How to Create an Annual Homeschooling Plan in 3 Easy Steps.
Homeschooling moms everywhere know that the secret to successful homeschooling lies in having an annual plan. We are somewhat obsessive about it—forever scoping out new curriculum, museum exhibits, field trips, library resources, etc…
In the middle of a recent family reunion, I was telling someone about our plans to continue homeschooling this year, and I came to a startling realization…I HAVE NO PLAN! Here it is, two weeks before school begins, and I am about to commit the most heinous of all homeschooling sins—operating without a plan. Since I am now scrambling, I thought that this was an opportune time to share what I have learned about annual planning. Newbie’s, get out your note pads. Experienced moms, please add a few of your own “golden nuggets of wisdom” in the comments section at the end.
HERE’S HOW TO CREATE YOUR ANNUAL HOMESCHOOLING PLAN IN 3 EASY STEPS.
Step 1: Get a Vision–Decide what is important to you and get really clear about it.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Begin with the end in mind.” This is particularly important for homeschoolers. Set yourself up for success from the beginning by designing a plan that works around your family schedule, your children’s educational needs, and their various learning styles. Also consider your personality, patience levels and available time. The number of factors involved may seem overwhelming, but it is just a matter of beginning from a point of clarity. Know your limitations, strengths and intentions, then work with them.
Think metaphorically for a moment. Imagine that you are creating a map. Begin by visualizing yourself standing on the mountain top, looking out over the landscape at the surrounding peaks. Think of those peaks think as milestones on your homeschooling adventure. Determine which peaks you would like to climb this year and ignore everything else. For the time being, forget about the rivers, valleys and streams you will have to cross to get there. Don’t worry about the equipment you will need. Just think “big picture” and see it very clearly.
Here are some questions to ponder that will help you establish clarity…
- What are you trying to accomplish with homeschooling?
- Is there anything special you want to try this year, or do differently?
- Why are you homeschooling?
Whatever your reasons are, begin with the end in mind. It would be a shame to invest time and energy into homeschooling, and fall short of your expectations. However, if you align your program with your intentions, you will really feel like you made a wise decision and everyone will benefit.
Now consider your approach:
- What’s your style?
- Are you more classical / traditional in your approach or more unstructured?
- Do you intend to do all the teaching, or would it work better for you to have your kids participate in outside classes for a portion of their curriculum needs?
If you are more “classical”, you will feel lost without a structured curriculum. Curriculum materials that contain lesson plans, teacher’s guides, test questions and supplementary resources will suit your needs well.
If you are pressed for time and patience, you might benefit from enrolling your kids in organized programs outside the home. Try a few college courses (if appropriate for your children’s age and abilities), John’s Hopkins or Stanford University Gifted Program courses, online programs like Supercharged Science, History at Our House, or formalized subject specific programs offered in your community. Some families even opt for concurrent enrollment with local public schools which allows their kids to attend mainstream school for certain subjects and home school for the remaining subjects.
If you lean more towards an “unstructured education”, or what some call “the un-schooling approach”, you will feel stifled with a formal curriculum. I have friends who literally become nauseous at the thought of giving their children a text book. They approach planning differently by creating learning modules which are topic based.
Don’t worry if you fall somewhere in the middle. I know some parents who are classically minded with certain subjects and more flexible with others. It doesn’t really matter–there is no “right or wrong way” to homeschool. The important thing is to get clarity about your vision from the beginning, by determining your style and preferences, then structure a program that will support those objectives.
Step 2: Plan your route, subject by subject.
Now that you have attained clarity about your goals and style of education, begin developing specific plans for each subject area. Think metaphorically again. Pretend you are the guide preparing a route to reach each mountain peak. Study the map and the terrain. Anticipate and prepare for the challenges. What do you need to pack for the trip to make sure everyone experiences the joys of the journey, but remains safe and on course?
Remain focused on the big picture and list the learning objectives for each subject area. Challenge yourself in this regard. Fast forward to the end and ask yourself, what has to happen for me to consider our schooling in this subject area a success?
- How will you teach the material?
- What tools and resources will you need?
- What will they know by the end of the school year?
- What skills will they have attained?
- How will you know that they know it?
If you are more classically oriented, choosing curriculum is very important. Don’t get caught like a deer in the headlights overanalyzing curriculum choices. Nothing is permanent, and if what you choose isn’t working, you can change it immediately. The good news is that there are countless incredible curriculum choices available which include complete lesson plans, teaching guides and testing materials. With these programs, all you have to do is stick to a time table and execute.
If you are un-schooling, planning your route is even more important. Due to the unstructured nature of un-schooling, it is easy to stray far off course and get to the end of a semester realizing that you didn’t achieve your goals. My friends who un-school successfully, invest a majority of their time establishing the milestones, and then develop a system of checkpoints complete with dates and topics to help them remain focused and on schedule during the school year. They are also extremely disciplined about gathering resources ahead of time and packaging those resources in manageable “chunks” or “modules” for their children.
Most of the un-schooling families I know do not believe in traditional “testing”. Instead, they rely heavily on written papers, projects or summaries produced by their children to assess knowledge and mastery of a subject area. If you are un-schooling, I strongly urge you to include some mechanism for gauging mastery.
Step 3: Plan Your Chess Game—develop the tactical plan, lesson by lesson
Revisit the milestones you established during step 2 and determine how you will accomplish those goals. Think of a chess game and you will get the idea. Anticipate and plan each move (i.e. lesson), knowing that your “opponent” (i.e. life) will through you some curveballs along the way.
Now is the time to determine the specific tactics:
- How will you execute at each step?
- Will it be through free reading, writing, hands on discovery and exploration, and field trips? Will you rely on established curriculum and testing materials?
- Do you plan to supplement established programs with outside resources like books or videos?
When I get to this stage of planning, I begin with the easy subjects so that I feel I am making progress, quickly. Often, a simple review of the publishers’ lesson plan is sufficient. I simply compare it to my allocated learning days and vacation days and make minor adjustments.
There may be programs that you wish to follow with modifications. Remap the publisher’s lesson plan inserting extra days to accommodate outside resources you intend to use. For a video, it may take one extra lesson to watch the video and one lesson to discuss its relevance to the core topics. With field trips, you might want to spend a day on the field trip and another lesson writing a report about something they learned. You may decide to tie together two subjects with a report on a historical figure. Add 5-6 lessons to work on the report. When you modify a publisher’s lesson schedule in this way, you may find that it takes 2-3 times longer to complete the course. Weigh the trade-off between course completion time and depth of learning and decide what is best for you.
You may want to design a course completely on your own. This is not for the faint of heart but it can be extremely rewarding and allow you to take on something that your kids would never get in traditional school, like an entrepreneurial endeavor, community service, or leadership program. Lay out a comprehensive plan ahead of time to ensure that you progress and achieve your goals.
If this is beginning to seem a little overwhelming, back off a little. Don’t try to accomplish too much.
By the end of this 3 step process, you will have an overall vision for your homeschooling year and strategic lesson plan for each subject. This can be captured on paper, in long hand and be kept in a planning binder, or you can accomplish the same objectives on the computer using homeschool tracking software. I use a combination of paper and computer planning. Over the years, I developed a series of simple planning worksheets which I still use to create my “rough draft”. My formalized plan then gets entered into the computer into my lesson planning software.
The bottom line is that planning pays off in the following ways:
- You will feel more confident that you are on track during the year.
- You will be more likely to complete your goals.
- Your day to day planning and management will be easier.
- You can focus on teaching and maximizing the experience.
So plan your work and work your plan. I hope these tips will help you develop a planning methodology that is sustainable and helps you achieve your homeschool objectives, year after year after year. Happy Homeschooling, and please feel free to contact me with any questions.