Sunday, August 5, 2012

Planning for the New School Year

I spent most of the summer looking for a new way to plan my school year after the total failure that happened in this years organization and completion.  Lets just say that out of the 8 years I have been homeschooling this past year was possibly the worst by far. We started off great, but by spring we were just getting the basics done...and that was just 3 days a week. Now in my defence lots happened this year that just weren't in my control. Life just happens and on a homestead that life can include animal, weather, and crop troubles and this past spring was full of all three. I have learned though, that while I can't prevent all school delays from happening, by being prepared, I can jump right back on the horse when things calm down.

I've always planned my school days in a traditional paper planner. I have 4 children so I would end up with 2 planners each holding 2 of the children's lessons. It worked OK for years, but I always knew there had to be a better system for our family. This summer I figured it out. In the paragraphs below I'll explain each section of my planner, where I got the sheets from, how I use them to fit our family needs, and the mistake I'm trying to fix by using that planning method. Now I'm saying that this way of planning will be right for you. Your family is not going to look like mine and your needs may not be my needs. I do hope however that you can take something away...even if it's just knowing that you have the freedom to plan in something other than a traditional planner!

My planner has gone from two 1/4" paper planners to being held in a 1 1/2" 3 ring binder. I wanted a sturdy binder that would hold up so I purchased one from Staples with reinforced seams.

At the front of my binder, I keep a years calendar where I can see quickly the verse of the month, activities and field trips planned, monthly goals, and memo's that have been posted for quick reference. You can print this calendar here. I do this so I can take the important things from each section that I wouldn't look at everyday and place them where I will see them. It saves me time from having to search through my entire notebook each day and keeps things better organized.

The next section in my planner is the daily checklist. I have each child's name listed with what subjects they study and a place to check off each day when they complete this study. This is just a quick and easy way for my husband and me to see what was accomplished each day and something for me to take to a child who may be struggling with completing their work to show them the pattern of their day. By seeing the child struggling to finish something each day I can take a closer look at what the root of problem is. Is that child just being lazy or are they struggling with that subject? I was able to print the checklist off here.

The next section in my planner is for my lesson plans. This is by far the largest section in my planner,but it holds lots of extras. This is the section that made me want to make my own planner. What I found was that I had some things that I was doing with each of my children everyday and some things that had to be done one on one. I was spending too much time flipping between planners trying to see what needed to be done with each child. I also found that I never had enough room to write down what I needed (worksheets, manipulative's, games, etc.) so I had to pull out each manual and see what I needed and then collect what I needed for that lesson.!

This year, I am using a weekly log form to write down one weeks worth of activities that we all do together. Because we are doing a unit study this year, this log gives me the space to help me list all the activities I want to accomplish each day. I also include Bible, phonics, writing, art, nature study, and a miscellaneous section.

Behind this page, I keep copies of any worksheets that are to be used that week. By having these already out and ready to go, I am saving myself much valued time. I will say that for us, not having the things I needed already together was the number one failure of this past school year. I could get the girls started, but I didn't have the time to gather what they needed or make copies. I can't tell you how many times we started the day only for me to get called out of the house to deal with a farm issue. If I had everything the girls needed already together, it would have been no big deal, they could have opened up my planner and gotten them out and continued on without me.

After my weekly log list, but in the same lesson plans section, I have separate planner pages for English and Math. I am using a modified page out of this unit planner for this. I write the child's name across the top and then use the 5 space going down for each day. Instead of having to write the names, days of the week and subject over and over, I filled out one page and made copies of each for each school week. After each page I again make copies of any worksheets I need that week and place it behind the main planning page.

The next section in my planning book is titled yearly goal. This is the first of the actual "planning" sections of my binder. I won't be using the following sections except when I am gathering thoughts and ideas for our year. I start with just a list of the goals I want to achieve throughout the year. I am using two forms for this and they can be found here and here.

I use the first one listed to write down my general ideas for all subjects. I don't try to put many details down, just brain storm. What subjects do I want them to focus on? What Bible lessons do I want them to learn? What character traits do I want them to study? Then I list any possible books I might want to use next to each thing.

The next page I have linked is for a more detailed yearly overview. I am only using this on the core subjects that I really want the girls to work on. I'm able to use this to list monthly goals, books and materials I will need, methods of teaching, and any thoughts I have that I want to remember.

After I have my yearly goals listed, I break it down into weekly objectives and place those in their own section. It is this section that I pull all the information for my weekly lesson plans from. I printed my objectives for weeks page from here. This lets me just get an idea of what I need to cover each week in order to complete my school year on time. Once these two sections are finished, it's easy to plan each weeks of school work.

Because we are doing a unit study this year, I created a section just for an overview of the unit study. Here, I simply list the facts and I am able to use this and actually type out most things before I print it. It saves me a lot of time by typing it and is very well laid out so it is easy to follow. It is here that I list materials (including books and videos, worksheets, websites, and supplies needed), field trips (with detailed instructions, cost, directions, etc.), labs, projects, and assignments all for that unit study. Now I do this before I do my weekly objective so that I can plug in these things in that list. That way when i do my weekly planning both core subjects and unit study items are all listed. I won't refer back to this unit study list again except for field trip information that I don't feel needs to be listed more than once.

After all of my planning sections , I have sections that hold information on records and general questions. There isn't much explanation needed for these so I'm just going to list them quickly along with where I got them.

Reading Log- with this I can keep track of what my kids are reading, completed date, and the number of pages.

Spelling and poetry list- I don't have a print out that I use here. I just take all of my children's spelling list and put them on one page. This way I can quickly review spelling with all of them and I don't have to pull my teachers book out for each child. I also put copies of the poems they are working on and place them in this section.

Grammar rules- Again, there is no print out, I just make a list of all the grammar rules my children will cover that year (the yearly planner helps me know what I will need to cover) and place them in their own section. I do this because it never fails that someone will have a question while I'm away from my teachers guide and this lets me just flip in my planner instead of getting up and grabbing my book.

The last two sections are for grading and school attendance. Simple, to the point, no explanation needed, but you can find them here and here.

I hope that this helps you as you plan your school year. I'm not saying it's the perfect way, or the only way, but this has worked well for our family this year. If I see something that isn't working, I'll update with how I changed it.

Linking up with:
The Morristribe homesteader blog carnival
The Homestead Barnhop
Off the grid @ 30

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Tomorrow will be the end of our 3rd week of the new school year and tomorrow I will post my week in review to show what the girls have learned this week. However, tonight I want to post something I have learned this year that has made my life so much better as not just a homeschooler, but a wife and mother as well.

I have always had a problem with staying up late and not getting up till mid morning. It has eaten away many wonderfully planned school days and countless activities, both of mine and the girls. Because of our late start, we would rush to start our day and never get past the basics before it was time to pack it up and put it away for the day. I longed for more time to get things done around the house and I'll be honest I wasn't telling myself the truth when I said I would get it done after the kids went to bed. Because they were sleeping in as well, they were staying up late with me!

Then I found a wonderful web site called inspired to action and a plan they had called Maximize Your Mornings. In this group, you sign up for either a text, tweet or facebook group and you keep each other accountable for getting up in the morning, having quiet time with God and exercise. It was hard when I first signed up. I wasn't this jolly person that you wanted to be with, but over the weeks I began to see how much more I was getting done by getting up so early. I also saw that I was rubbing off on my family!

My husband has never been a morning person. He never wanted me to get up with him before work because he liked to roll out of bed, put his clothes on and grab something to eat on his way to work. Things started to change however when I started waking up earlier in the morning. I didn't wake him up, but I did make his coffee, cook him a hot breakfast and even put a lunch and snacks together for him. He started liking his wife getting up earlier! But even more than having a hot fresh cup of coffe and home cooked meal, he liked having a few minutes to speak to his wife. Now, he get's up early as well. We still have the coffee and hot breakfast, but now we even get to have a Bible study together in the morning. Talk about a blessing!

My children are also getting up earlier now. No more school days starting at noon, they start these days no later than 8:30. And we are getting more subjects in than ever before. Science is no longer just a quick read through and history is something we actually get to do hands on projects in now. The girls are happier than they have ever been and we are finishing our day early enough that they now have time to do extra things that they want to do like piano, nature study, art. And Mom? Yes, she now has time to do more things she wants to do.

Tuesday of this week, after the girls finished their studies, I was able to start a jean skirt that I have been wanting to make. Winter is coming up soon and I was down to just two jean skirts. So I pulled out my sewing machine and started piecing together my fabric and creating something for myself, something that I haven't done in years. Today I was able to finish my project and I feel so accomplished. I know that I no longer have an excuse to not being able to get everything done, I just need to make sure I go to bed on time and get up in the morning.

If you struggle with getting up, I encourage you to try inspired to action and see if maximizing YOUR mornings doesn't make a huge difference in your homeschooling day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lovely Week 2!

This was such a great school week! The girls are just amazing me more and more each day. It's weeks like this that I need to remember when I have those not so great weeks :D

We chased lots of rabbits this week for that even made my stomach curl (we'll get to that at the end).

New additions:
I guess I'll start with the newest pet LOL She showed up at our door...err, window a few nights ago and has been camping out on my porch. Such a sweet little kitten that has just made Punkaboo and Kypie (my cat lovers) melt. We haven't named her yet so if you have an idea let me know. We are going to vote on one in a few days. She looks mean in this picture, but she isn't. The wind was just blowing and she was cold :-(

Home Ec isn't really new for us, but we just started it again this year. We split so much time up between cooking, sewing, crafting and needle work. Right now we are doing cooking. The girls got to make their own pizza's this week and had a blast doing it! I know it really isn't a hard thing to do, but it was fun and I wanted to start off light.

We added our new science book in this week. I had done a sample lesson out of it last week and the girls really liked it so I bought the book. It's called Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space and is from a young Earth creationist point of view which is what we were looking for. I've always shied away from Earth science because I couldn't find something that I wanted to use. Because of our Christian views finding something that is based off of the Biblical account of history is very important to me. This week week we studied plate tectonics and caves. The girls are working on their science project of making a speleothem out of water, epson salts and string.
They really enjoyed their project and are looking forward to watching it grow. I'm happy that they are loving science and wanting to learn more and more about it!

We added spelling in this week as well and I am happy to say that all spelling words were mastered this week with flying colors!

Miss Punkaboo started cursive writing this week and did a great job learning all her vowels and the letters l, c, t and s. I was so proud of how hard she worked!

The younger 3 girls also learned about Early Britan this week and while we didn't do any "projects" from it this week, they still enjoyed the map work.

What we are reading:
Kypie read Beowulf this week and started Augustine Came to Kent

Ducky started The Magic Tree House Vacation Under thhe Volcano (which I know has HORRIBLE sentence structure, but it's a fun book and it goes with the science topic of volcanoes that we will be covering next week. 

Punkaboo has just blown me away with her reading! She is reading every children's story she can get her hands on and I think she will be in chapter books by Thanksgiving if not sooner.

I read Nowhere Caroline this week... ok in 2 days and it was OK, but a bit dragging. I'm going to be reading a book with my husband a book called Family Man, Family Leader. It's for the new Bible Study he will be doing at our church and I want to read it so I can better support him.

My oldest daughter, the Senior, is finishing The Help. It was a total pressure read as she has already read 95% of everything on her reading list for the year.

Speaking of the Senior:
She isn't studying much at home this year. She is mostly done with just a few things left to do. She is using Abeka's Economics course and enjoying it more than I ever thought she would! She has learned about Adam Smith and is on her way right now to the librairy to check out his book The Wealth of Nations (on her own doing LOL). She is of the opinion that she MUST read this book to understand the foundation of Economics. I'm a proud Mom...

This morning she gave her first oral report of the year. It also happened to be our first cold day of the season and we were NOT ready for it. She is sporting the I just grabbed the first warm thing I could find look and pulling it off well!

She was NOT happy with me after taking this picture LOL

And the rabbit? Oh yes, she was here... She was running all around as we did our studies this week.
Which brings me to the Eww moment of the week. Yep, the girls chased a rabbit, right to biology and dissection. Remember the new cat? Well she caught a mouse and ate it...well most of it. I was standing in the kitchen when I hear my youngest Punkaboo come running into the house telling me I have to go outside and see what they found. I follow and in tummy turning horror I find them looking and examing the remains of the mouse. Not grossed out, not making ugly faces, not running from it. No, they were trying to figure out what was what and I was the one that had to HELP them. So I hid my grossed out thoughts and went to work helping them. Oh the fun of a homeschooling mom!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why is there a rabbit in the classroom?

We get that a lot when people stop by and see our fuzzy white and brown spotted long eared house pet. Bunny Britches, a Mini Lop, has been a member of our family for a couple of years now. She has the cutiest personality and enjoys spending her days flipping cardboard tubes around her pen, exploring new mazes built from boxes by the girls and munching fresh spinach leaves and carrots before stretching out in her pen, giving a good yawn and taking a well earned rest.

However, Bunny Britches isn't the only rabbit in our classroom. No, we chase rabbits all day long as we flip through science books, history text and scriptures in the Bible. That's one of the best things about homeschooling! My girls get to stop at anytime, make a left turn and chase a rabbit as far as they want to go and when they get tired of chasing the 2 toned black and white Dutch rabbit, they can turn right and spend the next hour chasing the spotted chocolate Harlequin. Chasing rabbits is just something that can't seemed to be helped and with 4 girls learning at home right now, we have a lot of rabbit chasing going on!

Sometimes our rabbits even run together, like when we are studying pioneer days and a rabbit breaks loose and wants to know what they ate in those days and another rabbit joins in and wants to know not only what they ate, but how they cooked it, which leads to the next rabbit wanting to know where they got their goods from to even cook with! I'm telling you, we can be up to our eyeballs in rabbits after reading just one book.

The girls chasing rabbits is like watching Bunny Britches explore her box mazes. Each time she is let loose to run through them it's in a different shape with different areas to discover. She may start down one path only to allow her nose to take her down another path where she finds a carrot. Or she may start at the bottom and find a ramp that takes her to another level where a new toy awaits. There is always something wonderful waiting for her with each new adventure.

Some people would say that chasing rabbits is counterproductive. They would say that more time should be spent in text books learn the basic 3 R's. I however strongly disagree. Allowing my children the freedom to explore and learn a topic they find interesting seems not just like more fun, but it instills a love of learning that can't be forced on a child. My goal is to make them lifelong learners, not just students in school.

Our school year started this week and I have to tell you, I have already had to set a few carrots out to lure the rabbits back that my girls have chased. They've traveled to the center of the world and learned what it is made of. Then to help them remember they have created their own worlds out of paper mache with cut outs to see the layers of the Earth. They have ridden magic carpets to Ancient Rome and studied about Roman soldiers, conquered lands and the Barbarians that finally overtook them. And they have studied the scriptures that will guide them as they learn what it is to be a Godly Woman.

I'm looking forward to the weeks to come, the rabbits we chase and the places they take us. I'll be updating with highlight's of our weeks adventures and post pictures of projects made, cozy reading spots found and lessons learned. I hope you will join us as we chase the classroom rabbit.