Every year, when I plan the next school year, I have grand and beautiful intentions. I plan out my lessons in a lengthy ordeal of scheduling, printing, cutting, and laminating. When I am done, it is all too nice and neat and pretty to touch.

Then, when we actually start school, I wonder what I was thinking. Why was I so ambitious? As plans are thrown out the window and we move into survival mode, I tell myself next year I am going to plan more realistically.

I’m not trying to be a pessimist or squelch my back-to-school enthusiasm. Not at all! Instead my aim is to curb disappointment when I can’t match the crazy expectations I put on myself.

Fortunately, each year of planning gets better because I’m getting wiser about what I can reasonably expect from myself and from my children. I now embrace the fact that life is going to get in the way of my beautifully planned school year. As a result, I now ask myself the following five reality-checking questions before planning a new homeschool year.

1. What Are the Non-negotiables?

This question will be answered from two directions—your state homeschool laws and your own personal mission statement. If you don’t have an end goal in mind for all of your homeschool efforts, you will have a hard time staying focused on a strategic plan. Write down these musts and start there.

If you accomplish your non-negotiables, you’ve succeeded! Anything else is bonus.

2. How Does My Family Learn Best?

Forget about crafting a perfectly beautiful learning experience that is Instagram-worthy. You simply have to determine how your family learns best and then just be you. After establishing how you enjoy teaching and how your children learn best, create an environment that everyone can thrive in. These family traits also guide you to the best curriculum fit.

3. How Can I Encourage My Family to Grow?

My personal goal of homeschooling is not only to teach my children head knowledge, but also to help them develop the whole self: personally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Sometimes we parents get so wrapped up in what they know that we forget to guide them to develop good character.

How to Give Your Ambitious Homeschool Plans a Reality Check • Rein in your too ambitious homeschool plans with these five questions, and have your best year ever!

Or sometimes we are so busy with extracurricular activities that we forget to encourage growth in their spiritual life. Evaluate your schedule, school subjects, and curriculum in light of the growth you want to see.

I’m good at pinpointing the academic areas where my children need to grow, but I often fail to focus on helping them mature as individuals. My solution? I write a list of each child’s strengths and weaknesses and then brainstorm how I can help them overcome their weaknesses and foster their strengths.

Remembering both strengths and weaknesses in all areas of life keeps my homeschool planning both realistic and practical.

4. What Role Can My Husband Take in Our Homeschool?

All families are unique and function differently, but in ours my husband takes an active role in our homeschool activities as his schedule allows. I plan our new homeschool year with him in mind so that he feels a part of what we are doing even if he is not physically with us every day.

For example, he joins us for field trips and helps in subjects where I am weaker. I believe planning for his involvement is key to making it happen during the school year. If I optimistically leave it to chance, his participation is likely to be overlooked.

5. How Can I Make Sure I Have Time Off?

Having time to take off the homeschool mom hat is vital to my mental and emotional health. When I am planning the new homeschool year, I factor in ways to step away from my role as teacher—and mother—for a short time each day or week. During summer planning, it’s hard to imagine the fatigue I will feel later in the year. But despite my “I-can-rule-the-world” attitude before the school year begins, I know realistically that self-care has to be part of my routine, or I’ll burn out.

Use this free guide to identify and celebrate your reasons for homeschooling.

Planning your new homeschool year sets a strong tone for the year, especially when you keep your goals in mind and curb your overly ambitious optimism with a healthy dose of reality. Happy planning, homeschoolers!