Planning Your Homeschool Year
We follow a non-traditional school year. When I originally withdrew my boys from public school, it was just after the winter break. They were mid-semester, so we finished out that 6-week grading period, and then started homeschooling. Ever since then, we’ve started our ‘year’ in January.
Way back when I was a newbie homeschooler, I was anxious to get started. I knew what I wanted, and I was ready to go after it. We jumped in, both feet first and never looked back. The older, wiser, more experienced homeschooling mom in me now looks back on that eager, idealistic mom and thinks, ‘Aww… you sweet, summer child.’ As with so many, many things, I wish I’d known then even half of what I know now. All in all, I don’t think we had that bad of a start. There are things I’d do differently; de-schooling for a while, for one thing, but we didn’t hit the books hard and heavy right off the bat; we got started soon, but we did take it easy, so I don’t have too many regrets. But the pressure I put on myself was enormous. At the time, I had yet to be diagnosed or started treatment for anxiety disorder, and looking back I know that my internal stress-o-rama was partially due to that. Even so, I had no direction, no real clue as to what I really needed to do, so I did all the things. I’d never planned for homeschooling before, so I was making it up as I went along, and like many newbies, got way to ambitious and idealistic. Luckily, I had some really kind and caring guides along the way who helped me reign in my tendencies. Even though some of them no longer blog, Jana, Julie, SmrtMama, Farrar, and many other helped me find my way.
Now, I know better, but still browse homeschooling blogs to make sure I’m not missing out on anything I haven’t seen before. I do still plan the year, and I do still usually start in January. We take the month of December off – at least we try to. There’s almost always something that interferes with the plan (this year, it was illness) that forces us to play catch-up, but that’s okay – that’s partly why I plan that break. The time off gives me a couple of weeks to catch up anything we were lagging behind on, consider what’s working, what needs to change and come up with a new plan or figure out new material to replace it. I know that we’ll complete this ‘grade’ in the spring/summer and start the next ‘grade’ in the fall, so I plan to do another planning session in the fall, to refine and add new materials I come across during the course of the next six months. There are always new materials coming out, which makes planning difficult sometimes. Throughout the year, I keep notes and use Pinterest to keep track of things I want to look into later in the year. If you use it that way, don’t forget to go back through it and pull resources from your boards when you’re planning!
I usually have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do for the year before I start, but I’ve also learned to value flexibility. If something isn’t working, I don’t waste time trying to force it. There are always other materials out there.
This year, we’re starting the One Year Adventure Novel for grammar. We’re doing other things as well, but that’s a new addition. Most of our plans from the fall remain the same, which is nice. Back when we started, I had grand ideas that didn’t work in our life, so things got switched up a lot. I don’t regret it, exactly; it was a huge learning curve and part of the journey that I think helped make this part run more smoothly. It also let me accept that flexibility is okay, and normal, and probably for the best, considering the many options and changes that happen during the year.
When I start planning, I look at several things. Take history, for example. This year, we need to work through the last half of Story of the World IV. We’re on schedule; my plan was to finish that in May-ish, and we’ll make that target. After that, we’ll be either between books, or can start with SOTW I again immediately. At this point, I think I want to take a couple of months and focus on geography, but I know that will play more of a role in our overall journey through the SOTW books this go-round, so we’ll have to see what happens when the time comes. In addition to the regular curriculum, we keep track of a timeline, we have our homeschool group’s social studies club each month, and will hopefully be adding actual travel to the kids’ experiences this coming year. Even though I can’t put those things on the books in exact dates, I know that’s what I want to accomplish this coming year.
I treat the other subjects similarly; I know if we’ve started, where we’re at and what needs to be done. If it’s new, and we’re starting in January, then we have the year to divide the lessons up. The One Year Adventure Novel curriculum is designed to be completed in 9 months, so by the time we break for the year at the end of November, we should be done. That’s about right, counting the various breaks we take through the year.
That brings me to another point – planning the actual school dates. I usually plan for 6 weeks of school, then a one-week break. That’s what we did originally, when we started, but it didn’t work. The kids were too young, I think, and I was too new and stressed. We amended it to 4 weeks of school and one week off, and that worked a lot better. As we’ve progressed, we’ve gone longer and had fewer breaks (or took 2 instead of one week)… depending on what we needed at the time. Regardless of how the actual breakdown of the year happens, I still always plan for a block of school, followed by a mini-break. This year, we’re on a 6-week on, one week off schedule. I also planned for a 2-week break in July, and for school to ‘end’ December 2, 2016. That’s roughly 190 days of school, not accounting for birthdays (which are holidays) or sick days (which we rarely have). That’s comparable to our local ISD’s school calendar, just spread a little differently.
The last part of my planning regimen is my planner, itself. You might say that’s the first part, even. I usually start working on designing my new planning ion November and try to have it completed and printed by mid-December at the latest. Because I also plan events for our homeschool group, I need to be able to see what’s going on months ahead of time. I also get the luxury of planning my kids’ lessons around whatever we have scheduled for the group, if I want to. For comparison sake, I took a couple of pictures of 2015’s planner (end of year) and 2016’s planner (brand new and *so* crisp!!):
I’ve made changes to my planner every year; last year, I discovered Passion Planner and so I added a page to every week. My weekly layout is 4 pages and I love it! I also added a pocket folder and tabs for the months so I can quickly and easily find my current week. I use both the monthly layout and the weekly/daily formats; this really is the center of my world. Whereas I used to keep my personal planner and my lesson planner separate, I’ve since learned the value in integrating them – everything is in one place and it’s lovely. I have blank, printable versions of my current planner, and every previous version of it, available for free, here. There are also a few other printable pages, including a student planner I designed, but the kids don’t use right now. Every year, I find little tweaks and things that work better, and that’s pretty neat to see. I keep all of my old planners, and it’s fun to look back through them.
If you’re at a loss, even a calendar from the dollar store can be effective; I found a video that a woman with small kiddos did on how she plans – not for homeschooling, but the idea was the same. With only a few supplies, she created a color-coded layout that worked for her family. Whatever you use, even a plain spiral notebook, can work! I know a few homeschooling families who don’t pre-plan; instead they write down what they accomplished at the end of the day or week.
Since this is the beginning of the year, I thought I’d share a progress picture – this was our first day of homeschooling way back in 2010, and a shot from this week:
How do you plan?