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Survival Mode: Keeping First Things First

Survival Mode: Keeping First Things First

We’re between terms over here, so I’m spending some time gearing up for the next 12 weeks of school. Like any homeschool year, a successful Survival Mode homeschool year starts with the planning stage. Since we’re already about half-way through the year, this is a good time for a reset—a chance to step back and take aim again.

Reminding ourselves of the big picture is the most important tool in making it through your Survival Mode homeschool year.

Find Your Vision

I’m not usually one to write vision or mission statements, but Pam Barnhill convinced me to try it in her Plan Your Year workbook, and turns out she’s on to something. Getting vague ideas from my head into actual words brought our homeschool more clarity than ever before. I spent some of that valuable homeschool planning time this summer considering and talking with my people about our big picture goals for our homeschool. I thought about questions like these:

  • What kind of family do we want to be?
  • What do we want to spend our time doing?
  • What are we doing already that leans into these goals?
  • What can we add or do differently that will help us toward our goals?
  • What can we quit that’s not helping us be the family we want to be?
  • If I could describe an ideal list of characteristics my graduated young adults would have, what would they be?

Are you committed to lots of time outdoors? To visiting museums and art galleries? Is tidiness a key principle for your family, or are you more concerned that your kids have ample space and supplies to tinker and make art? How will you intentionally insert joy into your homeschool day? Minecraft breaks, board games, read-alouds?

The idea here is to get a picture in your head of the young adults you’re trying to turn out into the world. The key here is intentionality. We want to identify what it is we’re doing all this work for. Just FYI though, our kids will definitely turn out differently than the vision we create, because they’re people, too.

Narrow the Vision

The difference between planning for Survival Mode versus a regular homeschool year is that you cannot work from a wish list during Survival Mode. You must narrow the vision.

What is IMPORTANT? Make a list. Write the first 5 things that come to mind. If you don’t do these during your Survival Mode season of homeschooling, you’ll feel like a failure. Limit yourself to five. This is not a wish list. These are broad categories, a bare-bones list. Complete this sentence:

In our homeschool, we strive to…

Here’s my list:
1. We strive to read together and discuss ideas every day.
2. We strive to get outdoors every day to learn about our world and engage with others.
3. We strive to practice daily skills like writing, reading, and math so we can gain mastery over time.
4. We strive to speak with kindness, be loving toward one another, and practice patience with each other’s physical and emotional challenges and weaknesses.
5. We strive to get out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves.

Everybody’s list will be a tad different. It’s important to articulate the principles you want to hold firmly while everything else feels like it’s falling apart. These are the principles that shape our days. The clearer you are on your top five most important things to cover in homeschooling this year, the more able you’ll be to cut out the fluff that’s just adding stress and busywork to your homeschool.

Use whatever vision statement you devise to remind yourself of first principles.

Now, Cut Out What’s Unnecessary

This sounds obvious, but it’s the lynchpin to getting through a Survival Mode homeschool year intact. Ruthlessly cut out extras. There is so much pressure both in the culture of homeschoolers and the culture at large to fill our kids’ days with activities from sunup to sundown. Resist this impulse. If your family is facing a Survival Mode year, over-scheduling will drag your ship down like a thousand anchors onboard.

Ten years from now, what will you be glad you focused on? Prioritize the relationships.

Ten years from now, what will you be okay with having skipped? Skipping core subjects will haunt your students later.

Answering these types of questions was good for me, and I encourage you to do so. Try to envision what you want your family culture to look like five or ten years down the road. It feels like a lot of pressure to say this, but that long-term vision takes shape moment by moment in our homeschools today and tomorrow. (The caveat to all of this, of course, is that we’re dealing with real humans who have plans of their own, so we have to hold our plans and visions with open hands.)

It’s especially good to have our long-term vision in mind when planning a Survival Mode homeschool year, because it helps us to keep the most important things top-of-mind when all hell is breaking loose in our homeschools because of illness, a new baby, travel, or whatever else has put you in Survival Mode.

Other posts in this series: Survival Mode Homeschooling

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

Rhiannon Kutzer

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Nice to meet you!

I’m Rhiannon.

You can call me Rhi for short (as in “rejoice”). I’m a fiercely independent homeschooling mom of five, a Navy wife of 13 years, and a creator of various things: articles, a semi-regular newsletter, quilts, furniture, and the occasional knitted scarf. This is the site where I write about our homeschool journey and news and happenings in the homeschool world. more about me.


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Need a shot in the arm for your homeschool? Get Thrive Together, a monthly email that brings you:

--the best of the homeschool blogosphere,
--current homeschool news,
--and great quotes that will refresh your homeschool mama mind.

Latest Posts


  • One of the things I most love about #homeschooling is the freedom it allows us to love books. It is 9:30am. We just finished breakfast after getting up late because last night we had troop meetings for our scouting groups. The kids are all well-fed and well-rested. But before we start on reading the books I’ve assigned them, we’re taking some time to read our own choices.
When I was a kid, we had plenty of books in the house, but I never really read for pleasure. It didn’t matter that my mom was a librarian and teacher. I wanted to be outside. I thought reading was for school hours and school work.
I carried these thoughts through high school and college, where I read a lot of really great books, but not many that I chose for myself.
My kids will have a totally different experience. Not saying mine was bad, but I am saying that I missed out on worlds or great books and thoughts from great authors in my younger years that I am only discovering now as an adult: the middle books of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Arthur Conan Doyle, Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter, Harry Potter, and many more.
My kids have the TIME FREEDOM to get to know the thoughts of authors they CHOOSE. I don’t care how you school, all kids deserve this opportunity. All kids DESERVE to believe that books can be FUN and INTERESTING and MYSTERIOUS and LOVELY.
What can you do today as a homeschooling/private schooling/public schooling parent to help your kids love reading? Make no mistake: if ALL our kids take from their educations is a habit of reading widely and enjoying it, they will stand a great chance of becoming great adult humans.
#amreading #readaloudrevival #bravewriterlifestyle #homeschool #schoolchoice #charlottemasonirl
  • FINALLY! Everyone is well (enough) that we are back to school. No one is in bed with a fever #winning . Instead, we get to spend our morning with the Scottish Play. I 💛 me some Shakespeare and #MorningTime !
#homeschool #homeschooling #family #amreading #shakespeare #bravewriterlifestyle
  • Fact: The #Navy wife life will kill you if you don’t find support somehow.
Fact: That support will almost 100% of the time be the females around you.
Fact: Our whole family got the flu literally THE DAY Jake’s boat pulled out.
Fact: This little @theglorioustable ditty about crashing our proverbial banana trucks posted the same day. God has a sense of humor. Link also in profile. (
The fact that I am just now getting around to posting about it tells you the extent to which the flu knocked me on my ass. I was in bed for three days straight. I am NEVER this sick.
Fact: If it weren’t for strong, kind, generous WOMEN around me, I probably would have ended up in the hospital and my kids may or may not be alive. The menfolk care too, they just weren’t here. Couldn’t support. Had their own work to do. The mission does not stop for sick families.
Find yourself a tribe if you want to survive. You HAVE to have someone to call. Even if, like me, it’s your mom (who will--wisely--tell you to ask for local help even though you don’t want to be a bother.) I needed prayers, sure, but more than that, I needed local people to literally come to my house and feed my kids and put food in my fridge, be here while I went to the doctor, and put my kids to bed when I was too sick to stay awake a minute longer. A virtual community CANNOT do those things. It can try, but a local community has power a virtual community will never have.
Another post on this topic here: (
#community #Navywifelife #momlife #sisterhood
  • Happy New Year and all, but more importantly, today we got to watch our @wyo_football win the Arizona Bowl. (With a freshman QB starting for the 1st time ever, btw 😮😮😮💪🏻) Way to go Pokes! #theWorldNeedsMoreCowboys #OneWyoming #GoWyo
  • We always have so much fun doing projects from @artforkidshub #homeschool #trynewthings #watercolor
  • Morning Time Details! E. (12), S. (almost 8), and L. (6). Our Morning Time morphs as the kids grow and change. It usually includes a combination of memory work and reading aloud. We try to cover a WHOLE LOT of things: Shakespeare, Bible, poetry, catechism, hymns, timeline, art study, composer study, and Ambleside selections for nature study, tales, and church history. This term I’m adding Plutarch.
The hard part is figuring out where I want to aim, with the 5-year gap between E. and S., and then L. being a newbie to full-on school. Having moved twice in 2019, I nixed MT and just focused on individual work. That came with costs. Shakespeare, Plutarch, art study, and composer study suffered. Memory work barely happened at all. I was BUSY. We missed out on discussing things together. Now that we’re settled, it’s time to restart MT.
This term I’ve decided to aim Shakespeare and Plutarch at the oldest, while the girls listen in and do handwriting/drawing/fine motor. I won’t ask them for much narration. Our reading schedule for these is AMBITIOUS. Maybe crazy. Then we’ll do all the memory & read aloud stuff that suits everyone. These lessons are SHORT. Then E. will go do his individual work while I read aloud w/ just the girls.
Also, “Morning Time” is a misnomer, considering we break it up throughout the day. It should really be called Morning/Lunch/Nap Time. I need a new name. Circle Time? Except we don’t sit in a circle. Together school? Except we’re together doing school all day. I don’t think English has the word I’m looking for. Maybe Tertulia or Salon?
Our actual coursework is: the Scottish Play, Plutarch is Alexander the Great’s life, our artist is Gustave Courbet, composer is Paganini, Bible memory is Psalm 46, Hymn is Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me, read alouds will rotate from Burgess Bird Book, Trial and Triumph, Blue Fairy Book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Vanderbeekers, & picture books. Timeline is from Classical Conversations. Poems are Charge of the Light Brigade, Winter Night by Teasdale, and The Land of Nod.
Whew! It’s gonna be a fun term! What do you guys do for Morning Time?

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