Thursday, August 8, 2013

How We're Planning Our Homeschool Year

This week I've shared our math, literacy, and geography shelves in hopes of illustrating some of the ways we make our homeschool work. But our shelves are only part of the work we do together, so today I share some of the other things we do to make the most of our schooling. Namely, today I share the organization and planning that goes into making homeschooling work for us.

It begins like this...

...but it works out well enough at the end. Smile.

When I begin to plan our school year, I think about where each child is developmentally and in terms of their skill level in each academic discipline. Although I don't always teach each discipline separately (and in fact, I prefer to combine them when I can), thinking about each area uniquely helps me to construct an overall picture of what items to focus on for optimum development for each child. I don't worry so much about grade level, or what the kids would be doing if they were in public school since we live in a state which doesn't require standardized testing as proof of progress. Rather, each year I must present the state with a portfolio that documents "progress", which thankfully is a rather subjective concept. In this way, I am able to determine what areas are most important for each child to focus on at which time, and sometimes my children focus on things which are not traditionally defined as "academic". My son is currently preparing to race a pig in the county fair as part of a 4-H project, and that is consuming a great deal of his time. He is learning a tremendous amount about pig care, responsibility, performing in front of others, record keeping and math... the list goes on. With that in mind, I am currently choosing to allow him plenty of time in his day to pursue and explore that interest, even if it means he doesn't study French when I have it on the schedule.

But I do have a schedule. One that I use on a daily basis, even if it's only to glance at and choose to ignore. Each day I make the choice to "follow the plan" or to ditch it in favor of something else we deem more important. Sometimes that's a field trip, or seeing family, or weeding the garden before we loose a crop, and every once in a while it's to stay in our jammies and play all day. All of these things are important to the healthy function of family.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I begin my yearly planning by brainstorming things that each child does well, and things that we can work to improve. I compile a list of skills and knowledge I hope they develop throughout the year, based both on their interest and need, and then I divvy those items up as best I can among the 9 official months we homeschool. (We school during the summer too, but informally and with a lot of field trips and outings.) Doing this gives me a general sense of what we'll be exploring in each month of the year.

I also take into consideration any unmet goals from the previous term. In the beginning of the school year, I'll take into consideration our summer goals, which I keep written on the chalkboard door in the kitchen. We shorten the list as our goals are met.

It looks something like this:

Child One, Math:
Strengths: Telling time, understanding place value, addition.
Areas to work on: Fractions, subtraction and multiplication.

Which leads me to plan:
September: Math problems focused on telling time and subtracting to determine lengths of time.
October: Expanding understanding of place value and multiplying numbers.

I did this rather mentally this year, and didn't create a single document with the information on it. (I used the file folder system described below instead.) You can click here to view my annual plan from last year, left empty if you'd like to use it for your family, however. Or here is the filled-in annual curriculum plan from last year if you'd care to see the type of things I'm thinking of while planning the year.

Once I know what our general goals are, I pick materials to help us meet them. Some I order (Handwriting Without Tears, Singapore Math, printables from Montessori Print Shop, for example), and some I have on hand. Whenever possible, I put these resources directly into monthly file folders so when I go to plan school for the month, I have not only a general sense of what our goals are, but also what materials we've got to meet our needs. This saves tremendous time. Once per month I then split the month's materials into daily folders that can be pulled out and used at a moment's notice, or slipped into another day if we don't get to them. I no longer write out long plans for weeks or months which have to be updated- I just put what I'm going to use into these folders and record what we've accomplished each day (see below- I use Mama Jenn's Weekly Plan to do so) to be placed in the kids' portfolios, along with samples of their work.

Often I use a variety of sources to meet the needs of each child, but sometimes I follow along with a curriculum. My son last year enjoyed working through his Singapore Math workbook, deriving a great sense of accomplishment from seeing all the pages he completed. I let that guide him through his math work, even though I might not have envisioned introducing math to him in exactly that sequence. That's the beauty of homeschooling- we can adapt our expectations to meet our needs.

I create a weekly schedule each year so that I know we'll have enough time to accomplish all the tasks that I identify in the above described process. I tend to get excited at the beginning of the year and over commit (anyone else with me on this??), and actually putting all my ideas on paper makes me trim the extras and remember to add in quiet, unstructured time.

Here is the downloadable weekly schedule for this year, which I post on my refrigerator under our weekly meal plan. You'll note that I list seven days per week, and I include my own work time in the schedule, as well. This is an effort to balance the demands on my time. I've cut way back on our Five In A Row studies for this year, and a number of other things as well, because I know that I will be busy with a part time job and a new baby. There will be other years to do more, but this one will be about learning to live as a family of six and learning to share Mommy with her work. (Click here for the weekly schedule I used last year.)

Last year I used a more ambitious daily plan in addition to the weekly plan, which you can view and download here, but I've shied away from that this year. I typically like to have a daily routine, but I have had enough babies at this point to know that for this year, it's unlikely that there's going to be much a rhythm to start because we're more likely to catch a chance to school around naps and nursing. That's OK- I'd rather wait to see how our natural routine as a family of six emerges and make our school schedule around that, then try to force our lives around a school schedule. This post describes well how we "aim" to make our days unfold, if you'd like to see my ideal.

I also have gotten a lot of great printables from Mama Jenn this year, and you can get them from her, too. She offers printable weekly plans, monthly plans, and supply lists. I use her weekly plan to write down what we actually do, as opposed to what our plan is, because these papers make excellent portfolio additions. I track our homeschool progress without even trying, plus I create a record that I can reference as necessary. When I'm really organized in advance I like to use her supply lists (to plan out which books I need to pick up from the library for the upcoming week, for example), but I sincerely doubt I'll be doing much of that this year. We'll see. I keep clean copies of her printables on a clipboard at my desk area for quick reference, plus a binder with the filled out pages.

That's it! Brainstorming our goals and celebrating our strengths, creating a yearly overview then dividing it into months, selecting and compiling materials to help us achieve our goals, having a weekly schedule to follow (if we can), then splitting the materials into daily tasks, recording as we go for our portfolio evidence. Simple enough, right?! Smile. This is why people call homeschooling a full time job, folks. Even when it's easy, it isn't easy.

What strategies do you use to meet the needs of your students? What planning tools do you love? I'd love it if you'd share!
I'm linked up to the 5th Annual "Not" Back to School Blog Hop!

Check out my other posts for this blog hop:
Our homeschool room
Our first day of school pictures


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