If you’re a homeschool mother, you have decided this path is the most beneficial for your family at this time. Whether you take it one day at a time or look at your child’s educational journey as an overview—plotting curriculum from kindergarten through high school—the day-to-day operation can be overwhelming. Here are four tips to set yourself up for success.

  1. Don’t stretch yourself too thin.

    Unrealistic goals set you up for failure. Packing too much into your daily schedule and giving yourself narrow windows to accomplish important tasks will put everyone in the house on edge. Instead, slow down. Time yourself doing your morning routine on three separate days. Take the longest time and tack on five extra minutes. That is the time you should block out on your schedule. This way, when a diaper suddenly needs changing, an argument breaks out between the kiddos, your spouse leaves for work a little late, or you need to move the laundry on, your day is not completely derailed. If you give yourself a week of trial runs to get proper estimates for each item on your schedule, the result will be realistic and achievable.

    Don’t fret if your schedule has a few hiccups before running smoothly. If your school day regularly derails at the same spot, look a little closer and decide what you can do to make that section run more smoothly.

  2. Determine what you need to do to be successful.

    When I am strategizing for the year, I like to plan to get through our curriculum in 40 weeks, leaving ample time for vacation days. Additionally, I only plan for four school days a week. While we usually shoot for five school days a week, it is nice to have some wiggle room. Doctor’s appointments or field trips don’t ruin our school plan. And for every four weeks that we do get five solid days accomplished, we bank an extra week off!

    Furthermore, it is helpful to figure out exactly what defines a successful school day for your family. For us, progress in math and phonics programs is essential to call a day successful. All the other subjects are important, and we do try to do music, science, history, memory work, etc. every day, but we count a day a success if math and phonics are complete.

  3. Make planning your friend.

    Whether you’re a natural planner or scheduling is unnerving for you, a little forethought can free up time spent making decisions on the fly. If planning is not your forte, start with baby steps. Come up with five weeknight dinners and check to be sure you have necessary ingredients on hand for all five. You don’t have to decide which dinner to fix until the night prior (to be sure meat is defrosted and set aside ample cooking time), but you won’t be without a plan at dinner time or be forced to make a last-minute grocery run. You can really revel in flexibility for weekend dinners, or even veer from the scheduled menu on a weeknight—so long as the “on hand” ingredients for your new dinner don’t eat into the menu for the rest of the week.

    One way to avoid messing up future dinner plans (or having roving munchers eat the ingredients you have rationed for a full meal) is designated baskets—one for the week, or one for each weeknight. You can also plan one or two emergency meals: frozen beef, a can of marinara, and pasta on hand means spaghetti is always an option. Canned beans, tomatoes, and seasoning packets—you have taco soup. You can even rotate the “emergency meal” between four solid options so your family doesn’t get burnt out from your emergency cooking.

    Planning school periods is also a secret passageway to flexibility. You don’t have to give each subject a designated time slot, but determine how much time your core school takes, then plan when you intend to get that work done. If you usually take two hours in the morning, but you need to run errands or have a field trip in the morning, plan two afternoon hours to make up for the lost time—and you don’t have to scrap the whole day!

  4. Keep your eyes on your own lane.

    It is easy to get sidetracked looking at what other families are accomplishing in their home school and extracurriculars; but pacing yourself so you don’t get burnt out—or stretch yourself so thin that you’re not effective—requires focus. If you would like to try a new curriculum or activity, assess what you’re currently doing and decide what you’re willing to sacrifice to work that new item into your schedule. It is especially helpful to weigh whether you are already covering that subject in a different way. Will the new curriculum supplement what you’re already doing or replace your current curriculum?

    As a rule of thumb, I avoid impulse schedule changes by tabling new curriculum and activities for consideration in future school years. If I still want to give something a try as I am planning for the next school year, it may not just be a flitting fascination, but a potential fit for our homeschool. I keep a running notebook with these ideas (or an email draft so they don’t get misplaced). Those new ideas are right there at my fingertips when I need them instead of distracting me during the current school year.

If you can change your outlook towards scheduling, you can use it as a tool rather than a rigid taskmaster. Scheduling the essentials opens new horizons of freedom and flexibility, and setting your priorities—and sticking with them—can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.