Charting the path ahead: Making a homeschool “compass”

Making a homeschool compass
Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom

This post is part of an ongoing series
about the educational philosophy Leadership Education
(also known as A Thomas Jefferson Education.)
Find the other posts in the series here.

I brewed inviting mugs of hot tea, explained to the kids our goal for the day, and carried the mugs to our porch where we could enjoy the recent influx of definitive spring-like weather (Hallelujah!).

I was also trying to brew a little inspiration for something we’d never done before–making homeschool compasses. A compass should do what it sounds like–point us in the right direction for our learning as a family.

For years now I’ve regularly created “six month inventories” for our homeschool–plans that form a scaffold for what Steve and I need to do in order to guide and direct our children’s educations.

Every six months (or thereabouts) I carve out quiet, pray for each child, and brainstorm ideas about what he or she needs most at this time.

A compass is similar in some ways–except that the kids have created it themselves! I figured that now–at ages 9, almost 10, and just-turned-11–they would be ready to set some of their own learning goals.

But I was surprised by how deep we went and how much we enjoyed the whole process.

“Each binder should include the student’s past and current compass – a six month list of everything they want to study, learn and do.”
– from Leadership Education The Phases of Learning

If you feel drawn to this concept, it’s important to remember that a compass is not just about academics–it’s about life.

Life skills, hobbies, and personal interests carry as much weight and importance as academics when you discuss with your kids. Don’t shut down their ideas–think of it as a brainstorming session of sorts.

Getting Started


You can download a FREE student compass here from Project Inspire.

Here’s an overview you can use and tweak to create your own homeschool compass. 

I. Strengths

What do I do really well?

I love the idea of starting with strengths–because so often the typical educational system focuses on weaknesses. Why not empower our kids instead by reminding them of their God-given gifts and talents?

Some of my kids’ responses to this question about their strengths:

  • running
  • compassion
  • reading
  • singing
  • nature study
  • writing
  • spelling
  • riding my bike

What books have I read that have most impacted or inspired me?

Because we read so many classics at home and literature is one of my top passions, I was super-curious about what Trishna’s, Jonathan’s, and Elijah’s answers to this question would be.

Yet my classic-loving-soul chose to not take it personally when one child chose this book–because later they also chose this one (sweet little encourager!).

Other replies:

II. Areas to work on/strengthen


I was nervous at first about including this category–maybe because I have baggage about being shamed or embarrassed over weaknesses in my own school days.

I decided to give it a try, however, and found that my children didn’t share any of my qualms about it. Remember to think of this category holistically–it includes all of life, not just academics.

Some of the feedback from my kids:

  • reading
  • sharing
  • courage/boldness
  • phonics
  • spelling
  • become more patient
  • improve my drawing

III. Goals/Objectives

Books I want to read and study over the next six months

I usually keep a post-it note with books to check out from the library based on the kids’ interests, but it had never occurred to me to ask them about specific titles they might like to prioritize.

Elijah and I actually went down the rows of our home bookshelves and he picked out some he’s heard me or his brother/sister talk about.

A few other answers: (Note that they’re not all heavy reading! =) )

What I want to learn/study in the next six months

Remember again: This doesn’t have to be just academics!

(As you can see from one of my son’s responses below…see if you can guess which one I mean:)

  • snakes
  • baking
  • multiplication tables
  • how to cook eggs
  • how to make girls fall in love with me =)
  • US presidents
  • how to make candles
  • cooking lessons

What is my mission?


We talk often about mission and purpose in our home, believing that God put each one of us here for a unique and special reason. Yet I had never asked my kids to try and articulate what their mission might be.

What I loved is that as children, they didn’t get hung up about whether or not they were choosing the “ONE…RIGHT…ANSWER.”

Instead they used their imaginations, had fun with the process, recognized their strengths, and played with what that could look like in the future.

Some of their answers even brought tears to this mama’s eyes:

  • to free slaves
  • to be a good mom who makes books for my children
  • to be an author
  • to be a happy person who works hard and helps others
  • to be a kind, firm, nice father
  • to be generous and helpful
  • to be a firefighter, lawn worker, nature preserver, litter collector, meteorologist, worship leader (oh, the choices!)

There’s more to share about the creation of our compasses, but it ended up being too long to fit in one post!

I’ll continue next week to discuss the next steps and also the “now what?”–how do you practically make use of this information to guide and direct learning once you have it?

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In the meantime, if this post intrigues you and you’d like to learn more about A Thomas Jefferson Education, check out these resources:

How do you try to include your kids in developing life and learning goals?

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About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Jamie I just love all of your posts. Although I’m not homeschooling my kids (yet) I devour all of these posts and feel they have deeply influenced my parenting. I think of all the hours I am with my kids, and weeks and months off for vacations and summer breaks, as my homeschooling time. I just love what I learn from you.
    This summer, as usual, we will take off from NYC to spend a week on a North Carolina beach and then we are off to my parent’s 40 acre farm in Modesto, CA for the rest of the summer. I wanted to extend an invitation to your family, should you find yourself in CA?? that I would love to teach your kids how to make candles. It is one of our many projects we do when we are home, as the beekeeper who we rent our bees from to pollinate the almond orchard, always gives me a lot of wax. And so I make beeswax candles as gifts for my friends throughout the year. 🙂 Anyway…my parents have a cabin a few hours away that is just like Little House on the Prairie and that is where we practice our “living off the land” skills….on the farm its more of the farmlife skills and domestic things….I feel blessed my NYC kids get this totally opposite education and that I get to revisit in such a deep way all the things that make me who I am. Anyway…if you and your family ever find your way to NYC or CA I sure would love to meet you some day. My husband is a director and has been working on a new musical based on the life of John Newton – who wrote Amazing Grace….he had an incredible life and its a story that deserves to be told! I know your family is deeply involved with the work of abolishing slavery and I have a feeling you would be incredibly moved by this show… I just feel we would have a lot in common. Funny I’m writing you in such a public way! But it is a quiet rainy morning and I’m catching up before I pick up my kids in three hours and I just felt like reaching out to you. Thank you again. You have really influenced and inspired me and I truly hope to follow in your footsteps some day.
    With respect and admiration! Tricia Paoluccio

    • What a wonderful experience for your kids to have in the summer, Tricia! Thank you so much for the kind words and the invitation – this makes me wish we did have plans to be in CA! =) The musical sounds lovely – what an inspiring story and work to be a part of. Blessings, Jamie

  2. Beautiful, Jamie! I think I know who the litter collector is. I remember all those dump truck drawings. 😉
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Do You Write Fan Mail?

  3. This is SUCH a good idea. I love the idea of interviewing the kids….lightbulb moment. I’m totally doing this!
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: Tony’s Chicken with Grilled Onions + Pico

  4. This is a fantastic idea! I have heard about interviewing the kids in the past, but this was a great reminder and some good questions to include. Will have to start working on my questions now so I don’t forget again 🙂
    Melissa’s latest post: Initial XtraMath Review

  5. Lovely ideas! Thank you. I love the idea of articulating a mission for ourselves–and helping our kids do this as well.
    Hannah’s latest post: In Which I Pretend There’s No Such Thing As School

  6. My kids amaze me with their goals every year. We do this at the beginning of each school year. I love hearing their ideas. I also love watching them grow in their goals each year. I like the idea of using it as a compass. Terrific comparison.
    Sharon’s latest post: Homeschooling Ideas for a Reader

  7. Thanks for posting that Jamie,
    I am till relatively new to home schooling and have been thinking of doing something like that – though we are more restricted in Australia regarding programming, there is certainly some flexibility worth exploring more. This has given me the motivation to go ahead with going through this process with my girls – Thank you!
    Michelle’s latest post: Alpaca Inspirations…

  8. I love this idea. I have started getting more and more input from my boys on what they want to learn in the coming year. I like have a guide. I’m going to check out that download.
    Thanks for sharing.
    sheila’s latest post: Start From Wholeness

  9. I love this! I often struggle to set goals for our homeschooling, partly because I want the kids to have the freedom to choose, and partly because I need someone else to give me some structure to do it. 🙂 This is a perfect blend!

  10. Wow! What timing! I have a rare 3-day time away with only my daughter and mom (No boys = quiet!) and I set aside this time to pray and prepare and look ahead with homeschooling. The only problem is I felt completely stuck and wasn’t sure where to go, so I checked in here. 🙂 I knew I’d find just the gold nugget I needed! Thank you so much. Going to brainstorm this on my own time, then ask my kids these questions too. They are younger, so their answers won’t be quite as awesome 🙂 but excited to make our compass! Thank you, Jamie!
    Kari Patterson’s latest post: Helping vs. Enabling {Loving our kids on purpose}

  11. Thanks so much for this great resource and the idea of the compass. I am going to do the course and see where it goes!
    Kim A.’s latest post: The promise for today

  12. Jamie, I can not thank you enough for your posts! I have gained so much wisdom reading them. I particularly love that you list the books that you all read. If you are ever stuck for a blog post idea, would you consider publishing one on the books that you all have loved? All of your recommendations so far are amazing and I can not wait to read them with my children!

  13. The link posted up top “this $1 download” currently takes you to a page with “product not found”. I searched a bit and found this: which may be what you were trying to share.
    I’ve tried doing this sort of planning with my children – ages 13, 13 and 9. So far, it’s been like pulling teeth to get them to express their own desires. I’ve offered big and small examples of hopes and dreams one might have (both academic and interest-based) and point out specifics in daily life, but I never imagined how long of a process it would be to get them to think in this way for themselves. I’m not giving up. Last year I didn’t have them use any particular outline, just a page in their journal. In our last attempt in September I used some pages from the YOLO planner for teens ( ), but I think it was perhaps too overwhelming for them. Maybe it felt too much like schoolwork in itself. We will revisit the idea for the upcoming winter season rather than waiting the 6 months. I like how compact this template is and will give it a go. Thanks!

  14. Your posts are always so inspiring Jamie! A Compass is such a great tool. It really changes the whole dynamic of how kids can see their own education.
    Heidi Nash’s latest post: It Isn’t A School At All

  15. I love the idea of involving your kids in setting goals for the school year! I’m curious if you commit to everything on their list or help them pick and choose what you are able to fit in. My 10-year old asked me a couple of days ago if we could please change one major curriculum we had been using, so I’m trying to take that into account right now and plan a year she can be enthusiastic about. Loved this post!
    Carolyn’s latest post: Should Harriet the Spy be a Role Model for Girls?

  16. i love this idea so much. curious, though that there is not a 4th part. compass being 4 directions? am i missing something?

  17. Rebekah Kelly says:

    Hi Jamie, It’s summer here in New Zealand and we’re working on planning our year. I read this article earlier in the year and have been drawn back to it for my two eldest (9 and nearly 11) as i think it will help blend the child led, parent planned tension i sometimes feel! The link to the template you used doesn’t seem to work – is there another way i could get hold of it? You’ve also inspired me to get he phases of learning book!
    God Bless

  18. This is awesome. I just adapted this into my bullet journal to help clarify my mission. Thanks!

  19. Found your website from the Thomas Jefferson Facebook group. Inspiring, simple, concise. Everything I love. Thank you. Do you have a follow-up to this article?

  20. Caroline fore and says:

    Hi. I love this but am new to the idea. Out of interest do you have a to do list for them from their ideas or do they each day decide what they want to work on? Do you insist on any maths or English in their day or week or just when they chose too?

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