1. Know Your Procedures
To peacefully plan, you must know exactly HOW you should plan. This is well accomplished through Procedure Lists, which give you an opportunity to put your planning and preparation on autopilot. Decision fatigue plagues homeschool moms and is so often the root of overwhelm, but it is mostly preventable. Procedure Lists reduce the fatigue associated with calling to mind each and every thing that should be done each week to plan, and prepare for, homeschooling peacefully. Procedure Lists are helpful whether you're brand new to homeschooling, or a veteran and they are useful whether you're a planning pro or you're in need of a planning recalibration. To know your planning procedures is to ease the burden on your brain to remember all that you should do to prepare for the work of homeschooling, which is carried out much more joyfully when it is carried out according to a peaceful plan.
2. Plan Time to Plan (Make and Keep Appointment)
If you don't plan time to plan, you likely won't. To "hope" to "have time" to plan is to set yourself up for failure, and its to create chaos that is avoidable. We can sometimes trick ourselves into believing that we need to "save time" by not sitting down to plan for the week ahead, but in reality this is actually a guarantee for not only wasted time but also unnecessary stress. It was revolutionary in my homeschool to decide that, for me, planning was non-negotiable and that it simply HAD to happen every single week. I have a standing planning appointment with myself, and I keep it without fail because if I don't, I regret it every single time.
Planning to plan is to start your week in peace so that you can continue in it.
3. No Personality Exemptions…You Need a Plan
Experience has taught me that, when it comes to homeschool, every mom needs a plan. Some personalities (including mine) lend themselves well to planning, and some tend to feel stifled by a plan. However, personality assessment is a tool, not a crutch, and to know the strengths and weaknesses of our personality does not exempt us from the requirements of the job at hand. For homeschoolers, one of these requirements is some measure and form of plan. This is true because, no matter your personality, your work is with other human beings and involves multiple variables and facets. In order to know what is best to do and when it is best to do it, you must have some measure of structure in place. Whatever your personality is bent towards, homeschooling is the great leveler of the playing field. We ALL need a plan. Some of us will plan in great detail, and some of us are better served by a basic and broad plan, but no matter matter, we each need a plan.
4. Separate Procedures for Each Time Frame
Set up procedures for yourself for the week, the month, the term, and the year; include every single item involved in planning, preparing, and resetting for your homeschool. Give yourself a framework from which to carry out your work and provide peace to the task at hand by eliminating the chaos of indecision and overwhelm.
5. Be Realistic, but Not Indulgent
It is good to be realistic with yourself about what you can do in a given amount of time, and in order to be realistic, you must consider the circumstances that are factors to how your time is used. These include the ages and age gaps of your children, the other responsibilities you bear in work and ministry and caring for family, your own health and physical limitations, and more. However, is it also good to not indulge your desire for homeschooling to be "easy" and for your time to be largely your own. That's simply, as Christian moms, not what we have signed up for or what we are called to. The Christian life is a sacrificial one, and for homeschooling moms, this sacrifice is largely made up of our time and our own desires. And that is a good, good thing. Hard does not equal bad, and it's okay for homeshool to challenge and stretch and grow you. It is good to be pushed beyond your own comfort and your own limits and to be forced to be fully dependent upon your Savior. Be wise, but don't indulge your own flesh. Be reasonable and realistic, but don't believe the lie that your time is yours and that if you're giving much of it to your children, and to others, that you're doing something wrong. Your children aren't an idol, and you should still have time to read and pray and enjoy creation and love and serve and explore the world around you. But, you will have to fight for this time, and that's okay. Your children aren't your god, but they ARE your heritage from the Lord. Homeschooling is your occupation, and it's right and good for you to invest wholeheartedly into that occupation, for the glory of God.
Be realistic when you plan, but also be willing to give of yourself sacrificially for the work God has given your hands to do, knowing that by His grace, you work for His glory alone.
6. Know Your Triggers and Prevent Failure
Be a student of yourself and your children. As you study your own family, you will learn what you can prevent and what you can simply prepare for with copious amounts of prayer. One example in my own life and homeschool is starting a school day with an untidy school room. Preventing failure in this area looks like faithfulness to procedures for ensuring the cleanliness of our space each evening. Whatever triggers your own anxiety, overwhelm, or stress, know it. Once you know it, determine whether this is something you can prevent, or whether this is something intended to sanctify and grow you. If it is the former, set up systems for prevention. If it is designed for your own crucifixion of flesh and your own sanctification, then prepare for the facing of these triggers by bringing them to the Throne of Grace in prayer each day before encountering them.
7. Plan to Adapt
Have a Plan B. And, a Plan C. Planning is a wise and prudent habit, but if you don't know how to adapt those plans, then you will inevitably blame the plans themselves for the failure to carry them out. And, sometimes, the plans ARE at fault. Sometimes they weren't reasonable to begin with, or simply weren't right for your family and your homeschool. Most often, however, I have found in my own homeschool and the homeschools of many others, that the plans themselves are good. As each day brings its own unique set of interruptions and challenges, however, plans must be pliable. If you are required to spend valuable moments after your day has been thrown off course attempting to decipher what should be of most importance and what can still be done in the time you have remaining, you will no doubt become overwhelmed. You simply can't prioritize properly under duress. Instead, it is wise to prioritize ahead of time. Have a "Plan B" schedule. Design a schedule ahead of time for days in which you simply can't do it all, in which you've chosen, in peace, the things that are most important to you. Beyond that, design a "Plan C" schedule as well, for the days in which you are only capable of very little, and you need to know precisely what that little should be.
Learn to be faithful to your plans without being a slave to them. Through practice, prayer, and intention, I have learned to recognize when I need to adapt, or pivot, and when I simply need to model perseverance and fortitude. Bad attitudes, bad moods, exhaustion, and a desire to do something else instead do not necessarily constitute a proper need for ditching what we have committed to doing for the day. Sometimes, however, they do indicate that a pivot is in order. Sometimes a beautiful day is cause for putting the plans aside and heading outdoors, and sometimes it is instead an occasion for demonstrating that we don't always get to do what is more appealing than what we've set out to do. Only wisdom, and years of practice and intention, can tell you the difference. Make a conscious effort to tune into whether you're more prone to becoming a slave to your plans, demanding that all be done according to what you've determined is best or whether you're more likely to become a rebel to your plans, ditching them upon any whim to do something else instead. Our children need to see both fortitude and flexibility within us, and each school day is an occasion for modeling these things in equal measure. Be intentional about the process of determining your own motivations, whims, desires, impulses, habits (both good and bad) and even your own idols. Don't treat your plans as if they are immovable goal posts, but also don't treat them as if they are worthless. Don't refuse to budge from them. but do refuse to cast them aside thoughtlessly. Good work is done when you declare a park day and put aside your carefully laid plans for another day, and good work is also done when you persevere despite objections and bad moods. Do both in wisdom, rejecting the low hanging fruit of either slavery or a rebellious nature.
9. Drag and Drop OR Delete
10. Front Load and Book End
Invest on the front-end in your homeschool. This means planning ahead, preparing ahead, organizing, having a specific system and procedure for everything, and not waiting to feel "motivated" in order to complete the tasks associated with your work of home education. Then, put a book-end on each week and each term by evaluating and recalibrating. Front-end investment ensures that you don't have to constantly evaluate on the spot, but rather can move forward on the tracks you've laid. Book Ends ensure that you won't remain forever on tracks that need to be realigned. Both together ensure that you're moving forward in wisdom and in peace, on autopilot in the midst of your days, but not mindlessly moving through weeks without recalibration and adjustments.
11. Use a Timer (No Matter What)
Every homeschool mom that I have ever met both personally and professionally (myself included!) underestimates how much time is needed and overestimates how much she can accomplish in any given amount of time. You are not immune to the pitfalls of this, despite your experience, and it is a simple, yet profoundly beneficial exercise to utilize timers in your homeschool day. If you are to spread a wide feast, and to not over-indulge on any one course in the feast at the expense of all others, then you will need to time your lessons, and move on when the timer indicates that you should. This enables and informs your planning as well, as you are given a tangible reminder of just what can fit into the 20 minutes that you have available for a given lesson, as opposed to what you WISH could fit into the time allotted. Experience will enable your instincts to be honed here, but all of us, in my opinion, benefit from occasional reminders of what can fit into a given amount of time. Particularly, these reminders are helpful at the beginning of each year and term, and when changes are made to your schedule.
12. Margin Isn’t Optional
You will, without a doubt, need margin in your homeschool day and in your homeschool week. Interruptions, even intentionally protected against, will occur, and you will need the space for life to happen right in the midst of your work of home education. Don't delude yourself into thinking that you can accomplish 4 hours of learning within 4 hours of time, and plan for margin. Not planning for margin that will inevitably be needed is a thief of peace.
13. Grace and Growth
Apply grace to your homeschool schedule, and to your planning and adapting of plans. But, also require yourself to grow. As you learn, and change, over your years of homeschooling, planning should be something that you get more proficient in, because planning is a necessary skill for the job that God has given you. You needn't measure yourself against others, condemn yourself, or beat yourself up about your weaknesses, your failings, and your setbacks. However, you can continually invest in this skillset without doing any of those things; and you should. Keep moving forward. Keep reading about planning, learning from others, and requiring growth from yourself. Grace is not the same thing as excuses, conceding to your present reality, or defeat. Grace propels you towards growth, free of condemnation. Apply the sufficient grace of Christ towards your homeschool, and continue to grow in your ability to peacefully plan, intentionally prepare, and faithfully carry out this work.
For Peaceful Planning, check out the Delightfully Feasting Planning Binder and Calendar Printables.