My very favorite part of homeschooling is dreaming and planning. I know it should probably be seeing the light shine in my child’s eyes when they’ve mastered a difficult concept or the time snuggled together on the couch reading aloud. The reality in our homeschool is that understanding hard things comes with a struggle that ends in exhaustion- not light- and reading times snuggled on the couch end up with fights over who sits on either side of me and then my eventual surrender to sleep.
When I taught in the classroom, I loved the planning. I reveled in taking a clean fresh calendar, August through June, evenly spacing out the topics for each subject. Planning Me frowned at the necessary intrusions like Mondays off or Christmas program rehearsal; they interrupted my flow. It’s the same way in our homeschool. Another appointment? Grocery shopping? Sick kids? Blerg! You’re messing with my schedule! Real Life Me longs for the next day off or any excuse to veer off in an unexpected direction.
I know that everyone is unique in their preferences; what they enjoy, how they organize their time, the style of their homeschool. The awesome thing about homeschooling is that you can change it up whenever you want. You can adapt to your children’s preferences, your own ideas, the current season of life. In our family alone we have unschooled, followed an all-inclusive curriculum, pieced together all of our subjects, dabbled in Charlotte Mason, and more. But now, the sixth year into it, I find that regardless of our style or life situation, I follow the same basic reflection and preparation process that helps guide us through the next phase of our homeschooling.
Here’s what I do.
Dream and Brainstorm
This part is so fun! I’m such a visual person that I use markers and huge blank pieces of paper, or set up new documents made in Adobe Illustrator. It’s a process that takes more than one day because I like to let my mind wander and imagine all the possibilities. At this point I try not to look online for ideas because I get side-tracked and overwhelmed. I talk to the family together and each person individually to find out what they are interested in. There are no bad ideas at this point. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about each person and what might work best for them.
Research and Explore
After I’ve gathered all of these ideas, I like to do some initial research on items that stand out. For example, my seventh grade daughter wants to learn to speed read. I will look online for resources such as classes, how-to articles, books. During this phase, I don’t spend a lot of time on any one particular topic or on exact logistics. I am just trying to determine what will stay on the list as a possibility and also determine my child’s interest and dedication to whatever it is. We continue talking about the ideas and if the child is old enough, they can take part by doing their own research. We take notes on what we find on the original brainstorming pages.
Planning a Day
After all of the idea-collecting and brain stewing, I am always ready to set up a daily routine. Now, I have a very important point to make about this.
You may be the type of family that prefers less structure or doesn’t want to do the same thing every day. I hear you! That’s how I am. But just performing the exercise of mapping out a real-life day gives you a very realistic picture of what you might be able to accomplish.
It is SO helpful to remember that you only get 24 hours in a day. No matter how many things you want to do, taking a good hard look at the actual hours in the day and fitting in the top priorities keep you from becoming overwhelmed. I think of the daily schedule as a jumping off point for which we can be spontaneous and do whatever we want. Do we follow the specified times every day? Um, no.
The daily routine also come in very hand when you hear, “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!”. Then you say, “Go look at the schedule!” (And put your coffee down and stop checking out Facebook because you’re supposed to be having one-on-one time with them.)
We have gone through times in our life- when I’m pregnant, we have a new baby, we have a nursing baby, my hubby is traveling (basically most of the time *eye roll*)- when the daily routine doesn’t consist of much except what is necessary to stay alive. I like to think that these are times when your homeschool is teaching REAL LIFE.
Decide on Curriculum (if you use it) or Topics of Interest
For many people, picking out curriculum is a hugely stressful undertaking. Over the six years that we’ve homeschooled, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with it. I research different curriculums and methods throughout the year. If we really like something we just stick with it and if we don’t I research and find something new. We purchase what we need as we have the budget for it. If you have access to a computer and the internet, you can get a lot free curriculum as well. We’ve done that many times when the budget doesn’t allow for something new.
If you have given a curriculum or book or method a good try and it’s not working out, you don’t have to wait until a new year! Stop, reassess and try something new. That may seem obvious, but when I started out I had a mental block about switching things around mid-year and it’s been freeing to realize I can make a change if needed.
The beauty in homeschooling is your ability to tailor it.
Once you’ve decided, you can acquire your materials. I’ve found that even if I am waiting for something to arrive in the mail, I’m able to use Amazon or a publisher’s website to access the table of contents so I can move forward with the next step.
Space Out Your Pace
I’ve tried all kinds of different organizational tools on this one, but for me the easiest thing is having one piece of paper per subject. I put twelve boxes on it, one for each month. Then I reference a calendar and write down the chapters or topics to be covered each month. It gives me an idea of the pace we need to keep if we want to finish something by a certain time. ONCE AGAIN, do I always follow my plan? I don’t think I have even one time. Sometimes things go much faster than anticipated, but usually they are much slower. I just feel better about everything knowing that I have a reference to fall back on for pacing. I include all children on one subject page. For math, I don’t even try. I’ve found it better to allow them to move at their own pace or else I get too pushy about moving ahead when they aren’t ready.
I can’t stress enough how general this step needs to be. When I’ve put a lot of effort into a really detailed plan for the entire school year, I have inevitably gotten discouraged and felt like it’s been a huge waste of time once we go off the rails. If you are perfect or have the ability to foresee the future, this doesn’t apply to you. You can get down and dirty with all the details all at one time and not have to give it a thought again. You can spend all your free time on lunch dates with your friends or giving each of your children your undivided attention at least once a day. *wink*
Work on a Month-to-Month and Week-to-Week Basis
Once I’ve gotten past writing the daily routine and have a general timeline for most subjects, I’m feeling pretty good. It’s much more manageable for me to do more in-depth planning for each month, usually about a week before that new month starts. Then I break it down and do a detailed plan each week, on the Sunday night before our school week starts. Sometimes I don’t get around to the weekly plan; then I still have the monthly plan to fall back on. And if I didn’t get to the monthly plan, I have my general yearly plan! I do love having the weekly plan sheet, though, because even if I didn’t get the detailed plan down I keep a record of what we are doing as we do it. (I do this when I have written it out too. It’s how I keep a record of what we’ve done.)
So that’s it! I’ve been refining this system each year, and I’ve found it to be the best way for me to feel ready for the coming year but not so overwhelmed with planning that I give up before I even start.
If you want some free pages to help you plan YOUR homeschool, I’d be delighted for you to use them! Just print them off and fill them in. You can download them individually by clicking on the above links, or you can download all of them by clicking on the link below.