Over more than two decades of homeschooling, we’ve developed a style of planning that is very much about rhythm and commitment over routine and structure to create an organized homeschool day. We value incidental learning, cooperative learning, travel, and an educationally rich environment, with little focus on curriculum or timetables. If you’d like to identify opportunities and goals for your own family and make these things happen, no matter what style of homeschooling you choose, read on.
As well as homeschooling, I have studied and worked in business management for several years. Business tools and concepts can be applied to a homeschooling journey for less chaotic daily living. Some ideas and resources which have helped me stay organised for the past 27 years of parenthood and homeschooling include specific tools to plan our days, weeks, months, and years.
What You Need to Organize Your Homeschool
To get started with organizing your homeschool, you’ll need printing supplies, a notebook, or loose paper. I find colored pens useful when planning. If you choose to create a folder for your planning, a display book with clear sleeves will be enough. Actually, a paperclip will be enough, but if you want to use these resources for a long time, you might like to set up a folder. Whatever makes it most appealing to you to start planning… do that!
In some planning, you may need to involve other members of your family. I know it’s difficult to schedule a time and engage others, but I highly recommend a team effort with planning, especially with older children.
To begin, write down a list of areas of your homeschooling (and parenting) life that are causing a bit of mental havoc. In particular, what makes you feel too busy? What don’t you have a grasp on? What do you need help with? What don’t you have time for? What causes you to lose sleep or sigh out loud? I really do want you to jot this down before proceeding so you’ll know where to focus your energy with all the information and tools I’ll be sharing. It’s okay if these things seem like household issues – because it’s all in together really! In order to homeschool confidently, you need to have the other areas of life flowing smoothly too.
1 – Print off a Yearly Planning Sheet, and Twelve Monthly Planning Sheets
You can find and buy planner pages online everywhere these days. You can choose to print off the school year, or the calendar year, to suit your needs. There are free templates in programs like Canva if you can’t find ready-made planning pages by searching online. A planner page is the key to an organized homeschool!
I like to avoid waste where I can, but there are a lot of things I still do using pen and paper, and planning is one of them. I find it especially useful when I’m working with other family members to have the pages on the table so we can write on them together, and look back over them in the future. If I use electronic versions, and they’re filed neatly inside my computer, we’re less likely to collaborate, and we’re less likely to put them into action. If your family isn’t so much into paper, please feel free to use the concept of yearly and monthly plans how it suits you. Likewise, if you don’t have a printer, please grab any notebook or paper and create planning sheets. What’s important is working through the process, not how you record your progress. It’s a bit like homeschooling really, isn’t it?
With these pages at the start of each year, sit down with your family, and work on your Big Picture. You can start part-way through a year by shuffling your planner pages to suit you. You can print copies of planning sheets for everyone, or just one copy for you all. You can scribble all over them, or use them as a neat part of your formal planning or record keeping. Use these tools to meet your family’s needs. I used to make one copy of a yearly planning document for all of my children (six have now graduated, and the youngest is too small to use planning tools herself), and then make a time to sit with each of them to go over the year ahead.
On our yearly planners, we would include:
- all homeschool camps and travel plans
- any significant dates like First Aid Certificate expiry, various courses and assessments, driving tests, theatre productions, competitions, enrolments, sporting sign-ons and finals, special occasions, and more.
Monthly plans are used similarly, and include all of the dates above, in addition to goals and notes, birthdays, and other celebrations, events, and outings. If you use a formal curriculum or distance learning, dates relevant to those courses would obviously go into your planners.
Some of our older children were not interested in using planning tools themselves, but they’d sit with me at the start of each year, and we’d clarify what they hoped to achieve in the coming year. They would share with me their goals so I could be aware of what money, transport, and other resources they’d need. This is most relevant for teenagers, but also an interesting and useful process for younger children. If you have very young children only, these tools might only be used by the adult/s in your home. It’s always interesting to hear your children’s ideas, though, and sometimes they’re wiser with time and resources than we are. It can help us avoid unnecessary busyness and expense by focusing on what they really want to do. One of my older children’s favorite parts of this exercise was writing a wish list of chapter books and other resources they wanted to access. Most of them really enjoyed several series of books in their childhood and teen years.
2 – Print a Weekly Schedule, Laminate It & Find a Whiteboard Marker
A week is over ten thousand minutes! Sometimes it’s really helpful to have a visual plan to appreciate the amount of time we’re given each week.
Sundays are my planning days. I’ve done “life” this way for over 20 years! It feels like a good habit to embark on a new week each Monday with a plan of what we’ll be doing – where we’ll go, what we’ll learn, work that needs to be done, fun things we don’t want to miss, what needs doing in the garden, what to buy & what to cook, chores, appointments, homeschool work or project plans.
These plans help us focus on what we most want to expend our energy on, and what is most important. We can make the most of our trips to town by knowing in advance what’s happening each day. We save money and time by planning our menu around what’s in the garden, pantry & freezer. We can strive for balance between work & play by scheduling both into our weeks.
Some Tools We Use:
- Week-to-a-page paper diary on my desk with colored highlighters noting all To-Do items, work, bills, outings, appointments, and more (it’s a mess and that’s okay!).
- Calendar app in my phone with important stuff highlighted in the same colors as the paper diary. I cross-reference these two on Sundays.
- A small magnetic whiteboard on the fridge for things all the family needs to know about, the weekly menu, and chores for our teenager.
- Another big whiteboard in our home office for all work commitments – showing the next 5 weeks of scheduling and other important reminders (we are a self-employed household).
- A paper shopping list on my desk that anyone can add to, and anyone can take to the shops with them. It’s a pile of same-size scraps held together with a bulldog clip. It doubles as a notebook and message pad!
- A magnetic weekly planner board with pictures of activities and people for our 5-year-old to see what’s happening when for the week ahead. Once she can read, we will switch to word labels on this same weekly planner. Our 17 year old uses a whiteboard version in his room to stay on top of tasks.
Yes, these tools do take some energy to implement – but that investment of time is more than worth it in terms of a calm and productive week. It probably takes me about half an hour each Sunday to walk around the house updating all the various reminder systems (we’ve never found a way to streamline these tools into one, like shared online calendars, or one huge whiteboard – so the various methods remain, for now). I do it on Sunday as it’s a time I’m most likely to be able to ask others about their week ahead, when they can assist with cooking, etc. As I wander around, noting, deleting, asking, and checking I get a clear picture in my head of how the coming week will flow. I feel more in control of my time, and therefore more willing to share my energy with others.
What You Need to Prioritize and Why
I plan and prioritize all kinds of things. Firstly, I organize the non-negotiable stuff – feeding the family, tending my food garden, errands, and appointments. I note any specific time I need to spend 1:1 or as a group, homeschooling the kids (generally for projects, not day-to-day learning which is a given and mostly self-directed). I allow time for work, my own study, and make sure I’m on top of which bills are due. I plan out my business activities and I plan outings and fun with family and friends.
I’m also mindful to leave some gaps in my week, because I know if I over-schedule, I will end up tired, cranky, and possibly unwell. Then I won’t get much done at all!
How much homeschool-specific stuff you plan each week will depend on your homeschooling style and the ages of your children. But if you’re prone to being distracted or procrastinating, do schedule in time spent with your kids, being 100% available to them. Schedule in read-aloud time, art & crafts, walking in nature, cooking together, marking their schoolwork – whatever it is that’s important to you, and to them. This creates an organized homeschool with routine and predictability.
Instead of printing out your monthly calendar, you can also draw one on paper, and scan it to print copies or create an electronic version that you fill in and save. Anything is possible – but a week-to-a-page planning sheet is what I recommend.
3 – Print a Daily Schedule, Laminate It & Find a Whiteboard Marker
I use a calendar, diary, and To-Do lists because I’m easily distracted! I like to know, when I wake each day, what I should do before I can play. My daily tasks remind me of work commitments, meetings, study goals, household chores, promises I’ve made to my kids, garden jobs, and more. Ticking them off helps me see that within the chaos, I’ve taken steps toward some larger goals.
A Daily Schedule tool is very important. Imagine if you printed 365 of these blank Daily Schedules! That’s almost a whole ream of paper! And that’s how many chances you get each year to work toward your goals. I’m up for unplanned beach days, leisurely picnics, reading endless stories, and playing in my garden as much as any 5 year old but I’m also proud of completing my studies, a reasonably tidy home, supporting my family financially, and creating many things. I only schedule my week from Monday to Friday usually, but sometimes have work to finish on the weekends, so try to do that early on Saturday. This leaves time to relax with my family knowing that I’m quite up to date with laundry, meals, housework, garden, work, study, homeschooling, and other tasks. Without time to stop and reset, each week would blur into the next and I’d soon burn out.
Which things do you need to schedule into your days to remind yourself what needs doing? Reading aloud from a chapter book? Checking someone’s math? Cleaning out the fridge before shopping day? Making a phone call? Paying bills? Play around with your schedule sheet, diary, notebook, app, whiteboard – whatever works for you and your family. Try some colored pens or highlighters. Using a different color for each thing helps you see how balanced your life is.
Share with the children what you’re doing, and why. Encourage them to do some planning to suit their needs. We have a rhythm in our family for days we are at home – chores and morning routine first, then some study or group activities, and then it’s time for play. None of us are very good at doing it the other way around!
I’ve never found a commercial product to suit our family’s organizational needs, which is why I started making my own printables and developing systems to suit us many years ago.
I hope that by undertaking some planning you can gain confidence and feel in control of the many facets of your homeschooling family’s journey. I know I haven’t handed you a magic wand, and you’ll need to put in a lot of hard work! If you’d like to delve further into organizing your homeschool, I have an affordable, short course available here that might help you.