5 Tips For a Successful Homeschool Year

5 Tips for a Successful Homeschool Year

Written by Karen @ To Work With My Hands, Contributing Writer

Today is the first day of our new school year.

Today the books are out again, all fresh and crisp. Everyone is excited, and everything is new – for now.

But within a few weeks – maybe even days – the newness wears off and my children will wonder how they got duped by those pretty, crisp-covered books again. Sound familiar? 

After 20 years of homeschooling, we still sometimes struggle. But along the way, I’ve learned a few ways to help minimize the struggle and keep ourselves from losing the joy of homeschooling.

1. Be Organized

Long before the first day begins, I’ve made plans. Beginning with curriculum choices and stocking up on school supplies, I also clean out our school cabinet and work areas. Some years lots of changes need to take place. Other years, just some tweaking is all that is required.

Next, I create a schedule for the year. Looking at what needs to be accomplished by each child during the year, I break those goals down into monthly, then weekly bites.


2. Clear Expectations

Just because I know where we are going, doesn’t mean that the children necessarily do. In an effort to help them own their work, I let them know what the plan is for the year.

The older boys appreciate knowing exactly what they need to accomplish for the year and can more easily plan their study hours around outside activities.

The younger children get weekly goal lists that help them stay on track with their independent work, and to know what is coming up in the subjects we study together. They can see a clear path and have an understanding of what it will take for them to finish for the week.


3. Rewards

Through the years we have sometimes used rewards. At other times, we haven’t. Our children known that schoolwork is simply a part of their lives, and we don’t give prizes for getting it done. However, there have been times that we found it helpful for them and for us to positively encourage them along.

When we have a particularly trying subject, hit a difficult time in personal motivation with one child or another, or even have family events that compromise our normal school schedule, we have used incentives to help make the work more rewarding.

Let’s face it. If you’re 7 years old, it’s hard to see the long-term benefit of learning math facts day after day, especially when the going gets tough.

Since our younger children struggled last year with getting their independent work finished without lots of pushing, this year we’re giving them the opportunity to earn a point each week when it’s finished early. Work finished on time is expected, but finishing before it’s expected will be rewarded.

Following the idea our library uses each summer during the summer reading program (which my children just completed and thrived in this point-earning system), the children will be able to save up earned points and cash them in for special activities that they enjoy.


4. Shake Things Up

I’m a routine/schedule/stay-on-track kind of mom, but realize that although routine provides stability, know that it can also produce boredom – especially in children who are wired differently.

Having a solid routine in place works well for most days, but I’ve found that when I throw in a change of pace every now and then, they’re better energized for the more typical days.

Packing up the books and spending a day at the park, enjoying a field trip without the books, taking a day to watch DVD’s on our current science or history topics, or just taking a day off on that first crisp morning after a scorching summer to take a hike or bike ride can all be ways to recharge the batteries by getting out of the routine for a day.


5. Margin

If there’s one thing that I continually struggle with – even after so many years of homeschooling – its margin.

There’s so many wonderful things to do, so many exciting things to study, so much to learn. It’s way too easy to over schedule, over plan, and overdo.

Learning to shorten my personal to-do list each day is also spilling over into the school to-do list. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything and when I try to cram it all in, we lose margin. When the unexpected happens – and it will – the whole cart gets upturned.

The answer is to under schedule. If we can accomplish 5 days of science each week, I’ll only plan for 3. If we get the extra 2 days in, that’s great. If we don’t, that’s okay and we aren’t falling behind.

Leaving room for the unplanned and for just having breathing room is essential for making it through the year without hitting the February slump and getting burned out or feeling like we didn’t quite make it.

If your homeschool runs anything like ours, the first week can be pretty exhausting. Even after all of these years, and relatively short summer breaks, I still marvel at how much change is generated when we get back to school.

But with a few tactics in place, it can be a rewarding week that is just the first step toward a productive and enjoyable year. And when we look back at all that we will have accomplished next spring, I’ll be armed with knowledge to make the next years even better.

What are your tips for a successful homeschool year?

About Karen

Karen is a blessed wife and grateful mom to 7 sons and 1 daughter. When she's not homeschooling her 5 youngest children, she enjoys trying new bread recipes, working on DIY projects, sipping a hot mug of tea, or seeking to find the beauty in everyday life. She loves gardening and is passionate about growing from heirloom seeds. Visit her at To Work with My Hands. 


  1. Great tips Karen and I hope you all have a great year of learning. Just realized this will be the first year in a long time where homeschooling isn’t apart of my day. Son is getting ready to enlist in the Marines this week. I’m excited about the future and so glad I decided to Homeschool the kids, staying organized is huge and simplifying was even better for us towards the end. Realized early on that when you incorporate as a way of life the learning never ends.

    • Thank you, Carole. We are still riding the wave of excitement right now. 🙂

      I can only imagine what it will be like when the last year is done, but I do know the experience of one enlisting. It’s an exciting, yet emotional time (for me, anyway). Best wishes to your son – he comes from a strong family and will do well.

      You’re exactly right – there’s always something to learn, and when it can be incorporated into life, as you point out, it is really that much more meaningful.

      Thank you for your encouraging words, Carole.

  2. 20 years! That’s awesome! Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom 🙂

    • You know, Lisa, they really just flew past. I know that sounds so trite, but it’s so true. One day I was rocking babies, keeping up with toddlers, and schooling the early grades. Now we’ve graduated 3, and our “baby” is in 2nd grade. Today, now, I want to savor the moments – that’s probably the greatest lesson I’ve learned.

      Thanks for your encouragement!


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