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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:

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--current homeschool news,
--and great quotes that will refresh your homeschool mama mind.

Latest Posts


  • PSA: Don’t let curriculum publishers and internet ads scare you into thinking you NEED to buy their products to get your kids a solid education. #askamom #momsmentoringmoms
  • #Homeschooling when you didn’t choose it:
I would feel totally overwhelmed and underprepared if I were in your shoes. Homeschooling is hard even when you did choose it. We’ve changed a little, too. Every meal is a reading meal these days if the kids want that. (They do🤓.)
So, please ask me all your questions. I and other HSing mamas in your community have YEARS of experience with this atypical version of education. How can we help you and your specific kids in your specific situation? We have learned a lot of things the hard way and we are happy to help make this time smoother for you.
What I desperately hope: those of you stuck in a situation you didn’t want AT ALL, might come to see education a little differently. It can be flexible. It can happen over the course of a whole day, with snacks, outside time, screen time, and play interspersed between lessons.
This type of education is more about LIFE and HOME than you might think. While your students may be doing the same work assigned by the school, the setting change from school to home will change almost everything else about their educational experience this semester.
Here are my two favorite tips to get you started:
1. Use short lessons. 
2. Alternate between types of work.
The younger the kids, the shorter the lessons. Ballpark: elementary should be 15-30min/subject max. Middle school 30-45min/subject max.
How does this look? Have your student read for 15 min, then do something physical for 15, then do handwriting for 15. That kind of a thing. “A change is as good as a rest."
Don’t expect elementary kids to complete the whole assignment in such a short lesson. Just expect focused attention for that time, no matter how far he gets in the work. That builds the habit of, “when we sit to do school, we focus on school.” If you have to do 5 or 10 minute lessons because that’s all he had the attention for, that’s totally normal. Build up to longer periods, but it’s not really reasonable developmentally to expect hour-long math sessions for very young students. Those lead to tears. Ask me how I know.
  • Some days are just “pull your big girl panties on and handle your business like a grownup” days. Cheers to all of you who handled your business today. #navywifelife #adulting
  • This is the best kind of helpful. 🥰💛☕️
  • Everybody loves bacon! Also, breakfast for dinner + wine + good tunes = a good, chill cure for a Monday. 🎶Man cannot live by bread alone🎶 @michaelbuble @thirdday @theweepies @ginnyowensofficial @norahjones #family #familydinner
  • Just in case you need this message today.  #suicideprevention #dontgiveupsigns

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