“Good Enough” School Year Prep

Written by contributor Heather Bruggeman of Beauty That Moves

Right now I need to believe that having it all together for the new school year is overrated.

Last year I didn’t feel this way. Last year we had freshly sharpened pencils and color coded notebooks. There were fresh dry erase markers and new ink for the printer. By mid-August I had lessons planned for the full month of September. I was a homeschool-prep champion last year.

This September, I am reporting a very different start to the school year.

This year, it’s perfectly fine to do your first lesson of the year in bed… in pajamas. And you know what? Nobody was harmed. Actually, spirits were quite high!

After scoring a 96 on her math assignment, my pupil asked to go outside for a few minutes of fresh air. Even on a very organized, “scheduled” homeschool day, this is something I never say no to  (I take this homeschool freedom very seriously), so off she went.

Yes, on this self-declared not very planned out first day of school, I ushered my daughter outside to play and breathe and run around after only one hour of schoolwork. And you better believe the jammies were still on.

I suppose I should give you the back story.

Like most homeschool moms, I began collecting textbooks, ideas, and supplies last spring. I even went to my first Homeschool Convention!

Then summer came, and all things summery seemed far more interesting than reading through early ancient history lessons or counting the multitude of English/grammar/writing/language books I’d accumulated. Aside from one trip up to Oak Meadow, homeschool was not on my mind this summer.

Experiencing that felt a little surprising seeing as my intention was to homeschool through summer. Part of me wishes we had (summer can be rather long for a family that has one car and a 13 year old that won’t touch summer camp with a ten foot pole…), but Emily couldn’t shake her life experience of following a school year calendar for eight years. A rhythm deep in her bones that she couldn’t seem to move past.

What sounded like a good plan in the spring was not something the worked in reality come July.

So, we settled into summer. In addition to iced tea, lazy afternoons, and swimming hole searches – I decided to follow my heart and use this down time to squeeze in a little of my own work. Are you someone that ‘works’ on top of the work of being homeschool mom extraordinaire? It’s a monumental feat for sure, one that I’ve yet to master. Oh, but I try.

In the slowness of summer I decided there was enough down time to launch a project for my own work. I knew it would take me (and us) to mid-September, I was okay with that. We would simply start school at that point, no big deal. It wasn’t that late after all.

But what about the prep? I had forgotten about the wonderful place of dreaming and scheming that happens (and requires time and attention). I’m a bit of a mono-tasker, doing one thing really well at a time. There I was running an ecourse and keeping up with the daily work required for that, all the while thinking there’s time… my course attendees will settle in and I’ll be able to shift some attention to homeschool prep.

And then Hurricane Irene came to New England.

Eight days later power was restored on our street. The time spent unplugged put us into a very different mode of living – quite frankly, it was ‘school’ in and of itself! There was a certain beauty to that stretch of days. Aside from the priority of figuring out how to keep an ecourse  running without power, there wasn’t much interest in mucking up the experience with lists and tasks and lesson planning.

In those eight days, it was plain to see how life skills and character building, basic/solid math understanding, and stacks of literature are truly the foundation of an educated person.

Now, here we are well into September, my ecourse is winding down. I’ve located the scattered texts that haven’t been touched since the spring, and we even managed to sharpen a few pencils. There is no literature list as of yet, nor highlighter markers and tabbed dividers – yet somehow we filled a day with learning and experience.

Our first day included:

  • At least four quality periods of play outdoors.
  • Preparing for a science experiment (who doesn’t love to grow crystals?).
  • Reading the first ancient history lesson, together.
  • Grabbing Catcher in the Rye off the bookshelf, declaring it the first read of the year.
  • Viewing a short yet beautiful film.
  • A Spanish lesson.
  • One math lesson in bed.
  • Three meals together.

Imagine that, the day shaped up pretty nicely. Actually, it looked quite similar to the days  I spend hours planning and prepping, now that I stop and think about it. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson  of the day was for mama – slow down, be curious, take it as it comes.

Sure, now that we’re settling into the groove I’ll have time each day to plan and collect needed materials, but knowing we had a full and rich start to the school year regardless of fancy plans offered peace of mind and reassurance about the bigger picture.

I’ve learned that planning can be great, but going with the flow is essential.

Do you plan every detail or do you like to see where the day takes you? Which approach has a more positive influence on your homeschool?

About Heather

Heather follows the mantra “a life that is led simply and deliberately is a life fulfilled.” She is a dedicated yoga teacher, artist, holistic health coach, mother and wife. Heather’s blog Beauty That Moves is enjoyed by readers for its kind honesty, shared beauty, and simple guidance.


  1. We’ve been slowing down and doing less and I’m finding that we are learning more. I needed to hear that everything doesn’t have to be so planned as well. Thanks.
    Cara’s latest post: Changes… sometimes less is more

  2. Well, I’ve only got 2 years under my belt, but I have always been a spur-of-the-moment person. I love the spontaneity of homeschooling. But this year I’ll have 2 official students under my charge. This year I feel an intense need to have more structure, and I believe my oldest, especially, needs more structure engrained in him. So I am planning subjects and lessons. I don’t plan the schedule out hour by hour, just what I’d like to get done each day, and print out whatever needs to be copied or printed. If I don’t get to something, we move it to the next day or week. It’s working out well so far; I feel stretched, like I am growing in an area I need to grow in, and yet we still have time to be spontaneous and get out and do stuff. Being too structured won’t work for my family, but we can definitely use a good dose of it! (I haven’t planned for next week or beyond yet, though!)
    Jennifer’s latest post: First Day of School

  3. Thank you. I am reading this late at night during a break in a scheduling session. This is my first year homeschooling, my kids are 6 and 4. My daughter did one year of kindergarden and I sometimes feel like homeschool needs to look like school. I have spent hours reviewing curriculums and checking out books from the library. But it was so comforting reading about the beautiful flow to your day. I need to keep the mindset that I am not trying to school at home with my kids but I am trying to learn with them.

  4. I tend to plan every detail…for right now. This is our frist year of homeschooling so I’m a newbie. My children are 7 and 11. I have a lesson plan book and I write up a lesson plan weekly. I can only plan one week at a time or it becomes overwhelming.
    I keep in mind though that being flexible is very important. Nothing is set in stone and we can change the schedule. As of right now we might change to a Monday-Thursday school week instead of M-F. Feeling a little burn out by Friday. It may become our library or field trip day.
    Sara S’s latest post: On the bookshelf

  5. With 8 children under my roof (and several already launched) a lack of routine for us usually means disaster and bad attitudes (mine…!) but I am learning that we don’t have to start out our year sprinting. We’ve added one subject every few weeks, on top of our weekly co-op, which has enabled me to plan ‘as we go’ rather than take big chunks out of my summer to do it. We’ve also been much more successful at each subject because we have plenty of time to get the hang of it before we add something else. We may not finish our books (gasp!), but we’ll still be speaking to each other and loving learning, which are higher goals for me this year 🙂

  6. Children learn so much from having a rich, full day full of new experiences. I have a notebook where I collect ideas that sound like fun: places to visit, DVDs to watch, books to read, games to play and projects to do. Our day usually revolves around one adventure ( a new place or outside the house activity to experience), one new project or game, and something to do around the house. We learn so much just by being curious and following our interests. I like how you pointed out that even when you don’t have specific plans and just pick up and explore those things you’ve already collected in your house, you do just as much (and I think sometimes even more) than if you were trying to stick to a specific plan.
    Christina Pilkington’s latest post: Instead – An Unschooling Poem

  7. Great post! I’ve always been interested in unschooling but could never bring myself to fully do it. Now I allow myself to be an unschooler in the summer and an eclectic homeschooler during the school year. My husband is off in the summers too which makes this even better. Swimming and gardening are great unschooling activities.
    Heidi’s latest post: Home Based Business Moms

  8. Oh wow–thanks so much for the link to the 9/11 video. My son, who was 9 months old at the time, has been asking a lot of questions about 9/11. That was a beautiful video to show him. As he said, “That is our history lesson for the day!” Yep.

  9. I just started homeschooling this year so I have no idea what I am doing. Some days I have lessons prepared and sometimes we just wing it. Thanks for the BOATLIFT video link.

  10. I can really relate to this story. This is so similar to how we started out the year, and it’s been great! But I do have 6+ years of homeschooling experience so that helps. I like your style.

    One of my hang-ups is allowing my kids to play outside during “school” hours. I don’t want to be on anyone’s radar, don’t want to disturb the neighbors who maybe work from home (like we do), I don’t even like to go out and about to stores with my kids during school hours. I need to work on that and be better about it 🙂
    Karina Palmer’s latest post: Can’t stop talking

  11. Wow, that video was beautiful.

  12. thanks for this as I look ahead to starting K with my daughter next year! Oh, and every time I see you guest post I think of my first official job at Brueggemann Lumber Do-It Center near Ft. Wayne, IN as a cashier.

  13. This is my first year of “serious” and documented year of homeschool. My little one is 5 years old – she is accustomed to free-unstructured-imaginative play most of the day. I have not put a schedule in place, kinda just go along and see what we learn and get done (I am a neat freak, so some stuff is a must, lol) Anyway, we are definitely taking it slowly, I’m trying to implement a loose schedule, and slowly increase to a bit more, but that’s going to be a while, because at this point I don’t see the need. We do experiments, drawing, reading, so much imaginative play and she is incessantly talking (truly!) and telling stories about what she is playing – during which time we also discuss meanings of words, grammar, spelling.
    I can see why so many have a hard time conducting their home like this, different personalities, children already accustomed to practiced structure and certainly, like one commenter up there said she has 8 kids – definitely need some structure to keep that running smoothly, I am sure.
    Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing this “right”, and continually I am reminded from bloggers, Charlotte Mason’s writings and other moms that it’s great for us. I appreciate your article – inspiring and encouraging. Glad you’re finding it to be comfortable to you, great way to begin your school year, I think, easing into it!

  14. Love this article! I am a planner by nature, but I have had to learn that, in homeschooling a first grader w/ a 3 year old and 1 year old in tow, things rarely go as I have planned. One thing I knew I wanted to be sure of this year was to get all of us outside more often. So, we actually do outside play (or a walk together) before we begin “school time” each day. It has really served us well and being intentional about doing it every day has caused my girls to want to play outside at other times much more often. Imagine that! Here’s to making plans…and straying from them often : )
    Paula @Motherhood Outloud’s latest post: An Uncomplicated Life: Cleaning

    • we did a daily walk before our work time started last year, it was wonderful! reading your comment reminded me of how great that was… i think it’s something to revisit!
      heather’s latest post: a few notes

  15. Wow. Your post sound sooo much like our experience this year. I am a devoted Charlotte Mason Fan and have been homeschooling my kids for 9 yrs now. We just picked up out lives and moved from gloomy Puget Sound to sizzling Houston this summer. We rented a home sight unseen, didnt have a real job, and only brought one of our two cars with us. Well, every year except this one I have had everything I need for the first term of school, and almost everything for the rest of the year. This year, finances, moving, stress, five kids, the heat we’re not used to, all added up to: Sept first came and went and I said, that’s nice, for the first time ever. We have been homeschooling though. I just decided that we would go back, print out ALL of AmblesideOnline.org’s free reading lists, from year 0 and up, and dig through all of out literature. Man you should see the pile. So that’s what we are doing!!! And loving it!!!! Secretly, I can’t wait to order up my Latin Road year three and MathUsee, as soon as the cash flow increases. But until then, it’s bring on the art lessons! Another aspect of homeschooling I always thought there would be plenty of time for, and embarrassingly, we only do once a month if we are lucky! So much to that Bachelor of Fine Arts degree! Ah well! Loving life for the first time in a long time!!!!!

  16. I can so relate – I love my work and love homeschooling (and since I’m a homeschool support teacher they really do overlap, which helps!) Still this year I decided to start school a week late, and concentrate on my work for that week. My kids loved the extra week off, enjoyed lots of activity as we had beautiful weather, and I felt more prepared to focus on homeschooling when I started this week.

    We also start slower, taking time to add subjects in, and do lots of reading that first week. Time to read, time to enjoy books – that has to be one of the huge benefits of homeschooling!

    I do try to have a flexible plan that we follow each day – that seems to work best for me and my kids, but “flexible” is the key word; we really want to be able to take advantage of opportunities that arise and encourage a love of learning. After all, that’s why we started homeschooling!
    sandra’s latest post: Finding Time to Pray

  17. Thanks for this–I’m fairly new to homeschooling, and I’m not very good at going with the flow yet.
    Andrea’s latest post: Interview with a One-Year-Old

  18. This is such a great reminder! I struggle with the fact that if I let them get up and do those sort of things, I am a slacker and they will be behind!!!
    I need to find a good balance in letting the creative juices flow and not being a slacker!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: You know how….

  19. We have three children that we have homeschooled all the way through. We just graduated our first this last school year and still have a junior and third grader at home. Through the years, I have become much more relaxed and “spur of the moment” minded. If I have ninety pounds of apples that need to be worked up to put up for the winter, then that’s what our school day is going to consist of. (that’s going on right now) If my youngest wants to go out and play for a few minutes with the cat or run upstairs and have some sister time, then, for sure, I let her go. Yes, we get back on our schoolwork in a timely matter, but I want school to be fun and relaxed and something that my children never regret being at home doing. There are so many things you can learn that don’t always have to be in a hardbound book and don’t have to be written on a schedule. Having said that, I do need boundaries and I do need a loose schedule to make sure that I stay on top of things and don’t get behind. I just don’t want to be too rigid because when it doesn’t go as planned, I tend to be pretty hard on myself. Lying around in pjs most of the morning reading Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to my eight year old is priceless.

    • I am loving all your comments! I am a planner by nature and a SOON to be homeschooler. One of those things you toss around for a few years then decide, YEP it’s for me and I want to do this. I know I will struggle with a schedule, I love consistency and I need to learn how to teach on the go. I am doing this because I want to raise my children not send them somewhere else to be raised. I want to grow and learn and be with them. Sometimes I freak myself out, thinking maybe it’s too much but then I get to read all these comments and it gives me great hope! I envy you all who have your kids home and do math in bed, it makes me so excited to start this next year, Hey I may even yank them mid year and start then! If anyone has any advice for me I’d LOVE IT! Thanks for all your posts they are wonderful!!!

  20. I am a “fly by the seat of her pants” kind of girl. Yet I feel guilty if I don’t have a weekly plan of what we will do each day, etc. Like a horrible mother. This year I decided to flush the plan and start over. I now mark in each child’s workbooks/binder what has to be completed by the end of the week. We have our morning school times and that is when our work gets done. It works great. The kids know what has to be done by Friday and I don’t feel chained to our schedule. We still have a routine, just a more flexible one.

  21. Heather—can you tell us what you are using with your daughter this year? Are you using Oak Meadow again or winging it this time?

  22. Love this. I consider myself to be a planner, but so far this year we’re going at it with no plans. We live in WA smack dab in the middle of two large fires that happened this summer. From August 15-September 9 (the majority of my “planning season”) was a series of evacuate, then evacuate from the emergency shelter to a new one when the whole town was forced to evacuate, when the new one closed, on to yet another shelter, then to a motel that’s acting like a shelter. About the only reason we even began school on time this year is to give my kids a sense of normalcy. So we’ve been going at it with a ” do the next lesson in your book ” instead of me having actual plans. At this point, I might get around to planning the second half of the year during Christmas break.

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