It’s that time of the year. Kids are out enjoying the sunshine, BBQ’s are cranked up, and the Homeschool Mother is stalking the mail, organizing school books, and planning next year’s workload. This new series, Homeschool Scheduling 101, is designed to help you get your scheduling done quickly and efficiently- so you can step away from the stack of books and get on with summer fun!
This month, I am going to work with you step by step to organize and plan out your curriculum, your time, and your home, so your school year can run a little more smoothly. Along with tips on scheduling, I am going to share with you some of my favorite time-saving products which help me run my home (and keep my sanity) during the school year.
So- Pull out a pencil and let’s get started!
Grab our free Homeschool Planning Pack, and let’s get started! (The forms you’ll need from this pack are the Yearly Brainstorming (The “big picture” form), Yearly Schedule (To map out your ideal year) and the Curriculum Pacing guide (to divide up your curriculum for the year. The other forms are used in this planning series, and in the budgeting week of our Homeschool 101 series.)
When I sit down to plan my year, the very first thing I do is determine what kind of schedule we’re going to follow. Some people school for a traditional school year, following a public school calendar. Others do things a little differently, 4 day school weeks, 6 weeks on, one week off- anything goes when you’re a homeschooler.
Some states have requirements that the school year consist of at least 180 days of instruction. These are two of the most common set ups:
- 180 days of school, 5 days a week from Late August to Mid-June, for a total of 36 weeks. (16 weeks of vacation)
- 180 days of school, 4 days a week, for a total of 45 weeks. (7 weeks of vacation)
Some people (cough, *me*) are not very strict about how they schedule days/weeks off. In our family, we do all our seat work as a 4 day school week, but Fridays very much count as school days because we still do math and reading- the rest of the lesson is just hands on, outdoors and travel centered. It’s okay to be different!
This is important, because it will help you break down your curriculum to determine what kind of pace you need to follow to complete it in the school year. If you use a program like Story of the World for example, the chapters in the book do not fit “pretty” into a 36 OR 45 week school year. You’ll need to look at that program and decide to either skip chapters, do two chapters in a week, or spread the work over more than one school year.
Personally, we don’t worry much about finishing work within a “school year”. Our calendar and time off follows a 5 day a week schedule, which means we get 16 weeks “off” in the year. Our curriculum plan covers a 4 day a week schedule. We do just a little bit more each day to make it work for us- but like I said, it’s okay to be different and weird.
Big Picture Brainstorming
So- first things first- I want you to sit down, and look at a calendar and determine what you are doing, when. Do you have a yearly vacation? Do you like to have December off for crafts and baking? Does Little Jill have soccer season that takes a lot away from your energy level? Do you participate in co-ops? Do you have goals for the kids in mind? Get those things on your “big picture” plan.
I use this form as a way to brainstorm what I want to be doing, and when. This is also the place where I can see what kinds of stumbling blocks I have in store for me this year. For instance, I always, always burn out in March when winter is lasting just a little too long. I put that burn out on the big picture plan, so when I get to the next step, I can remember I need to plan a little extra down time that month to account for me moping on the couch about the lack of sunshine.
Now, once that is done, sit down with the year at a glance page, and map out an ideal school year.
I cross out the weekends, I label holidays in red, and highlight dates I know we will be out of town. Once those things are done, I start counting school days, and number the weeks so it’s easy to see what our pace will be. If the week of November 4-8 is week 7 of school, and I want to study about Native Americans that week, I can easily plug that study into Week 7 on the next form.
Keep in mind that you probably will not follow this to a “tee”- but know it will make planning, and your life a little easier. X off time you want to take completely off from school, and start counting school days. Refer to your big picture calendar for holidays, days your spouse has off from work, and other local events and family plans you want to avoid over scheduling in your ideal school year.
Next, you’re going to get out all the curriculum, supplements, and books you purchased and start plugging them into the plan.
Open up to the table of contents and read in your teachers manual to see what the recommended pacing is. If it’s an easy-to-schedule program, it will already be broken down either into 180ish daily lessons, or 36 week-long lessons, in which case, you have it easy! In cases like this, I simply mark down on my master planner that we need to do one lesson a day, or one lesson a week (whatever it is) and then put a sticky note on the first lesson in the teacher’s book, and student book. I move the sticky note as we go along, and am done with planning that book.
If it’s a book with an odd number of chapters (like our Story of the World example) I look it over and first see if there is anything to skip. We are secular homeschoolers, so for us, we skip the story of the exodus in Story of the World 1 and a few other small things. I then break the rest of it up into smaller bite sized chunks. For a more involved program (like SOTW) I also read ahead in the teachers manual and pick out what activities I want to do and when, so I have an easy to use spreadsheet of activities for planning purposes. (You can download my 36 week secular plan for Story of the World 1 here).
Write the pacing for each of the programs you are using on a yearlong spreadsheet, which will serve as your master pacing guide for the year. I keep my copy in my “Mama Binder” which houses…. Everything…. And refer back to it often!
- If I was using Life of Fred for the school year, and planned on using both Apples and Butterflies, I would first count how many chapters there were in these two books (18 in apples, 19 in butterflies = 37 chapters) and would then know I need to schedule about one chapter a week to finish both books in the school year. I would probably in this case, just plan on doing the first two chapters the first week, and make it a little easier on myself.
- If I was using Explode the Code, and wanted to complete books 1-3 during the school year, I would count the pages in the 3 books, and then, assuming we were going to do ETC daily, divide by 180 to see how many pages would need to be completed each day.
This works even if you are a unit study homeschooler. For example, I would look at my list of things I want to study, and any materials I gathered (like an electricity unit from Moving Beyond the Page, and a unit on Life in a Castle, and a unit on Community Helpers) and start to schedule them in around the year. For unit studies, I would still leave a lot “blank” but sometimes I have an idea of what I want to do and when, and I can always come back later to fill in the blanks. Unit studies just require a bit of on-going planning, instead of a one-time break down as outlined above.
Hopefully this week you’ll have some time to get these steps done. Keep your list of your programs that you paced for the year, and be ready for next week! We’ll get them scheduled into your week next time, and work out a plan to get everything done.
If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments! If you’re an old scheduling pro- please feel free to share your wisdom with us in the comments, too! Everyone does things a little differently, and I would love to hear your ideas.