homeschool planning big picture
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How I Plan My Homeschool Part 1: The Big Picture

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I keep getting asked to write a planning post. I get it–it’s the end of summer, it’s really exciting, and planning posts are all you see on Instagram right now. I’m not sure how to tell you this, but…my homeschool planning is super un-pretty. It’s incredibly anti-climatic. And it’s a far cry from Insta-worthy.

Look, I LOVE planners, and I’m a really organized person. I have to be! Like many of you, I am juggling my role as a homeschooling mom with working to generate an income every day as well. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why my homeschool planning is so simple and, well, boring. For my work-life, I am surrounded by planners and calendars. As I sit typing this, I have a giant white-board calendar in front of me, a three-ring binder full of daily and monthly tasks to my right, a lovely planner filled with scribbles and white-out and no stickers whatsoever to my left, and a make-shift kanban board behind me (look it up, it’ll change your life!) That’s my work reality. I don’t want homeschool to feel like work, so I don’t treat it the same way. (That’s not my desk, by the way, in the feature image. My desk is pretty much devoid of anything cute, other than a candle from Target and a lot of pretty sticky notes.)

I suspect my teaching background has a lot to do with this. When I taught in a classroom, I had to make the whole year’s lesson plans, down to the day, before the school year started, and I followed it. That was par for the course. It stressed me out when my students would be super-engaged in something (astronomy comes to mind) but I couldn’t stop and let them linger there because there were all these other things I had to get through that year in a specific timeframe. I did not want this for our homeschool.

Another reason I don’t plan “beautifully” or even feverishly for homeschool is that I don’t like to be told what to do (even by myself…) so I leave things pretty open and relaxed. I make sure we’re moving forward where we need to, making progress in reading and writing and math, but not in a way that’s rigidly aligned with specific days, times, or even milestones. I want us to have the freedom to follow rabbit trails, take a break from the curriculum to dive deep into something else, and to go on field trips, have poetry tea parties, and accept last-minute invitations to the theatre. I also hate crossing things out, so my planning system had to eliminate any and all potential “crossing-out incidents” while accommodating impromptu inspiration.

Big picture homeschool planning 5

When people find out that this is my planning mindset, knowing we are Charlotte Mason inspired, they sometimes freak out a little. How do I organize all of the different books and materials we use? (We do juggle a lot of books and materials…) How do I make time for all of the pieces of the daily “feast?” (Trust me, our feast is ample!) How do I avoid losing my mind while looking at the year ahead?? I’m going to show you how.

I’m going to have to break it into pieces, though, so this will be a series. In the next several posts, I am going to walk you through exactly what I did this year to plan our homeschool. For many of you, my method may be dishearteningly insufficient. For some of you, it just isn’t going to cut it in the aesthetics department (and I get that–for a lot of people, things really do have to be beautiful and tidy to be effective and that is awesome! I love looking at your Instagram posts!) But for some of you, maybe this method will be a breath of fresh air and you’ll get some benefit from it. Let’s start with the very first step: big picture planning.

Part One: Mind the Requirements

Before I do anything, I review the requirements for homeschooling in our state. A bit of quick math will reveal that, as year-round, 4-day-per-week homeschoolers, we need to do at least 43 weeks of school, with an average of 4 instructional contact hours per day. That gives us 9 weeks when we don’t need to do any homeschooling at all. We like to take one week off in the early fall, one for Thanksgiving week, three for the holidays, one in the spring, and three during the summer, so this is just right. We also often include a fifth day with field trips, special events or presentations, etc., all of which I absolutely count as homeschooling, so we will be well over our requirements.

I usually just print out a one-page calendar for the year, mark out the weeks we plan to take off, and highlight the days we plan to homeschool. As we complete each day, I mark it with an “x.” I do this because we are required to keep a record of attendance in our state. This paper lives in a folder on our homeschool cart until the end of the school year, when I file it with our portfolios.

Big picture homeschool planning

I also make note of any required subjects. In Colorado, we must cover reading, writing, speaking, math, history, civics, literature, science, and some study of the U.S. constitution. No problem–these are all things I’d planned to cover anyway.

With the state requirements taken care of, I move on to part two…

Part Two: The Bread-and-Butter Subjects

The next consideration I have in my planning process are the bread-and-butter subjects–the staples of education. These are the non-negotiable subjects that have to be covered most days. In the boring, spiral-bound notebook that I use for planning (yep…the kind that costs 50 cents at the Family Dollar) I turn to the back page and list these topics out:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math

Next to each topic, I write which resources I plan to use for these “mostly daily” subjects.

Big picture homeschool planning

(By the way, I promise I will go into all of the curricula, books, and materials we plan to use next year in a later series! These posts will be featured in early August, so be sure to sign up for our newsletter at the top of the sidebar if you don’t want to miss them.)

On to part three…

Part Three: What Do I Want Us to Dive Into?

With the bread-and-butter subjects taken care of, I start to think about what I want to dive into in science, history, social studies (and civics, of course), and literature. Once again, I note these subjects on the back page of my notebook.

  • Science
  • History
  • Social studies / civics
  • Literature

And once again, I make quick notes about the materials I plan to use, or the topics I want to cover. I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to use by the time I sit down to do this. Much of what we’ll use is covered by the fact that I write the bulk of our curriculum, and by the fact that I love Brave Writer and plan to use their resources throughout our academic career. During the past, oh six or seven months, I’ve carefully considered my options to cover what’s left and saved them all in an Evernote file to review at this time.

Big picture homeschool planning

Part Four: What Do My Daughters Want to Learn About?

This part is fun. I sit down with Blake and Brice and ask them what they’d like to learn this year. What are they curious about? What do they want to explore? What field trips do they want to include? I write these underneath the previous subjects. Many of these can be covered on-the-fly, as a simple outing, or in a “One Thing Day,” a lovely concept I learned about through Brave Writer. Some of them are more long-term. For example, both girls adamantly declared this year that they want to learn how to be like Jessie Graff (of American Ninja Warrior.) So we had a talk about choosing between continuing ballet in the fall or switching to a “ninja class.” They chose ninjas, hands-down. (That takes care of physical education!)

Big picture homeschool planning

  • “That place with the lions and bears not in cages but you walk over them on a bridge.” (The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Denver)
  • “How to write a real book, like on the computer, and it looks like an actual book.” (Hmmm… perhaps a Jot It Down project but we can type it up on Shutterfly and have it printed into a book?)
  • “How to play the guitar”
  • “How to read the stars.” (My little Moana-fan’s suggestion.)
  • “How to be like Jessie Graff.”

Part Five: The “Heart Loop”

I end our homeschool days by inserting a “Heart Loop” in the afternoon. This is my name for all of the good stuff–art, music, handicrafts, nature study–as well as our Brave Writer Lifestyle favorites like poetry tea time, movie nights, one-on-one time, and games. I simply list the things I want to include, and make little notes about the resources I’ve chosen for each.

  • Art and picture study
  • Music and composer study
  • Handicrafts
  • Celebrations and holidays
  • French
  • Nature study
  • Brave Writer Lifestyle: poetry tea time, movie nights, one-on-one, games

Big picture homeschool planning

Part Six: The Great Big, Fat Gathering Frenzy

The next thing I do is set out several plastic crates from Target. These are my catch-all bins for all of the books and materials I gather for our year ahead. There’s a crate for each major subject. If the resource I use has a book list, I print it out and highlight as I find things. If I just have a subject in mind, I make a note in my phone and begin adding wish-list items to it, and put in “x” in front of them as they are added to our collection.

The first place I look is on our own bookshelves. I’m a book-aholic and have tons of resources already waiting in the wings from trips to thrift shops and used book stores. What I don’t find there, I split into two categories: books I can borrow (that I’ll only need a short time) and books I want to own (that I’ll need for an extended time or that I really want to own.)

During the summer, I add books to the crates. I order most of them on thriftbooks.com or make note that the library keeps them in stock. I will continue to add to crates throughout the whole year, except for the subjects we’ve already covered. I don’t really sit down and sift through them until about three or four weeks before we’ll be starting the relevant topic. (I’ll go into that process in a later post in this series.)

Big picture homeschool planning

Part Seven: “Do the Next Thing” Subjects Vs. “Units” Subjects

The final step in my “big picture” planning is to organize each subject by two different categories: “do the next thing” or “unit.”

“Do the next thing” subjects are those that I have covered with a curriculum or a resource that moves in an orderly fashion, from lesson-to-lesson or task-to-task. We are using Singapore Math as the foundation for mathematics this year, and it moves from lesson to lesson, therefore math is a “do the next thing” subject. We are using Brave Writer Quiver of Arrow guides for literature and some of our writing, and these are also “do the next thing” materials for us. I’ll get more into “do the next thing” subjects in the next post.

“Units” subjects are subjects that I don’t necessarily plan to cover using a curriculum or an orderly, sequential resource. For example, we want to spend some time learning about ancient Egypt. I don’t want to use a curriculum, I just want us to read a lot of books, maybe go to the museum, maybe watch some movies, and maybe play with hieroglyphics or make a pyramid out of blocks. This is a “unit” subject. I will gather books, ideas, and materials casually as we go about our summer and fall, then take a look at what we have about a month ahead of time and organize our resources a bit more.

 

That’s it. That’s my “big picture” planning strategy. I am not married to any of it–if something’s not working, we can change. If we want to add in a whole unit we hadn’t considered–say, obstacle course planning–we will, and we won’t cringe because we’re messing up our beautiful planner either. In the next post, I’ll show you my ridiculously un-fancy way of planning out our “do the next thing” subjects for the year ahead. (You can click here to read that post right now!)

How would you describe your planning style? How much time do you give yourself for “big picture” planning?

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