Written by contributor Hillary Boucher
We homeschool and take breaks year round, but there’s something about starting fresh in the fall. Using fall to jump start new learning experiences is woven into the fabric of our culture and experience. It’s the perfect time to do some big picture planning.
I love planning. It’s exciting to map out a way to live and learn in ways that inspire us and to work out the logistics to help make it happen.
But I must admit, in the past, big picture planning has often hurt more than helped. When I plan, I am acting for the well-being of my family, but it can set us up for frustration, disappointment and even a sense of failure.
Why? In the past, my plans focused too heavily on the big picture and not enough on our current everyday reality.
Often, our everyday life fell short of the color coded map that made more sense on paper than it did on the average Tuesday. I had been trying to force my family’s everyday life into my big picture plans, but turns out it’s more helpful to match the big picture plan to our everyday life and learning.
There are two simple exercises I’ve implemented over the past year that have helped me create more realistic plans and avoid the potential frustrations that can creep up when the plan and reality don’t match up.
1. What’s working? Make a list.
Sounds simple and not very profound, right? But I assure you, this simple step makes all the difference.
Before you do any planning sit down and assess what’s working for your family right now. Ask your partner and older children, too.
Even if it’s summer and you’re planning for fall, start writing down all the things during your day and week that flow effortlessly right now. Identify those times when individuals and/or the whole group are happy and engaged–the times when all feels right with the world.
The first time I did this simple exercise, I was surprised at how much was already working in our lives. Not only did it start the planning process on a positive foot, but it gave me important information to help my plan be helpful and succeed.
By focusing on the ways our family works right now, we’ve been able to unearth powerful anchors in our days and weeks from which to build new behaviors and routines upon. This insight is very helpful as you start to plan and schedule.
You’re still working towards bigger goals, but now you have insight into what you already know works to help you create schedules and rhythms for your family. You don’t want to mess with your “what’s working” list. If it’s working — keep it as you move forward.
2. What’s new? Make a list.
From here I make a list of things we’re looking to add to our lifestyle or learning. This list could include starting a new music lesson, a new project, or joining the homeschool coop. It could be something specific to one person or something for the whole group.
It’s fine to write all your ideas down on the list, but when you start to map out your bigger plan be extremely selective and realistic. Starting music lessons, learning a new language and volunteering may be too much “new” to realistically work.
As you move forward, your goal is to use what’s already working for your family as an anchor so that you can add new activities and keep everything sailing smoothly. Try not to interfere with activities on your “what’s working” list, rather judiciously select activities from your “new” list.
It doesn’t mean you won’t ever do these things, but rather you’re pacing yourself with a realistic attitude that sets your entire family up for success.
A few tips for moving forward.
As you continue on to map out your bigger plan use your “what’s working” list as a foundation and then layer in the new activities you’d like to integrate.
Your “what’s working” list gives you more than just activities that work. It gives you insight into times of day that are best for high energy or deeply focused activities. Use those insights to map out a plan that will succeed for your family.
Be flexible and expect change. As you build your plan using calendars, lists, or files do it with a sense of flexibility. Use dry erase or go digital so when things don’t work it’s easy to change.
Your plan is a guide — a way to wrap your head around a specific time period so that the precious moments don’t slip away; a way to make sure everyone’s needs are getting met; a way to stay organized so important details don’t slip through the cracks. I find having a realistic big picture plan allows me to more fully enjoy the present moment.
What are your tips for creating big picture plans that help your family thrive?