Designing big plans to work with your every day

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?

About Hillary

Hillary feels lucky to be able to work full-time from home and shares the homeschooling responsibilities with her partner. Together, with a little creativity, a full schedule and a lot of love, they facilitate the education of their three adorable, and sometimes very loud, children.


  1. I really like the idea of starting with a “what’s working” list. I often make my plan too comprehensive from the front end and it doesn’t end up working out in reality. I’ve found it easier if I start with one specific area that isn’t working and make adjustments to that until we’ve got it working and then move on to the next area.
    Steph’s latest post: Free Play in Action

  2. As I look at my new “routine” I’m trying to set up for this year, I’m realizing I may be trying to start too many new things – we have a 5, 3 and 1 year old…and I work 30 hours/week from home! I appreciate your advice on the “what’s working” list because as I reflect on it, there are probably a number of things that are already working for us, so I don’t need to throw out everything! Thanks for this gold nugget. 🙂

  3. Great point about “what’s working.” I think that is so important. No need to reinvent the wheel if it doesn’t have to be. At the same time, having a big picture plan gets us moving. I think you are totally right on : “having a realistic big picture plan allows me to more fully enjoy the present moment.”
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: Life is Lived in the Ordinary Moments

  4. I wish I would have read something like this in the spring…I felt so hopeless at the end of last year! I felt like a complete failure. I WILL make a list of what’s working to encourage myself. Thank the Lord for a new year, new curriculum (that I’ve been wanting to try for years) and a fresh start. Thanks for your post!

  5. Tanya Hulbert says:

    Very helpful. Thank you for the fresh look at making a schedule that works for the family. I especially appreciated your statement, “It’s more helpful to match the big picture plan to our everyday life and learning.” I think I may put that one up on the chalkboard for awhile.

  6. Vicki Barnes says:

    It’s funny how something as simple as a list can change your day/week/life! This is a great idea, I love lists!

  7. Makes sense. Great tips for the new school year! I’m excited 🙂
    Kerry @ Made For Real’s latest post: Pencil Sunburst

  8. I agree, I try to do that What’s Working exercise occasionally and it does really help. I like to go sit by myself at Braum’s on Sunday afternoon/evening (local store where I get groceries, but also fries and iced-tea–critically important to this plan!), and think about the upcoming week and what we have going on. It helps me catch my breath and get ready what’s coming. Thanks for the post!
    CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment’s latest post: Working In Nature Study to Your Homeschool Routine

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