Planning The Homeschool Year: It Starts with You

planning-your-homeschool-year-pinSummer is in full swing! You’ve gotten your first sunburn, watched some fantastic firework displays, enjoyed a beach read, and now…

… it’s time to start thinking about planning your homeschool lessons for the fall.

As loads of ads for new curriculum start rolling in, it’s easy to get dazzled and want to do it all. Or maybe you’re the type that feels overwhelmed by all of the wonderful possibilities.

Whatever your reaction, it’s important to make sure you have a good sense of what you want to accomplish next year. It’s easy to think that a perfectly organized curriculum can save you or that child-led learning doesn’t need much prep time, but trust us on this. It doesn’t matter if you’re into classical education or unschooling -- having some perspective and focus before you begin your year can make all of the difference for your success and your sanity.

Step 1: Schedule a Planning Session -- Alone!

coffeebreakIf you’re going to get the most out of your planning, please block out a few hours where you can escape the wonderful circus of distractions that tends to define homeschooling life.

Get a babysitter, swap childcare with a friend, call in a favor from family members, but please pull yourself out of the daily routine for at least a half day. Give yourself the luxury of having only one thing to focus on so you can really see what you have, what you need, and what is possible for the coming year.

This is your permission slip to hang out by yourself at the library or coffee shop with only yourself to think about. If you’re having trouble pulling away, tell yourself it’s for the kids! And then commit to keeping the planning session just like you would keep a dentist appointment.

Step 2: Interview Your Children

Before your planning session, take some time to survey your children about the previous year.

You don’t need to formally interview your kids or have a huge family discussion -- but if that works for you, go for it! We’ve gotten some of the best ideas from our children by asking these simple questions:

  • What do you remember about last year?
  • What did you like about last year?
  • What didn’t you like about last year?

Even if your curriculum is set in stone and you’ve taught it two or three times to older children, it’s still important to hear your children’s perspectives. Quite often, what you remember about the year is different from their recollection, and you’ll probably be surprised to hear about their favorite projects.

If you’re unschooling, this is also a great time to ask your children what they would like to study in the future. Even if they find their own sources, having a sense of their interests can help you choose field trips, find local experts to interview, or source lab materials.

Step 3: Collect Your Materials

If you’re going to have a productive planning session, make sure you have a few key items with you, but do not feel obligated to bring every workbook and teacher’s manual. Your most valuable resource is going to be yourself.

Here’s what to bring:

  • Notes from interviewing your children
  • A computer or tablet for taking notes and doing online research
  • A notebook for jotting down ideas, drawing set designs for plays, writing a to-do list
  • Teacher’s manuals or syllabi (not every book!) to get a sense of what’s coming
  • Pencils, pens, markers
  • Headphones if you are in a louder environment and need to focus
  • Keep it simple so you don’t have to lug a huge bag or manage lots of heavy items.

Step 4: Interview Yourself

journalingThe day has arrived! Even if you feel like there are 47 other things that need your attention that day, head out the door. Make it happen.

Once you arrive at your spot, choose a comfy chair, grab your favorite drink. Get ready to take a long look at your past homeschooling adventures and the ones you want to choose for the future.

Here are some essential questions you’ll want to address:

How did I feel about homeschooling last year?

Were you really in a sweet spot with lessons and motivation, or were you dragging yourself through the year? There’s no wrong answer here, so be honest about how you felt about learning at home.

Veteran homeschooling parents freely admit that every year is different. Children change, learning opportunities shift, and life events can throw you for a loop. Step back and see the big picture.

What worked really well?

It’s easy to forget specific details when the kids were engaged and you were inspired, but try to remember when things were really working well. Noticing what important factors are in place when you have a great homeschooling day -- or year -- is the key to increasing the number of good days and years.

Don’t forget to include the times and places when you felt really good while you were teaching. Your enthusiasm makes a huge impact, so take note of your personal joys and frustrations.

What didn’t work?

Sometimes we need to admit that the topic or lesson we thought was so essential was a total bomb. That’s okay. Accept it, and then think a bit about why it failed.

Was it the time of day? Was the material too easy? Too hard? Were you frustrated with the subject area? Is it possible that your child has a learning difference that is making things difficult?

Without shame or blame, take an honest look at the low points from several perspectives.

Step 5: Sketch Out the Year

One you have a better sense of the best and worst of the year, start charting a general schedule for your lessons. This is not the time for highly detailed planning -- please save that for another session so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Today, take a few minutes to decide if you would prefer to do math in the morning or the afternoon. Or schedule that Shakespeare unit around the time that a performance is happening in your town. Take a look at sports seasons, outdoor activities, special workshops, and any other season-specific events that could impact your schedule.

Bonus: Take a lesson from top project engineers and entrepreneurs! Build in a mini-review every week and every month (or after every unit) to look back and see what was working well or creating tension in your family. This ongoing feedback loop will help you recognize patterns of success and failure very quickly.

Step 6: Choose Your Record-Keeping Tools

Once you have your homeschooling plan in place, make sure you have a way to record your plan and accomplishments!

Whether your method is as simple as a spiral notebook or as formal as daily logs and spreadsheets, make sure you have it ready before the school year starts. Trying to switch systems during the year or play catch-up after you’ve started your year is a pain, so take the time to choose it now.

Of course, we recommend Homeschool Tracker, our flexible online record keeping, planning, and reporting tool. It coordinates scheduling and curriculum with a few clicks, and even has a library of user-generated lesson plans that will save you hours of research. When you want to review your progress each week, month or year, Homeschool Tracker can generate reports instantly!

Make It Your Year

The beauty of homeschooling is being able to study the subjects you love whenever you want to dive into them. Thinking ahead about how you want those subjects to fit together for the next three to nine months will give you momentum for the start of the school year, and give you that smug satisfaction of someone who’s on her game.

Don’t quit reading this article and walk away. Book your planning session soon! How’s next Thursday looking for you?

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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Cherilyn DeVries

Cherilyn DeVries is a veteran homeschool mom who writes snazzy web and content marketing copy for e-commerce companies while living the dream in Montana. You’ll find her at www.gotyourbackediting.com.