I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

The One Simple List that Will Fix Your Underwhelming Launch

The One Simple List that Will Fix Your Underwhelming Launch #homeschool #organization #planning

I'd like to tell you that I always come fully-prepared into every homeschool year--that I have my plans solidified and written in stone; that I have all my curriculum ordered and in order; that I have tugged on all the kinks and have straightened them out.

But I don't.

I've been at this now for eleven years. Twelve, if you count preschool. And I still waver. My school year never launches quite a smoothly as I always hope it will. This year was no exception.

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Midway through our Morning Time that first day, I realized that I had xeroxed the wrong hymn-of-the-month.

While sitting with my daughter to help her with her grammar assignment, I noticed that the answers in my outdated teacher's manual did not match her new student text. The materials had been rewritten and updated since I bought the teacher's key some time ago.

After gathering all the kids together to start reading the first biography on our living literature list for history, I remembered that I never picked it up from the library the day before when I was there grabbing other things.

To add insult to injury, when the homeschool day was nearly over, I looked around and saw that the empty space on the counter where I'd always designated as the place for completed-work-that-needs-my-once-over was now home to a giant internet router and that because the space was occupied, the kids had spent most of the day tossing their finished assignments here, there, and everywhere instead.

The One Simple List that Will Fix Your Underwhelming Launch #homeschool #organization #planning

Had all these hiccups happened a few years ago, I would have counted the entire day in the loss column. I would have wasted precious learning hours trying to fix everything--reorganizing that unorganized something, ordering that forgotten curriculum supplement, or barking out a million sharp words to my kids in hopes that they would just fall in line like "good" children.

My efforts would never have worked. Not even a little bit. Problems would have gotten solved in the short term. But in the long run, my quick-fixes would have only served as Scotch tape for the gaping holes in our homeschool.

In my effort to put out all the little fires at the very moment I saw them spark, I would have pushed our day further and further behind. I'd spin all kinds of wheels all day long those first few weeks only to find that the dial never really moved much by the end of September.

That's what I would have done way back when I first started homeschooling.

But a few years ago, I wisened up. I stopped trying to perfect every single moment and sew up every loose thread. Instead of hitting the brakes on the entire school day in order to mend its broken pieces right then and there, I learned to press on with forward motion instead. I granted myself the gift of a DONE school day, albeit an imperfect one, and used a simple piece of scratch paper to help keep me going.

Yep. You read that right.

My no-fuss fix to the launch-month chaos was (and still is) a piece of scratch paper.

Sounds too uncomplicated, doesn't it? But before you give me the big fat side eye, hear me out.

The One Simple List that Will Fix Your Underwhelming Launch

During the first week of school, I carry a piece of scratch paper around with me and create an ever-growing TO DO list. Whenever I notice a missing curriculum guide that I had failed to order or a stack of science lab sheets that need to be corralled, I write the problem down on my list. When it feels like time is being squandered and kids are milling around, waiting for directions from me, I write it down. When personalities start to get prickly and tempers flare, I write it down.

I don't try to fix it all. I don't waste precious time or mental energy coming up with a solution right then and there. I just brain-dump each problem onto my list and move on with the day.

Then, at the end of the school day when all the kids scatter and I finally have three full seconds of quiet, I go through the list like a triage nurse. I determine which school day wounds cut the deepest and tend to those first. I assess which fires I can put out immediately (in order to feel the instant gratification of having fixed something...anything) and which fires will have to smolder a bit longer until a more permanent solution can be found.

For practical things like missing curriculum guides or jumbled hymn sheets, I order and reorder until everything feels straight again. But for character issues and scheduling conflicts, I do a little brainstorming.

I mentally walk-through those harried moments of the day--the times when it seemed that every breath tore at my throat or when my patience needed a longer leash.

The One Simple List that Will Fix Your Underwhelming Launch

It is only when I can actually step out of the school day that I can see the solutions to the problems at hand:

...that science project should probably be moved to a more convenient spot in order that one child's school assignment will not become a burden on another's 

...our language arts and creative writing lessons could possibly be spaced farther apart on the daily timeline so that the children won't continue to complain about all the "extra" writing

...finished assignments should be stacked on the opposite counter from the internet router in order that the pile can be contained (along with my simmering frustration).

If I tried to tackle all of these issues during the school day, a three-minute problem would somehow eat away at an entire morning. I'd look at the clock and find that I had squandered hours just fiddling and fixing. Our school day would feel like a long walk uphill.

That makes sense, of course, since according to the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (Vol. 27, No. 4), multitasking is actually less efficient than what most people think. It takes more time and mental energy to shift gears in the middle of an activity than it does to just complete one full task before moving on to another one.

So, by carrying around a piece of paper and jotting down problems as they pop up, I'm able to give them all a place without allowing them to take over the day. Once I've set them down in ink, I can happily press onward with the school day, fully confident that those problems will get solved...just not right now.

The One Simple List that Will Fix Your Underwhelming Launch #homeschool #organization #planning

So momma, if you feel a bit understaffed after the first month of school or if you find that your emotions are already starting to burn pretty hot, perhaps it's time to give yourself the gift of a finished day.

Carry a simple sheet of paper around with you today. Write down any problem areas that need fixing--times in the day when you see things start to get a bit dicey, when you notice curriculum items that need to be tweaked or discarded altogether, when you realize that high traffic areas in your home are too cluttered and suffocating. Write it all down as it happens. Don't try to fix it in the moment. You'll waste far too much precious time and end the day feeling pretty brittle.

As soon as you're officially done with school, designate the first 15 minutes for triage. Start tackling your list of problems, one item at a time.

Full disclosure, this won't ever be a one-and-done kind of list. I'm twelve years and one month into our homeschool journey and I still carry a piece of paper with me every single day. Sure, there are plenty of great resources and courses that promise to perfect your homeschool before you even roll out of bed each day. But, no program will ever be a silver bullet. Remember, you're dealing with real people here, not spreadsheets and hypothetical days.

Definitely take the courses, read the books, and plan until your eyes cross. After all, without a plan, you are planning to fail. Just remember, though, that the dry, passive sentences of the experts cannot refine every moment of your homeschool. Planning is not an exact science. You will still have days when things won't go as well as you always hope they will.

Don't let one bad day or even a string of bad days make you feel like a failure. As obvious as it might sound, be ready with a simple piece of paper and make a triage list.

It's a very basic suggestion, to be sure. Perhaps too basic.
But I dare you to try it.
Roll your eyes now. Thank me later.


  1. Lol. This is so good. I have been doing this for 8 years. ((Yikes)) And this-a piece of paper- is probably the best, least eye-rolling advice I could have gotten. I love your blog and your writing style, and this post is a keeper!

    1. Thank you! Sometimes the simplest advice is what we all need to hear. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the complicated advice and elaborate systems of the online experts. Homeschool moms don't need mental clutter. We need simple.

  2. I agree that this is the best advice. Not that I always remember to do it and not get frustrated first... ;)