Do the Next Thing (my minimalist homeschool planning)

I’ve been thinking about homeschool planning a lot lately. I’ve had the opportunity to review both paper & digital homeschool planning tools recently, and my newsfeed & inbox have also been filled with homeschool planning posts, products, and courses. Some of these resources look great when I’ve looked into them — I like the idea of having specific, measurable goals, and ideals. Have I been missing out or messing up?

But here’s the thing — my home is not an institution. It’s a living organism. We don’t “start” or “finish” a homeschool year, whether that be a calendar year or traditional school year. When we finish a level of Math, we move on to the next. Eight chapters may take us eight weeks, but it could take us 7 or even 10, so why bother trying to figure out what chapter we will be working on in six months?  And I don’ t plan out a whole year’s worth of outside the home activities or vacation days all at once. If grandma calls and says she’s going to be flying from the other side of the country to spend a week with us next month, then we’re just going to take a week off. I really love our flexibility.

But still, all those pretty resources and blog posts had me questioning my level of organization. And a Facebook post and it’s subsequent discussion had me questioning if I was doing something wrong. The common thought being shared with the hesitant new homeschooler in this particular exchange was this: No, you don’t have to be super organized to homeschool, you can just be an unschooler instead.

Wait a minute, WHAT? Are there no super organized, type A unschooling mamas? If I’m going to give my children a classical education, do I need to keep a schedule and follow extensive lesson plans? What on earth do personality types and personal preferences have to do with educational philosophy anyway?

This crazy rabbit trail I went on last week, while initially causing me to feel stressed and to question the quality of education and environment I’m giving my children, has actually liberated me.

Productivity, efficiency, and busyness have become some kind of all important ideal to us in our culture, and this super organized homeschool mom? I’m just not her. If you are, that’s great! If what you are doing is helpful to you, then by all means continue! But the idea of tracking every moment of my day, counting the hours we spend in each subject area, and even choosing a year’s worth of reading materials sounds like shackles to me!

KEEP CALM AND DO THE NEXT THING: My homeschool planning motto!

I am not disorganized. I am free and organic. You may prefer to call it “flying by the seat of my pants” but so be it.

Most of the creators of these impressive organizational tools are former teachers — the level of organization and structure they feel necessary to incorporate into their homeschools may a remnant of their classroom training and school mindset. Or maybe they have a Type A personality and thrive on a tight ship. So if they want to catalogue and Dewey decimalize every book in their house, more power to them!

Although I’m not a very experienced homeschool mother who has graduated children, I have been at this several years and what I am doing is working for our family. Will this always be the case? Probably not — but I’m flexible, and I trust that if I need to adapt in the future, by God’s grace I can and will.

And just because we aren’t on the super organized, rigid end of the spectrum doesn’t mean that we are without discipline, hard work, ideals, or routines.

I do have a homeschool plan, and it is simply this: Do the next thing.
  • When a chapter or unit is finished, we do the next.
  • When a course of study is complete, we do something else.
  • When one read aloud is done, we pick another.
  • If a spelling, phonics, or math lesson takes one day or five, well then, that’s just how long it takes.
  • If we finish Ancient History in April, then we start Medieval in May.

Just as all growth in life, it is a continuous process. It does not begin in September or January and end in June or December.

My most valuable homeschool organization tool? A bookmark, scrap piece of paper, or post-it note that is slowly progressing through our book, showing us where we left off last time, and where to begin today.

What are we going to be doing tomorrow? We are going to do the next thing — unless of course we get a phone call from some friends who want to meet at the park — no need to worry that we will mess up a whole term’s worth of plans!

Thanks for listening to the ramblings of a non Type A, somewhat rebellious homeschooling mama!

Living and Learning at Home

22 Comments

  1. Taren Dixon June 30, 2016 at 6:25 am

    I love this! This is our system too! I’m so glad to see someone else saying it because its really not something you hear often. I’m in your blogging homeschool group, I pinned this and said I couldn’t wait to read it. So glad I did! Keep spreading the message! Lol

    1. Learning Mama June 30, 2016 at 6:30 am

      Thanks Taren. I’ve been scratching my head so much lately thinking that I can’t possibly be the only one! Maybe I’m must not there yet, but I can’t figure out for the life of me why anyone would want to make things so difficult!

  2. Lisa Marie June 30, 2016 at 10:17 am

    I am SO a fly-by-the-seat of your pants homeschooler. I love the “do the next thing” – that’s kind of me too. We don’t have a start or a stop, it’s more fluid than that. Just… keep on going.

    I am going to try and be more structured this year, in an attempt to deal with some behaviour issues and for my own sanity now that I have **5** kids and realizing that one is closing in on high school WaY too fast! But I still want to be fluid enough and flexible enough to do life.

    Great post.

    I love that homeschooling allows everyone to do their own thing that works best for them and we don’t have to be cookie cutters. 🙂
    Lisa Marie recently posted…Meeting Your Child’s Learning NeedsMy Profile

    1. Learning Mama June 30, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      Three cheers for flying by the seat of your pants! LOL!
      Good luck with the sanity thing 😉

  3. annette @ A net in Time July 1, 2016 at 10:22 am

    you and I school the same way I think. 🙂 I too have often felt guilty for not planning things out well.. we just move on the next thing as well. 🙂
    annette @ A net in Time recently posted…Recipe: Sausage StewMy Profile

  4. Amy Maze July 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    I totally agree! I typically would look at the coming few months, have an idea of what I wanted to accomplish, and then each day we would cross things off as we got to them and move onto the next thing! Then I would write down what we actually did accomplish in my lesson plan book =) I think you are doing a great job!

    1. Learning Mama July 11, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks!
      I have been feeling so relieved after hearing the “me too!”s this post has generated!

  5. Becca July 12, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    I am more of a Type A organizer, but what I learned is my students aka my daughters are not. Trying to keep to a schedule made us miserable. We have used the “do the next thing” for a few years now; it’s working and we’re happier. In the fall I will have my first high schooler. We may need to get a bit more structured with hours and credits and transcripts, but I’m not planning to completely change what’s working. I love do the next thing.

    1. Learning Mama July 12, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Planning for high school is a whole different ball of wax! I’m glad I have several years before I have to think seriously on that matter.

  6. Jennifer A July 26, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    I was just thinking about writing this exact post! (I’ll share yours instead.) I’m the same way, and it works beautifully. I even have it on the wall, “Do the next good thing.”

  7. Susan Evans August 5, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I do the same thing! I was wondering what the hoopla of all the homeschool planners were. It’s just a ton of paperwork for no reason.

    That’s the thing I liked least back when I was a school teacher–that you had to write out everything just so someone else can check it. If we are done with one thing, we go on to another. There doesn’t have to be so much planning!
    Susan Evans recently posted…Bible NotebookMy Profile

    1. Learning Mama August 5, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      A ton of paperwork for no reason — that’s exactly how I see it!

  8. Jody December 30, 2016 at 12:00 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one. I actually tried one of those online planner things and haven’t finished even setting it up! All of this talk about lesson planning and scheduling makes me feel like I am doing something horribly, horribly wrong. So, thank you for making me feel not-so-alone. I really needed this!

    1. Learning Mama December 30, 2016 at 8:11 am

      The online planner was a complete fail for me too!

  9. Melissa B. January 3, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    This post resonated with me on SO many levels!! I am in my 5th year of homeschooling and this is the first year i didn’t do a single bit of planning. You know why? Because every *other* year, I’d spend hours/days/weeks planning and then within the first month, it would all fall apart. We would fall behind the plan and could never catch back up properly. So all of that planning was for naught… Every single year! So for this year, I had a general idea of what I wanted to begin with, and from there, we just move along. It seems to work with the children… And allows for a lot of flexibility! But it seems that every other homeschooler I know, does a crazy amount of planning and like you, have felt a strange feeling of guilt over not using planners like they’re meant to be used….and I have always felt alone in this “flying by the seat of my pants.” Now, I know I’m not alone! Thanks for the great post!

  10. Mid Year Homeschool Review: What's Working and What's Not - Learning Mama February 13, 2017 at 7:51 am

    […] a paper planner. I’m actually not much of a planner (I’m a do the next thing kinda gal), but this year I have been using a paper planner to record our extracurricular […]

  11. Danielle August 23, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    I love this! I’m only as organized as I absolutely have to be!

  12. Brandi Sweaton August 24, 2017 at 7:59 am

    This, this, this!!! You have read my heart!

  13. Deeann August 24, 2017 at 10:24 am

    This is the way my family did it all the way through high school…then for high school…I printed out an example transcript and a list of requirements and my kids went through it and made an out line of what they wanted and needed to learn…and I provided resources and they did it. By the time they were 17 they had covered what they needed to cover. We tweaked it along the way but kept it very relaxed. My son has his own business now, and several side businesses as he is kind of a “Jack of all trades”. Everything he was interested as a kid we found someone for him to work with…a mechanic, a carpenter, a demolition guy who cleaned up abandoned properties, a horse trainer, his dad taught him plumbing and light electrical,…he would never have learned all those amazing skills if we’d been stuck with a rigid learning schedule.
    My daughter decided she wanted to go to public high school. She had had 4 years of of 1-1 once or twice a week special tutoring for some difficult learning challenges, dyslexia and memory pathway difficulties…so for her 8 grade year we added two online courses that were a total review of 1st – 8th grade math and english…just so we knew we hadn’t missed anything and to review and cement those pathways…and she went on to become a A/B student all through high school and just graduated. So unschooling and loose schooling really do work, have Faith!

  14. Kayla August 29, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Yes!!! I do exactly what you do, and it works beautifully!! I can’t fathom the idea of planning sk much in advance, even though those organizers look cool! It makes my life so much easier to “do the next thing!” It’s great to hear I’m not the only one who homeschooled this way!

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