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One thing I am asked about over and over is how I map out, plan and organize our lessons for a homeschool year.  Today’s post is an edited version of a response I sent to a reader who wrote in to ask about this very thing

I thought I’d share it here for others who may be interested in knowing how we plan our year.

I find that if I do not begin with a solid plan of action–what I want to accomplish, how and when–I will inevitably begin strong, but in a short time, fizzle out, become distracted or lose the bigger picture of where we were supposed to be going.  Has that ever happened to you?

Someone might say, well I purchase an all-in-one curriculum and it just lays the plan out for me in the teacher’s guide.

Sometimes this is the case, and many moms do prefer this, particularly if they are new to homeschooling and feeling overwhelmed.  The year I began (public school) teaching, I can remember practically CLINGING to that teacher’s manual and guide to help me navigate through the school year.  I would have been lost without it.

But as I went along and gained experience in my classroom, it wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t HAVE to follow their specific instructions for my students–I could use it as a guide to meet state standards, but fill in with my own literature choices and hands-on lessons, etc. Soon my classroom was coming to life in ways it never had when I had just blindly followed someone else’s instructions of how to teach.

Even in that environment, I was learning how to tailor my teaching to reach my students more effectively.

What a privilege that as home educators, we can COMPLETELY custom-fit our curriculum choices and teaching methods to fit with our children’s interests, abilities and learning styles.

Needless to say, I no longer choose those big box, all-in-one curriculums that so resemble what I had to use during my 10 years of public school teaching.  Now I enjoy researching, picking and choosing, and finding the best of the best for my kids, in each area of study.

However, this leaves the mapping out of details in my court, and that takes a bit of time.  With four children, I know once the school year starts, I will NOT have time to plan, week to week.   That leaves summer break to get it done.

I’d like to first share how to lay out all the basics which are very easy to plan, then move to the things that are a bit harder to map out, like custom history units.

It’s important to get some idea of what your kids will be using for daily practice …skills and subjects that need repetition and consistency in order to reach mastery.  What 2, 3 or 4 activities will your children be required to complete every single day?

My chosen grammar curriculum has 180 lessons, and is designed to be completed, one lesson every school day. Other things like Math are also fairly simple too: we do math daily (and sometimes a quickie review on Sat mornings too). Obviously, we hope to get through about a whole grade level or so in a school year. If the lessons are numbered, it’s easy to figure out how many pages/lessons need done each day…and to know when you’re behind! 

Last year we were somewhere midway through the year, but I noticed in grammar we had only done about 40 lessons! So, again, it’s helpful to know which subjects are one lesson per day.  Copywork is another area that is daily for my kids.  I prefer to get these “daily practice” type of things out of the way first thing in the morning.   I am continually tempted to do many other {more fun} things first, but I remain disciplined because I know if we skip it, we may never get back around to it. 

*ORGANIZATIONAL TIP*

Consolidate! Workbook pages for these 3-5 independent or semi-independent practice subjects are stored in the SAME binder, and my kids know to grab it first thing in the morning and get started.  For math, the entire year’s worth of practice pages will not fit easily in this binder, so I only hole punch about 3 month’s worth, and I insert them behind the math tab.  I remove these finished pages when we are ready to re-load with new ones.
It is really nice to have most of your child’s workbook pages in one place.  Less for them and you to juggle each day.

My daughter’s primary school binder:

On to planning–

Science is fairly easy for me to plan out as well. We use Apologia, which uses the in-depth approach to science, and allows us to stay in one area of study for an entire semester (or year if you choose).  This year, for example, we are studying Zoology Land Animals for Sem. 1 and Human Anatomy Sem. 2.

As there are approximately 13-14 chapters to get through per book, and we do 2 books (in-depth studies) per year,  I know from the get-go that I can spend about a week per chapter and have a bit of room to spare at the end of the schoolyear (which I like).

*PLANNING TIP*

Pre-read your primary texts!  

Reading more!

Every summer, I skim/pre-read my Science text, and preferably, the material for both semesters if I am able. Not everyone does this, and probably I am in a small (nerdy) minority, but here is why I do it: when I know what is coming up, and when, I can begin “filling in” and rounding out our studies with awesome hands-on stuff.  Because who wants to spend all our time reading when we can be going and doing?  Knowing what is coming helps me plan better for it.

When we were studying Flying Creatures, for example, last year, I pre-read the text in summer, then began considering field trip options and art lessons that would fit into our in-depth study of insects and birds. We ended up putting some of these things on the calendar far in advance, for example, visiting the Butterfly Conservatory during our chapter on butterflies, and going on an Insect-Walk w/ fellow homeschoolers to find cicadas, crickets and grasshoppers during that week’s lesson. We also did some pretty cool oil-pastel resist GIANT insects with our homeschool group (and all the supplies were ready before hand). It’s fun to look forward to these things once they are ON the calendar, but the only way to do that is to skim/pre-read the text and get at least a general idea of where you’re going.

That brings me around to my next tip…

*PLANNING TIP*

Get your calendar in front of you, and begin filling it out.

In order to effectively plan out our Science and History studies, what I ALWAYS do next is put my calendar in front of me.  Some years I have purchased that huge school calendar they sell at Office Max, had it laminated, and used it as a workspace as I plan with my colored-coded dry erase markers.  I write, erase and move things around to fit them in better here or there. Here is what last year’s looked like as I was working on the fall semester:

 

 

While I do roughly plan my entire year each summer, I only do a detailed plan for FALL because it is hard for me to plan well the farther ahead I go. Also, I break our school year into 2 semesters. Semester 1 is Fall/Winter and Semester 2 is Winter/Spring. For us, Semester 1 begins first week of August and Semester 2 begins first week of January. So once my calendar is in front of me, I begin scheduling my year by counting out my 180 days and where my breaks will fall. Once you determine your start date, your end date will work itself out, more or less, from there. That brings me to my next super important tip when you first begin planning it all out on paper:

*PLANNING TIP*

SCHEDULE IN YOUR BREAKS right from the start!

What schedule will you follow? Remember, YOU get to choose! Think you won’t need regular breaks? Think again. 😀  Think you’ll be ok just winging it and taking breaks whenever you feel like it? Okay… Just be ready to deal with losing whole months at a time when those breaks get away from you, and like weeds, life and other demands sneak in to overcrowd your growing garden.  Why aren’t the kids blooming? Why are we still stuck on chapter 2 in science? Why do they resist me every single day I *try* to do school?
Set the expectation that a nice long holiday will come their (and YOUR) way once you work hard for x amount of time. It feels so good to earn those breaks!

We follow a “Sabbath School Year” schedule where we do school for 6 weeks, then take a full week break. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this! It’s been absolutely wonderful to help prevent total burnout and it enables me to not only have regularly-ocurring, carved-out time to plan ahead and see where I’m going, but it also gives us time to relax together as a family and not always be in school mode!

Because I share my core subjects (History and Science) with a couple close friends, we enjoy getting together on our off-week to plan out the next 6 weeks, brainstorm lessons, activities  and field trips.  This keeps us accountable and always on our game.

What about summer break?

I find that I still like to have a summer break (some folks homeschool year round and that works for them, others follow their local public school calendar because of sports, etc). We have found that we don’t need THAT much time off in summer to get recharged and rested, and that we much prefer to have longer breaks scattered throughout the school year. So we take a TWO month summer vacation from June 1 to Aug. 1.

Additionally, I have discovered as I’ve been on my little homeschooling journey, that I like to have a NICE LONG Christmas break. Starting last year, I’ve begun scheduling a full three weeks off at that time of year, and it is wonderful.

I can then begin 2nd semester the first full week after New Year’s Day. So once your calendar is in front of you, and you’ve determined your start date, be sure to plan where you want those breaks (*and remember to let your husband know when these are, so you are on the same page…sometimes we’ve had to adjust them for his work, and often we plan little getaways for these weeks off).

For our family, I begin counting out weeks Aug. 1st, and after 6 weeks, on my little (or big) calendar, I mark “NO SCHOOL” on that 7th week. Then I begin counting up another 6 weeks with a full “NO SCHOOL” where the next 7th week falls. Inevitably, this will get all screwed up in fall especially with holidays and all of that. So there are certainly times where we will only have been in school for 3 or 4 weeks, and we’re somewhat “forced” to take our week off. This month, we are going on vacation, and we’ve only been in school 3 weeks. So once we get back, I scheduled 8 weeks of school before our next break. You could, of course just begin your six-week count again, and take a half week off or whatever works for your family and sanity.

Just stay somewhat flexible and know it will probably be crazy until 2nd Semester. Then the Sabbath Schedule works out like a dream, and to be honest, the long winter months are when you need it!

Now it’s time to count up your days to make sure you will meet your state requirement.  Here in PA, we are required 180 days (or 900 hours) at the elementary level.

Don’t forget to count those Saturday, Sundays, or even full weeks where you are mixing Education with vacation…a trip to the coast when studying swimming creatures? A visit to Colonial Williamsburg? These can count as school!

Last year, for example, we counted our day at the Renaissance Festival as a school day since we were studying the Middle Ages.

So add those days up, and see where you finish. For the past 2 years, we’ve finished by Memorial Day (or June 1st-ish) and it’s been awesome. I’m always ready to set school aside that time of year, and be outdoors more and more without anything holding us up.

 

From there, I simply begin writing in the lessons in History and Science that I plan to cover each week of our year ON the calendar (I write them in on the margin or on Sunday’s box…for example, the first Sunday of August on my calendar says Sci L. 1 and Hist. Review Columbus & Age of Exploration). I like to go through and write in all my Science chapters/lessons first, then go back and schedule in History.

History is our Core and it requires the most prep time and is the trickiest for me to put down on the calendar (and even harder to stick with what I’ve planned).

Even though I use the timeline and a much-loved curriculum as our skeletal guide (Story of the World), I don’t exactly read straight through it because we prefer deeper unit studies….so it can sometimes feel like a guessing game–what empires and events and characters will we want to spend longer on and develop into fuller units with costumes and crafts and a chapter book and field trips? What can we skip? What books do I want to read to go along with these units or themes? I borrow and order history books (picture and chapter) all summer long. Planning our History core truly requires the most significant amount of planning for me. I spend my summer reading, but I find it enjoyable, interesting and exciting. I pre-read about 90% of what I purchase (or loan) to read to the kids for the year in history. I never don’t have a book in my purse, on my desk, in the car, and on my person during summertime! In the process I educate myself which I personally find CRUCIAL in order to teach it well. As I privately read all of the books I will eventually share with my kids, I CONTINUALLY place each of these books on the timeline we’ll be covering for the year.  This way, I can see where the events and key people belong and fit into our History and Literature studies. This year we are in the Early Modern period, approximately 1600-1850, with a focus on American History.  Somewhere in all that reading, and using my primary curriculum as a skeletal guide, and always the timeline, a plan forms for history.  I get the big ideas first, then I “fill it in” with the details and what books I want to use to drive our learning.  My planning lists in history look a bit like this:

BIG IDEA: Age of Exploration 1500-1620
Details: Spanish control of the seas, conquests in S. America of Incas, Mayans and Aztecs, Mining for Gold, Cortez, Montezuma, Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth,
Books to Read: Exploration and Conquest, Sir Francis Drake: His Daring Deeds,

BIG IDEA:–Early Colonization 1585-1630
Details: English attempt to colonize N. America, Sir Walter Raleigh, Lost Colony of Roanoke, Queen Elizabeth defeats the Spanish Armada, Religious Persecution in England,  Holland and France, King James, Jamestown Colony, Puritans, Seperatists, Mayflower, Plymouth Colony, First Thanksgiving
Books to Read: The Betrayer’s Fortune, The Lost Colony of Roanoke, My America books: Our Strange New Land and The Starving Time~ Elizabeth’s Jamestown Diary,  A Journey to the New World: Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, If You Sailed on the Mayflower, Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving, …..and many more

 

Getting it down on the calendar, as I said, is trickier, because it’s not always so clear-cut (lesson 1, lesson 2).

And of course, very often I fly by the seat of my pants and add things in as I find them, rearrange units, and work out the smaller details as I go along. I’m sure it all sounds crazy and the reality is that sometimes it is.

Here are a couple of snapshots of this fall’s calendar where I’ve written in a basic plan for science and history–

 

I don’t plan every single day out normally.  I find that overwhelming and sometimes a bit stifling. I just know I have a week to get through the material in those lessons or chapters.

Why only write down your History and Science plan? some may ask.
Well, remember the other subjects require daily practice.  Science, and particularly, History  (which for us, includes Literature and the Arts) are more time-consuming and need planned out, week by week.

It should be noted again that because History really IS our foundation/core, during school hours at least, most of what we are reading, learning, creating and doing is related to our chronological study of history. We read a large amount a material together, spending a couple of hours a day or more reading aloud. Rich, living literature is the glue of a Classical Charlotte Mason Education.

For some homeschooling families, history is just another “subject” and is more of a minor focus. This is totally to be expected since most of us were taught that way. For many, it just feels natural to buy a giant box of grade-level curriculum from an all-in-one company where the lessons are all planned out for you, subjects are separate, but tied loosely together, and plans are scripted week to week. Some people really, really prefer to teach their kids this way, and a few of these big-box companies have come a long way with the rich literature that they now offer (much of it tying into history). I just know for ME, and for our family, that does not work well.

In fact, after teaching this way for almost 10 years, I could not be more pleased how delightfully different our homeschool atmosphere and living curriculum is from what I experienced in the public school system.

Have you already begun your school year? Are you counting down those last days of summer break, and feeling like it is too late to be well-prepared for what lies ahead of you? Don’t stress, mama!  Having even the most basic plan in front of you will feel good, and will keep you from floundering and wandering off track this school year. 

It’s not too late to grab your calendar, and at least generally plan our your major subjects or areas of study. Every year will get easier to plan, I promise.

Finally, plan your basic school day.  Take a look at what you have. What subjects will you begin with? What kind of routine do you want to establish?

Some home educators prefer to start gradually, just getting their kids used to a morning routine and the “basic” daily subjects they will be required to complete.

Your first week of school may look something like ours did:

  • 5, 6, or 7am (as much time as needed) Mom is up before kids!
    Read the Word, Attend to Laundry, Prep food, School prep. reading as needed.  {I NEVER REGRET taking this early morning quiet time to read, refresh and prepare while the rest of the house is sleeping! It’s a daily gift to myself}. 
  • 7:30-8am Kids Breakfast, Husband out the door 
  • 8-9am Fix beds, tidy room, get dressed, brush teeth (<—build these habits in from day one)
    If you have little ones, get them started in play at this time…hug, kiss and cuddle–remember, mom first, teacher second!
  • 9am-Noon   Dedicated School Time
    Introduce new materials to your children, one subject at a time, one child at a time if possible.  This is when I show my kids their prepared binders with their semi-independent practice work already in place inside.  The first week, I only had my 1st grader do his phonics/reading practice and his math page in the morning.  I then let him run off to play, and called him back to the table just before lunch for our Science and / or History reading and activities.
    My oldest is required to stay at the table / in the school area for those 3 hours, obviously with some short breaks here and there, sometimes for me as I need to tend to my toddler.

Be patient. Remember that the first week back kids are rusty and resistant. (I’ve found that the promise of “recess” or a break after they finish 1 or 2 tasks is helpful early on).

Keep your expectations reasonable that first week or two.  It will come!  Begin establishing good habits, and get them used to the new routine.  Make chores and then school an expected part of their morning and even by week two, you will start to feel like the house is a well-oiled machine!

 

Finally, remember this is just works for OUR FAMILY!  You may have discovered an absolutely perfect (for YOUR family) way to plan out your school year.  Or perhaps your personality much prefers to throw the plan to the wind, and enjoy the adventure of interest-driven learning and teaching year round.  Do what works for you!
I think and pray so often of you many homeschooling mamas out there, especially you newer ones, and I pray that you will be filled with the JOY of the LORD, which is your strength, as you begin your school year alongside your children.  May He guide and tenderly help you each day, and in every area where you lack, may you find His grace is sufficient for you.

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps. ~Proverbs 16:9 

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. ~James 1:5

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~2 Cor. 12:9

 

 ***

Additional Resources:

Sample Homeschool Schedule

6 Ways to Improve Your Homeschool Day

3 Tips for a More Successful Homeschool Year

Homeschooling with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Underfoot

{These Posts and more under the School Room Tab}

10 thoughts on “How to Plan Out Your Entire Homeschool Year, Get Organized, and Stay on Track

  1. Joanna Silveira Post author

    Thanks, Kristina! So thankful to know it was a benefit to you.
    Warmly, Joanna

  2. Joanna Silveira Post author

    Hi Sara!
    Yes, laminating would certainly solve that problem. 🙂 I don’t do the giant wall calendar every year, but I am learning to write LIGHTLY and in pencil when I don’t! 🙂 Staying flexible is a must.
    Happy homeschooling to your and yours.
    Blessings, Joanna

  3. Joanna Silveira Post author

    What fun to meet a similarly-minded homeschool mama while on vacation! Thanks so much for stopping in here in my little space on the interwebs 🙂
    We also enjoyed your girls very much, and haven’t made quite as nice of a sand castle as we did that afternoon.
    Hope you have a wonderful start to a new school year.
    Blessings, Joanna

  4. Heyruthie

    Hi, Joanna! It’s Ruth from the beach. I promised I’d check out your blog, and it’s lovely. Thanks for welcoming Joy and Gloria (and all my kids) into your family’s beach time. My kids all enjoyed it! I hope the remainder of you vacation was/is wonderful. We were sad to leave, but glad to be back home!

  5. Sara

    This is a wonderfully detailed plan! I never thought of laminating the calendar pages. That’s ingenious. Last year I filled in a bunch of information into my planner and then changes happened. I was stuck with a calendar that didn’t fit our needs. Laminating the calendar would eliminate the problem. 🙂

  6. Kristina

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed post and sharing this with us! I really really appreciate it and will be referring back to it!

  7. Deanna

    Thank you for sharing this! I also have years of experience in the public school classroom and I have been finding it hard to create the homeschool experience I want for my family because I only know the classroom style learning. We did the big-box curriculums for a few years and they were a blessing for my very bright driven first child as I tended to my Irish twins (3 kids in 3.5 years, one with special needs) but now the youngest is 4.5 and I am ready to be the creative homeschool mom I want to be. Just had trouble putting it down on paper. Thanks for your posts and encouraging suggestions and ideas! I appreciate you!

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