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. That is the key.
Now we turn our attentions to some of the tasks that are not exactly “school” planning, but things that help school days run more smoothly.
1. Create playlists in iTunes
I rely heavily on audio. So organized playlists make my life much easier. Many of our memory chants or songs are MP3s, a number of our “read-alouds” are audio books, we use the audio Bible daily, and I have accompaniment to play when we sing because I can’t stay on key without help. We also record our Bible and catechism memory (most of them recorded by my husband) so we can have audio review in the car or individually with an iPod. Audio materials save my voice and my sanity; my kids, also, enjoy getting a respite from always hearing mom’s voice all day long. Plus, it means I can whisper threats or deal discipline to toddlers without interrupting the flow; it helps the toddler or preschooler not get the chance to become an center-stage tyrant.
Here’s how I organize my playlists:
I also have a folder for each term, with internal folders for each day of the week as well as term playlists for composer, hymns, listening time, and review. Inside each day’s folder are playlists for memory time.
I made a folder for children’s audio books, with a playlist for each audio book we have. My favorite is probably Pooh read by Peter Dennis, because before I heard him read it, I honestly was terribly confused trying to read it aloud myself. We often listen to Pooh in the car. I also borrow audio books fromt the library, our favorite being Cherry Jones reading Little House; we listen to these in the car or during lunch.
2. Determine your processes
Next, it’s time to work out the details. I find writing this all out and envisioning it beforehand helps the daily flow tremendously. I usually work day-to-day from an outline rather than this detailed list, but I like having it on hand to go over it when I have a brain-freeze or when my improvision has gotten out of hand and needs to be brought back to the plan again.
As you write it out, you will likely come up with ideas that will help the days run smoother, like “the math blocks must be put away before moving on to the next thing” or “put all the books away before lunch” or “the daily checklist needs to be signed by mom before the student is done for the day.”
As you come up with those ideas, add them not only to the plan, but also to a separate “cheat sheet” you can go over during with everyone during Circle Time as needed. Some of the essential ones I add directly to the students’ checklists or on a sign at their desk, too, so they have no excuse, and may not be allowed to “forget.”
3. Create the daily and weekly flowchart/routine/schedule
Whatever you call it, it’s good to have a plan of action for each day. I like to have times assigned on ours, because it helps me be realistic. If I don’t, I end up with a long list of things we will do in the “morning,” only to find that the morning is not nearly so long as I had thought. I no longer plan out by 15-minute increments, however. Instead, I simply give each hour a broad category like “breakfast & chores,” “Circle Time” and “independent work.” That works better for us.
Look at your student and master plans and figure out when the best time of day would be to do what. Do you have too much you’re trying to cram into not enough time? Is there still time in the day for outdoor and free play? Is there time for putting school stuff away and having an afternoon house tidy? Is it realistic for your family to start at 8, or would 9 suit you better?
Think through it all, and do your best to be realistic. This is the document I do tweak and reprint every term, because I often find I miscalculate how long things will take in the beginning, and with children as young as ours, stages change rapidly and require frequent revisiting and tweaking of the plan.
This is also the time to try to examine the plan for the day and have a strategy for the toddlers and preschoolers. Should you take advantage of naptime with the olders (if you get naptimes)? Will your toddler sit and do table activities for 30 minutes (if so, blessed are you)? Will your toddler stay in a pack-and-play without screaming his lungs out or breaking it while trying to escape?
It’s good to have some strategies at hand, but toddlers and preschoolers often require responsiveness and playing-by-ear. I’ve browsed my fair share of “what to do with toddlers during school time” posts, and pretty much all the ideas seem to be for docile, meticulous toddlers, not energetic, impish ones. Only my daughter ever cared to sort things by color, and none of mine felt it necessary to follow instructions on — or want instructions for — preschool worksheets.
4. Create household support systems and homeschool documents
Ok, look over your “to do” list. What documents and forms and sheets do you have to create or find? Now’s the time to do it! Here are some of the things I am working on:
- Worksheet with tables for declining nouns and conjugating verbs
- Book report template
- Handwriting practice sheets with Startwrite
- Term progress analysis sheet
And some of the documents I have that I will be printing:
- Italics, Beautiful Handwriting for Children, the cursive pages
- Notebooking Pages from donnayoung.org
- Math Drill Sheets and Calculadder math drills
- Blank continent maps
Now is also the time to make the related support systems for your day:
- a chore chart or checklist
- add all school dates to your calendar
- file papers with state, or at least prepare them
- add “order achievement tests” to your task list in April or May, if necessary for your state
And never fear: Next Tuesday we will move on to the tangibles.