Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Failing to Plan, Planning to Fail

(This post is part of my Homeschooling 101 series, posted every Tuesday.)

How much do you plan out your school year? Depending on your personality, your available time and your organizational tools, you may plan a little or a lot. One of the benefits of homeschooling that I think homeschoolers really like to tout is how much freedom and flexibility there is. It is one of the things I love most as well. I don’t have to get the kids to the bus stop by a certain time, we can plan family vacations when it is convenient for us, when we are sick – we don’t miss assignments and we can take “sunny days” instead of “snow days” (because I prefer to take off on the warm days, and snowy days are good for doing school.) . While all this is a great benefit, it can often lead to a sense of discouragement and always feeling like I am running behind schedule when I have taken too much advantage of all that freedom and flexibility! This is where good planning comes in – so that I know what my goals are for the year and what I need to do to stay on schedule or to adjust for different circumstances that come along.

Planning for me starts with the big picture and the zooms in to more specific goals as they get closer. Here is a step by step run-down of how I think about planning:

1. Research - Investigate curriculum, evaluate what isn’t working, choose books, and purchase what I will be using for the year. You can see what I’ve used in the past here, and I will have a post in the future for what we will be trying out this coming year.

2. Calendar - Once I have the curriculum, I get out the calendar and block out vacation times, and major breaks or holidays that I know we will be taking. Then I try to decide which 36 weeks I will be doing school. I try pretty hard to schedule our school by either quarters or trimesters so that I have some in-between goals to meet for the year. At the end of each quarter or trimester I have a chance to evaluate what is working and what is not and how our plan needs to be adjusted.

3. Syllabus After I have my calendar penciled in, I begin to plan out syllabi for each subject. You might remember having a syllabus in upper high school or college. It is basically a list of what I intended to cover each week. I set broad goals based on my quarter schedules – for example, I need to be roughly halfway through math by week 18. For some subjects that don’t break out quite so easily (like our history book that had 41 chapters), I try to decide which chapters I may want to spend more time on and which I don’t need to spend as much time on. This is a little more complicated syllabus and I end up changing it often during the year, but at least I start with a general idea. The syllabus planning is probably the most unusual part of my method, and definitely the part that takes the most time, but I have really benefited from adding this to my habits this year. I will explain more about my syllabus planning in a future post.

4. Weekly Detail – I don’t plan each individual week until the Sunday night before. That way I can make adjustments and course corrections on a week by week basis and not feel like I’m getting too off track. Since most of the major planning is done in the syllabus planning stage, I just get out my syllabus and see what is up for the upcoming week. I pencil in assignments for each child in my planner, taking into account any appointments, activities or changes to our weekly schedule. I should mention that I generally plan our week to be about a 4 day week. We do school for 5 days, but the fifth day isn’t too packed with assignments, as we usually have at least one day a week that gets interrupted either intentionally or unintentionally from the “best laid plans”.

Planning Tools

You don’t need a fancy planner to plan your school day. Actually, the simpler it is, the easier it is to change. Here are a couple that I am familiar with, if you are familiar with others that you like, please comment on where they can be found and why you found them helpful.

Donna Young Printables – These are free printable planners. I used these planners my first two years. I made copies and hand wrote all my plans on them each week. Super simple and most importantly, they are FREE!

511403: The Well-Planned Day Homeschool Planner (July 2012 - June 2013) The Well-Planned Day Homeschool Planner (July 2012 - June 2013)

By Home Educating Family Publishing
This planner worked very well for me. I liked it because it was so pretty and well-designed. I did have to customize it for my own use. I didn’t like having the subjects printed in the order that they had them, so each week I would cover over their subjects with a label and write in the subjects in the order that I wanted them (which was the order that we usually cover them). This was the only thing I didn’t like about it, and it was pretty easy to change. There were plenty of pages that I didn’t need, like report cards, Christmas shopping planning pages and a few others, but I really liked having my weekly menus on the same page as my school plan.

This year I am going to try a new planner that I found from Debra Bell, published by Apologia. What interests me about this planner is that it seems a little more customizable, fixing the problem I had with my last planner. I especially like this part of the product description, “Weekly plans provide room to write in your Bible plan, battle plan, prayers, hospitality/outreach efforts, memorable moments, achievements, and evidences of grace.” I have yet to purchase and use this one, so this isn’t an official endorsement, I will let you know what I think later in the school year!
437600: The Ultimate Homeschool Planner The Ultimate Homeschool Planner

By Apologia Educational Ministries

The bottom line:  Failing to plan is planning to fail

The way I plan might be too regimented for some and not regimented enough for others. I have found that the amount of planning I do has increased each year, and has really benefited me in the long run. I have also started to plan smarter by not having to do everything that sounds like a good idea and by leaving lots of flex room for the unexpected. How about you?

Your turn… how do you go about planning your year? What is your best planning tip? Do you have any other planning tools that you like to use? I would love to hear your comments…

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