Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Planning Your Homeschool Year...

I was looking back on past planning posts and realized I've shared bits and pieces, but never a start to finish planning post so herein lies my feeble attempt.  First off, my favorite planning resource is Simply Charlotte Mason's Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education in 5 Simple Steps.  I have the original blue edition and am not sure how it compares to the new green book, but it works for all intensive purposes so I don't plan to upgrade. I also have not watched the DVD, just simply reference the book.

Recently, I have determined I'm a hybrid digital-paper planner with a strong bent toward paper.  I love creating charts and tables digitally, but must print them so I can see the big picture.  I attempted to go totally digital one year, using Excel spreadsheets for planning and record keeping and wouldn't you know, that was the one year our computer died.  I took it as a sign that I should stick with paper ;-)

The five steps I use in creating our homeschool plan are as follows:

1. The Big Picture

This is where you outline an overview for your child’s education by recording your personal goals.  What are you trying to accomplish by homeschooling?  These goals may be very different for each child depending on strengths, weaknesses, personality, etc.  Or, they may be a standard set of goals for every child in your home.

It's also here that you'd determine which school subjects you want to cover during which years. When setting goals and choosing subjects, you'll want to keep in mind your state requirements.  For example, here in Wisconsin, on the form we file with the Department of Public Instruction, it says we must agree that...
The program provides a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health.  (WI DPI PI-1206 form)
Now, we can add to these subjects as we choose, but these subjects must make up the bare minimum of our studies according to our state law.  If you're trying to provide a Charlotte Mason education, you want to be sure to set forth a broad and liberal curriculum, attemptng to cultivate affinities, not a utilitarian education steering the child toward some particular career.  
"They require a great variety of knowledge, - about religion, the humanities, science, art; therefore, they should have a wide curriculum with a definite amount of reading set for each short period of study."
If your goal involves a college bound student, here is where you'll want to check with prospective colleges to determine requirements for entry.  I am not suggesting that you choose a college for your early elementary child at this point,  However, as your students enter middle and high school, you're going to want to determine how many credits of particular subjects they will need for college entry.  For example, will you need two or three years of foreign language and how many credits and what type of mathematics are required?  Knowing this upfront, will greatly ease your stress when the time comes to plan those high school years.

2. Your Year

Once you have your goals and subjects set, you will organize a year of study for your child by determining what you want to teach during that particular year.  For example, if you have a 1st grader, you may wish to focus on copywork and oral narration.  However, if you have a 4th grader, you may wish to begin transitioning to written narration.  

An overall determination of what to teach when should have been accomplished in the Big Picture Plan as outlined above and you'll want to reference that list in this step.  Now you are simply looking at this specific year ahead of you to determine what you will teach in that particular year. Some of these subjects may include, Bible, History, Geography, Mathematics, Science, Language Arts, Music/Composer Study, Shakespeare, Handicrafts/Life Skills, etc.  Here is a post I wrote back in 2012 showing some of the resource/subject charts I'd created for this step at that time. 

When you have your subjects in place, you can then begin to select the resources you want to use to cover each of those subjects.  For example, what time period will you study in history or what concepts will you cover in math?  This is also where I determine which subjects will be family studies or circle time and which will be individual studies.  Being a bibliophile, this is one of my favorite steps!  This year, we'll be studying Ancient History and I will pull resources from programs like Ambleside Online, Beautiful Feet, TruthQuest History, A Mind in the Light, Veritas Press, etc.  

3. Your Term (quarter, semester, etc.)

Next, you will need to break up your school year into manageable sections or chunks of time.  Do you want to school year round or in a 36-week chunk?  Do you want to break that 36 weeks up into 12 week, 9 week, or 6 week terms?   Do you want to school 4 or 5 days per week?  Here is where you decide and schedule your terms on the calendar. What breaks and holidays will you want off?  Do you have any family vacations planned in the upcoming year?  These are questions you'll want to take into consideration when dividing and scheduling your terms.  Pam Barnhill has a great video here showing how she sections off her school days on the calendar.  We tend to complete the bulk of our school year during the winter months because here in Wisconsin we have a lot of time indoors during December, January, and February.  However, as Pam mentions in her video, in the south, they plan the bulk of their year in June, July, and August because it's just too hot to be outside during those months.  

Whatever you decide, after dividing your terms, you need to determine how many lessons or how many books you will read per term.  I even go so far as to divide out chapters and pages per term.  Ambleside Online has information here regarding numbers of books and pages read in each Form in the PUS schools.  Nicole Williams at Sabbath Mood Homeschool has put this information into a useful chart here.  I also found her series of posts on Preparing a CM Schedule very helpful in this step of the process.  I've posted samples of our Year 5 and Year 4 Term Schedules in the past.  

4. Your Week

Once you've set your terms and what you will teach each term, the next step is to map out a weekly schedule.  First you will need to determine how often to do each subject during the week.  Then you will choose which subjects to do on which days.  You will want to vary the order of subjects altering between concentrated intense subjects and less intense subjects including those that allow for physical movement; using different parts of the brain allows for better attention span.  I've written more about this step in Pulling Your Charlotte Mason Education Together.  

5. Your Day

Finally, you will create a daily plan that works for your family situation by determining when to do each subject during the day.  Are you morning people or do you peak after noon?  Also, estimate how long to spend on each subject.  Again if you are planning a Charlotte Mason education, that Ambleside link above or Nicole William's chart is a great reference tool to determine length of time for each subject.  A key method to a Charlotte Mason education is short lessons beginning around age 6 for approx. 15-20 minutes, increasing around age 10 to 20-30 minutes, and continuing around age 14 to 30-45 minutes and beyond. These times are per subject and will help cultivate the habit of attention in your student.   You can see a sample of my Year 4 and Year 5 Daily Checklists here.  

There you have it, five simple steps to planning your homeschool.  I should note that typically, step number one is not something you would redo every year.  However, I would definitely go back and reassess your big picture plan annually to ensure that you're meeting your goals.  Also, it's OK to change your goals as time goes on, your kids age, and you settle into a philosophy of education.  For me, creating a homeschool plan has been a fluid process.  I've learned a great deal since that first day back in 2007 and my ideals about education have changed considerably.  I even switch out parts of the five step plan from year to year, but having a framework sure is helpful so as not to reinvent the wheel year after year.

How do you plan your homeschool year?  I'd love to hear about it.  Feel free to share in the comments section below....

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