Planning for Back to School Success

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

I‘ve been “going back to school” for almost 35 years now. That’s crazy! And while I’m no longer a registered student anywhere, I continue to learn. Thank the Lord. As a mom teaching her kids at home, one of the most important skills I’m learning is that of “planning.”

My own mother can attest to the fact that I’ve always been “a planner.” At a very young age, I would create lists of things to do or plan my birthday parties months in advance. While I’ve learned that not all my plans go the way I want them to, that doesn’t stop me from thinking through the coming weeks and months and developing strategies to help our family.

Together with my husband, I’ve realized that we need plans in place to help us enjoy our life together as a family, embrace the blessings God has given us, and learn as much as we can about the world around us.

Good intentions need feet if they’re ever going to go anyplace.

Here are some of the things I’m doing to plan for success in our school year:

1. Start with a clean study space.

I’ve spent the last week or so giving our school room an overhaul. While we “do school” throughout the house during the day, this is the headquarters for all our papers and books. And when we called it quits for the summer, I pretty much left it all where it was. So, I’ve cleaned up, sorted last year’s papers, recycled some, filed others. I’ve stored books that we might use another year, and pulled from the storage the books we need.

I’ve touched every school supply we own which helps me to know what to keep, what we have, and what not to overbuy. I’ve been guilty of going wild at Back to School sales only to find out that we already have a dozen packs of notebook paper at home. Not so this year. I bought only what we needed.

2. Have a meal plan.

I don’t know about you, but my children are hobbits. They are always hungry. So, having a weekly or even monthly meal plan — and the groceries to pull it off — helps us immensely during the school year.

Life just seems busier from September to May, so knowing in advance what I’m going to feed my family relieves a lot of pressure. Consider some of these make-ahead meal ideas to buy you valuable time throughout the busy school months.

3. Buy (or borrow) what you need.

One night I was lying in bed, contemplating my school book purchases. I mentioned to my husband that I was procrastinating. He advised me to make those purchases a priority. His reasoning was that I would be thinking about it anyway, and why not free up some space in my brain.

How right he was! I feel so much better knowing that we’ve ordered or borrowed everything we need for the first semester.

4. Create some type of record keeping system.

About this time every year, I print off attendance records, curriculum summaries, a school calendar, and a year’s worth of assignment sheets. I put together a complete homeschool binder that basically holds everything I need to keep track of our school business.

Having it all done at once helps me keep moving during the year. I don’t need to go look something up or make more copies, I have everything right at my fingertips.

I also put together a new personal/household planner for myself so that I can keep track of everything that my brain is trying to hold. It’s much easier to have it on paper.

5. Say no to good things.

This has been hard for me. Until recently we’ve not done a lot of outside activities. I always had a baby in arms and it’s been easier to do stuff “in house.” This year our baby is now three and potty trained, which gives us more flexibility. As such we’re delving into piano lessons, swim lessons, an art co-op, an online Latin class, and a science laboratory class.

While no one kid is doing all of those things, there’s going to be a fair degree of activity at our house, or out of our house, as the case may be. As such, I’ve had to say, “No,” to a wealth of other good things: a running club, a pottery class, and additional music lessons.

The best laid plans….

The school year probably won’t go exactly as we plan. There will be plenty of dips in the road that we will need to contend with. But, we can set up housekeeping in such a way that it lends us toward success.

With a meal plan in place, I can more easily handle a chaotic day. With the books we need on hand, I can easily grab them to do a quick lesson in the orthodontist’s waiting room. With margin in our daily schedule, I can feel the freedom to take everyone to the beach or on a hike and enjoy the great outdoors.

We can’t plan perfectly, but we can have a goal to shoot for.

What strategies do you put in place to have success in your homeschool?

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. Still very new to homeschooling, we begin 1st grade this year with a preschooler and toddler in tow. I’m in real need of organization and excited that moving next week will be a chance to start over. I’ve been purging and trying to design the space in my head before we move so I can set up shop once we get there. I’m thinking workboxes this year, especially for the little ones. I’m greatly challenged by the many directions I allow myself to be pulled once I start “school,” but I’m determined to go into this year with a much better plan. I know it will not all go according to plan. I certainly hope not because then we would miss out on the finest teachable moments imaginable! But, having a plan will, like you said, help our family to enjoy life together because all the things that matter will get done while the others find their place. Thanks for the encouragement! I’ve been seeking it much on this topic, especially with the little ones. It’s been tough to go from teaching high schoolers to being at home with almost 6, 3, and 1! Very different playing field, but one I love!

    • Demetria, I think we are living the same life. We are in year 2 of homeschool and I am a former high school teacher for 10 years. I also have a 6, 3 and almost 1 year old. My problem is that I am so an over-planner. I had our plans for this year done on July 1. That was lucky because my kids asked to start school on July 5. We started the very next week. WE CAN DO IT!!!

    • Having taught high school before my kids were born, I know what you’re talking about. “Classroom Discipline” continues to be something you have to tackle, just in a very different way. LOL

  2. You said that you recycle old material, how do you know what papers to file and what to recycle? Do you have a plan for that, do you just keep assessments and one special item? Do you wait to the end of the year to recycle everything or are you constantly tossing things in the recycle bin?
    NoorJananHomeschool’s latest post: Our Family Circle – floor time

    • I wait until the end of the year and then sort through for a sampling from throughout the year. I don’t do a formal portfolio, but a collection of their work from the year, including testing results, that we can look back on to see growth.

  3. Saying no to good things is the hardest but most important one I’ve learned in the last few years! Great list.
    misha leigh’s latest post: tour guide

  4. I’m also new to homeschooling, so thanks so much for all the great tips!
    Savannah’s latest post: Blog Hop Thursday August 25

  5. This is a fantastic post! I did something similar, but I started early in the summer. I sorted books, figured out everything I needed for first grade/Kindergarten (plus other materials where the kids are ahead). Then I made a spreadsheet. I know this would not work for EVERYONE, but it works great for me. I borrow a lot of books from the library. Once a month (last year I tried to do it weekly and that was a mess), I order library books that I need and highlight them on my sheet. Also once a month, I evaluate where we are, what we’ve done. And like you, being organized makes my life SO. MUCH. EASIER. I can, without guilt, take the kids to go visit Daddy, or go for a long walk, or go to the lake and play in the water. Those fun things are one of the big motivations I have to homeschool, so to be well-organized is very worth it to me.
    Austin’s latest post: Magician Kitty Color by Number

  6. Great post! I, too, love organization, but I love your idea of making your own planner! Also, which online Latin class are you using? I’d love to get some resources from other parents who have tried Latin programs.

  7. After a busy, crazy, overwhelming spring, I’m entering fall with the intention to say “no” to plenty of good things, but I’ve been a little sad about it. Thanks for the encouragement that by saying “no” to some good things, I’ll be happy and sane to actually enjoy our fall this year!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: Having Fun is Hard Work

  8. Great list of tips! I was always bad to not fill out my attendance sheets to fax to the country. At the beginning of each year I printed off their form, filled out the top, one for each month, and kept it in a folder on my desk. That was the only way I got it done!
    Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: Everyday wisdom

  9. Meal Plan- I think is important!!! Love this blog- first year homeschooling
    Sandy Toe
    sandy toe’s latest post: celebrating!

  10. Jessica,

    How many years have you been homeschooling? You look so young in the pic taken years ago you look like a homeschooled student yourself under highschool years.
    I did 14 years and I loved every moment of it. I did tend to over schedule the out
    of house stuff but the kids participated in so many wonderful things . A program at our poison control , a complete guided tour just for homeschoolers of the Alamo, A class on table manners, Art, Piano, Gym, History, Safety and Testing for the Stanford just to name a few that we did outside our home. I would not have changed one day of it for the world.

    Enjoy it ! It goes so fast my oldest just graduated law school !

  11. Say no to good things is the most important for me- but also the most consistently difficult for me. I have to take a deep breath each time I hear of the wonderful things other families are participating in. I know it will be our undoing if I jump on that ride though.

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