Homeschool Planning: An Overview

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Over the course of our short homeschooling journey thus far, I’ve found that it’s important for me to have our days and weeks planned but flexible. Some people function beautifully with no plan at all, and their kids learn so much that way. I tried that, and found that it leads me to worry that we’re not doing enough and leads the kids into a state of chaos and bickering due to lack of structure. I feel best when I have written down what we will do and have what we’ll need all in one place, but it needs to be planned in a way that allows for last-minute changes and delays. Even though we do follow a curriculum, it’s super important to me that curiosity and interest are still a primary guiding force in our family’s learning, and that freedom and play are a big part our days as well. This is the system I’ve come up with thus far- with ideas borrowed from a few different homeschool moms I follow.

We’re using Adventures in U.S. History from My Father’s World this year as our main curriculum for 2nd grade. It is Classical Education and Charlotte Mason inspired, and uses living books to teach each subject, and it allows for a lot of personalization as far as how to teach and what to use. It’s divided into 34 weeks, and the each week has a primary history/geography topic- basically a unit study. So I bought a box of manila folders and labeled each with the unit number and topic (thanks to my friend Elsie for this idea, as well as the inspiration to use MFW to begin with!). I put the student sheets for that week inside each folder. Then six weeks at a time I take a little chunk of time to sit down and look over what curriculum books will be used for each week, what extra materials will be needed for the activities I want to do, and what books I need to acquire for the book basket (which is one of my favorite things about this curriculum!) I write all of this on the outside of that week’s folder.

I use a Moleskine planner as a record book and lesson planner, and I also purchased some tabbed post-it notes to use with it. There’s a tab for each unit, and I put them each (again 6 weeks at a time) on the week I expect to do that unit but I love that they’re moveable because you know, life happens. On the sticky note itself I make notes of books and materials we’ll use etc. (basically the same things that are on the manila folder).

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Each week, I take time on Sunday to sit down and plan the week. Using pencil, I write in any outings or activities first, then our academics for each day, based mostly on the daily plans from the MFW teacher’s manual. I set up our book basket with the books we’ll be using for the current unit, and I look ahead to the next couple weeks and make sure to place library holds online so I can pick up what we’ll need in time. I get book basket ideas from the back of the MFW teacher’s manual, and from other moms who have blogged their experiences using this curriculum. I stick almost entirely with what’s available within our library system, to keep our costs down as much as possible. I’m so thankful for the library!

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During the week, as we move through our schoolwork each day I go over my pencil planning with a pen as we complete each task. This way, what remains is only what we actually did. I adjust plans if needed according to our progress and the natural flow of things. We didn’t get to that book/lesson/page/project/whatever today? No problem, just erase and move it to tomorrow’s plan. Did more than expected in a subject because Seth was just super into it that day? No problem. Using the sticky notes and labeling them as units rather than weeks allows room for life—a week can be skipped, or one unit spread over two weeks—without messing up all the future plans. This isn’t just to keep things looking orderly; it also prevents me from stressing about the concept of “getting behind”, which is a slippery slope to feeling like a failure as a teacher and mom (yes, dramatic, I know). There’s no such thing as “behind”- there’s just “where we are”. It’s liberating. The only things that are permanent in the book are the ones we’ve actually completed, so it serves as both planner and record book for our school year. I really like to have a way to look back and see what we’ve learned and accomplished.

So that’s pretty much my planning system for homeschool. Those Sunday planning sessions are essential and also involve my personal planner, and I take time to “sync” it with our family google calendar (where Manny and I both put all of our appointments etc.). I also use this time to decide on at least 4-5 dinners to make that week, and make a grocery list for the weekly shopping. I keep track of everything on my phone so it’s always with me, but I really like to write things out on paper—it’s just good for the way my brain works. Every morning, coffee in hand, I sit down with my planners (personal and school) and prepare mentally for the day.

And because I’m asked so much, here is what we’re using this year….

Seth (age 7)- 2nd grade:

History/Geography/Literature: My Father’s World – Adventures in U.S. History, with Beautiful Feet’s Early American History Primary books inserted as book basket picks for their corresponding subject matter, and plenty of other living books for each weekly unit

Language Arts/Literature: Brave Writer’s Quiver of Arrows and Jot it Down writing program; Spelling By Sound and Structure, grade 2

Bible: MFW Adventures ^^

Reading: basically happens organically as he reads aloud to me often as we go through our work. We are alway reviewing and strengthening those skills as I notice things he needs more work on (for instance, long vowels, silent letters, and certain blends). He is basically a fluent reader now though, which has been a giant turning point in the rest of our schooling. He can now read the instructions in his math and spelling books, for example, which means I don’t have to be right there the entire time. He even reads to his brother and then they’re both occupied. It’s life-changing, folks.

Art: Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools, and I’m also about to order Draw Paint Print Like the Great Artists

Spanish: Teach Them Spanish!, taught primarily by their grandma who is a native speaker

Math: Math MammothMaking Math Meaningful

Science: MFW Adventures^^- uses Usbourne science books covering various topics throughout the year; Exploring Nature With Children (which also includes poetry and art study- I love this!), and the Wild Explorer’s Club

Isaac (age 4)- Preschool:

Isaac’s days are still mostly play (which is truly the best way for him to learn a his age), but he has a couple or preschool-level workbooks we’ve been given, and he pulls them out (always his own idea) and traces letters, colors etc. sometimes while Seth is doing schoolwork. I want him to enjoy everything school-related that he encounters, so I never push it on him or even really ask him to do anything academic.
I just started reading The Homegrown Preschooler, and I love it so far. I can tell it’s going to give me a ton of ideas for intentional (super fun) things to do with him this year. I actually may end up getting the corresponding curriculum, A Year of Playing Skillfully, which I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about.
I also read aloud to him nearly every day, and it’s one of the most important things (arguably the most important) anyone can do to teach a preschooler. We love Where the Wild Things Are, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, anything from Robert McCloskey, and the list goes on and on. I pick up new books from the library just about every week. I always go armed with my list of titles and call numbers, many of which I jot down from Honey for a Child’s Heart and Give Your Child the World.

Well that’s pretty much my planning post you guys! I’m already working on my next one, about the structure and rhythm of our homeschool days, so let me know what you’d like to know about that!

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August 1 was the official start of our schoolyear. Cheese!
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Explorations in Nature Journaling

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When we started homeschooling and began to research the Charlotte Mason approach, I knew that nature study and nature journaling were going to be a big part of our homeschool life. Spending time outdoors, paying close attention to the amazing beauty around us and learning the names of our finds, and using art to record it all while also practicing handwriting… it seemed a perfect and important part of the experiential, hands-on curriculum I was forming.

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I gave Seth a small notebook to record his finds and we began paying more attention to the world around us. I was so excited for all that he’d learn from these experiences, but I had absolutely no idea how much I would get from it myself. I always loved art, and used to spend a significant amount of my free time as a child and teen painting and drawing. But along the way I got busy, and often frustrated by my efforts. I turned to the camera as my primary means of artistic expression. So when I pulled out my watercolors and purchased a little watercolor journal, I was mostly doing so to encourage Seth and sketch alongside him. But I fell in love. My prior frustration and perfectionism fell away because it was simply a field journal and didn’t have to be perfect. I was reminded why I’ve always loved to paint, and got excited about learning about the amazing creatures and plants surrounding us. The process of documenting our outdoor adventures has become so therapeutic for me and I look forward to that time spent with my paints and field guides and this little book. I’m doing it regardless of whether Seth is in the mood or not (because, as a five year old boy, he’s definitely not always in the mood), but I’m certain that my passion for it will rub off on him and his brother at least a bit. Already, they are asking for their paints and art supplies more frequently.

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My Materials

My sketchbook of choice: Strathmore Visual Journal 140lb
For more official paintings (which I’m doing much more of as a result of this love ignited by nature journaling), I love Arches Aquarelle blocks
I have been using the same very inexpensive set of tube walercolors that I’ve had since college, but I’m so excited to have just purchased this simple set from Winsor Newton. Learning to mix any color from just a few is one of the most important skills in watercolor. This set is wonderful because it’s small enough to go with me anywhere.
My brushes are a mix- some were my mom’s and could easily be older than me. When I purchase a new brush I like to do so in person rather than ordering online so I can see and feel it. My most-used brush at the moment is a size 3 round brush made by Grumbacher.
My pencils are all Faber-Castle but I’m really not very picky- any art pencils will do. My favorite pens are Micron- they are really amazing. I use the tiny 005 for details and fine lines, the 01 for slightly heavier lines, and the 03 for writing.
Field Guides: I love the laminated pocket guides made by Quick Reference Publishing (I found many at Barnes & Noble that are specific to our area.) We also have and love the Audubon Guide to Florida.

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My Process

I only sometimes sketch right there on the spot. I’d really like to do so more often, but my current season of life involves chasing a 2 year old, so I usually snap photos with my phone of things I want to journal later—along with collecting things like leaves, rocks, shells, and flowers to press.

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I start by sketching with pencil, getting the basic lines and shapes. I usually have a basic rough idea in my mind of how my page will end up, which items I want to draw, etc. I cross-reference my phone images with my field guides and often the internet as well, and in the process I learn interesting facts about each thing, it’s scientific name and common name, and those things go into the journal as well. When everything is done in pencil, I go over it with my micron pens and erase the pencil lines. Once in a while I’ll paint first and add in details with the pens later, but usually I prefer the prior method. When I’m painting, I begin with the lightest colors and then layer in the deeper ones.

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While at Wild & Free recently, one mama mentioned that her boys don’t have the patience for very much art journaling, but they love to recreate some of their nature finds with clay. I thought it was such a great idea, and definitely one I’d like to try!

We’ve been incorporating art in other ways as well, and my goal is to weave it into many different subjects. There are so many ways to tie art into science, geography, history, literature, and the list goes on. I really believe that they’ll learn more and internalize what they’re learning better if they exercise creativity while learning it. Seth always seems much more interested when we do. When we were discussing the the axial skeleton in science, he drew a skeleton (looking at a library book for reference) and labeled the bones we’d been talking about.

I will have to post an update soon, because already I’m seeing our methods shifting into something much more experiential and less workbook-based. And as a result, we’re both enjoying homeschool so much more!

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Homeschooling: the first few weeks

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It’s been almost four weeks since we started homeschooling, which seems so crazy to me. Parenting makes time go by quickly, but it seems even faster now. Our normal days don’t feel rushed or overly complicated; we’re able to take time to just be. That part is really good. It was important to me from the start of this journey, to give room for slowness and create an environment of simplicity. I feel like kids will learn more, naturally, if they are not rushed around in a flurry of scheduled activities. When we do add those in, we’ll do so very intentionally. My sense of being busy right comes mostly from work and learning to balance working from home with teaching at home. I’m taking it one day at a time, managing my time, prioritizing my family, and recognizing daily that I cannot do this on my own strength. There have been so many little things that have affirmed that we’re on the right path, and for that I’m so thankful.

Right now, our only weekly commitment is CC (Classical Conversations), which has been so much more a blessing than I ever expected. Our group is so diverse, with families in basically every different stage and philosophy. The backbone of it—the classical education model—makes so much sense. Seth is making new friends (who are such respectful, kind kids), and he’s constantly asking me if it’s Tuesday yet- even on Wednesdays.

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We have definitely had bumps in the road. Most days have tested my patience considerably. (Though not more so than all of our days during the summer. Being on my own for 12 hours with 2- and 5-year old boys is exhausting!) My friend Tiffany always refers to homeschooling as “parenting on steroids” and I have to 100% agree. You’re in the thick of it all day, every day. But the rewards—the connections with your kids, the knowledge that you’re pouring into them in such a real way, the act of learning and exploring together—are simply the best.

Seth was pretty resistant to “doing school” for the first weeks, and only very recently has gotten more into it. We added the Explode the Code phonics workbook, and it’s working beautifully for him. Each lesson has a page that involves reading full (simple) sentences, and he always wants to skip ahead to that part. His pride in being able to read them on his own is so awesome to see and gets me excited to be on this journey. I’m learning to gauge what works best for him. We have to do formal learning first thing in the morning, and he only lasts so long. I noticed very early on to watch for his cues that he can’t sit any longer, and stop then before either of us have a chance to get frustrated.

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My favorite things so far have been reading to them aloud and doing nature walks/keeping a nature journal (which has really taken on a life of its own for me- I’ll do a post about it soon). I think we’re finding a rhythm of sorts. I don’t expect it to ever be easy (it is parenting, after all), but I do think we’ll find a bit more balance. It’s becoming our new normal. I’m so excited for what lies ahead.

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The Plan: homeschool journey part two

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Ever since announcing our decision to homeschool, so many other parents have expressed a desire to do the same, or at least a curiosity about the whole thing. It’s been pretty awesome to see so many people choosing to educate their children at home. Homeschooling is definitely gaining popularity and becoming a much more “normal” thing to do. The stigmas and misinformation about it are thankfully (gradually) disappearing as well. I’ve been asked about curriculum and materials more than anything else, so I thought I’d share a bit about what we’re planning to do.

As I began to research the “how” of teaching my kids, I found a wonderfully diverse range of philosophies and approaches. One of the very best aspects of homeschooling is that you have the freedom to choose only what works for your family and each individual child, and to change at any point according to their needs. Some families choose one of the many boxed curriculums, with textbooks, workbooks, and lessons plans ready-to-go for each subject and each grade. On the other end of the spectrum, some choose to “unschool”, using no (or very few) formal teaching materials, but rather allowing real life experiences to teach and the child’s own interests to guide them. I knew early on that I would fall somewhere in between. I wanted instruction that fit my kids’ personalities and learning styles, along with generous bits of the unschooling life. I read about various educational philosophies—Maria Montessori, Reggio Emilia, classical education, Charlotte Mason, and many others. I decided to take what works for us from each rather than following any one of them completely. For Seth this year, some of our plan is based on the Charlotte Mason method. She believed in teaching through “living books” and spending a very good deal of time in nature, both of which I love. You can read more about her methods here, and several of aspects of our plan are from CM curriculums found on Ambleside Online and Charlotte Mason Help. Another large part of our homeschool plan is Classical Conversations. I knew from the very first moment of seriously considering homeschool that if we chose to do it, we had to join a group. Seth is a very social child, and thrives on spending time with other kids. He is not even the slightest bit shy, and will go up to any child of practically any age on playground, and ask them to play. If we spend too much time at home without seeing friends, he gets restless and acts out, and then I react, and he reacts to me, etc. Not to mention the bickering with his little brother, which of course I react to as well. It’s not pretty. So a group was a must for us, and I knew several homeschoolers who were involved with Classical Conversations (referred to from now on as CC). I read a bit about the classical model of education (The Well-Trained Mind is a great resource for this), and attended an informational meeting about CC. We decided to try it out this year. We’ll spend each Tuesday morning with the group, basically working through a timeline of history. There is memory work (which we’ll also review at home), and each weekly class includes a science experiment and a fine art lesson. I hear that families in the group often arrange field trips together on other days as well. I’m definitely looking forward to being part of this community, and I know that Seth will enjoy it. We also have a few close friends starting homeschool this year, with kids of similar ages, and we’re planning to help one another and do projects and outings together frequently. I believe in the “village” model of raising children, and I’m convinced that it will be key to our success and happiness in our new homeschooling lifestyle. (side note: a great article I read recently about the village)

So for those interested, this is my basic plan. It is probably going to change and evolve throughout the year. In kindergarten, they are still learning so much through play. Some philosophies instruct parents and teachers not to push a five or six year old into formal reading or math instruction quite yet, but to wait until they come to you asking to learn these. We’ve decided to start (he has already asked me to teach him to read), but we don’t plan to push him if he doesn’t seem ready either. This year will be a lot of learning as we go, but I wanted to have a starting structure of some kind, so here we go!

 

Our Kindergarten Homeschooling Plan

 

Classical Conversations: as I mentioned above, we’ll attend this group once a week. I’m still figuring out how the program will fit into our everyday life, and will probably have a better idea of this once we get started. I expect that we’ll review the weekly memory work somewhat casually throughout the week- there are songs that help them learn the material in a fun way.

Math: We chose the Math-U-See curriculum because it seems to be well-loved and pretty hands-on. Many parents reviewing it online said that using this program with their kids helps them (the parents) understand certain concepts clearly for the first time ever, especially in the older grades. I was always more of an art, language, and history type, so this sounds great to me.

Reading and Phonics: A friend gave me a copy of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which many families love, so we’re going to see if it works well for Seth. I wanted to supplement this with phonics, so he’s been working through the Hooked On Phonics app on the iPad. We may add more phonics resources later, but it’s a wonderful (and massive!) app and he’s really enjoying it.

Handwriting: We’ll do Charlotte Mason-style copywork, starting with going through the alphabet in upper and lower case (he did this in preschool but I want to review it), and then moving on to copying out short poems, etc.

Art & Music: This is, of course, one of the things I’m most looking forward to. In CC they do visual art lessons half the year, and then learn to play tin whistles during the other half. On other days, I plan to incorporate a lot of art into our lives. The boys already enjoy painting and drawing, but I want introduce various new materials (clay, pastels, etc.) We’ll talk about and experience the work of famous artists and composers, and probably choose projects that tie in with that. Pinterest is full of wonderful art ideas, so I know it will be a valuable resource.

Foreign language: My husband’s family is Cuban, most of them fluent in Spanish. My mother-in-law will be helping us learn to speak it, and we’ll work on it together at home in between). It’s been a goal of mine for quite some time now, and I’m excited to learn alongside my kids. It’s already clear that their pronunciation will be more authentic than mine!

Science: A huge part of our science work will be just spending time outdoors- hopefully every day- and doing what Charlotte Mason referred to as “nature study”. Allowing children to explore and notice the details teaches them so much about the world. I’ve purchased laminated pocket field guides as well as a larger Audubon guide to Florida wildlife, to help us identify what we see. Seth and I have little sketchbooks which will serve as nature journals, to sketch and record our discoveries and collect pressed flowers, etc. We’ll also study science in somewhat informal “units”, based on interest. For instance, my husband loves astronomy and this has rubbed off on Seth, so we’ll spend some time learning in-depth about space, searching the library for books and documentaries, going on a field trip to a planetarium, taking the telescope out to a field at night, etc. Other units this year might include weather, or specific animals of interest, etc. For now, I won’t plan these in advance but will choose them together as we go along.

Literature and Poetry: We will spend time every day reading aloud- I think this is one of the most important aspects of any homeschool. We’ve built a small collection of staples for the home, including Aesop’s Fables, a Mother Goose collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and a collection of classic fairy tales. Much of other material will come from our weekly library trips. I’ll use Ambleside’s recommended book list as a guide, because it’s full of wonderful classics that I want the kids to be exposed to anyway. I’ll ask Seth to tell stories back to me in his own words, and sometimes draw a scene from what we read (CM refers to this as narration). We will likely use some of our poems as copywork as we go along.

Life Skills and Family Values: Another thing that is so important to me is that my kids learn to help maintain our home and carry out daily age-appropriate responsibilities, help care for the garden, and learn useful real-life skills as they grow. Kind of like nonstop home-ec class ;) We’ll also read from the Bible together daily, memorize a short verse each week, and look for ways to help others and give to our community.

After typing all of this out, it seems like a lot. I have no idea if we’ll find it’s way too structured, or not enough. As I said, I’m sure we’ll make adjustments as we go.

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For keeping track of it all, as well as to have a record of what we did, I wanted some kind of planner. Kristin Rogers’ Little House Homeschooling blog has been a great source of information and inspiration to me, and she so generously provided a PDF download of her basic homeschool planning pages. I customized this according to our subjects, etc. (shown above), and added some pages of my own in the back (some lines pages fro recording the books we read and the special trips and activities we do, an outline of all our planned resources/curriculum). The chalkboard quote cover page (photo at top of post), as well as several reference pages printed in the back of the book, are from A Simple Homeschool Planner. I made the whole thing into a PDF with 50 of the weekly planning pages, and had it printed at FedEx Office for about $25.

As for Isaac, who turned 2 in March, we will sort of be doing preschool at home. He’ll be around for so much of what we do with Seth- music and art, stories read aloud, nature study, etc. I plan to prepare some basic activities and materials specifically for him, based on Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies. I love “real” materials: non-plastic, tangible items: wood, stone, and cloth; small but functional tools to learn to carry out actual tasks with, etc. There are so many awesome Montessori activities in this book, which I found at the library and immediately decided to purchase.

And finally, some of my favorite sources of homeschool inspiration:

The Little House Homeschool Blog
Simple Homeschool
The Wild & Free Conference

And some awesome homeschool moms on Instagram:

@tiffanyruda
@lifeographer
@ainsl3y
@woodsermom
@cloisteredaway
@kirstenrickert
@kristinrogers

 

 

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