Every time I share a photo of our kids’ homeschool checklists, I get requests for the template or questions about our implementation.
We’ve been using weekly checklists for more than 5 years. For a year and a half we used Trello for our homeschool checklists, but then returned to paper in order to reduce screen time and screen-distraction excuses.
Now all 5 students have a weekly checklist, even the 5-year-old. She is the first 5-year-old to have a checklist, though. She has one because she wants one. She does not want to be the only one without.
I started my oldest two on checklists when my oldest was 4th or 5th grade – I can’t remember which. Then my third joined the checklist ranks in 3rd grade and Knox got his first at 6-years-old because he could read and needed a list of options of things to do while the rest of us were doing school.
That first year – or two! – of checklist use is not “independent work” in reality. It’s training for independent work and it really does take a school year or two to teach them how to independently use a checklist. I always need to remind any student under ten to check the list between each task.
If you’re troubleshooting how to use a homeschool checklist with your students or if this is your first year trying them out, then you need my previous post: 5 Tips for Using Homeschool Checklists.
Today, I’m going to share my process for creating and maintaining our weekly homeschool student checklists.
On Friday I’ll be back with a post on my own teacher master checklist and inspecting the assigned work.
Yes, there’s a blank template to download for free at the end of the post. I knew you’d ask. You’re welcome.
Summer: Make the Homeschool Checklist Templates
I do most of the planning for our homeschool year in the summer. I plot out the calendar, see how many weeks we’ll have, choose the break weeks, and then start counting pages or chapters and doing basic math in order to come up with a rough estimate of how much must be done each week in each subject. Sometimes this math tells me we need another book to supplement, sometimes it tells me I need to make hard choices and cut a book, but without estimating how much time we have and how much we will likely need, I would end up with an overwhelming book list and an unreasonable number of assignments.
As I sketch out what each student will work on that year, I make a ballpark estimate – trying to guess high – for how many minutes per week that assignment will take. I include Morning Time and math and piano practice in their weekly time estimates, then divide that by 5.
My goal is to keep the estimated work load at around 4 hours per day for high school, 3-3.5 for middle school, and 2ish for elementary.
Then I spread the work out over the week for all but my high school student, so they have a roughly similar amount of work, with alternation of kinds, each school day. For my high schooler, I look at what must be daily work and what simply needs to be done in the week and separate those out on his checklist so he can choose what he does when.
Then I start filling in the weekly checklists, which are simple tables in the word processor, using a column for every day and a row for each subject – including a row for morning hygiene and chores and a row at the end for EHAP (tidying up their school things).
I try to take into account the level of activity or responsibility happening in the day of the week so that the more difficult work is on the more free and open days and the lighter work – or less work – is assigned on busy days. That becomes more difficult as there are more older kids with more intense activities (I’m looking at you, NCFCA), but I do my best and we adjust as needed as we go.
So, before we start school, we each have a basic outline for each day of our school week. The younger students days are very similar, but the middle school and high school students’ days have more variety because they’re doing more things. That is, I didn’t really need to do a weekly checklist for elementary school children because each day was almost identical; however, I still did and do because I don’t want to remake or print a list every day or always have to tell them every little thing.
I also think that a weekly list helps us with consistency. If I were to rewrite the list every day (ala spiral notebooks), I would let myself and my kids off the hook for today’s work because I would tell myself that I’d just put it on tomorrow’s list. Some seasons of life need that flexibility, but I don’t have any legitimate reason to procrastinate anyone’s work at this point.
Seeing the week at a glance helps teach us the truth of Charlotte Mason’s saying:
This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not ‘as good as another’; that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time; and this knowledge alone does a great deal to secure the child’s attention to his work.
For this to work, however, I must keep a realistic portion of work that is actually manageable. That takes experience to figure out, but is worth the experimentation and observation and attention and energy.
Break Weeks: Evaluate the Homeschool Checklists
No matter how well-thought-out or how well organized, there are always adjustments to be made after a few weeks of actual use. The reality is always different from the ideal.
I print out the checklists week by week, so I can make quick edits here and there as needed that first term, but I save any major overhauls for break week, which come every six weeks on our year-round homeschool schedule.
It’s not only the formatting or the assigning certain work to certain days that needs to be reevaluated. It’s also how the whole process works.
- Do the checklists have a home? Do they stay there? Is it working?
- Are the checklists being used? Are they being checked? Are they kept accurately? What pep talks need to happen about checklist use (i.e. – no checking things off before you do them; see 5 Tips for Using Homeschool Checklists)
- Is the work load about right? Does something need to be cut?
- Are the assignments clear to the student? Does he understand? Do they need to be more specific?
- Does anything else the student is responsible for (hygiene, chores, etc.) need to go on the checklist?
These are the sorts of questions to ask as you evaluate how the checklists are working in your homeschool day.
Although the goal is for the checklists to smooth the path and help everyone stay on track without nagging, that will likely not happen until you’ve been using them for 18 months at least. Don’t give up after the first six weeks.
Referring to a checklist between each task and staying focused, deliberately moving through a list of assignments without needing reminders, is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced before the training wheels of mom-as-reminder can come off. Even with a checklist for the first year or two (of each student’s first year or two – so it might be a decade of this!), you will need to follow up all morning long and at the end of the school day.
One hint for speeding up the process: If there’s a checklist, never tell them what to do next unless it’s lessons you’re teaching directly. If they ask you or if you see them dawdling or playing, turn them to the checklist and not to you – that’s the habit you want to build; therefore, we need to build it, not undermine it.
Weekend (or Monday): Print & Fill in the Homeschool Checklist
Every week – supposedly on Friday or Saturday but more often than not on Monday morning – I fill out each student’s checklist with their work for the week.
The checklist provides the structure and the assignment, but I add the chapter number here, the math page there, the online class video number here, the page numbers there. On my middle student’s lists I add what continent they’re working on that week – same assignments (fill in a map, draw a map), but the continent rotates on a loop schedule.
During that summer planning, I put all the chapter numbers or page numbers for daily assignments in a spreadsheet, so this is fairly quick work. I can refer to what’s next on my spreadsheet and jot it on their checklist. I used to type it in before printing, but have found it’s actually faster and simpler to have the paper and the spreadsheet at the same time, quickly filling in the spots that need specific assignments.
Every Day: Check the Homeschool Checklists
Yes, every one, every day.
The more you do, the better and sooner the checklists will work for you, in direct proportions.
Unless they are held accountable to complete that work, they don’t have the staying power or inner motivation to finish it as instructed – even good, obedient kids (except for the few personalities who are inherently checklist-completion-nazis; these are the children begging you for a checklist – not necessarily the ones making their own, but those who want to follow instructions from outside themselves).
This is merely immaturity, not a gigantic character flaw. It can become a character flaw, as most of us know (how many times do we complete our checklists every day without external motivation?), but learning the self-control and the habit of not moving on with the day before the list is complete is a skill that takes time and repetition and accountability to build.
Giving them accountability is a major part of our responsibility has homeschooling parents.
But more on that Friday.