’s concentration, while taking into account our weekly appointments outside of the home.  I’m never going to be the mom to tell my child, “It’s 8:55 now.  Stop in the middle of this math problem and get started on your Latin, quick!”  But checking to see if we can enjoy a realistic routine during planning ensures that I don’t inadvertently created a burden too hard to bear for our family!

Use my simple chart to keep records of videos, live events, and hands-on activities!

Could a Big-Picture Easy Homeschool Plan work for your family?

Perhaps you have been too rigid in your schedule, or have had unrealistic expectations in the past leading to despair and discouragement.  If that is the case, a time of rest and little-to-no planning may be what is necessary for your family!

But if you’ve tried to be an unplanned, relaxed, organic-flow homeschooler and it is not working for your family (in fact, there seems to be more confusion, fighting, and laziness than ever), this Big-Picture Planning framework may be just the right combination of freedom and discipline your family needs!

At the end of a long Big-Picture Planning day a few years ago, I did a Facebook Live.  In the video below you can see a few examples of our super simple, flexible routine.  You can also hear a few bonus pieces of planning day advice (hint: don’t forget movement, protein, and shared Google calendars!).

I’d be happy to do another Live to answer any of your homeschool planning questions.  Comment here on the post, join the email list and send me a note, or contact me via Facebook or InstagramI’d love to discuss simple strategies that could bring simplicity and order to your homeschool day!

Homeschool Planning with Accountability

If you feel like you need accountability, a mentor who will be with you every step of the way, my friend Pam has an amazing Plan Your Year course and community to equip you in each step of the homeschool planning process. She also has some great free planner pages available to get you started.

What are your goals for the school year?  Come by Facebook or Instagram and let me know.  Don’t forget to sign up for my email list for subscriber exclusives!

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11 thoughts on “7 Steps to an Easy Big-Picture Homeschool Plan: Simplicity, Freedom, Flexibility, and Orderly Structure”

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  4. Hi Amy, quick question: Where do your children keep their weekly assignment checklists? On any given day, how do you know if they have completed their work for the day? Sill tweaking things here… 😉

    1. Hi! They are to keep their weekly checklists in their 3 ring binder. (by the way, I love the Better Binders from Staples!! Such excellent quality; they’ve lasted forever! Worth the price.) Each child has 1 binder in which they keep their morning time memory work, their checklists, and any other random pieces of paper/worksheets/etc we need to keep. I use divider tabs to help them keep that organized. I do not check every child’s assignment page every day. Every day I will ask them to look over their checklist and see if they have missed anything when they tell me they are “done.” The younger children have so few things that I can verbally ask them questions like “did you read for 30 minutes?” from memory (they need more reminders/oversight, and I am training them to use their list); the older children I usually choose to trust until all comes to light at the end of the week, for good or ill. 😉 My “mom checklist,” however, ensures that I’m checking in on math, for example, on a regular basis so it would be hard for the older children to go very long telling me they had done their work without really doing it. Friday is generally the day I sit down with each child and look at the week as a whole. Friday tends to be our least-busy-out-of-the-house day, so it (usually) works well. But that’s also when they learn lessons like “just because I didn’t understand this doesn’t mean I just get to skip it without telling mom” or “just because I didn’t like the science chapter this week doesn’t mean I don’t have to write a narration.” You know. Life lessons. 🙂 The weekly checklists don’t keep them from sinning (or me, for that matter). They do, however, give an external reference that helps with my own exhaustion. Don’t tell me you “didn’t know” or “forgot.” It is right there on the checklist you told me that you looked at every day. Helps eliminate excuses. 🙂

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  6. Thank you, Amy! This was great for me to read. I’ve done checklists for the children, but I do page numbers, chapters, etc. I might try your checklist for certain subjects. Also, the mom checklist – why have I never done that?!?! I guess I really didn’t need it during the early years of homeschooling, but I think this will help me a lot if I since both of my children are in high school (there is just way more to keep up with).

  7. Hi Amy, we just passed our 1year homeschool anniversary! & I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I actually thought it would be more difficult than it is! I’ve always loved spending time with my kids & at 13,14 & 15, they still love spending time with me! I still can’t believe that when we started homeschooling last September, we would face a world that would rely on homeschooling! We switched from a formal curriculum to an eclectic Charlotte Mason style. One question I have is this : How do you come up with grades for subjects? Like A,B,C…Hoping & praying ALL is well with you & yours. My eldest is in 9th grade now & need to figure out how to do transcripts.

    1. Hi MaryBeth! When it comes to high school grades, math is the easiest, right? 🙂 It’s pretty clear what the percentage of right/wrong is. I grade other courses based on the excellence or lack there of on their work. But my oldest is in 10th grade, so I don’t like to put myself out there as a high school expert. 😉 My friend Ann Karako has tons of good advice specifically geared to high school. This is a good place to start. My friend Heather Woodie has a free transcript worksheet and other resources as well.

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