Homeschool Planning: An Overview
Over the course of our short homeschooling journey thus far, I've found that it's important for me to have our days and weeks planned but flexible. Some people function beautifully with no plan at all, and their kids learn so much that way. I tried that, and found that it leads me to worry that we're not doing enough and leads the kids into a state of chaos and bickering due to lack of structure. I feel best when I have written down what we will do and have what we'll need all in one place, but it needs to be planned in a way that allows for last-minute changes and delays. Even though we do follow a curriculum, it's super important to me that curiosity and interest are still a primary guiding force in our family's learning, and that freedom and play are a big part our days as well. This is the system I've come up with thus far- with ideas borrowed from a few different homeschool moms I follow.
We're using Adventures in U.S. History from My Father's World this year as our main curriculum for 2nd grade. It is Classical Education and Charlotte Mason inspired, and uses living books to teach each subject, and it allows for a lot of personalization as far as how to teach and what to use. It's divided into 34 weeks, and the each week has a primary history/geography topic- basically a unit study. So I bought a box of manila folders and labeled each with the unit number and topic (thanks to my friend Elsie for this idea, as well as the inspiration to use MFW to begin with!). I put the student sheets for that week inside each folder. Then six weeks at a time I take a little chunk of time to sit down and look over what curriculum books will be used for each week, what extra materials will be needed for the activities I want to do, and what books I need to acquire for the book basket (which is one of my favorite things about this curriculum!) I write all of this on the outside of that week's folder.
I use a Moleskine planner as a record book and lesson planner, and I also purchased some tabbed post-it notes to use with it. There's a tab for each unit, and I put them each (again 6 weeks at a time) on the week I expect to do that unit but I love that they're moveable because you know, life happens. On the sticky note itself I make notes of books and materials we'll use etc. (basically the same things that are on the manila folder).
Each week, I take time on Sunday to sit down and plan the week. Using pencil, I write in any outings or activities first, then our academics for each day, based mostly on the daily plans from the MFW teacher's manual. I set up our book basket with the books we'll be using for the current unit, and I look ahead to the next couple weeks and make sure to place library holds online so I can pick up what we'll need in time. I get book basket ideas from the back of the MFW teacher's manual, and from other moms who have blogged their experiences using this curriculum. I stick almost entirely with what's available within our library system, to keep our costs down as much as possible. I'm so thankful for the library!
During the week, as we move through our schoolwork each day I go over my pencil planning with a pen as we complete each task. This way, what remains is only what we actually did. I adjust plans if needed according to our progress and the natural flow of things. We didn't get to that book/lesson/page/project/whatever today? No problem, just erase and move it to tomorrow's plan. Did more than expected in a subject because Seth was just super into it that day? No problem. Using the sticky notes and labeling them as units rather than weeks allows room for life—a week can be skipped, or one unit spread over two weeks—without messing up all the future plans. This isn't just to keep things looking orderly; it also prevents me from stressing about the concept of "getting behind", which is a slippery slope to feeling like a failure as a teacher and mom (yes, dramatic, I know). There's no such thing as "behind"- there's just "where we are". It's liberating. The only things that are permanent in the book are the ones we've actually completed, so it serves as both planner and record book for our school year. I really like to have a way to look back and see what we've learned and accomplished.
So that's pretty much my planning system for homeschool. Those Sunday planning sessions are essential and also involve my personal planner, and I take time to "sync" it with our family google calendar (where Manny and I both put all of our appointments etc.). I also use this time to decide on at least 4-5 dinners to make that week, and make a grocery list for the weekly shopping. I keep track of everything on my phone so it's always with me, but I really like to write things out on paper—it's just good for the way my brain works. Every morning, coffee in hand, I sit down with my planners (personal and school) and prepare mentally for the day.
And because I'm asked so much, here is what we're using this year....
Seth (age 7)- 2nd grade:
History/Geography/Literature: My Father's World - Adventures in U.S. History, with Beautiful Feet's Early American History Primary books inserted as book basket picks for their corresponding subject matter, and plenty of other living books for each weekly unit
Bible: MFW Adventures ^^
Reading: basically happens organically as he reads aloud to me often as we go through our work. We are alway reviewing and strengthening those skills as I notice things he needs more work on (for instance, long vowels, silent letters, and certain blends). He is basically a fluent reader now though, which has been a giant turning point in the rest of our schooling. He can now read the instructions in his math and spelling books, for example, which means I don't have to be right there the entire time. He even reads to his brother and then they're both occupied. It's life-changing, folks.
Spanish: Teach Them Spanish!, taught primarily by their grandma who is a native speaker
Science: MFW Adventures^^- uses Usbourne science books covering various topics throughout the year; Exploring Nature With Children (which also includes poetry and art study- I love this!), and the Wild Explorer's Club
Isaac (age 4)- Preschool:
Isaac's days are still mostly play (which is truly the best way for him to learn a his age), but he has a couple or preschool-level workbooks we've been given, and he pulls them out (always his own idea) and traces letters, colors etc. sometimes while Seth is doing schoolwork. I want him to enjoy everything school-related that he encounters, so I never push it on him or even really ask him to do anything academic. I just started reading The Homegrown Preschooler, and I love it so far. I can tell it's going to give me a ton of ideas for intentional (super fun) things to do with him this year. I actually may end up getting the corresponding curriculum, A Year of Playing Skillfully, which I've heard nothing but wonderful things about. I also read aloud to him nearly every day, and it's one of the most important things (arguably the most important) anyone can do to teach a preschooler. We love Where the Wild Things Are, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, anything from Robert McCloskey, and the list goes on and on. I pick up new books from the library just about every week. I always go armed with my list of titles and call numbers, many of which I jot down from Honey for a Child's Heart and Give Your Child the World.
Well that's pretty much my planning post you guys! I'm already working on my next one, about the structure and rhythm of our homeschool days, so let me know what you'd like to know about that!