3 Things to Do When Plans Don’t Follow the Plan

Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom and Good Cheap Eats.

I‘m a fairly academically-minded homeschooler. It could be the former public school teacher in me. It could be my big head. But I like to know that my kids are making progress through their curriculum. I like to know that they score at or above grade level on standardized tests. I like to know that “the experiement is working” — at least from an academic perspective.

But I’m also learning to be a realist: things don’t always go according to plan.

  • Kids get sick.
  • It takes me a week to prepare for a week’s vacation and another week to recover.
  • The library doesn’t always deliver on time the book I reserved three weeks ago.
  • On occasion, a child will be sporting two left shoes.

Life is subject to change.

Any variety of moods, household projects, or illness can get in the way of my best-laid plans. Consequently, I have to adjust — and so does my homeschool.

Those of you in the relaxed or unschooling camps are probably laughing at me. But to my brain, this is hard. I see the value of “life education,” I do. But, I also want to feel bien dans ma peau, to feel good in my skin. I want to feel at peace with the education I’m providing my kids.

How do I reconcile a rigorous academic plan with the bumps and turns of real life?

1. Remember what’s most important.

Jamie made a great point recently about making “peace the goal.” It does our kids no good if they become brilliant, but crabby and unkind people because Mom stressed too much or pushed too hard.

I shared that peaceful goal with my kids recently as we headed out for a long day: science lab for my oldest son, a library trip for the rest of us, and lots of driving in between. “Peace and fun are the goals,” says I. Just articulating that helped set the tone for a day that would be generally unproductive — at least where school books were concerned.

At the library, we read stories and chose books for the week while my 9th grader examined mold under a microscope. We picked up subs on the way home to prevent the delays of meal prep and clean-up, allowing us to spend the last two hours of the day working on academics.

My attitude made all the difference. We did what we could with the time we had. And I didn’t freak out. 

2. Remember that no educational system is perfect.

When I was in high school, my French teacher became terminally ill. We had months of substitute teachers, few who knew a word of French. Our French learning suffered for a time. Yet, many of us went on to become fluent in the language despite the lapse in instruction.

“Life happens” in every system and it’ll be okay if we miss a day or fall a little behind on our schedule.

3. Ask yourself, “Is learning happening?”

Some of the stupidest people hold college degrees, and some of the most brilliant minds of our time were high school or college dropouts. Schooling does not necessarily equate an education. Academic progress does not always jive with actual learning.

There are many ways to learn and absorb information. A trip to the zoo or a baking session where my son-who-hates-math has to double the ingredients amounts and actually use math can be just as “educational” as getting the math lesson done.

But what if…?

I still hope that we finish the math books, get beyond lesson two in the science curriculum, and that my kindergartner masters the short vowel sounds. The ultimate goal however, is for my kids to have the tools they need to succeed in their chosen paths of life.

These things will come — eventually, and perhaps in ways I least expect it. I can’t let the fears of “what if…” rob our family of peace and joy in the day to day. As Renee says, “What if” is a two-way street.

Life never happens exactly the way we think it should. A homeschool is no different.

What’s important is to live and learn and love each other through the process.

What do you do when things don’t follow your plan?

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools five of her six children, covering 2nd through 10th grades. Her oldest is in college, so the experiment appears to have worked! Grab a copy of Jessica’s new cookbook Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and the accompanying monthly meal plan to help you save money, eat well, and enjoy some freer time.


  1. This is no doubt the most intelligent thing I have read on the web concerning education. My belief completely…thank you for just coming out and saying it!!

    “Some of the stupidest people hold college degrees, and some of the most brilliant minds of our time were high school or college dropouts. Schooling does not necessarily equate an education. Academic progress does not always jive with actual learning.”

    • Well, thank you. LOL. My husband did not go to college. I have a Master’s in Education. He is brilliant. I, generally speaking, am not! I’m speaking from experience. 🙂

  2. Thank you! This is so encouraging!

  3. This post is SO right on. We homeschooled for 8 years. During that time we had a full time family business for 5 of those years, and for almost 3 of those years we were raising 3 grandchildren under the age of 5. “Life” happened quite a bit! I had to learn to relax a bit and know that my children were learning valuable life skills as well. Actual learning time in the schools is much less than their 8 hour day, so don’t feel so bad! Give yourself a break and relax into life…
    Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: Do the holidays throw you off balance?

  4. Molly Hyde-Caroom says:

    Thank you for this post! I really agree with so much that you wrote here! We have just finished up a move that got moved up 6 weeks and we minimized a lot. Moving quickly was a lot of work and instead of doing the school work that I thought we would do it just didn’t get done. I had all the usual concerns that they were taking time off. Then, I figured, it’s okay. They spent almost all their time outdoors and they were not plugged in front of a television or computer. They decorated and cut cardboard boxes into houses and cars and often relied upon themselves to get breakfast or lunch. They helped us clean, organize, and get through the move and while it wasn’t “school” it was an education! Thank you for your post, it reaffirms what I believe that it’s okay to take a little time off if we need to and everything will be okay.

  5. “brilliant” but cranky and unkind. such motivational wording to make me stop and think!

    p.s. Just yesterday this beautiful, well put together woman passed me going through a grocery store door. she was going in, i was going out, or maybe it was vice versa. she had lovely, well highlighted hair, nice make up, sophisticated clothes, an expensive hand bag. my first instinct, of course, was to take it all in and critic myself. then i glanced down at her shoes as we passed. though the two high heels were the same style…they were two different colors; one brown, one black. 😉

  6. I couldn’t agree more. “There are many ways to learn and absorb information.” So true–sometimes we learn better by doing than by learning. 🙂
    e-Expeditions’s latest post: Friday Freebie: Escape Motions

  7. Thank you for this, so much. This is my first year homeschooling. My son is in Kindergarten and I went with the online public school program because I kept doubting my ability. School is NOT fun!!! There is none of the excitement and wonder that I thought we would have when I was planning our curriculum on our own. We are doing so much stuff that he learned when he was2!!! And it takes so much time to do all that I am supposed to do. There is no way they are accomplishing this much in a traditional classroom. Some days we do school stuff from breakfast until bed. This is definitely not what I imagined it would be.

    • Hmmm… I hope you feel the confidence (and have the local support) to branch out on your own. Sounds like that is where you’re leaning?

  8. Normally I just lurk, but I needed to post today because your article resonated with me. I love when you wrote,” Peace and fun are the goals…” Yes, yes and yes!! I forget this simple goal often and I tend to dwell on the things that are incomplete. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of Peace and Fun!!!

    Fanatastic post!!

  9. Hi moms~
    Thank you so much for the insightful post, Jessica.
    I actually came on here with a question…
    I have an almost kindergartner (he missed the deadline by two months so we had to wait another year)–in the meantime, we’ve tucked him into a private-school in PreK–we REFUSE to go the public-school route in our town. 😛
    Anyhow, I have been praying a ton about what we are going to do once he is ready for school-grades. He LOVES his school and teachers, but then, he’s a pretty easy-going kiddo that I could see thriving in whatever scenario we put him in.
    My biggest question for all of you moms that have been successfully homeschooling, whether it be for just one year or many, is what curriculums do you like and WHERE do you look to even start finding them?! 😛
    Thanks so much~

    • This is a late reply, but here are a couple thoughts. First, I couldn’t choose a curriculum until I had some ideas what I believed about education, and what I saw our schooling looking like. The details have changed over the last year and a half (I’m still a newbie!), but I needed a foundation to start from. After that, I cruised some blogs that were using similar schooling philosophies to see what curricula were available. You can also google “Charlotte Mason curriculum” or “classical education curriculum,” or whatever you are looking for. Once I had some names, I started investigating them individually. I found http://www.homeschoolreviews.com was a helpful place to start. There are other review sites – google “review home school curriculum.” I didn’t look so much at whether the reviewers liked or didn’t like the curriculum, but rather what they liked about it. Then I decided if that fit into my vision and my kids’ learning style. I also enjoyed going to a home school convention and getting to see the curriculum first-hand. Be warned – there are some wonderful, enthusiastic salespeople/representatives out there. It helps if you have a direction going in so you don’t get sucked in by the excitement and buy something totally unsuitable!

      I hope this gives you a place to start. Remember, if you start with something that doesn’t work, you can always try something different. Especially in the early years, you have a lot of flexibility. Best of luck.

  10. I am just starting my homeschooling journey and these are great things to learn in advance. Thanks for sharing!
    Melissa’s latest post: Drum Roll Please

  11. Taking a deep breath and realizing it is just today (or this week as we have all been sick) and that their education won’t suffer for it is the best thing for me not to get uptight and become crazy mom on the schooling front!

  12. “Peace and fun are goals.” What an excellent quote! I’m totally stealing it; in fact, I’m assigning myself the task of saying that to my children some time in the next week … probably on our most hectic day. Thanks Jessica!
    Hannah’s latest post: Because Home is the People

  13. This post just makes me want to cry with relief. Here we are at 4:38 on a Friday and we’ve finally “finished” our school work – yet so many things on my planning book were left undone due to cranky, coughing kids and a mom who is just really struggling to juggle the laundry and the meal prep and all the other things of life with 6 kids AND schooling. I often feel SO incredibly guilty and burdened that I’m not doing enough to educate them. Not enough for my brilliant nine year old who could probably do so much more if I had more time to guide him and not enough for my 6 year old who cries through every reading lesson and says she “hates reading!” I am encouraged and I’m going to try harder to make “keeping peace” the goal!

    • If you are still struggling to juggle laundry maybe you should ask your children to help out. My two oldest (9 & 7) put away their own laundry. Even my toddler helps a little in other easy chores. Use a list of things for them to do before something special (play outside, play with their toys, etc.). After my children help out at home they are a little happier at the task they accomplished. I thank them and tell them that because they help so much I can teach them at home, have time to play with them, plan more play dates, more fun activities outside the home, etc. Good luck!

  14. I so totally agree with your post. I have not been to the County Art Museum in years but had an opportunity to go last week for some docent-led tours with our homeschool group. We ventured out, driving through the crowded and congested streets of Hollywood and Beverly Hills with 6 kids, snacks, diapers, wipes and high hopes for a day of cultural inspiration! We hit traffic, accidentally parked two blocks from the museum and forgot our lunch! I just kept saying to the kids, “We’ll just make the best of what ever happens.”

    Though we were late, our older 2 kids were able to have a docent of their own to lead them and the 2 middle kids were on time for their tour. I was able to walk with another mom of young kids along with my two little guys to the hands-on museum next door until the older kids were done.

    There were a lot of inexpensive restaurants nearby so we grabbed some lunch and talked about their experiences, reenergized and went back to the museum as a family. So blessed! We have intentionally left Friday’s unscheduled so that if we feel inspired to get out and explore, the older kids don’t feel like they are behind – they have an extra day to make up their assignments.

  15. I have been homeschooling for 12 years and just blogged about this idea myself the other day. Thank goodness I have finally learned to be a little more relaxed about the curriculum! If I had not, I am sure we would have burnt completely out long ago. It’s important to remember that if we schedule every minute of every day, we all will be cranky — not just mom, and that our goal should be happy, healthy human beings, not intellectual automatons.

  16. I don’t have much to add to all the comments. I just want to say thanks for writing this. It sure hits home!


  17. Thank you!!! I’m love this. I think I need to print this out and tape it up in my kitchen!
    Elaine’s latest post: The Hardest Part of Homeschooling (For Me)

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