It is that time if year again: freshly sharpened pencils, subject binders with colorful covers, planning sheets filled with possibility, sheet protectors galore, and that bright shiny new curriculum. Well, most of it is new, anyway. If you enter our home, you will see our dining room table covered with the afore mentioned binders and planners. You will also find me hard at work at my computer–planning. Next to Christmas, this is my favorite time of year. Yes, I’m one of those. I love planning and organizing. It gives me great joy and pleasure.
This is our third year of homeschooling, and I have to admit, my planning process has definitely changed since our first year. You know what I have discovered? Just as there are different philosophies of education, there are different philosophies of planning. I won’t go into detail about my former methodology, but I do want to share a little bit about what I do now. For those who have followed this blog, you know that we embrace the Classical model of education. To take it one step further, we strive for the scholé approach to Classical education. If I am to create an environment for restful, yet diligent learning, my planning should follow suit. I do not sit down with my curriculum and divide it out evenly over 35 weeks of schooling; nor do I indicate in my planning calendar that Latin for Children Chapter 10 page 35 will be completed on October 6th at 9 a.m. This type of planning led to frustration during our first year of homeschooling.
Early in 2016, I was introduced to Pam Barnhill and her ebook Plan Your Year. This was the philosophy of planning I needed for our homeschool. Let me say up front that I am not an affiliate with Pam’s edsnapshots site and blog. I just want to highly recommend her products to my readers. If you see something here that sparks your interest, then head on over to her website and explore. She even offers several of her planning forms for free.
Before any curriculum is purchased or opened, I write out a vision statement.
Only when this is complete can I move forward in planning; otherwise, we are a rudderless ship. When the going gets tough long about February, I need to remind myself of our purpose. The vision statement keeps us grounded in our “why” for doing what we do.
Next, I proceed with goals. Pam makes the point that one can spend a lot of time and energy setting the wrong kinds of goals for one’s children. Goals must be specific to their strengths and weaknesses. Goals need to be “specific and measurable” and should be based upon “behaviors and not outcomes.” So, instead of writing:
“Rosebud will memorize five passages from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by November 5th.”
I write the goal:
“Rosebud will study, recite, and practice passages from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night for 20 minutes each day.”
If Rosebud is completing these behaviors on a consistent basis, she will memorize the passage. Will it be by November 5th? Maybe…maybe not. The important thing is that she is encountering Shakespeare on a daily basis.
After the Vision and Goals are done, I move into reviewing our curriculum (this departs from Pam’s order of things a bit, so if you want to follow her process exactly, go buy the book)! Since we participate in Classical Conversations, much of the curriculum is already mapped out for us. I pick resources for individual/family Bible study, I choose a math and spelling curriculum for both girls, and I select a reading/phonics program for Sunshine. We also supplement CC memory work with other resources such as Apologia science, Story of the World, and Beautiful Feet living books for read aloud options. I use the Curriculum Resources sheet in the Plan Your Year bundle to help organize this for each child. Below are our curriculum choices for our Morning Time Symposium.
After this step is done, I begin the process of scheduling. I use the “At a Glance” calendar in the Plan Your Year bundle and map out our school days. We school six weeks on, one week off and we take breaks for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break. I aim for 34-36 weeks of instruction. We actually begin our school year in July, when it is blistering hot outside. This way, we finish up a little earlier in the spring, when the weather is pleasant and the girls can be outside a good bit. Here is the Fall Semester layout of the calendar. The light blue weeks are our Sabbath weeks. Other weeks are color coded by term.
Once the school year is mapped out, I take a look at our curriculum to see if I will need to organize it according to our six terms. Sometimes we will use one science curriculum for one term, and a different one for another term. Likewise, I have planned different Bible studies for the girls to complete as a part of their morning devotions. Our memory work changes a bit each term also. I like to see all of this put together in one sheet, and the Block Schedule Form fits the bill! This does not list all of the curriculum we are doing; only the resources that change for different semesters. For example, Sunshine is using the same math program all year, so there is no need to put it on this form. It does not change from term to term.
In our homeschool, history, as God’s unfolding story, is the backbone of our day. Several other “subjects” stem from this study. For instance, our music history and art history are coordinated with our Story of the World readings. Likewise, many of my read aloud books coincide with the time period we are encountering. Because of this, I chose to create a History Loop Schedule. What is a loop schedule, you ask? Well, instead of scheduling specific subjects for specific days, I simply put them on a loop. Once we finish the required activities of one subject, we move into the next. I set aside about an hour per day for our History Loop. If we do not completely finish a particular activity, then we begin our next day by concluding that activity and then moving on to the next item in the loop. Pam Barnhill created a wonderful form for this, too! You simply list the activities you want to loop, and how frequently you want them to appear in the loop. For instance, our CC Geography only takes about 10 minutes, so we try and hit it four times during our loop so that it is thoroughly practiced. The beauty of loop scheduling is that we don’t miss out on music and art just because something unexpected interrupts our day. If we miss history time on Wednesday, we just pick up right where we left off the following day. When all goes well, with no interruptions, we should be able to get through the loop in one week’s time frame.
Once I have finished all of my loop and term block scheduling, I begin thinking about a general order to our day. I start with a “Weekly Plan” for our entire family.
After this, I get more detailed. I schedule our school days in sections. This Daily Plan changes for Terms 2-5, as we have Classical Conversations Community Day for those terms. I’ve included our Daily Plan for terms one and two below.
We do not school on Friday afternoons. My husband is usually off of work, so we go on field trips, and have our traditional Friday Family Fun Night activities.
Once this step is done, I finalize our booklists, purchase any remaining curriculum, organize our homeschool materials, and finally get down to the nitty gritty of lesson planning.
We use a workbox system in our home. The drawers are organized according to the order of things to be done during the day. Within each drawer are the materials needed for each subject. Our middle set of drawers contains our art supplies and Classical Conversations materials. To the left of the drawers is our Morning Time Symposium Basket: with our read aloud books, morning time binder with memory work, and various games/activities. In addition to our workboxes, the girls have a bookcase with a variety of books to read and I have my own bookcase with teacher editions and education books for my own perusal. We also have a stack of cubbies for our math manipulatives, craft supplies, and games.
The girls complete their independent work at their desks, and sometimes I will use the whiteboard to teach a lesson. However, the fact of the matter is that a great deal of our schooling happens at our dining room table and on the living room couch.
I’m keepin’ it real folks….this is what our dining room table looks like after a day of homeschooling! It is a team effort to clear it off.
We do not start all of our subjects all at once the first week. We ease into it. We have begun our school year this week with a “soft” start. My youngest has art camp at a local art museum every morning this week. So, Rosebud and I are having school in the mornings–just the two of us. Then, in the afternoons, I am schooling Sunshine. It is a wonderful way to ease into the school year. This way, they get a thorough introduction to several of their subjects with me. We also have time to talk about their goals for the year. Then, next week we will add our Morning Symposium to the mix. In a few weeks, we will be going full schedule with our CC memory work and Essentials assignments in place.
Having a plan in place is so very important. It has saved our homeschool on many occasions. Last year, in the middle of two moves and a diagnosis of Lyme disease, we were still able to have a productive school year. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that ultimately it was by the grace of God. “Many are the plans of man, but the Lord determines his steps.” We lived out this truth last year, and I know that there will be times this year when His purposes will overrule my plans.
How do you plan your homeschool?
UPDATE: I actually typed up this blog post a few weeks back, and neglected to post it. Hopefully it will still be helpful to those who are still planning and organizing. We are into our second term and so far, the plan is holding up very well!