Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Your Mark, Get Set

Wait! Stop! I don’t know where we’re going! How do we get there? Looking at a stack of shiny, new textbooks, workbooks, and projects can make me feel like that. Do you ever feel like that at the beginning of a new school year?

In order to get from here (the beginning of the school year) to there (a successful school year ending), you need a roadmap. Planning ahead is like downloading a map for your next trip; it tells you which highways to travel and how many miles you have to go until the next exit. But, it doesn’t prevent you from making an extra stop at the scenic lookout or a fabulous restaurant you pass along the way. So it is with planning ahead for the school year; you know what you want your children to learn during the year and what you have to accomplish in order for them to achieve those goals. But, you can still pause for a sick day or an unexpected field trip without getting off course.

The key to a smooth start of the school year is to begin planning early. Yes, I know it’s only the beginning of August, but sometimes I feel as if August is the shortest month of the year. In order not to feel overwhelmed the weekend before I plan to start school with the kids, and in order not to feel like I’m completely missing my summer vacation, I do a little bit of planning at a time. For those of you using a combination of curricula or making up your own, this will save many hours of preparation during the school year.

Several types of planning make homeschooling go more smoothly: long-range planning, mid-term planning, and short-term planning. Long-term planning involves choosing curriculum for each child that matches her learning style and will be used for several years in order to have continuity in each subject. It can also involve planning which science classes and which literature periods will be covered during the four years of high school (or grade school). Deciding which method of homeschooling (classical, Charlotte Mason, traditional, eclectic, etc.) suits your family best falls under long-term planning, too.

Mid-range planning involves breaking the school year down into quarters (or whatever units you use), then months, and then weeks. I plan which books will be read when and which projects go with which history and science units. I also look at every textbook, workbook, and living book we’ll be using to see approximately how many pages and chapters need to be done every quarter, month, and week. It saves time when I do my short-term planning during the school year, and it also helps me keep the children on track to finish each book by the end of the school year (but not three months early, unless we want to do it that way).

Short-term planning, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, involves planning specific pages, chapters, lessons, and projects for each day of our school week. I have found that it works best for me to do this once every two weeks. Doing it every week tends to feel cumbersome and never-ending. If I do it only every three or four weeks, we tend to get out of sync too easily by an unexpected field trip or illness. It may take you a few tries to figure out what timing works best for you, but you will be much more relaxed throughout the school year if you take a little bit of time now to do so.

Many tools exist to help you with all this planning. You can go to a teachers’ supply store or a homeschool convention and find many different types of paper planners. If you like to have a physical notebook in your hands, this is the way to go. Take the time to choose the style that will best suit your needs: large family, unit studies, high school, and many others. When I used paper planners, my favorites were these two: The Home Schooler’s Journal, published by Fergnus Services Foundations for Learning, and Homeschool Teacher’s Plan Book, by Grace Publications. If you’re computer savvy and don’t want extra papers cluttering your desk, then check out the wide selection of electronic planners. Some are web-based, meaning that your computer has to be connected to the Internet in order to access them. Some are can be downloaded from the internet (my personal favorite is Homeschool Tracker; I use the Basic free edition, the Plus version is $49 and includes free updates) and some can be purchased on a CD-rom to download onto the computer yourself. The Old Schoolhouse (TOS, The 2010 Schoolhouse Planner, $39.00 ) has an extensive homeschool planner that includes forms for everything, with updates every year. If you’re trying to decide whether or not planning on the computer is for you, check out the freebies online.

Your goal for this week: purchase a homeschool teacher’s planner. Leave me a note on your search for the perfect planner, which one you chose, and why you chose it.

This post appears over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Check out their other helpful offerings.