Homeschool Planning, A Year at a Time: Create the Overview
Because I am just not one to regularly and faithfully set aside time daily or weekly or monthly to get things in order, I do my best to set things up all at once at the beginning of our year so they can flow with minimal effort on my part.
I’ll always be tweaking, and bins and desks and shelves always need attention, but the question of “what to do” has already been decided and prepared, with the materials near at hand.
Here’s how I do it.
1. Figure out the school calendar
You might use your local school district’s calendar or someone else’s plan, in which case this step will be simple. But if, like me, you like to set your own plan, this is the essential first step.
First, decide how you’ll break up your year:
- Semesters — usually split between pre-Christmas and post-Christmas.
- Trimesters — generally 3 12-week sessions of school.
- Terms — any other length of session, but often 6-week sets.
We do a year-round schedule with 6 6-week terms. We take off a week between each term (which I use to reset and reorganize our school stuff), a week for Thanksgiving, 3 weeks for Christmas, and 2 weeks for Easter. My birthday is June 1st, and I have, my entire life, whenever it has been in my power, striven to complete school before my birthday. :) So I always plan to finish before June and take at least the month of June off, as well as part of July (which time is typically filled with swim lessons).
So, here’s how I figure out our calendar:
- I print off a year-at-a-glance calendar from donnayoung.org that goes from June-May.
- I mark birthdays, holidays, and any planned trips or vacations.
- I start penciling in numbers along the sides of the weeks, to try to work out the best way to get 6 6-consecutive-week sessions of school. I don’t like breaking in the middle of terms, and I do really like and practically need the break between terms, so this takes some massaging sometimes. I start by working backward from Christmas. We need to get 3 terms in before Christmas (Summer, Harvest, & Autumn terms) and 3 terms after Christmas (Winter, Spring, and Verdure terms). After I’ve worked backwards from Christmas to July, then I start with January and work toward May, with Easter’s ever-changing date as the wrench-in-an-otherwise-smooth-operation.
- Once I iron it all out, I use a highlighter and color school weeks orange and break weeks green, with any lite weeks (math, Latin, and free reading only) colored yellow.
This year I have the added complexity of working around a due date, which also means a third trimester, overdueness, and a newborn. Here is my calendar for the upcoming school year (click to view the full page):
The yellow weeks (and the week after my due date is supposed to be yellow) are “lite” weeks: I’ll try to get Circle Time in a couple times a week, but if the boys do math & spend at least an hour reading, and if Hans does Latin, I’ll count it as good.
2. Create a chart listing your students, your goals, and the subjects
First I create a table with the names of my students across the top, as well as a “together” column. In the row underneath, I just list the basic subjects or categories of things each will do. This is the very basic overview.
Then I create another table for the more detailed overview. This one has a column per student and I list the subjects down the side. Then I start filling in with the books, curriculum, and activities/projects/assignments.
The first row is “goals.” I try to identify the short list of goals for each child. I put all the children on here to remind myself that training the toddler to obey and pick up his toys is just as important (if not more so) than that the elementary students progress in math. Yes, “progress in math” is my goal, not “reach the end of x book” or “learn multiplication,” because I work from a mastery standpoint, and that is individual and unpredictable.
3. Begin a chart or list with materials and books you’ll use
As I fill in the chart, I start a spreadsheet with a list of things I’d like to purchase. I’ll usually keep my lists for reading-type books, curriculum-type books, and supplies separate, just because I like categorized lists. I also start a document with notes like “Each child gets own crayons, in a pencil box, that I keep with school-time-only stuff.” That is, as ideas for how things might work more smoothly this year come to me, I have a place to jot them down.
After a have that spreadsheet list well underway, I can also start browsing Amazon and Exodus Books and price comparing. I used to browse a bunch of different sites, but found that after all that time spent online, the best deals were usually still at Amazon or Exodus (who also sells used materials), so now I mostly stick to those two places.
4. Create a Circle Time planning chart
For this, I make a column for each term, and then each category of Circle Time in rows. Then I start filling in with memory work, hymns, and the like. In my own Bible-reading notebook, I keep a running list of passages that would be good for memory. So, as I’m reading my Bible, if I think, “Wow, we should memorize this paragraph!” then I jot it down. So I pull from that list at my planning time.
5. Create the year’s plot
We need yet another chart. I love charts.
This time, put the terms across the top, then label the rows with the areas that switch out each term (other than Circle Time). For us, this is composer, artist, continent (for mapwork), history period, and history sentences. This makes a handy overview reference throughout the year. I keep the same mapwork categories year to year, except that Australia gets swapped for US every other year. For composers & artists, I have a three year rotation I set up 2 years ago.
I also start a “Books to check out from the library” row with columns for each term, so I do all our library book searching once at the start of the year and can just grab it and go between terms. First I fill it in with one or two art books from the term’s artist and a composer biography, a children’s atlas for the continent, then I fill in with history-related titles as I come across them. These are also reusable lists when we eventually cycle back around — as long as the library doesn’t get rid of the books (it’s happened mid-year to me!).
6. Create the week’s plot
For this chart, put the days of the week across the top and the subjects or class “periods” down the rows. Fill in the chart with what you plan to do each day: how to break up the lessons, how much to do each day, which subjects you’ll do every day and which you’ll only do once or twice a week (and which days). Here you can start to get a feel for how much you’ll have to do each day, and if you should to scale back any grand plans.
7. Take your time over these and ruminate, gestate
I typically take 2-3 months, starting in February, to start filling things in and brainstorm my charts and lists. I take into consideration what is working well and what isn’t (and why) in the current year, look at my overall general scope-and-sequence, and start sketching things out.
If you are using already-planned-out packaged curriculums, this process probably won’t take you as long and will be much easier to fill in. Personally, I am better at making orders than taking them, so I like coming up with my own plan.
How about you? Where do you get your goals and content for your year?