Thoughtfully Planning For a New School Year

It’s that time, yes? Planning fever hits most of us homeschooling moms about now. Or, has it already hit most of you and I’m the slow poke? That’s quite possible. I helped coordinate our local Catholic homeschool moms retreat last month, and have just now sort of recovered.

Creating margin…I’m intentionally trying to do that this year.IMG_2076

Having kids that are medically fragile has a special blessing attached. I often have my margin laid out for me by their very conditions. History or breathing? Math or breathing? Those aren’t too hard to discern in the moment.  The problem is, I can get a little over zealous with my expectations for the upcoming year while they are healthy during the summer. I am still working at staying firmly planted in the day that I’m in, since that is where the GRACE is….instead of zooming ahead and loading our plans like a big fat baked potato with sour cream, (dairy free around here), cheese, butter, chives and bacon. While that sounds mighty good, sometimes we might be doing the simple potato with salt and that’s ok for a few days. I want to plan our curriculum with the full potato bar in mind, but also discern between what needs to be done and what would be NICE to get done. That’s hard, who wants to choose between bacon and sour cream??

I’m thoughtfully considering what is appropriate for our typical (always untypical) year.  Yes…planning is good and virtuous! Being prepared is virtuous! But being attached to those pretty plans? No…not virtuous. I’m hoping to craft plans based on OUR reality. As much as I LOVE Charlotte Mason and Classical Education, I can’t make idols of these things at the expense of our family peace.

So, yes, I’m planning for this coming homeschool year, but I’m not going to overload it like I so often do…and I bet even then, I have to pull a few things out or rearrange our curriculum, that is a given.

Last year at this time, as I planned and planned a different kind of year using some different resources, I didn’t expect to have a child in the ICU twice between November and January. It threw us into a free fall for a while, but we recovered.  This year, I’m not shying away from planning, don’t get me wrong, but I’m doing it prayerfully, I’m asking Our Lord, “What is it that you want me to do with these beautiful children You’ve entrusted to me?” And I’m keeping in mind that even my KIDS need margin in their days, sick or not! This is one reason why we don’t do a lot of organized outside things like coops or outside supplemental classes. We need to be home to HOMEschool, and for our family, that means not a lot of other “things” that take us outside of home. Those things are great, but not necessary. We spend a fair amount of time dealing with medical issues. We really don’t have a lot more time to be driving to classes when we need to get work done here.

One thing I feel I’ve been led to do is use Ambleside Online as one of my main resources. With the very wise counsel of my friend, Jen Mackintosh, I am choosing smaller amounts that we can do WELL. There is a very large selection of books to use at AO, but my goodness, there’s no way anyone could complete it ALL! See, that’s a real temptation amongst us, isn’t it? Cram and cram a bunch of stuff into our plans in the name of anxiety and comparison…only to fall flat on our face when our particular situation just didn’t call for all of that crazy.

So what to do when it all starts…to…slide…down…hill…

I’m having a basic outline for our year, and I’m also having a “Oh, here we go!” list. So, while I expect the kids to work diligently, there will be times when things go off rail and there are three kids with serious illnesses, or someone is having surgery, or recovering in the hospital or home.  I might term this “Low Gear” time.  (Did any of you grow up driving a stick shift? Does anyone know what those are anymore??)

When I get the “Low Gear” plan together, I will share more of this with you.  I’m looking into some documentaries we can pick up during “Low Gear.” We tend to do things like that anyway, but to actually have a “grab bag” if you will, of “other” things to do when the typical day is overwhelming, probably isn’t a bad idea.

This seems to be especially important in children with chronic medical issues. There are just going to be weeks when they can’t do all of their assigned work. BUT…I don’t want it to be a video game free for all either. (THAT’s never happened, ahem) This is when we could pull out some short stories, some speeches that are straightforward and not difficult to read, or maybe work on just reading some great literature, saint stories or poetry read aloud as a family and calling it good.

And honestly, there will be days when even that doesn’t get done, because people are working on breathing…or healing…or coping. And that’s ok, too. There’s a lot to be learned in diligence, surrender, patience, and fortitude with chronic illnesses.

I hope to come back soon and share more of my specific plans for our 3rd, 9th and 11th graders.  What are your struggles as you plan? What do you really like to use as your planning platform? Are you a paper and pen kind of girl or totally on your google calendar for everything or a combination of both?

Thanks for stopping by to visit!

Yes, dancing on picnic tables is sorta ok when there’s a birthday involved, yes?

Homeschooling High School…Deep Waters!

I let this blog go quiet after the very first post. That sounds so lame, but life had a way of leading me off the screen and staying put in the real life that was right before me, in the form of several of my kids and my dear husband having major surgeries and hospital stays in the last several months. So, God willing, I would like to start posting more on home education.

We have been home educating for over 16 years. We’ve graduated two boys so far, and have one in high school, one in eighth grade, and a pink caboose in 2nd grade. Many have asked, “HOW do you DO it??” maybe wanting logistical information, a “formula” for success.  I want to be clear about a few important things. Our family, just like yours, is unique. My homeschooling looks different than most families. Much of it has taken place in clinic waiting rooms and on long drives to a distant children’s hospital. Some see that as heroic. If you know me, and still love me, you know it’s mostly stubbornness that God has made good on…I’m no hero or homeschooling superstar. I am passionate about learning being a life long pursuit, along with the development of the character and souls of my kids. This is not something that just happens at a desk between certain hours of the day. That can be true no matter where your child goes to school, whether in your home or a bricks and mortar school.  I have found for our family, that life long pursuit of learning and character formation and soul work is much easier here at home, supplemented with outside sources when we are able to participate.


I tend to be pretty relaxed in the early years. Our time is often spent reading great books. Lily and I just finished “The Secret Garden” after inhaling “The Little Princess.” Really good literature is the foundation of our home educating efforts. I feel it’s so efficient, allowing us to cover many areas like history, culture, and virtues to name a few.  I mention the early years because it naturally builds what is to come in high school. Just to be for real here….Curious George is playing on Netflix in the background as I write this, so don’t think it’s all highbrow educational pursuits here.

I’ve wished in the past that I could just “follow a curriculum” day by day and be done with it. But with all of the stops and starts, varying academic needs and abilities, it just isn’t that cut and dry around here. In the lower grades, I start with spines like Mater Amabilis and lots of reading lists that I glean books from, and go from there. For my high schoolers, Mother of Divine Grace has  been a nice “guide” to follow, with lots of our own revisions to the plans. I especially appreciate the history plans, and the boys have read most of the material.

This has never been about perfection. That is God’s work, not mine. We just keep showing up and begging for the Graces to do what needs to be done-what God wants done for the day in front of us.

Even with all of the challenges of living with several medically difficult diagnoses, I would home educate all over again for high school. I  have really loved home educating through high school. My big guys are in rigorous academic programs and are thriving and doing well. They both have substantial scholarships and are leaders at their colleges. I admit to feeling very vulnerable when my new freshman in college started school….would this all be a big flop? Had I forgotten something really important in his formation and now it was going to come out, all glaring and public for all to see? But see, that’s pride…..plain and simple. There are two things here as home educating moms that we fall prey to….comparing our work, both to other homeschooling mamas and the school down the street, and feeling like it’s all about OUR efforts (and both of those fall under the pride category.) Yes, a lot does depend on our efforts, sloth is not pretty for anyone and especially us, but if God has directed you to do this, and you’ve prayerfully discerned with your husband that this is indeed what God wants, than buckle your seat belts…His Grace is sufficient for a seemingly impossible job.


Another experience I want to share is how by being open to the Holy Spirit (or actually being too tired to fight Him, yes?) can be the best curriculum of all. Several years ago, my now twenty-one year old had just finished his sophomore year in high school. He had made a short film about a trip to Washington DC for the March for Life. It was shown at a public film festival, and actually took second place! This was the fire that ignited his desire to make another short film. His next project was to make a documentary about ArtPrize.

That film really was an amazing experience for our entire family. Sam won several awards and was even invited to the Silverdocs Film Festival in Maryland to present his film and sit on a panel of teen film makers. It all seemed surreal compared to the intensity we had lived the previous year with so many medical emergencies and surgeries in the midst of my son’s film making. Did we closely follow a curriculum the Fall of his junior year? Uh, no. We spent a lot of time healing from a very difficult summer of multiple surgeries for multiple family members, including two for Mama. But the skills Sam learned through all of that could not have been replicated by a curriculum. When we listen to the Holy Spirit, and not give in to anxiety,  life works out the way He intended. Did I have anxiety about things not looking very “schooly” as my son entered his junior year? Yes!! Did we sweat it out with the SAT and college application process? Double yes that! But all along I knew that God promised to provide, He knew what was best for our kids, and I needed to rest in that knowledge and not fight it.

This brings me to another point. That all sounds impressive, the film making, full tuition scholarship, etc etc….a REAL homeschool success story. But what do we qualify as a “success”? Within my own family, there are varying needs and abilities. If one doesn’t get a scholarship, does that mean no homeschool success? I don’t think so. If a home educated child goes to community college and needs some remedial math, is that a failure on our part? Absolutely not. What if he skips college all together?  What is the end game here? You know the answer…..Heaven.  That’s it. I know it drives people crazy to hear this because it might come off as dismissing your very real anxieties of the heavy responsibility that home educating your children encompasses, I promise I’m not doing that. I still have anxieties about the job I do, but I know, after graduating two boys, it is really not all about my efforts. There are a lot of other factors at play, primarily Grace and natural abilities.  There is also this thing called “Free Will” that makes the ending of the story really between your child and God.  Our most important job as Catholic homeschooling parents is the formation of our children’s intellect and will. It is as simple and as big as that. Their intellect and will need to be strong and determined in this crazy world. My husband and I feel that homeschooling through high school gives us the best shot at doing just that for our particular situation, and I know whatever “success” is by the Grace of God and in spite of my human weaknesses. This is not false humility, this is “on-my-knees” first hand knowledge.

I am most satisfied, quite honestly, that both of my college boys are very strong in their Faith and character.  They go to Mass every Sunday, often going to daily Mass, go to Confession and encourage others at college in their Faith walk, pray the Office, and the Rosary. They have made time in their very busy schedules to attend the March for Life in Washington DC, and aren’t afraid to share their Faith and the Truths of the Church. That makes my mama’s heart very happy. But see, I can’t take credit for ANY of that!  I do feel the Holy Spirit has led us to seeing the supreme importance on having lots and lots of rich discussions about Faith…perseverance….fortitude….we put the relationship before the schooling, the “home” before the “school” and I have seen that bear good fruit!  We are forming souls, not simply grooming for college.

I can’t tell you to homeschool through high school. I can tell you I have not regretted doing so one tiny bit. It’s hard– but my anthem has been “Love is bigger than hard.”


ps–be prepared for beards after they graduate! And little sister took this pic!