Day by Day Homeschooling: A Doable Approach to Fight Overwhelm

a woman holds a calendar page in front of her face
"Just have one good day. Then repeat." —James Clear

In the writing classes I teach to adults, we often use Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. This hysterical handbook has an illustration I have applied many times to my role of a writer, a mother, and a homeschooler.

Lamott recounts a memory from her childhood where her younger brother put off a research paper on birds until the last minute. Her father, seeing her brother frustrated and overwhelmed, sat down with him and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” 

I love this story and try to remember it whenever a similar situation arises in our home, which it does more often than we’d like to admit.

We are a family of big dreamers and procrastinators. My kids and I can dream up all sorts of things to do in our homeschool year. We are rarely at a loss of ideas, but if I allow myself to think about all the things we want to do in a month, semester, or year (or what my children should know before they graduate), overwhelm and inevitably dread will take over.

I do not want to dread our homeschool days. The remedy is to take the things we need and want to do bit by bit, bird by bird, day by day. 

Give Yourself Time to Plan

Homeschool planning is essential, but it can take on a life of its own. I’ve found that our homeschool days flow more smoothly when I have planned in advance but not too far ahead. 

If I plan right before we sit down to school, overwhelm undoubtedly sets in. Last-minute planning means I probably won’t have the materials we need, and instead of being present to help my child, I’ll be trying to figure out what we need to do. 

On the other hand, if I plan too far in advance, our plans are likely to change, rendering my plans pointless (and sometimes causing frustration). Some lessons take longer than I anticipate; some much less time. Field trips, sick days, snow days, time with friends, or days when we decide to lie in bed and read all day shift long-term plans. I don’t want to miss out on spontaneous, fun activities or worry we aren’t getting enough done, but I also don’t want to waste my time planning for things that will not happen. 

Day by Day Homeschooling: A Doable Approach to Fight Overwhelm

A set weekly planning time helps me make sure I’m ready for the week and meeting our goals. My weekly planning helps keep our focus each day. If we don’t get to something, I know we can always add it to the next day or the following week. The gift of homeschooling is we have plenty of time

Set Reasonable Goals

If we want to enjoy homeschooling, reasonable goals are necessary. Adjusting those goals throughout the year may be necessary too. Some days or months our kids are going to meet their goals. Other times, they won’t.

Learning is not a straight line. It’s a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and sideways turns. 

Homeschooling day by day means we don’t let the moments when things feel upside down ruin the day or week. We recognize that something is off or someone needs more help, a different way to learn, a break or a snack, and we can always try again later. 

Don’t Try to Fill Your Entire Day

When I first started homeschooling, I thought my children needed to be doing lessons the same hours as school kids. Then it occurred to me that my two children did not need the same amount of time as thirty kids in a classroom. We also did not need to take time to line up or walk quietly in the halls. 

Another gift of homeschooling is free time! There is no need to fill every moment of the day. Homeschooling day by day means some days we are focused and spend a lot of time at the table writing and other days we need to move our bodies a lot more. 

Making sure our kids have plenty of time in their days to choose recreational activities. Every day doesn’t have to look the same. 

Celebrate What You’ve Accomplished

One of the most important things we can do as homeschoolers is focus on what is working. It is so easy to do the opposite. Assessment typically points out all that a child doesn’t know.

When we homeschool day by day, we can celebrate what went well. 

A day by day approach helps us homeschool in the moment. Planning, goals, and time management are still important, but they guide us instead of bossing us around.

Homeschooling isn’t easy; we all have hard days, but when we look at each day as a fresh start and take what needs to be done bird by bird, we can focus on what is working, what is good, and repeat. 

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