A Cautionary Tale (of sorts):
Last year I spent a ridiculous amount of time planning our homeschool curriculum (think the whole month of July!). It was the first time I had ever put together my own plan from scratch. Before that, I had used Sonlight, a wonderful curriculum that comes with all your books, schedules, everything. I loved our Sonlight years – they were full of delightful books, but I wanted to take our school in a slightly different direction than what the next level would have been.
I seized the opportunity to choose resources wisely, shore up some of the weaknesses in my students, and plan a year of delight.
I loved dreaming and planning and researching – it just took me a long time. I realize now that I was really quite scattered in my approach. I had notes scribbled everywhere! I’d follow rabbit trails that took days to recover from. Researching a grammar curriculum, I’d end up looking at spelling resources, and then Latin, and then I’d find this amazing YouTube video that I just had to watch (why?!).
I also tried to re-invent the wheel and create my own resources instead of using things that were 90% right for us and tweaking them a little. The most embarrassing example was my attempts to create my own planner in MS Word. (Don’t laugh at me). In the end, it was never completed and never used, though I put hundreds of hours into it.
This year, though, I’m determined to streamline my planning process by following these two simple steps: Review, and Plan the Plan.
Whether you’re planning a curriculum, a vacation or a party these two principles will save you from the aimless, time-wasting, lack of productivity I experienced.
You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been. (Maya Angelou)
Everyone wants to skip the review. I know I have an arrogant belief that I know “where I’ve been” and that I’ll have it in mind when I make plans. Truth: my mind is a swirling vortex of information, and I am not at all able to remember everything without help.
In January I made a personal list of what worked in the past year, and what didn’t. It took me about 30 minutes. I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, but I am big on setting realistic, measurable goals. This list of good/bad from the previous was invaluable.
What worked: Eating more Protein. What didn’t: Drinking anything caffeinated after 5. Goals: Keep up the good work, and find a decent decaf tea (Typhoo #forthewin!).
This simple list was so helpful that I knew I had to do it before I started homeschool planning too.
I wanted to look at not only the academic progress of my kids but also the household atmosphere, the rhythm of our days, our habits as a family. What was going well? What needs an intervention?
The other benefit was that I was forced to take the long view, looking at our year as a whole, and not just the frustrations of last week.
If I was planning a family vacation I’d think back to how travel, sleeping, eating all worked together last time. Was there a good balance between relaxing and activities? How were our family relationships? Were there unexpected costs? Did we pack too much? Not enough? Was there “equipment” that would have made things more enjoyable? (backpacks, strollers, industrial earplugs). A review goes so far beyond, did we enjoy our camping trip?
Here’s my review of our homeschool year:
Things that are going well:
Starting our days with prayer and delight has been transformational. We’ve been building up our morning time for two years now, always ending with reading aloud wonderful, living literature. I’ll be blogging about our morning time routine soon, so watch for that.
Dad Makes Breakfast
First of all, I am not a morning person. Second, I’m not a morning person. Enough said.
Instead of assigning specific days of the week for specific subjects, we move through a rotation. It helps us roll with the (inevitable) interruptions. Some weeks we might only get in 3 school days, and sometimes we squeeze in 5, this ensures that the “not everyday” subjects all get touched on equally. If that doesn’t make sense, check out this blog post: https://edsnapshots.com/loop-scheduling/
Resources That are Working For Us:
– IEW (for writing, grammar and poetry memorization) – I have floundered in a lot of different writing/la approaches. IEW actually works. The difference in what my 10 yo can write compared to last year is astounding!
– Story of the World (as a history spine)
– Bob Books (for my ADHD budding reader)
Meal-Planning, Instant-Pot, and Bi-weekly grocery shopping
I was a little hit or miss with meal-planning, but I’ve gotten more consistent recently and it’s been awesome. The Instant Pot has saved me so much time and stress, I use it at least once a day for everything from oatmeal to pot roasts. We’ve also been blessed with a second fridge, which means I can plan a mammoth Costco shop for every other week, and send my husband to pick up a few small items (and more milk) on the off week from our local supermarket. A Costco trip takes me at least 4 hours start to finish, so this has been a big timesaver.
When I complain about being overwhelmed my husband always suggests that I drop this, but baking bread is so much more than a job I have to do. It’s a craft that nourishes my soul and my family. Plus our tummies are happier eating homemade sourdough over store-bought.
I finally found a system that works for us! It doesn’t mean our house is clean all the time, far from it, but at least the mess gets dealt with regularly and we have clean clothes to wear.
Things that are not going well
(just identify the problem areas, we don’t need to solve them just yet.)
Strict Scheduling of Subjects
Setting specific times for certain subjects has been tricky. Either they finish a subject early and start playing, with lots of complaining, reminding and other unpleasantness to get them back to work for the next subject, or they take longer than allowed (whether they are struggling or dawdling) and it feels like they are doing school ALL DAY.
This past year was better than the one before. We definitely got in more school days, but there was still a regular temptation to cut the school day short if everyone was playing well together, or I had an errand to run.
I’m not going to lie. This year the kids watched the Magic School Bus DVD’s and we went for a few nature walks. That was the extent of our curriculum. I knew it was going to be a light year since we moved in the fall (and I did ALL the packing!), but I wish I’d have stepped it up a bit.
Resources that Aren’t Working
– All About Spelling – phenomenal curriculum, but it’s teacher intensive and I am always putting it off.
– Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons – it worked with my older two, but my third son was struggling and complaining. We’ve switched Bob Books and so far so good (though I might revisit this once we begin more complex phonograms).
– Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting – I think I was just a little too hands off here, handing the worksheets to my kids and not really explaining or correcting. When I looked over their work recently it was not pretty. I think we might continue with this, but with a little more help and more regular evaluation.
I was tempted to skip this step when planning for our new year, but the exercise was more than helpful! I was forced to think through things I may not have noticed otherwise. I also loved knowing that we have made significant progress. There are successes to celebrate not just problems to be solved.
If you’re a homeschooler I would encourage you to review your year in a similar way. What have you done well? What’s working for you? Where are your students excelling and where do they need a little help? It will help focus your planning, save you time, and all in all be totally worth it! Even if this is your first year homeschooler, you’re bound to have valuable insights on how your household runs best, routines to tweak, and observations about your student’s interests and learning styles.
Now, onto step two!
2. Plan the Plan
Imagine starting to plan a camping trip by going to the grocery store. You wander the aisles picking up this and that, whatever looks good or sounds good – not really sure if it’ll be enough or too much. You don’t know where you’re camping, or what you’ll be doing when you’re there. You don’t know if you’ll have a site with an electrical outlet or water access, or if you’re backpacking into the wilderness. There are a lot of unknowns!
That’s precisely what it is so tempting to do with planning. To start by shopping! But how can you shop effectively without knowing what you really need?
Or a second scenario:
Imagine you start planning a Bridal Shower by making lists. You might start with a guest list or a music playlist. You realize you’ll need a shopping list, so start one of those. Of course, you still need to decide the where and when this party will happen, too. So scribble some ideas down on another sheet of paper. You’ll need decoration ideas, so you better hop on Pinterest to take a look. Pin all sorts of beautiful bridal shower decor, and while you’re at it start pinning some game ideas too! Oh yeah, you’ll want to make that yummy punch you had at another shower last year, send your girlfriend an email and ask for the recipe. Keep adding to all your lists and Pinterest boards as ideas come to you.
This is how I approached homeschool planning last year. I had a million lists spread out all over the table. I kept rifling through papers and books looking for ideas, and afraid I was forgetting things. It was madness!
I knew I needed a plan, but I didn’t realize I needed to plan how I would plan.
Enter: Plan Your Year
Pam Barnhill’s Plan Your Year Kit was precisely what I needed. A step-by-step approach to thinking through and planning my homeschool year. It comes with an 80ish page E-book guiding you through ten well-thought-out, in the right order steps to creating your plan. In addition, Plan Your Year comes with access to dozens of editable and/or printable PDF forms to help with the planning, and creating a planner to use during the homeschool year. (There’s also a super-supportive Facebook Group to boot!) All this for less than $30!
Can I say Plan Your Year has been a game-changer?! I’ve cut my planning time by 75% this year! (And in case your wondering, I’m not an affiliate, I just love this resource!)
What it has taught me is that no matter what you’re planning, it’s a worthwhile step to think through the planning steps. What decisions need to be made first, and what can wait? What do you really want to achieve? A party, a vacation, a homeschool year, a weekend? They all have a vision and goal. Take a second to articulate what that it – then make the big decisions – the who, what, where, when type decisions. Then plan the little details. It’s so logical, but how often do we try to truncate the process and end up frustrated?
Take 5 0r 20 minutes and quickly review what you’ve learned in the past, and make an action plan for how you’ll get your plans in order (or find someone who’s laid out the process for you!). It’s simple and effective!
Hi, I'm Sara. Pastor's wife, mom to 5 rowdy homeschooled kids, and passionate about the Gospel. Welcome!