How to lesson plan so you’re never behind

Some homeschool moms – maybe those with school-teacher backgrounds – have elaborate homeschool lesson plans – full sheets of papers full of ideas, notes, references, activities, and objectives.

Many homeschool moms have no lesson plans at all.

I have never been in that first category, but more often find myself in the latter. Even though I love planning, lesson plans seemed more like a waste of time than anything else.

Learning, at least in our homeschool, is more about reading the material and then interacting with it in some way: do the equation, narrate the story, copy a sentence, write a summary, draw a picture.

Who needs a lesson plan for that?

Turns out, I do.


Listen to this post!

SC037: How to Lesson Plan So You’re Never Behind


The truth is that a plan does make a thing more likely to happen. When I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do next, I’m much more likely to choose nothing rather than figure it out. Or, I figure it out on the fly – sometimes that works and sometimes it means I totally flub it. Plus, when I’m winging it, the lesson takes more time – short lessons can still be meaty when and if they are planned.

Write homeschool lesson plans that are easy to follow, simple, and never out-of-date. Beat discouragement by never being

Homeschool Lesson Plans Are Hard

Lesson planning can be one of the most frustrating parts of homeschooling. It’s one thing to make a perfectly laid out plan – to invest your heart and soul into how your homeschool day will go – and then quite another to work that plan.

The reality is always different from the dream.

So it takes dedication and perseverance to continue instead of giving up. Our days never go like we plan, so what’s the use of planning?

We need to make plans that allow for real life, that aren’t broken when the washing machine breaks, that don’t fall apart when the toddler falls apart.

It’s actually possible. It just takes thinking about it in a different way.

Homeschool Lesson Plans as Lists

Rather than creating elaborate, information-loaded plans, with dates and page numbers and everything all coordinated just right, simplify.

Create lesson plans that are simply lists.

When you sit down to do a lesson, do the next lesson and mark it off.

Even better, each line item on your list can represent about 10 minutes or so – enough to do something significant in a short lesson, but also easy enough to keep going if you have the time and inclination.

No dates, no elaborate pre-made coordinated lessons – just the next thing to do in each subject area.

You can make plans like this in a spreadsheet, in a spiral notebook, in the word processor, in Evernote – anywhere. They require no special supplies or tools. You can keep them however you like, in whatever way works for you.

Examples of My Homeschool Lesson Plans

I keep my homeschool lesson plans in Evernote, of course.

But I think you will see how this sort of lesson plan could be created and maintained in any format.

Here is my lesson plan list for Halliburton’s Book of Marvels, our geography read aloud last year:

evernote homeschool lesson plans for Halliburton's Book of Marvels

You can see that I noted each chapter and also included a link with a photo or two. I was reading aloud to 6 kids, and holding up the book with the grainy black-and-white old photographs wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted them to see – in full color – these locations.

I could have ad-libbed it. But because the photo link was already found, already pre-screened, and right there for me, it actually happened. I opened the Geography lesson plan on my iPad, clicked the link, and the kids passed around the iPad, taking turns looking at the photos while I read.

Because it was laid out and simple, it happened.

(P.S. You can leave a comment or send me an email if you’d like a copy of this Evernote note – I’ll share it and it will show up in your Evernote “work chat” where you can duplicate into your own collection for editing.)

Here are my plans for this year’s Botany study:

homeschool lesson plans for Apologia Botany in Evernote

We’re reading the Apologia book, narrating, and drawing. No other activities or projects, except probably sprouting some bean seeds. So as I flipped through the book and made notes as to what was a reasonable amount to read in a short-lesson sitting, I also noted where would be an appropriate place to illustrate our lesson, and what that illustration would be of – the diagram in the book? Collected leaves from our yard? Bean pods from the grocery store?

Plotting out the whole book and interspersing related drawing assignments did not take long and will ensure that the lesson plan is simply open-and-go when it’s time. Homeschool lesson plans need to be open-and-go, need to require no extra brain power from us.

Sometimes the lesson plans are really short, as with my Shakespeare studies:

Find my lesson plans for Midsummer Night’s Dream here.

For this year’s history lesson plans, I included the important names from each chosen chapter:

homeschool lesson plans for middle ages history

Last year when we did history, I realized the kids had no idea how to spell any of the people or place names because they never saw them. This year I’m putting the important names on the board before the lesson, which should also clue them in to what to listen for and tell me about when it’s time to narrate. Those names can then stay on the board and prompt a quick review when we pull it out next time while I wipe it clean for the new lesson, or I can simply glance at the previous list item and say, “So, do you remember x from last time? What can you tell me about it?”

Easy-peasy, and it probably took about two hours total to put together the plan for the whole year. (I also abridged both books we’re using to fit our school year – and got a much better selection than when I did so on the fly three years ago).

Using Homeschool Lesson Plans in Real Days

Besides the lesson list, a procedure list is also super helpful.

What does a lesson time look like?

I like to start with a song, chant, or memory work. Then we read. Then we narrate or discuss or draw or write.

Having a basic routine also makes it easier to fall into the habit of doing the lessons and making them complete.

And when that list is right at the top of my note and in my face, I have no excuse for forgetting or skipping it, especially if the link to the song is there and the memory work pages are right with the book.

Pam Barnhill has great information about homeschool procedure charts.

The bottom line is: prepare beforehand so that you don’t have to think or make decisions on the fly, under pressure, in the moment. You can adjust on the fly if needed, but if you don’t even know what you should be doing, you won’t make a good judgement call.

Plans are tools, not masters, but they are very useful tools when done in a way that fits homeschool life rather than structured, interruption-less classrooms.

Write homeschool lesson plans that are easy to follow, simple, and never out-of-date. Beat discouragement by never being

If you have lesson plans in a similar format, I’d love for you to share, too!

Share a link to a blog post in the comments, or use the hashtag #homeschoollessonplans (and tag me @mystiewinckler) on Instagram, or send me an email with pictures and I’ll create a show-and-tell post when I have enough variety of examples. Thanks!

Write homeschool lesson plans that are easy to follow, simple, and never out-of-date. Beat discouragement by never being

20 Responses

  1. Anne
    |

    I have taken more to recording than daily planning. I plan before we start the year or next term, which books we’ll use this year and what other materials we’ll need, but after that my lesson plans are literally read/do the next page. Then we record which pages we did for that day. So we do have a record but none of the frustration of erasing and rewriting plans. I’m assuming this will change a little bit as my kids get older, and they’re able to do some work on their own even if I’m busy all day with a sick toddler or something, but for now a general plan and recording what we actually do works for us!

  2. Linda
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    I’d really like a copy of your lesson plans in Evernote. I’ve been trying to use Evernote but seem stuck in inertia. What’s worked for me in the past is to just list what we do in a notebook. I have an idea of what we should cover. However, I do miss the convenience of some of the reporting features we can get from online home school planners. By the way, do you do Classical Conversations? I noticed some familiar terms in your history lesson plan.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      We don’t do CC, but I was inspired by their way of doing the timeline. So we do memorize the timeline song like they do, but other than that I’d say our history is more like AO (but I make my own schedule).

      Jana and Linda – I sent you the Halliburton plan. :)

      • Linda
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        Thanks very much Misty for the Halliburton plan and for giving me hope. I didn’t realize that the book was out of print until I checked it out on Amazon. You’ve created a wonderful lesson plan around a classic. That was my first venture into Evernote. Can I start lesson planning with just the free basic plan? Or do I need to do premium? Do you include grading in Evernote too?

        • Mystie Winckler
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          You can definitely use the free version of Evernote just fine! Um…what grading? :)

  3. Jana
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    I would love to have the note shared to my Evernote! I’m at janadhale at gmail dot com!

  4. Melissa Greene
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    I love this idea Mystie! I lesson plan more like a public school teacher, scheduling everything out; first, my year, then my term (12 weeks), then my week, and lastly my day. I have the best of intentions on being more efficient, but in the heat of the moment, it can sometimes feel more like a burden. If I scheduled a list and simply did the next thing like you suggest, I wonder if it would relieve some of the pressure.

    Do you ever get confused by your lists? I mean having a list for that book and a list for this book, does it feel like you’re always and forever looking for the next list? How do you organize your lists?

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      My lists are in Evernote, in a notebook, so I see them all in the sidebar and can click to the next one. You can see the sidebar list of my current lesson plans in the screenshot of the history lesson plans above. :) I explain how to do that in the Evernote for Loop Scheduling post: http://www.simplyconvivial.com/2015/evernote-for-loop-schedules

      • Melissa Greene
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        Ah yes, I like the look of that….but if you were a paper/pencil planner ;-)

        Either way, you’ve got me thinking :-)

        • Mystie Winckler
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          If I were doing paper, I would put each page on a clipboard and flip through that way. ;)

  5. Amanda
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    I’m doing something similar this year, except I made google doc lists by subject, printed, and put into a pocket folder with brads for my 7th and 5th grade children. And I may do so for the 3rd grade twins.
    Some were already divided by volunteers for the curriculum we mostly use (Mater Amabilis), and some I divided myself in the same way you did, into manageable chunks.

    They each have their own weekly list of subjects by day. Some are every day, like math, religion, English, and history, alternating world and US. For my 7th grader Geography and geology alternate and science is 3x a week. Books are listed but I leave space for chapter and pages. Each week, I’ll sit with the child and we’ll fill out what the next lesson is from the master list. That way, when they get to Wednesday science the reading is written in. Then when they compete that lesson, they’ll check it off their course list.

    I’m hoping to train them though, to just have the weekly layout, and go to that course list, and do the next thing. That will be a good prep for high school and college, I think. And if I’m sick, and dad is supervising, everyone will know what to do.

    I love the idea of the Evernote, lists, though, for my records. I need to download the Evernote update; I stopped using mine because it got buggy.

    I’d love to see your book of marvels file; my fifth grader will read it next year.

    Great post!

  6. Jennifer C
    |

    Thank you for all your brilliant organization posts. We have always done a block schedule for our lessons, but this year we have more co-op classes that are cutting into our days so I am trying loop scheduling for the first time. We just finished our third week and I am feeling “behind”. I planned to work on our schedule this weekend, so your post is aptly timed. I am also going to look into the Evernote option, too.

  7. Amanda
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    I love this, Mystie. I spent quite a lot of time planning like this over the summer for a number of our subjects. I do plug the “next thing” into a week at a glance for all subjects. But that is way easier than thinking through every subject, every week. I do find that I need my week at a glance for each kid to keep everyone straight, as we don’t do every subject every day. But, the work in the front end is helping tremendously. As always, love your posts!

  8. Amanda
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    Also, if you are open to sharing your plans, I’d love your botany outline. That is up later in the year and I ran out of time over the summer to do that one. ;)

  9. Erin
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    Oh please please do share your Halliburton notes and links … I’d be ever grateful! blurryriver at gmail dot com. Lovely lovely rhythm to your planning.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Shared the note, Erin & Erika! You should see it next time you open up Evernote. :)

      • Erin
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        Thank you, Mystie! Got it. Super excited to share this with my daughter.

  10. Erika
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    I would love to see your Halliburton lesson plan. This post (and having a sample plan to boot) give me the courage to put together actual lesson plans. Thanks!

  11. Lisa Smith
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    Hi Mystie, thank you so much for this post, (only reading it now), but it came just at the right time, I am in the process of tweaking lesson plans as we start our new year! I love your Evernote posts, I am not an Evernote user, I like to use OneNote, but I always easily adapt your suggestions. Thanks again.

  12. Rebecca
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    Hello =) This post has me curious if I could learn to use Evernote! I did download the app but am totally lost…I think I will have to have my 18 year old figure it out and then help me, lol! I would love to get a copy of your Halliburton plans…Thanks so much!