Four keys to a homeschool plan that will actually work

Last week, I told you all about Laura and how her homeschool plan actually created more stress in her life than it did peace.

It happens. A lot.

Four Keys To A Homeschool Plan that will actually work Pam Barnhill Homeschool Solutions

This week I am back, as promised, to give you four important keys you can use to create a plan that doesn’t feel like a guess, but instead, a tool to help you homeschool strong for the entire year. This is how to get it done.

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1. Start with a vision and goals

In order to eliminate stress and questioning from your daily life, you need to begin your homeschool planning by creating a vision for your homeschool. I have a 30-minute webinar with a workbook that will walk you through how to do this here.

Crafting a vision helps you to think about what is important for you to accomplish in your homeschool. This, in turn, helps keep you from over planning and piling on activities which are not really important to you — even if everyone else seems to be doing them.

You can watch here for more about why a vision is important. (I don’t always look that goofy — promise.)

Creating goals forces you to consider the strengths and limitations of each child and focus on what they need for the coming school year.

Do you really need to focus on math facts this year? Maybe you can consider a more interest-based approach to history. What about an intensive year of writing instruction because math is a breeze, but the writing really isn’t.

This also gives you an opportunity to consider what each kid likes to do — are they crafty and hands-on, do they prefer to learn mostly by reading, are they one of those rare kids who actually likes a get-it-done style workbook curriculum.

Thinking about your child’s individual preferences (even if you don’t always cater to them 😉 )  can help you create a homeschool plan for less resistance during the school year.

2. Consider your strengths, weaknesses, and seasons

The best way to create a homeschool plan that is going to work is to focus inward instead of outward. Don’t stress over what the homeschooler down the street is doing, and for goodness sake, stay off of Pinterest if you can.

Start by considering your own personality type as a homeschooler. (Also, consider how personality plays into selecting your homeschool planner.) Think about what kinds of challenges you might be facing in the coming school year? Are you adopting, moving, facing a deployment, pregnancy, or toddler? All of these things should impact your homeschool plan.

In most cases, you want to plan less instead of more (use your vision from above to guide you to the most important things). If this is a struggle for you, consider planning less than you normally would and then supplement with reading aloud.

The benefits of reading aloud are so impactful, it far surpasses many other teaching techniques in value. (You can hear more about that here. <—- Listen! This one can be life-changing.)

It’s also cheap, easy to accomplish, and flexible. Create two lists for the year — “must reads” and “nice to reads.” Then don’t feel any guilt over the “nice to reads” that you didn’t complete.

3. Number your lessons — don’t date them

Who would want to date lessons anyway? I am sure they would insist on going Dutch.

I kid.

Instead of starting your planning by opening up a calendar-based planning sheet and filling in the days, create a list of lessons for each subject instead. Sometimes this can easily be done by copying the table of contents of the resource you are using. (What?! Say it isn’t so!)

Four Keys To A Homeschool Plan that will actually work Pam Barnhill Homeschool Solutions

This can simply be a list of lesson numbers or chapters from the book or it can be the lesson plus a few notes about which experiments or assignments you want to do, narrations you want to hear, or additional books or activities you want to add.

Then, when it is time to do science or history pull out your list, do the next thing, and check it off. For many that will be all the record-keeping you need.

For others who have to submit lesson plans to a higher authority or simply prefer a more concise record of the school year, write the lesson completed into the dated sheet after the fact. It’s not cheating — I promise!

Doing things this way means no erasing, no scratch-outs, no weeks where you are ahead or behind what is written in your plan book. But you still have created a homeschool plan to follow that guides you along.

4. Find your magic number

Let’s do some math. (Stop groaning — it won’t hurt. I promise.)

You need to do, say, 170 school days a year to meet your homeschooling requirements. Now if you school 10 months out of the year, math tells us that you have to actually do 17 days a month of school to meet your requirement.

So 17 is your magic number. In reality, that is all you need to know to plan a good school year. You don’t have to plan which 17 days of the month you are going to do school. You just need to know you have to do 17.

Stop and consider for a few moments how freeing this is! Take out a calendar and look at a typical school month. How hard is it to get 17 days done? Most months you can take an entire week off and still easily hit those 17 days.

So what can you do with this new-found secret power?

  • First, you will want to bank some extra days for months like December when you actually don’t want to hit 17 days.
  • Other than that, you can do school for 17 days each month and then declare you are “done with school until next month!” and take the end of every month off.
  • Or you can sit down at the beginning of the month and choose which 17 you will do the following month based on what you know about your upcoming schedule.
  • Or you can simply check-in with your calendar about the 20th of each month. How have you been doing? Can you relax and coast the rest of the way or do you need to buckle down and finish the 17?

Now, if you want to sit with your year-at-a-glance calendar and plan out every month in advance, you can.

Some people like to plan out Sabbath schooling or terms and that is completely ok. Even with those kinds of plans, just knowing your magic number can be helpful for when the plans go awry.

And remember, your magic number may be different based on how many months you are going to school and what your annual requirements are for school days, so be sure to do your own math.

A homeschool plan that empowers

A plan that includes these elements is so much more than a guess. It is a plan that is guided by what is important to your family, flexible in execution, and grounded in practicality.

A homeschool plan created following these four keys will not only work but work well. No guessing needed.

Next week, I will be back to discuss execution and how to adapt when things change (because they will).

In the meantime, sign up for our free planning pages which include all the forms you need to create a plan that will work for your family.

Free Homeschool Planner



  • Korie says:

    Wow! This is exactly the kind of simplifying I need to plan our homeschool. The 17 days/month type of schedule planning is very helpful.

  • Violet says:

    Dear Pam!
    Thank you to posting this, because I don’t have Facebook account, so I can learn here more about homeschooling. I following the Ambleside online page, with lots of free moral stories.

  • Rachael says:

    PAM! You have been such a gift to me . I was a looper trying to fit into a block peg. All my friends are block schedules and of course none would recognize that a free spirit like me feels emotionally and mentally bound when block scheduling. (Not to mention the constant doubt about my call to homeschooling because I couldnt stick to a strict schedule for the last 4 yrs!) Thank you for your time and love. May your family be cradled and blessed as you go about His business.

  • Tenaj I. says:

    Love! Love! Love!

    I’m about to begin planning our new (2nd) school year. For some reason, it’s more difficult this go round than our 1st year.

    Definitely loving #4. It’s just so smart! Having that magic number is golden.

    I made the major mistake of dating my plans last year. HUGE mistake. I ended up feeling so behind for so long. Even ended up hating some curriculum that needed to be swapped. I finally ditched the plans and just decided to make progress. And progress was made. We ended the year on a high note and all is right worth the world. ?

  • Erika says:

    Thank you!! I needed to hear this! Great practical advice.

  • Ann says:

    Yes – #4 is awesome! And Pam you were probably the one who taught me to just divide the number of lessons in each subject into the number of terms (or quarters or months or whatever natural division you use). Then just note that you need to be done with xx lesson at the end of this term in order to be on track.
    Skip the written out lesson plans! Away with them! 🙂

  • Ava says:

    I just figured out a couple of weeks ago that I really don’t “have” to keep the 3 R’s at the same pace! I am changing some of my curriculum and am going to do the “next thing” approach combined with loop scheduling!

    Also, I love the 17 days/month approach!

  • Allie LeBaron says:

    Wow Pam! This is a great addition to your PYY book and kit. So glad I found it as I am going through that book again!

  • Lauren Delgado says:

    Mind sharing some ideas on how this could work for older students participating in Classical Conversations Challenge program-balancing the need to “keep up” with the freedom of flexibility? Thanks a ton 🙂

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Lauren – I could not answer your question, so I asked my friend Ann who has graduated kids from CC Challenge.

      She said, “As always in CC, the parents are the authority. They have the say in what the child does or does not do, how fast he goes through the curriculum, etc. So flexibility in Challenge means you can scale back on how many assignments need to be completed (example — only do the odds in Latin or this week just concentrate on vocab, or you don’t need to read this literature book, let’s take some extra time to finish this one instead).

      You can take something more slowly (in Challenge 1, my daughter is going to only do 1/2 of Henle 1, rather than the whole thing as the guide says). You can NOT DO whole strands — one child in her class is taking Russian instead of Latin. Math in Challenge does NOT have to be Saxon; you can choose whichever curriculum you want.

      Parents forget that they have such power, for some reason, and they get bogged down thinking the guide is practically the Bible and you can’t NOT do what it says. The child will still be able to participate in discussions on community day, maybe not to the full extent but enough to gain some knowledge and enjoy the interaction. Kinda like Morning Time, where the youngsters may not understand everything but they still get more than you think.”

      You can find more from Ann here:

  • Aimee says:

    Are there any pages in PYY that are like the picture above (#3)? I’m not real techie, but would love to work from a list lake that!

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Aimee -That is just a printout I made from a spread sheet. I used a spread sheet to make it because I could copy, paste, and manipulate the “data.” Then I just printed. It is about four pages long and is technically a loop schedule for all of our content area subjects for one year.

  • Adrienne Dennison says:

    I love the idea of figuring out the average of days per month. That seems so much easier than trying to pick days for an entire year right now at the end of the previous school year! Shoot!

  • Elizabeth Overcash says:

    awesome….as always!

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