Wrapping your head around the details of a new homeschooling year doesn’t happen in a day or even a week. But it doesn’t have to completely consume the the last precious days before your school year starts.
Our homeschool planning series lays the foundation for a year of progress and exploration -- and significant peace of mind. No more struggling to figure out what you’re doing next or scrambling to remember what you did last month.
We recommend starting the planning process by reviewing your successes and frustrations from the previous year and setting SMART goals that will motivate you every week.
The next step in the process, now that you’re anchored in your overall direction and goals, is to take care of the details. Before you stress about the many layers of information that you need to cover, let’s break them down into manageable pieces.
This article will cover the first details you need to to tackle -- the dates and times that define our days.
Start with the Calendar
The reason that we’re taking on the calendar before curriculum needs is simple: momentum.
Planning an entire school year requires your energy to be focused in one smooth direction. If you can keep racking up easy victories in your planning process, it creates more energy and enthusiasm for the next phase.
You don’t need to try to feel inspired or work up motivation to start doing the advance planning that you know must be done because you’re looking forward to it!
Starting with curriculum research and lesson plans is necessary, but can create a huge distraction at this phase of planning. It’s easy to get sidelined by dreams of fun projects or lesson ideas, so I begin by blocking off important dates on my calendar.
Once I have the timing of the school year in place, it’s a lot easier for me to calculate the number of instruction days I need, know how to lay out the lesson plans and schedule all of the fun field trips that make homeschooling a real-world experience.
Here’s how I set up my calendar at the beginning of the homeschooling year.
1. Decide the defining dates of the school year.
I usually divide the school year into two semesters: before Christmas and after Christmas. Once I’ve determined the start and finish dates of those blocks of time, I start counting days of instruction to make sure I’ve met the required number.
There are usually a lot of excess days, but I always calculate them to make sure I’m leaving enough room for all of the ambitious plans I have for the entire year.
Homeschool Tracker helps allows you to select semesters or quarters for your year, which gives you a lot of flexibility depending on how you prefer to organize your instructional time. You don’t have to try to cram your records and lesson plans into a paper planner that doesn’t match your academic flow.
2. Mark in the big dates.
One of the things our family has loved about homeschooling is the incredible amount of flexibility we have with vacations. When you’re not constrained by a school district’s schedule, you can take a trip whenever you want, so we usually get away for a while in October when everyone else is in school, and then again in March, when Montana winters seem impossibly long.
I make sure to block out the weeks we’re planning to be gone as soon as I know them so I can alert coaches and our music teachers about missed classes, practices or games. Because I’m famous for saying yes and then forgetting about a potential conflict, I try to set aside time to log in big vacations and long weekend getaways on both an electronic calendar and a paper calendar so everyone in the family has this essential information.
Homeschool Tracker makes this process very easy, and it even calculates the number of instructional days for you! A few clicks, and you can get a total on school days immediately.
3. Add in your regular activities & classes.
Music lessons, enrichment classes, theatre performances and sports always give structure and energy to our days. Marking that time on the daily calendar not only helps me troubleshoot potential scheduling conflicts, but it also gives me a sense of when I have partial days or whole days for instruction.
When I can see the pattern of the whole week, it becomes much easier to see how I can start planning lessons to fit my children’s temperaments and available time.
Keep It Simple
Some years, I’ve slogged through this process with paper planners and online calendars, hoping that I could keep all of the details straight.
The paper planners allowed me to jot down quick notes and reminders as I went along, but there were always messy cross-outs as our plans inevitably changed. And often, the layout didn’t fit the structure I was using with my children.
The electronic calendars were easy to read, a breeze to share with my husband, and could be stored in the Cloud for retrieval anywhere. But their structure was either too complicated or too basic, and I had to resort to other programs or notebooks to track ideas or insights.
At the end of the school year, I still had to sift through paper and electronic files to build a record of what my children had done during the year.
Homeschool Tracker changes planning and record keeping from every angle. The flexible calendar adapts to a range of homeschooling preferences, and all of the information is recorded rapidly with intuitive prompts and forms.
Changes can be made as you go, and your schedule updates automatically. No more messy cross-outs or coffee stains! All you need is a computer and internet connection, and all of your information is immediately available.
And when the homeschooling year ends, you won’t have a pile of obsolete files or notebooks stacking up. All of your daily and weekly inputs can create beautiful end-of-year reports that are perfect for official documentation or just a summary of your accomplishments for the year.
Click here to check out Homeschool Tracker’s full capabilities that can make your planning, instruction, and record keeping a fast and easy process instead of a chore.
If you're looking for a solid tool to help with your organization, record-keeping and lesson planning, why not give Homeschool Tracker a try? We've helped over 150,000 homeschooling families since 2002.
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