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In this episode, I am joined by homeschool mom Courtney Guarnieri to explore the dynamic balance between structured and unstructured activities in homeschooling. This is the first in a series of interviews featuring real homeschool moms discussing their planning processes.
Courtney shares insights into the nuances of homeschooling in New York, including the challenges and perception of homeschooling in this state. We’ll also discuss our favorite personal tips for planning out your homeschool year and various scheduling methods, such as the “magic number” and periodic break weeks. Through this episode, we emphasize the importance of planning ahead for a successful homeschooling experience. So, let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Homeschool planning helps in creating a structured yet flexible learning environment.
  • Planning allows for open-ended exploration and a delightful childhood experience.
  • Utilize creative scheduling to design your homeschool year effectively.
  • Balancing structure and flexibility is crucial for successful homeschooling.
  • Keep records of your homeschooling journey, especially for compliance purposes.
  • Planning helps you stay on track, ensuring you cover all desired subjects and activities.
  • Start planning early to avoid running out of ideas or resources during the school year.
  • Implementing a planning system saves time and reduces stress.
  • Find a schedule method that works for you, such as the magic number or term schooling.
  • Regular reviews and periodic planning sessions help adjust and refine your homeschool plan.


Listen to the Podcast:

Homeschool planning podcast transcript

Pam Barnhill [00:03:56]:

So today I am joined by a longtime member of our community. She has been around gosh forever. It feels like we’re going to talk about that, but it’s Courtney Guanieri, and she is going to tell us all about her home school. Courtney, welcome and remind us, like, how many kids you have, how you got started homeschooling real quickly.

Courtney [00:04:17]:

Okay, well, thank you for having me. I have four sons. They are currently 16, 1412, and ten, right down the stairs. So we have been homeschooling since the oldest was school aged, and we always intended to homeschool them, partially because I was home schooled briefly myself. My sister and I were just for a little while, and I just wanted them to have a free and easy childhood.

Pam Barnhill [00:04:52]:

I love it.

Courtney [00:04:52]:

I really wanted them to have lots of open ended time, and I didn’t like how long the school day is for. Very young children love that.

Pam Barnhill [00:05:03]:

So that’s how you got started. And then can you remember how long you’ve been part of our community? Because it seems to me like you’ve been there for as long as I can remember.

Courtney [00:05:14]:

I think I’ve probably been a part of the community for as long as you’ve had one.

Pam Barnhill [00:05:18]:

Oh, cool.

Courtney [00:05:20]:

I really think so. I think some of your earliest from the blog days, and then I’m trying to remember what the very first thing you did was. It might have been a Plan Your Year, or it might have been a consistency boot camp, but something way back.

Pam Barnhill [00:05:38]:

Way back. Okay, so Plan your Year definitely predates consistency boot camp because it used to be like, a little ebook that you would buy, and then we turned it into the put your Home School year on autopilot planning course. So let’s talk a little bit about home school planning. Before you started using some of our planning stuff, what kind of challenges did you face?

Courtney [00:06:02]:

Well, big on ideas and short sometimes on follow through. I think that is probably the biggest thing, figuring out how to take all of these grand ideas and put them into practice. Absolutely. Because there are so many wonderful things and you want to pull a little bit from here, and you want to pull a little bit from here. But synthesizing them was a challenge coming up with a method. And at the time, my kids were all much younger, so I didn’t always have a lot of time to spend. So I would get on a great track and then we’d have to play outside or somebody would need a snack or all of those good things. But then it was sometimes hard to get back into my groove.

Pam Barnhill [00:06:53]:

Okay, so there are a lot of people who would hear you say that and would think that planning would be kind of the antithesis to that kind of atmosphere. Like, why would you want to create a plan then? So how has specifically creating a plan helped you, first of all, have that delightful kind of childhood that you were after? Because people think of planning as so regimented. They’re like, okay, here’s this lady who wants to have this delightful childhood, but now she’s creating this plan. And then how does planning help you choose the things that you want to do and prioritize?

Courtney [00:07:28]:

Well, I think that they both can coexist, and I think it is something that you have to live through and kind of play by ear, but I think it gives you a chance to know what you’re doing or where you want to go when kind of those other open ended times or the rabbit trails are over. So you can kind of pull things back together. You know that after you’ve had this great morning playtime and you’re gathering together, you know what you’re going to do when you all sit together on the couch. You know you’re going to read this book and you’re going to look at this piece of art and you’re going to do this poem. And I think it all flows together. And I wish I could say that there is a plan to make that happen, but there’s not quite a plan to make that happen.

Pam Barnhill [00:08:22]:

You live in New York, which is notorious for being kind of one of the states where people struggle. I think actually, let me rephrase this. Nobody that I’ve met from New York really seems to struggle with homeschooling and doing the things that need to be done to homeschool. But people from New York who want to homeschool have the idea that it’s going to be difficult. So how has the planning helped you meet that? And I have to say the people that I know from new York are all people who are in our community and take our planning course. So hopefully that’s making it easier for you guys. But nobody ever seems to have a problem with it. People just seem to have a problem with the idea of it.

Courtney [00:09:04]:

Being able to have a record of what you have done, I think is the most important thing when you’re trying to homeschool in New York. Not necessarily because somebody’s going to look at it, but because we do have six times a year when we’re in touch with the school district, it is really helpful to be able to look back and have more or less exactly what you have done. And sometimes you will add to that because things come up and kids go off on trails and moms go off on trails, but it is tremendously helpful to have to be able to look back and know, this is what I planned, this is what I did.

Pam Barnhill [00:09:51]:

Yeah. And I think it would be easy to say, looking at the end of a quarter and looking back, to do that quarterly review, to say, you know what? I have my plan of this is what I intended to do and this is my starting point. And now I can go in and I can add things or I can subtract things as I go to turn in my record, to be honest about what we did or we didn’t do. But having that plan that I made as the starting point means that I’m not starting from zero every single time.

Courtney [00:10:18]:

Exactly half of your work is done for you in that case.

Pam Barnhill [00:10:22]:

Yeah, I love that. So it not only becomes the plan, not only becomes what I intend to do, but it’s also the starting point for those reports that I have to turn in. Yeah. So I absolutely love that. So put your home school year on. Autopilot has ten different modules in it. Do you have a favorite?

Courtney [00:10:37]:

Well, I really like sitting down with the calendar and figuring out what the year is going to look like. And I cannot remember which module that is off the top of my head, but that is one of my favorites. Is it four? Yeah, I think it’s four, but that one I always get excited about also because there are different ways to think about planning that time magic number or like Sabbath with six weeks on, one week off. So I really like sitting down and looking at that. And I think the kids like it too, because they can kind of see like, this is how the year is going to be framed. It’s like an Anne Shirley moment. I’m like it’s all fresh with no mistakes in it. It’s so beautiful.

Pam Barnhill [00:11:24]:

Do you do it in pencil or do you do it in pen?

Courtney [00:11:28]:

So I always print like four copies of that calendar from the forms, and I start in pencil and then I highlight and then I inevitably recycle that one and start again. I know I keep it in pencil, but I try to at least highlight a few things, like when I’m going to do those quarterlies, when we’re going to break for the holidays, that sort of thing.

Pam Barnhill [00:11:50]:

So of the various methods that we teach, because we teach three different kinds of methods of doing this, we teach the magic number, which is my favorite, because that was like how my brain worked and how I came up with it. And then there is the term schooling, which is where you’re doing so many on, and then you take a break, a break week. And we have all of these philosophical discussions in the planning community about what a break week really means and really doesn’t mean. Right. And then we teach the more traditional kind of take the summers off in school during the school year, and then there are probably 50 other ways to do it out there. Do you have a favorite that you use?

Courtney [00:12:27]:

I mostly do terms.

Pam Barnhill [00:12:30]:


Courtney [00:12:31]:

But I also plan it with magic numbers.

Pam Barnhill [00:12:35]:


Courtney [00:12:36]:

So that if something goes off the rails, I still kind of have an idea of where we are. But I often do terms and partially because with my oldest transitioning to college classes and just the way the church schedule works, sometimes that makes sense, too.

Pam Barnhill [00:12:57]:

Because your husband now he’s an organist. Is he a choir director as well? I love that you love module four so much that you actually do it two ways. Like you have the way that is my preferred way, and then you have the backup way. Just in case.

Courtney [00:13:13]:

Just in case.

Pam Barnhill [00:13:14]:

And really that’s what planning is all about, right? Planning for those just in case contingencies. Right.

Courtney [00:13:20]:

And sometimes wonderful things come up. It doesn’t have to be a disaster that you might use one or the other. And of course, field trips count, that sort of thing. And let’s be honest, towards the end of the year, the kids want to know how many days left, when are we going to take a little bit of a break, those kind of things. So it’s very helpful to them, too. They like that. They’re numbers guys, I guess.

Pam Barnhill [00:13:45]:

I love it. Okay, so are there any other ways that your planning has changed since you started doing put your home school year on autopilot?

Courtney [00:13:52]:

I am absolutely able to block in the full year far more than I used to because of getting roadblocked sometimes by I’d have really strong plans for early in the year and then we’d kind of peter out, right? And so planning things like our morning time, not necessarily every single, like read aloud, because I tend to see what looks good in the moment, but to know these are the artists we’re going to get through these poems. I hope we are going to do these composers things like that for history and having the periodic reviews and planning sessions as a group keeps me moving forward in that way.

Pam Barnhill [00:14:40]:

So you feel like you’re just getting to more. That’s what you mean by blocking out the whole year? You’re able to get to more?

Courtney [00:14:45]:

Yes, we’re able to get to more. And then I’m not really spinning my wheels on a Monday morning thinking, well, we finished that read aloud, or, oh, gosh, we’ve gotten to this really cool thing in history. I wish I had remembered to grab these books. Yeah, it happens far less.

Pam Barnhill [00:15:03]:

I would say that was probably one of the biggest things for me when I started. And people get daunted by the idea of, wait, what a second, you’re going to plan, like, your entire year out? But it was far easier for me to wrap my head around setting aside time in the summer to make those decisions about what I wanted to do than it was for me to run out of something to do. In the middle of the school year and then have to make the time and the space with all these kids running around to come up with the next part of the plan. And what was happening was the next part of the plan wasn’t happening.

Courtney [00:15:38]:

Yes, truthfully, that would happen. Not necessarily with things like math, because that’s planned for you. Right. You’re just going to keep going. But we would lose some of the extras, and that’s kind of defeating the purpose in my mind, because that’s why we’re doing this. We want to have time for all of those lovely things.

Pam Barnhill [00:16:03]:

Yeah. And you’re going to have to plan at some point. And so my motto is, let’s do it and get it done with, as opposed to right.

Courtney [00:16:15]:

It’s not set in stone. Things will adjust naturally, but you have something to start from, you have something to return to, and that is invaluable, I think.

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