I know summer is only half over, but my brain is certainly gearing up for the new school year. I really love to plan and make lists, so I think this is fun. However, summer days go by quickly, and planning a school year is a big job—so it takes me several weeks to get it all done.
I’m a big fan of planning in the summer because once the dizzying pace of school starts, I rarely have time to get lesson plans done on weekends and evenings. I’ve found we have a better year when I can get the big picture now, even if I have to modify it as we go along.
Here are some practical planning ideas:
- Clean up everything from last year. Put away books, finish report cards and portfolios (as your state requires), remove broken crayons from the backs of bookshelves, and otherwise put a final conclusion on last year. Ahhh… that feels better!
- Double-check which subjects you’ll be teaching this year. Maybe you’ve already started purchasing books for the new year, but even still, it’s time to finalize everything and be sure you’ve bought what you need. Homeschool suppliers get really busy this time of the year, and shipping times can be longer. Order now if you need something! What books are you planning to check out from the library? It would be wise to give the list to your librarian, so books will be ready when you are.
- Don’t get overwhelmed with good intentions. At this point, my “want to teach” list is much longer than my “hours in the day” reality. I have so many good intentions, but it’s easy for me to try to do too much. This is where I need to remind myself of our family’s goals for homeschooling and of our basic beliefs that form the foundation for which curriculum we choose and which we reject. So here’s a reminder for you. Do you have goals? Have you prayed about them? Have you had a “planning session” with your husband and received his blessing on your plans? Do you know why you’re doing what you’re doing? Have a purpose for all you do, and if something doesn’t fit that purpose, then be brave and throw it out!
- Plan your time. How many hours in a day can you spend actively teaching your children? How many hours a day can they spend working independently? What other things must you accomplish in your days? In other words, have you thought about a schedule for your day? Do you have a basic routine that you’ll follow? Who will do all the chores? These decisions affect all your planning, so take some time to think them through. (I always like reviewing FlyLady’s tips for homeschoolers. I also like this list of age-appropriate chores.)
- Make your school-year calendar. How many days are you planning to include in your year? For some of us, this is determined by our state’s laws, so be sure to brush up on your compliance. What days will you take off? I usually print a calendar for the year and pencil everything in. (For years like this one, when a new baby will arrive in the middle, everything has to be penciled in!) When all is said and done, my favorite planning tip is to choose how many days our school year will have. I use this number in all my planning.
- Make master lesson plans for Mom. I make a “master lesson plan” for me as mother/teacher. I use Microsoft Excel, and then I simply divide the total number of pages or lessons by how many days we have in our school year. I type page numbers or other plans into Excel, and voila! Lesson plans are done! (Okay, almost… I also need to make a list of supplies we need, which books need to be ordered from the library when, etc.) I’ve been using this idea for several years now, and it’s been the key to making our school year work. Oh, I print all these plans and insert them into my planning notebook. (My notebook also contains my calendar, some blank notebook paper for notes, reference sheets for me, and other miscellaneous things I might want to look at each day.)
- Make lesson plans and assignment sheets for each child. Each morning, as we start our school day, I’ll say something like, “Okay, everyone, today we’re on Day #52.” They take out their own planning notebooks, in which they have a copy of their lesson plans. Next to each day’s number, their plans tell them what page to read, what project to do, ideas for writing in their journal, etc. (Their notebooks also contain reference materials such as cursive charts, multiplication tables, and more.) Their notebooks only contain assignments for things they’ll do on their own, but oh, these are such a life-saver when life gets crazy (new babies, for instance). Even Grandma or other “substitute teachers” can see at a glance what needs to be done! One more thing… My children really enjoy having a daily to-do list that they can look at to see if they’ve done all their subjects. I like printing one that has a space for each day of the week, then I insert it into a plastic sheet-protector. The kids can use dry-erase markers to mark off what they’ve done each day. For kids who enjoy the sense of accomplishment that check-marks provide, they’ll be thrilled! On Friday afternoon, it wipes clean and is ready for a new week.
- Make lesson plans for group study. For subjects you’ll do together (such as Bible, history, or read-alouds), I recommend making a simple template for each week’s plans. Every weekend, you can print one for the next week, copy the week’s plans from your master lesson plans, and attach the sheet to a clipboard or insert it into the front of your notebook. As the week goes by, you can place check marks next to each thing as you do it. (Oh, that feels so good…)
- Purchase school supplies while they’re on sale. Wal-mart and other large stores have really good sales right now, but don’t make the mistake of rushing off to buy things if you don’t have a plan. You’ll end up with a pile of markers and crayons, only to discover you still have some left from last year’s sale. (Don’t ask me how I know this!) Now that you’ve made all your lesson plans and cleaned up everything from last year, you’ll be much more prepared to make a realistic shopping list that actually fits your budget.
It’s tough to describe I plan! I’m sure this has all been as clear as mud.
P.S. In case you need some more great ideas, here is a favorite book: How to Homeschool: A Practical Approach by Gayle Graham.