4 Steps that Keep Lesson Plans From Collecting Dust

All I will say about my last post is that watching kids leave the comfort of your home changes your prayer life immensely.  The oldest laughs that Dad asks every day whether she made it safely to work and then back home—something we never questioned while she was in college, which seemed by its nature more paternalistic. Then again, she was not driving in college—another major difference in her current season. (I am not as blunt about needing a text or phone call, but it sure feels good to see a phone notification with her name on it).

So, as excited as we are, I definitely find myself distracted at times from the task at hand. With a little over a week before we can start our normal school schedule (and then two weeks before we take the next break to get our son to school for his sophomore year–oy), I can flesh out my lesson plans a bit more.  I thought that sharing our process might help someone else as well.

What makes a lesson plan effective? What keeps it from collecting dust after it is put together?  Here are some thoughts.

Begin with YOUR end in mind. There are a number of places from which you can determine a year’s plan for any given curriculum:

  1. Scope and sequence
  2. Textbook
  3. Syllabus
  4. Online course overview

A curriculum will generally outline how long it takes to travel through the publisher’s idea of a year’s worth of material (or whatever time frame the curriculum is designed for).  From there, you must decide what the end looks like for your family. Do you plan to cover all the topics? Will you use the curriculum differently than the publisher intended (which is a valid choice)? Are some subject areas taboo for your family? All of these questions might change your year’s schedule, and consequently, your daily lesson plans, even though you can still choose to use a given curriculum.

As a personal example, I will begin Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book with our youngest. Adler’s book is an Ambleside Online choice for logic and critical thinking in the older years (I forget which year it begins). But, as much as I see the value of this resource, it is a thick book with no pictures (lol). In the past, we have stretched it out over three years; we will more than likely do the same thing again beginning this year. Additionally, unlike with my older two, I am using this opportunity to teach how to take notes. It is a college preparatory skill, and it will help my kinesthetic learner stay focused on the content, even when it is dry as toast (another reality of some college-level reading). So, rather than looking at the entire book and dividing it succinctly into semester-long chunks, I will break it into 3 sections and then break that first chunk into a doable 30+ weeks.

Plan your calendar to the best of your abilities and your realities. Many curriculum publishers base their course objectives on a 36-week outline. The further I get into our journey, and the more our season of family life changes, the more I realize that a tightly-packed 36 weeks is not a good fit for us. When we had two in college, and one of those with dance performances to support, our breaks were more frequent to accommodate travel and to enjoy one another without the demands of school interfering. That dynamic might change slightly this fall with one having graduated, but I cannot say for sure.  Your realities might be different, but my point is to not overlook the flexibility of homeschooling; make the schedule work for you rather than becoming a slave to it. In addition to the standard days off for your family, also allow for some time to simply avoid burnout and take a break when you need it.

A final thought on calendar planning is to also schedule your lessons when they can be most effective. That year of botany studies could be a summer series on its own rather than trying to find a flower in a harsh winter. Similarly, physical education (PE) plans can be adjusted to accommodate weather dependence as well.

Plan in sizable chunks.  The very first year we homeschooled, I hand wrote (yes, you read that right) our whole year—every day, every subject. It sounds silly now even to write, but I know someone reading this can relate. As you can imagine, it did not take long for my plans to need adjusting when an impromptu field trip opportunity presented itself, and having written a year’s plans, well…I now set an annual goal based upon those things that I want our children to learn; I use the goal to keep me focused in a direction and not sidetracked or limited to what a book’s pages say. When I actually write out our plans (and yes, I still hand write plans into her planner because of what it does for my mind), monthly details work best for us. There are very few items that pop up in our lives at this point that I cannot adjust for within a month. I can also generally afford one weekend where I take advantage of a quiet Saturday morning and write out the coming month. Whatever is that window of time that your family can actually execute what you plan to do without too many scratch-throughs, stick to it.

Finally, no lesson plan is truly complete until we customize it, not just for our family, but for our child. I alluded to this earlier in talking about Adler’s book. I know that as a kinesthetic learner, she needs a break or two more than her older siblings might have. I know that she needs to move, and to busy her hands. I know that we might have to cover Adler, or Homer’s classics as another example, more slowly. But I still have the same expectations for excellence, even if we have to take a different approach. Another lesson I have learned on the journey is to be okay with our children learning in a different way, or not learning it on my time.  After all (and here’s the kicker), the most well-written lesson plan will not be the indicator of learning; it simply guides the learning experience and helps organize our thought processes.


‘Children learn from anything and everything they see. They learn wherever they are, not just in special learning places.’

John Holt, Author, Educator


If we can bear this thought in mind, it will allow us to use the plan for what it is–not a chain or restraint from true education, but a foundation from which to build and watch a masterpiece develop within each child.


If you have other lesson planning tips that I did not list, it would be great to help another reader. Please comment with your own best practices.

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