Planning to Plan
There are two kinds of people, those who love to plan and those who... fail. I know this intro feels a bit cliche and more than a bit harsh, but sometimes you have to just lay it all out there and rip the bandaid off. In homeschooling, as with most important things in life, you have to PLAN if you want to succeed. So today, let's talk about a planning.
Now there really are two kinds of people when it comes to planning. There are those who go all out - you know, the ones who use ALL the Pinterest ideas and have the artistically color-coded schedules with perfect, font-like handwriting. I'll save you the trouble of guessing - I ain't one of those kind but I sure do like their pretty instagram pictures. Then there are the people have come to learn that planning is necessary and it needs to work for them so they make their plan but it may not look perfect. Guess what? Type is A is no more successful than Type B. It's the work of planning that moves you in the right direction. As with all things homeschooling - do it in a way that works for you.
What do I plan? When do I plan? How do I plan? I can't answer all of those questions for you BUT I can tell you what I think is important and how I go about doing it. I think it is important to consider first the blocks of time you have to plan for. I think of it from the top down: year, season, month, week, day. I DO NOT sit down and plan this all out at once, because, well, I value my sanity. But I do sit down at certain times to plan for each period. Secondly, I think it is important to mentally divide goals as 1. spiritual/academic/character 2. practical.
Spiritual/academic/character goals are harder to define but they are so important! They may take a lot longer to achieve and they may be harder to plan for but they definitely need to be thought out. Practical goals are easier for most of us because they are the things that can be checked off. I find that by thinking about our spiritual goals, it helps to direct our family time and activities throughout the year. When we plan academic goals, planning our school year becomes easier. For each child, we may think about character-related goals that they need to work on. By defining these, we may choose activities that will complement and reinforce the character traits they are working to build. Of course, don't forget to set some of these goals for yourself! As homeschooling parents, we are the lead learners in our little one-room schoolhouse. If you want your kids to love learning, they need to see you doing the same!
Planning the year vs. Planning the school year
This is where you may decide to take a different route. I personally like to plan our family goals in January. After the Christmas craziness and we are snowed or frozen in, it feels like the perfect time to sit and think. Plus, all the stores have put out all the new calendars and planners for the year so you get fresh pages to write on! Don't waste all your energy searching for the perfect calendar planner because they don't exist. Each of our families are so different, there will never be a one-size fits all that is perfect BUT you can find one that will work, or you can make your own. I like to plan the celebrations first. The first thing I write on any new calendar is BIRTHDAYS! Because YAY! Then I like to write down any fun stuff I know we will be doing that year.
Often during this time, my husband and I like to talk about the things we want to see in our family. These often take the form of spiritual principles or character trait we want to work on. One year was the year of "kindness". We were working on just being more kind to each other in our home and to the people we meet. If you have more than one child, you will know that kindness doesn't always come naturally and often we are harshest to those in our family because we are secure in their love. So we made that the thing we talked about at the dinner table, it guided the verses I chose to read during our devotional time in the mornings. It even helped me make some book selections for our school year. The older your children get, the more they can participate in this kind of planning. The spiritual plan for you family may shift focus throughout the year as things change, but by having a plan to start and study spiritual principles together will help you handle those shifts and changes when they come.
You may wish to think about each of your children. Does your middle child need to practice self control? Does your son have a desire to serve others? Do all of your children need to practice patience or do you just want to study the concept of love and how you can apply it within your home and without? Those are things related to our spiritual growth and character development and yes, you can plan for them! Sometimes the simple act writing down or saying out loud, "This year we will learn about love," or "This year, Sarah will work on practicing self-control," is enough to give you direction and get you started on the harder but so-much-more rewarding work of investing in our children's souls. You may not be able to verbalize a plan for something like this but keeping it as a mantra will help direct you and you will find it influencing your choices in Scriptures, curriculum, books, and more.
This is also a good time to plan out the practical side of things: well check doctor appointments, dentist appointments, financial planning, house projects, etc. Those are the checklist oriented things that those Type A's among us live for. Are you just dying to write a to-do list right now? You want to make little check boxes beside each item, don't you? It's okay, we all have our vices.
School year planning
I think all of us are hard-wired to think of the school year from August-May. Most of our extra curricular activities align with the public school year so its often just easiest to go along with that. Of course, as homeschoolers, we are not obligated to set traditional school years, unless you live in a high regulation state that dictates your calendar. Its perfectly fine to plan your school year from January - December when you are already in "planning mode". But for me, it's easiest to think in terms of a traditional school year. We usually still do school work during the summer but the core of our plan is August- May. I sit down in June or July and start evaluating our needs and goals for the coming year. This is when I purchase supplies and curriculum. I don't like to make detailed school plans for the year. I rely heavily on our chosen curriculum and our routines for that. I mostly plan out our extra curricular activities, our homeschool co-op days, and then choose the subjects we will be covering. In the past I have tried to be more specific in my yearly plans only to get immediately derailed by life and it leaves me feeling discouraged. By keeping the big picture more general and leaving the details for later, I feel free to be flexible.
With the changing of the seasons (in most places, I'm not looking at you Florida!), comes the changing of our wardrobes, our housework, and our activities. And before anyone thinks I am anti-Florida - I lived there for 37 years and I know there are only two seasons - hot and less hot. Changing your seasonal wardrobe meant occasionally choosing tennis shoes instead of flip flops. BUT for the rest of us who don't live on the surface of the sun, we change things with the season. That is a perfect bio-rhythm for us to shift into planning for the next season for our family. You may wish to shift focus to a different spiritual principle or goal. You may be making the switch from indoor activities to out door activities. You may be a compulsive decorator and now its time to change out your home decor (see also: things that don't apply to me but I appreciate them when I come to visit your house). If you REALLY like to plan, you can even plan your seasonal planning days at the beginning of the year. This is also the perfect time to reevaluate some of those overarching yearly objectives. Maybe little Timmy hates playing piano and it has been daily struggle to practice or go to lessons - this may be the time to take a season off and revisit later. Or maybe you find your kids are math geniuses and need to be moved up a couple of levels - you've given the current level a couple of months and you now have a good idea of where they need to go. Seasonal changes are great for changing directions.
On Sundays, I sit down and write out a plan for the week. That includes our school and our day to day lives. I like to do what I call "front loading my week". I plan the bulk of my work and the longest school day for Monday. That way it feels like the week gets easier each with passing day;). You may feel it suits your family to start off slow on Mondays and build from there - whatever floats your boat! My oldest daughter has just started the Challenge A program with Classical Conversations. She is working towards becoming totally independent with her school work so she sits down with me and she plans out her week with me there to help her if she needs it. I have been at this homeschooling thing for a long time now, so I don't usually write out day to day lesson plans. Our daily school work very much follows a routine HOWEVER as my kids get older, I sometimes write out assignments for them to do on their own and to help set the stage for when they need to plan their own study schedule. You may find that it helps you to write out particular assignments for each day to keep you on track - so you should do that! Just remember, don't get too carried away and plan so far ahead that you can't take a day off for sickness or emergencies or a rare warm day in the middle of winter and you all just want to go outside. This kind of flexibility is one of the treasures of homeschooling.
You'll notice I didn't get too much into daily plans here because I feel those are so personal to each family, I don't want to give the impression of "this is how you do it". But I hope you find these planning principles helpful! If you are brand new to homeschooling, be on the look out for my follow up post to this one about questions you should ask yourself and others to help you get started. I hope to have that out sometime this week or the next. If you are a veteran homeschooler, I would love to know how YOU plan your year, month, week, or even days! Leave a comment below!