A few years ago I found a homeschool planning method that has completely changed my life! I switched from weekly homeschool planning to planning for the entire year, and I will tell you...I will never go back!
I don’t know if every homeschool mom feels this way, but when our school year begins in mid-August, I hit the ground running. There is very little breathing room, especially as the kids get older and their activities multiply.
Even though Sonlight is open-and-go, when I plan by the week, I still find myself spending an hour or two every Sunday evening writing out assignments and pulling Activity Pages for each of my four children. While that isn't horrible by any means, I prefer to spend my Sunday evenings relaxing with my family.
The solution I came upon is to plan my entire year (nearly) all at once. Maybe it will be a good fit for you too? Let me share with you how it works around my house.
1. Choose Your Curriculum
In April, I start getting the annual itch to begin looking into curriculum for the next year. I’ll start doing research and checking my mailbox at least three times a day for the newest Sonlight catalog. By May, I like to have a pretty solid idea of which History / Bible / Literature and Math programs we will use.
Then I’ll take a break from planning. I’ll focus on finishing up the end of the school year and enjoying a little time with my kids. By the end of May, I’ll be ready to make my final decisions on homeschool curriculum and get everything ordered.
I always recommend that homeschool moms give themselves two windows to choose their curriculum. This helps moms to make wise decisions, and it helps us not be so taken by all the options. It gets our eyes focused on what is right for our kids. Also I always recommend that they choose the next year’s curriculum right on the tail end of the current school year. This way, everything is fresh—what worked, what didn’t work, and what might work better.
2. Unbox the Curriculum
Box Day! Oh my goodness...it’s the most exciting day of the year, rivaled only by Christmas Day. We always make a big production of Box Day, pulling out every book and ooh-ing and aah-ing over each one. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but it has always helped my children get excited about next year’s studies.
The next more important step to unboxing the curriculum is to box it right back up! Or at least, get it out of sight for the children. You don’t want next year’s curriculum to get old to them before they even begin. Keep things fresh. They are then able to spend the summer anticipating the goodness that awaits them when school-time rolls around once again.
3. Prepare Your Teacher Materials
I do some pretty crazy, unconventional things when I’m planning. One of those things is that I don't use the Sonlight binder. Instead, I collate each week’s Instructor’s Guide (IG) pages into 36 separate file folders—one for each week. That way, I can grab one week of lesson plans at a time. I then clip those pages into a smaller binder to work from each week.
As I'm organizing the IG pages, I also go through and note in pencil any extra activities I may want to do or videos I would like to show. Sometimes I also write down math plans in the extra boxes on the Instructor’s Guide for each child. These math notes help me stay on a well-paced schedule and give me an idea of what’s coming up. On the outside of the folder, I slap a sticky note with a list of the materials I need that week.
I set up all the books for the year on a shelf close-by. (But I warn my children that those books are not to be read until the school year.)
This routine of breaking down and annotating my 36 weeks of IG pages streamlines my weekly preparation, especially since I have multiple HBLs to teach from. It puts all my information in one place for the entire week.
4. Prepare Your Student Materials
For this step, I use 36 file folders for each child—color coding each child with a unique color of folder. (Of course, manila files work just fine, too.) I file the Activity Pages for each child in the appropriate week. Sometimes, if a child needs more guidance, I may label each set of questions with the days of the week—M, T, W, TH, F—to help them work independently. I really appreciate the way that Sonlight includes the page numbers on the Science Activity Pages, because my older kids automatically know the assigned science reading for the day and are able to do it independently without my writing it in.
The next step is probably the most painful. You’ll need to tear apart those crisp shiny Explode the Code, Wordly Wise, handwriting, and math workbooks and file the pages into the appropriate weeks. Yes, it’s tough.
Make neat, clean cuts using your best Exacto knife. Again, to make your weeks even easier, you may want to go ahead and label the pages with M, T, W, TH, F.
5. Plan Your Field Trips
Now I know that all homeschool mamas are experts at spontaneous educational opportunities, but it helps me so much to plan our field trips ahead of time. I find that when I plan by year, we are more likely to coordinate field trips to our studies. Hmmm….we are studying animals the first three months, so I’ll plan a field trip to the zoo for September.
For me, planning our field trips for the year also keeps me accountable. When I have a trip penciled on the calendar, it’s less likely I will cancel or skip it. I usually plan one educational outing per month during the school year, but you can plan as much or as little as you wish.
6. Enjoy Your Summer and Relax When School Begins
Now, I can sit back and relax because my school year will be waiting on me in dozens of file folders! When I'm ready to start Week 1, I’ll just pull out my teacher file for Week 1 and all my kid’s files for Week 1. And I'm set to go!
The same is true when you hit Week 36! The only weekly planning you have to do is pulling files! Your planning is done! Enjoy your summer!
I’m sure you’re wondering, What if we get sick? What if something comes up? Yes, there will always be some need for wiggling things around. Nothing is ever set in stone. Life happens. But, we take the punches as they come. We will either double up one day or work on a Friday since we use the four-day curriculum option. We’ve even been known to skip an assignment or two here and there. Don’t worry. Even if you get hung up on a section of math, pushing everything back a week or two is really easy and will only take a few minutes of your time. Adjusting your plan is not difficult when you plan for the year, so don’t worry! It is worth it.
Finally, you can reclaim your Sunday evenings, homeschool moms!
I have followed this method for three years now, and it has taken a huge burden off my back! Summers are slow and easy for the most part around here, so I am able to plan as I want. I can do a little filing in my spare time, and leave it when the mood strikes to take the kids swimming. So, it’s been a perfect fit for me. Then through the school year, we love having weekends together without the pressure of assembling homeschool lessons each week.