“Finally!” I thought. “I have this lesson planning thing figured out!” Of course, by that time my kids were nearly grown. After several years of floundering, “shooting from the hip,” copying what my best friends were planning, or trying to make my children fit into the inflexible mold of a detailed, prepared curriculum, I could plan for our school year with confidence. The relief from stress was liberating, and although I still had plenty of decisions to make, the process I had discovered eased the way to success. I hope it will make your planning easier and more successful, too.
Even if a boxed curriculum is a good fit for your family, planning helps you adjust the scope and sequence of learning to the needs of your children.
- Scope—what is covered in the year: what subjects, and what skills, concepts, or ideas are to be learned in each subject.
- Sequence—the order in which the content of each subject is taught, whether according to year, or more specifically, within each year.
If you have been planning for years and would like an easier process, or if you have never made a lesson plan and are preparing for your first year of home education, starting with the big picture is the secret to your success. Before you dig into the details of what to study and how to schedule your day, step back and look at the whole year at a glance. If you are feeling lost in the tangle of options and shadows of uncertainty, zoom out to see the whole forest, and then you can more easily chart your path through it.
“Zooming out” gives you a framework for your planning. I will list four divisions or segments for your calendar in chronological order, not by date, but by task. As you look over your calendar for the next school year, divide it into these parts.
Part #1—Plan Lessons
Before your first day of lessons, set aside a few weeks to prepare. During this time you will determine the following:
- Which subjects your children will study.
- How much of the subject will be covered—for example, what era of history, or which concepts in mathematics?
- What will be the sequence of studies—when during the year will they study what?
- What resources will be used—for example, which books for literature, biographies for history, or guides for penmanship.
Determine what will be your routine for lessons. Remember, this is still big picture, not the daily details.
- Learn the laws regarding homeschooling in your state or region.
- Confirm the number of days you will have lessons.
- Set a beginning day and an approximate ending day.
- Include family vacation time and holiday breaks such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, & Easter, and mark those days accordingly. (Mark vacation time in pencil, if the specific dates have yet to be determined.)
Part #3—Celebrate and Assess
This section also requires a block of time on your calendar. Even if you decide to have a routine of lessons throughout the year, plan a beginning day and an ending day for each year. Your children need the sense of closure annually. They need to know that last year is over and they can look forward to a new year with hope and excitement. They also need a sense of accomplishment. “We did it!” “I finished.” Even if next year you will simply pick up where they left off this year, acknowledging that they finished for this year is important.
- Celebrate their successes—what they did well and crowning moments during the year.
- Evaluate their progress—Give yourself time to thoughtfully evaluate how they have matured, developed, grown, and what they have learned during the year. Your evaluation will keep you in tune with each child and guide you in planning for the new year. (Check out this very helpful evaluation resource: The ABCs of Looking Back: Evaluating Your Child’s Education & Development.
Mark them on your calendar. Short breaks to rest, regroup, or reorganize, and longer breaks to promote family relationships or give extended times for rest are vital for protecting Mom and children from burnout.
Consider these options:
- Establish in your routine a four-day week instead of the usual five days for lessons. This schedule is especially helpful if you have younger children, toddlers, or babies. You’ll have an extra day to regain control, rest, and maintain your sanity.
- If you want to plan a lesson routine that flows throughout the year, you might consider taking every fourth month off. For example, lessons in January, February, and March. Take a break during April. Lessons again during May, June, and July, then plan a break during August, and so forth.
- Many homeschooling families follow a traditional school schedule due to summer camps, co-ops that follow a nine-month schedule, or family vacations during the summer months. If you prefer this schedule, your extended break will fall during June, July, and August.
- Discover what works best for your family and include your breaks accordingly. Let me stress, mark your breaks on your calendar, and give your children and yourself an extended break of at least a couple of weeks, if not a couple of months at the end of the school year.
Establish a habit of using this framework when planning your year. Then when you are ready to plan lessons, add your details to this structure.