What to Do When Last Year’s Homeschool Plan Is Unfinished

As spring approaches, many of us like to get a start on planning for next school year. Having a plan in place can be so helpful as you attend homeschool conventions and shop for curriculum. It can also set your mind at ease so you can enjoy the summer holiday to the fullest. But as you make those plans, sometimes the lessons from this year don’t end neatly, tied up with a bow, on your final day of school. Sometimes you didn’t get through as much this year as you had expected to. Somehow there are more chapters in the book or there are going to be lessons left over. What do you do then? Let’s talk about how to handle unfinished resources.

It can be exciting to look at a fresh school year with a blank slate. We can make it whatever we want to make it. But unfinished resources from this year can dampen the enthusiasm a bit. How can we start new when we have leftovers?

As we near the end of a school year and we see that this resource or that book isn’t going to be finished, one of two defaults tend to kick in. Maybe both. We either push to get that book done this year or we toss it aside and think it doesn’t matter if we finish it or not.

Now, either of those decisions might be a good one, depending on the situation (and we’ll talk more about that in a minute). But I want to encourage you to think it through and make your decision in a way that aligns with what you believe about education. Don’t allow the calendar to pressure you into abandoning your principles and making an inferior choice.

When we let the time pressure get to us and decide we need to push to get a resource done, that often means trying to cram more into a day. We end up with longer lessons, longer days. Yes, we’re checking off the boxes that we covered the material, but our children (and we) are usually trying to push through with overtired brains and that means less actual learning is happening. We’re settling for an appearance of educating, but we’re not really educating.

So then we think, I don’t want to lengthen the lessons or our school days, so I’ll drop other subjects and we’ll just do this one in order to finish the book. But again, that decision doesn’t align with our beliefs about education. We are dedicated to giving our children a wide variety of subjects because we believe that they have the right to form relations with as many people and things and ideas around them as possible. When we slam the door on other relations in order to focus on only the unfinished one, we are limiting our students’ education. We’re also making it harder on ourselves and our students, because that variety helps our kids’ minds stay fresh as they go through their days. They’re using different parts of the brain as they walk through that variety of studies. When we remove the variety, we remove that refreshing ease. Their brains become over-fatigued, and it becomes harder and harder to pay full attention.

Cramming goes against what we believe about a good education. Pushing to finish a resource by a certain date on the calendar doesn’t align with those principles. Now, if we’re talking about only one or two chapters left in a family read-aloud, that’s not a big deal. You could double up and read two chapters in an afternoon instead of just one chapter that day. Don’t lose sleep over that. But if you have several chapters or lessons left in the resource, and it will take several days or weeks of cramming in order to finish it, think twice before you start pushing to get it all done by that self-imposed deadline.

It reminds me of what Charlotte Mason said in A Philosophy of Education, page 57:

“Boys and girls ‘Cram to pass but not to know; they do pass but they don’t know.’”

That’s not education. That’s only the appearance of education.

So what should we do with unfinished resources as we make plans for the next year?

First, I would recommend that you take a few minutes to look back. Before you get fixated on what’s left to be done, pause and take a look at what you did get done. It may not have been as much as you hoped or planned, but you did make progress. Allow yourself to celebrate that gain. 

Charlotte believed that “growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 231). Look for growth—in any of those areas—and be grateful. 

Then try to identify the reasons that you didn’t finish the resource. There can be many different reasons. It’s easy to immediately take all the blame ourselves, as parents, and think we failed. But try to look at the past year with gracious eyes. What contributed to ending the year in a different place than you had anticipated? It might have been an unexpected illness, a new baby, moving to a new house, caring for aging parents, or a child who wasn’t ready to move as quickly as you thought he would be. Maybe you walked through a fire or a hurricane or a divorce this past year. There are myriad potential reasons why things didn’t turn out exactly as you planned it six or even eight months ago. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad planner or a bad educator or a bad parent. It simply means that you can’t predict the future. None of us can. 

Try to look at the past year with gracious eyes.

But what we can do is learn from the past. If you can identify the reasons why you have an unfinished resource, you have an opportunity to grow as a person. Maybe it wasn’t a big life event that derailed your plans; perhaps you simply got distracted and forgot about that book. Or maybe you got too involved with outside commitments and allowed them to crowd out your own school plans. It could be that the resource was for a subject that you don’t personally enjoy, so you tended to avoid it. Or perhaps you inadvertently planned too much to reasonably accomplish in one school year. 

Do you see what I mean? There are so many reasons and contributing factors that could have played a part in that unfinished resource that you’re looking at now. If you simply move on, you will miss a prime opportunity to grow as a person. So grab this opportunity with both hands, and try to identify the reason or reasons, and then extract any personal lessons that you can from the situation. Look at it honestly but with gracious eyes; pinpoint what went wrong but assume best intentions. Then determine what you can learn from it as you move forward.

You might simply reinforce the fact that life happens, and remind yourself that life events can contribute important lessons and growth for your children. If you discover that a planning decision last fall was at fault, be grateful for that discovery and determine how you can adjust and improve it this time. Or perhaps it was some decisions you made along the way this past year that caused you to get off course. Think about why you made those decisions, determine how you can grow in that area, and then set about living in alignment with that idea. 

If you discover that a planning decision last fall was at fault, be grateful for that discovery and determine how you can adjust and improve it this time.

Looking back is not about beating yourself up or conjuring up another Bad Mommy trophy for your mental shelf. It’s about celebrating what was accomplished, learning from what happened, and allowing it to inform the next phase of life. It’s about continuing to grow as a person.

Once you’ve looked back with gratefulness and openness to learning what you can from the past, it’s time to look ahead. Now it’s time to determine what you will do with that unfinished resource. Let’s talk through three options to consider: set it aside, put it on pause, or keep going. All three are valid choices in different situations. I can’t tell you which one to choose, but I can give you some things to consider as you think through which option might be best in your situation.

Some resources can be set aside and left unfinished. This decision usually works best with topic-based subjects. Topic-based subjects are school subjects that do not depend on the student’s skill level. For example, it doesn’t matter whether a child reads about the Middle Ages in fourth grade or in eighth grade. It’s a topic. The same goes for picture studies, music studies, and poetry—your choice of artist, composer, or poet is a topic. These are the subjects that you can do as a family with all your students together. History, geography, and Bible could fall into this category as well.

When you are considering a resource as a potential candidate for setting aside and leaving unfinished, think through questions such as,

  • Are we tired of this topic? Is this study beginning to sap the joy out of learning?
  • Or maybe most of the family is tired of a topic, but one student loves it. Then ask yourself, Is this resource something that an interested child could pick up and finish on her own during her leisure time if she wants to?
  • When it comes to history, geography, or Bible, consider whether setting this resource aside will leave a comprehension gap that could be confusing to the students. We’re not talking about a gap in skills here, remember; we’re talking about a topic. For example, maybe you’ve gotten through Daniel in Bible history and you’re thinking of setting aside the rest of the Old Testament and jumping into Matthew next year. That means that you’ll be leaving out Nehemiah and the Israelites’ return from their captivity in Babylon. Matthew starts with them back in the Holy Land. Will skipping that part cause confusion and leave your students wondering how they got back there? Something to consider.
  • Also ask yourself, Will we be coming back to this topic in a future year? History is usually taught in cycles, so depending on the ages of your students, they will probably come back to that time period again. Where you are in that cycle needs to be considered.
  • And an extension of considering where you are in the cycle is thinking about how it might affect a high school student. If you have a high school student, consider whether finishing that particular resource is necessary in order to earn needed high school credit? The answer may be Yes or it may be No, it’s not necessary. You just need to think through all of those aspects as you determine the best course of action for your family.

Another option to think through is potentially putting the unfinished resource on pause and then picking it up again next year wherever you left off. I would recommend this option for skill-based subjects especially—for language arts or math skills, for example. When you are dealing with a skill-based subject, each skill needs to be mastered before moving on to the next one. If you leave out or skip a skill, your student could stumble over the next one because he will lack that firm foundation. 

Of course, you can absolutely use this option with a topic-based subject as well. For instance, you could easily finish a history time period or a geography region next year before moving on. Don’t let the calendar dictate what you can or cannot study. Learning is a continuous process. In fact, for that matter, you don’t have to take summers off. You can set up your own school year to fit your family, whether that’s four days a week all year round or three weeks on and one week off year round. Our family did that for many years. You don’t have to follow a traditional school calendar of nine months on and three months off. With a schedule like that, you can just keep going no matter what month it is. But even if you take a summer break, you certainly can put a resource on pause and then pick it up again in the fall. And I would recommend that choice especially for any skill-based subjects.

The third option to think through is whether to keep going with the resource and use it during the summer break. This might be an easy solution if you have just a couple of chapters left in a family read-aloud, for example. That first week of summer vacation, you might not do regular school lessons but you will continue reading a chapter a day for everybody during lunch time or bedtime in order to finish that book. This option works well if you don’t have too much left to do in the unfinished resource. 

It also works well if the resource is something that you want to keep going no matter what; something that you don’t want to lapse over the summer break. A family read-aloud could fit that category. You might also continue doing your Scripture Memory box every morning at breakfast; or perhaps it will work better to shift that five-minute review and recitation time to a different time of day during the summer. You will want to keep working on habits during the summer months. But it’s up to you whether you want to simply confirm and solidify the habits that you’ve been working on or if you want to introduce a new one. If you’re introducing a new habit, you can continue using Laying Down the Rails for Children once or twice a week to encourage and inspire that new habit. 

When you’re pondering whether to keep going with a resource, think through whether you want that particular subject to become part of your lifestyle, part of your family culture, not just a school subject. The answer to that question can help with the decision.

Set it aside, put it on pause, or keep going: all three choices are viable options in different situations. The key is to make an intentional, well-thought-through choice that will align with what you believe about education; that will reinforce the family culture that you are seeking to cultivate; and that will support your student as he continues to grow in his relationship with God, with himself, with people, and with things around him. 

That’s not just the appearance of learning. That’s learning the Charlotte Mason way.


  1. I am writing to be thankful that you shared this article. I read it carefully. I am getting frustrated with such issues like unfinished tasks, and it would be good recommendations for me.

  2. This was incredibly helpful as I was grappling with what to do with our unfinished resources. Huge life event derailed us. This article gave excellent recommendations. Thank you.

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