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Homeschooling

Homeschool Scheduling 101: Planning Your Year

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It’s that time of the year. Kids are out enjoying the sunshine, BBQ’s are cranked up, and the Homeschool Mother is stalking the mail, organizing school books, and planning next year’s workload. This new series, Homeschool Scheduling 101, is designed to help you get your scheduling done quickly and efficiently- so you can step away from the stack of books and get on with summer fun!

This month, I am going to work with you step by step to organize and plan out your curriculum, your time, and your home, so your school year can run a little more smoothly. Along with tips on scheduling, I am going to share with you some of my favorite time-saving products which help me run my home (and keep my sanity) during the school year.

Scheduling 101 at Only Passionate Curiosity Tips, Tricks, Reviews and Giveaways!

So- Pull out a pencil and let’s get started!

Grab our free Homeschool Planning Pack, and let’s get started! (The forms you’ll need from this pack are the Yearly Brainstorming (The “big picture” form), Yearly Schedule (To map out your ideal year) and the Curriculum Pacing guide (to divide up your curriculum for the year. The other forms are used in this planning series, and in the budgeting week of our Homeschool 101 series.)

When I sit down to plan my year, the very first thing I do is determine what kind of schedule we’re going to follow. Some people school for a traditional school year, following a public school calendar. Others do things a little differently, 4 day school weeks, 6 weeks on, one week off- anything goes when you’re a homeschooler.

Some states have requirements that the school year consist of at least 180 days of instruction. These are two of the most common set ups:

  1. 180 days of school, 5 days a week from Late August to Mid-June, for a total of 36 weeks. (16 weeks of vacation)
  2. 180 days of school, 4 days a week, for a total of 45 weeks. (7 weeks of vacation)

Some people (cough, *me*) are not very strict about how they schedule days/weeks off. In our family, we do all our seat work as a 4 day school week, but Fridays very much count as school days because we still do math and reading- the rest of the lesson is just hands on, outdoors and travel centered. It’s okay to be different!

This is important, because it will help you break down your curriculum to determine what kind of pace you need to follow to complete it in the school year. If you use a program like Story of the World for example, the chapters in the book do not fit “pretty” into a 36 OR 45 week school year. You’ll need to look at that program and decide to either skip chapters, do two chapters in a week, or spread the work over more than one school year.

Personally, we don’t worry much about finishing work within a “school year”. Our calendar and time off follows a 5 day a week schedule, which means we get 16 weeks “off” in the year. Our curriculum plan covers a 4 day a week schedule. We do just a little bit more each day to make it work for us- but like I said, it’s okay to be different and weird.

Big Picture Brainstorming

So- first things first- I want you to sit down, and look at a calendar and determine what you are doing, when. Do you have a yearly vacation? Do you like to have December off for crafts and baking? Does Little Jill have soccer season that takes a lot away from your energy level? Do you participate in co-ops? Do you have goals for the kids in mind? Get those things on your “big picture” plan.

I use this form as a way to brainstorm what I want to be doing, and when. This is also the place where I can see what kinds of stumbling blocks I have in store for me this year. For instance, I always, always burn out in March when winter is lasting just a little too long. I put that burn out on the big picture plan, so when I get to the next step, I can remember I need to plan a little extra down time that month to account for me moping on the couch about the lack of sunshine.

Now, once that is done, sit down with the year at a glance page, and map out an ideal school year.

Planning your homeschool year with free printables

 

I cross out the weekends, I label holidays in red, and highlight dates I know we will be out of town. Once those things are done, I start counting school days, and number the weeks so it’s easy to see what our pace will be. If the week of November 4-8 is week 7 of school, and I want to study about Native Americans that week, I can easily plug that study into Week 7 on the next form.

 

Keep in mind that you probably will not follow this to a “tee”- but know it will make planning, and your life a little easier. X off time you want to take completely off from school, and start counting school days. Refer to your big picture calendar for holidays, days your spouse has off from work, and other local events and family plans you want to avoid over scheduling in your ideal school year.

Next, you’re going to get out all the curriculum, supplements, and books you purchased and start plugging them into the plan.

Open up to the table of contents and read in your teachers manual to see what the recommended pacing is. If it’s an easy-to-schedule program, it will already be broken down either into 180ish daily lessons, or 36 week-long lessons, in which case, you have it easy! In cases like this, I simply mark down on my master planner that we need to do one lesson a day, or one lesson a week (whatever it is) and then put a sticky note on the first lesson in the teacher’s book, and student book. I move the sticky note as we go along, and am done with planning that book.

If it’s a book with an odd number of chapters (like our Story of the World example) I look it over and first see if there is anything to skip. We are secular homeschoolers, so for us, we skip the story of the exodus in Story of the World 1 and a few other small things. I then break the rest of it up into smaller bite sized chunks. For a more involved program (like SOTW) I also read ahead in the teachers manual and pick out what activities I want to do and when, so I have an easy to use spreadsheet of activities for planning purposes. (You can download my 36 week secular plan for Story of the World 1 here).

Write the pacing for each of the programs you are using on a yearlong spreadsheet, which will serve as your master pacing guide for the year. I keep my copy in my “Mama Binder” which houses…. Everything…. And refer back to it often!

More examples:

  1. If I was using Life of Fred for the school year, and planned on using both Apples and Butterflies, I would first count how many chapters there were in these two books (18 in apples, 19 in butterflies = 37 chapters) and would then know I need to schedule about one chapter a week to finish both books in the school year. I would probably in this case, just plan on doing the first two chapters the first week, and make it a little easier on myself.
  2. If I was using Explode the Code, and wanted to complete books 1-3 during the school year, I would count the pages in the 3 books, and then, assuming we were going to do ETC daily, divide by 180 to see how many pages would need to be completed each day.

This works even if you are a unit study homeschooler. For example, I would look at my list of things I want to study, and any materials I gathered (like an electricity unit from Moving Beyond the Page, and a unit on Life in a Castle, and a unit on Community Helpers) and start to schedule them in around the year. For unit studies, I would still leave a lot “blank” but sometimes I have an idea of what I want to do and when, and I can always come back later to fill in the blanks. Unit studies just require a bit of on-going planning, instead of a one-time break down as outlined above.

Scheduling your year- free printable forms and step by step instructions

Hopefully this week you’ll have some time to get these steps done. Keep your list of your programs that you paced for the year, and be ready for next week! We’ll get them scheduled into your week next time, and work out a plan to get everything done.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments! If you’re an old scheduling pro- please feel free to share your wisdom with us in the comments, too! Everyone does things a little differently, and I would love to hear your ideas.

Read the Whole Series on Scheduling:

Scheduling your Week
Keeping Kids on Track
How to Stay Sane While Homeschooling
When your Day Doesn’t Go as Planned

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  • Wow! This is such a wonderful post! Thank you so much for helping me figure out how to get a basic plan in place for my first year of homeschooling! I am very much an analytical planner, and while I know flexibility is key and it is important not to try to cram too much into any schedule, there is totally a place for breaking everything down logically as a starting place!

    Rest assured your post sounded very balanced and no one should be judging your personal homeschool structure harshly after just that quick, partial snapshot! Each family is different, and each homeschooling parent’s own personality and the personalities of the kids play a BIG role in what amount of structure will work for each family! If I didn’t plan it out like this, my kids would have gaps for sure! And there might even be days wasted with nothing accomplished because procrastination and avoidance are my downfalls! (and I have an avoider child as well!)

    In addition, I am NOT an outdoors person, but I know getting out is important for the kids. So SCHEDULING in our outdoor time will help me make sure our family has balance! Definitely needed this framework as baby #3 is coming in the middle of the school year, and I need a plan my husband can just pick up and run with while I am recovering and adjusting. Your blog is amazing, and pay no heed to anyone who wants to judge your style without knowing you!

  • Thanks so much for the resources and the explanations. Might I humbly say, however, that you really sound like you are trying to cram wayyyyyy too much into each week/month/year. Unless there is a school official watching your every move at your home, really your homeschooling adventure can look HOWEVER you want it to look.

    I really think you need to plug more PLAY into the schedule! I promise, you won’t miss out on anything if you only end up doing 30 weeks of 4-day weeks, ensuring that you only do a few subjects each day. For example, we tend to do math and language arts every day for 4 days. The 3rd subject rotates between history, science and fine arts. I also do whatever I can to combine language arts with the 3rd subject whenever I can…so, if we’re doing history (for example), the writing portion of the lesson I will count as language arts, which lessens whatever LA the child has to do that day. They still may do some work in their grammar workbook, but writing and cursive are taken care of!

    Your children are honestly not going to retain such a huge slew of things each day and each week. What, then, is the point? You are already teaching them “how to learn”, how to find info they need, and getting a brief summary and introduction to the concepts, skills, etc. With the exception of math (which needs a bit more regular practice and scaffolding), the other subjects honestly will only be vaguely remembered at the end of the year.

    It seems to me, then, that all the rest of it is just “busy work”. I am very much against “busy work” for the sake of feeling I need to justify our lives to someone else. I prefer to get our work done in 3 hours and then have the rest of the day for individual curiosities, hobbies, free reading, or just playing and imagining.

    The “Curriculum Police” only need to see a marked-in form stating the kids did some learning every day for 180 days, and that you addressed all of the key subjects over the course of the year. Kids (and all humans of every age) DO learn every single day – whether from out of a text book, or from just sitting in the grass and watching butterflies flitter around the garden.

    I think 30 weeks of lessons (without pressuring everyone to do “a chapter every week without fail!!!”) is more than enough…let these poor kids enjoy a bit more of a stress-free childhood.

    • I appreciate your comment- but I feel like you judged me a bit harshly. This post doesn’t really go into what we do each week and I did say that we only school 4 days a week with the 5th day reserved for getting out of the house and traveling or going on field trips. The kids get plenty of outside playtime as well (hours a day now that we live in the south!). One can be organized and still have kids who get to be kids. 🙂

      • Well said Heather! Some people feel better about themselves when they can critique others in their perceived “imperfections”. Each family is different and I appreciate the free materials you published to help other women have healthy, happy, successful families. Thank you!

      • What a shame that the 1st comment shown here is the most recent one and it’s one with such a judgmental undertone. So I’m choosing to spend 10 minutes of my day to replace it with a new recent comment of thanks and gratitude. Heather, for the time and resources you have exhausted putting good and useful information out there for parents trying to do the ultimate Cat in the Hat trick by balancing soooo much when it comes to homeschool life, THANK YOU!!! As a mother who doesn’t have the financial resources or the personal ones for that matter to navigate this world of homeschool as efficiently as I would like, I can tell you it is refreshing to have your links and reviews on resources available and accessible. They are much appreciated and so are you!

  • Thank you so much for all the resources that you have worked so hard on and blessed us with in your sharing. I have always purchased my planners, and much of the planner was unused and then I was always wishing it had other things in it. I love how I can get I want to use and leave out the stuff that I don’t. I am using a binder right now, because I am still figuring out exactly what I like and will actually use

  • OK….was wondering if you had a pic of your master curriculum pacing guide filled in? Maybe I’m making it too hard… LOL

    • haha- I bet you are overthinking it!

      I haven’t actually planned this year yet (oh my gosh…) so I don’t have a completed one. But, it’s easy. I promise.

      Pick one subject to start. Write that subject name at the top of a column, and then number the weeks down the left. Then, start filling in a general overview of what you will complete in that week in each of the boxes moving down the page.

      Some curriculums make this super easy- for example, Logic of English has 40 lessons, so I just write “Lesson 1” “Lesson 2” in the boxes down the page.

      Something like Apologia Science is a little more complicated- it takes me more time to break down the page numbers, and decide which activities we are going to do (because doing them all is whack-a-doodle) and I pencil that in.

      The goal then is to have a snapshot of your year. It’s intended to keep you on track and help you see what you need to complete each week to stay on track.

      I go through and X out completed boxes- so, if I finish everything in the week, but we skip science, I’ll X out all of it but the science box, and I’ll see at a glance that I am a week behind in science, and can double up in a following week (just whenever I have time).

      Does that help?

  • Thank you so much for the information! I’m feeling very lost and I have only a couple of days to get this stuff together. The school year begins in July where I am and it really came quicker than I anticipated!! I am so glad to find a secular homeschool mom as well! I started to think that I was the only one who wasn’t homeschooling for religious reasons! Thanks again!

  • I can’t wait to get started on planning the new school year! Thank you for your advice. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost, I’m so happy I found this and I’m just going to take it all one step at a time!

  • This is great! I was trying to convert it to an Acrobat form so I wouldn’t need to print it (just going to fill it all in digitally), but Acrobat won’t let me edit it bc of the document’s password, any chance you could change this? Or privately email me the password? Sorry to be a pain!

    Thank you,
    Amanda Jernigan

    • I’m sorry, I can’t share the password, and as of right now, they are not editable. This is a feature I am working on, which will hopefully be done soon, so everyone can plan a little easier for next school year. Thanks for commenting!

  • This looks really helpful and informative for HSers who work best with detailed planning!

    I am always amazed at HS moms who do so much planning. If I had started off HSing all those years ago thinking I had to do detailed planning, I probably would have felt like a failure and given up and put my kids in school. We would probably horrify structured HS families with how unstructured we are but it works so well for us and the kids have retained their love of learning and of HSing.

    I thought I’d put that out there for any newbies who felt overwhelmed at the prospect of detailed planning, just so they knew you don’t *have* to if it’s not how you work best. 🙂

    ~Alicia

    • Thanks Alicia, im not interested in being detailed planned, im not organized enough for it and when I tried it I wanted to send my kids back to school, so I had to make a choice, spend months trying to figure out how to plan eclectic homeschool, or send them back…

  • I have been searching for scheduling forms and was resigned to making my own, as none seemed to fit my needs. These are perfect, thank you!

  • This was so helpful! I am a newbie and I am so lost! This helps me get a feel for how I need to lay out our schedule. I still get confused as to how to work our homeschool though. Our state requires 180 days at a minimum of 4 hours each day. Goodness I have so much to learn!!!

  • i’m pretty sure i just fell in love with you and how easy you made planning our first year of homeschool. i’m a planner and former elementary teacher but homeschooling and planning all the fabulous learning invitations left me overwhelmed. not anymore. woohoo! thanks!

  • All these tips and forms are great. I’m looking forward to a more organized year coming up. Thanks for the help!

  • Thanks so much for such a detailed post. We have been homeschooling for several years and I found your information very helpful. I downloaded your SOTW schedule and was wondering if I could ask a question…Before each chapter you have the letters R,R,N listed…what is this? I thought maybe read and narrate, but that leaves one N yet to be named 🙂 Thanks again for sharing all of your hard work!!

    • Read, Review, Narrate 🙂 I plugged that in because we had timeline cards I printed from Hannah’s Homeschool Helps Yahoo Group, and we reviewed them each week! HTH!

  • Love love love these forms! I am a group leader for a large groups of homeschoolers and we talk schedule all the time, so I shared this post with them because I think they will love it.

    I did have a question–you gave a link to a secular SOTW printable…but the link doesn’t take me to it. I *like* your FB page but don’t see the download there either…could you help me find it?

    • Lisa- If you click the like button again, it will unlike, and then re-like it. Everything should then pop up. From then on, I think it should stay open. 🙂

  • Thank you for an awesome post! I hopped over from the Military Homeschoolers FB page. I’ll be starting my second year of homeschooling in the fall. I am a former high school teacher and a planner by nature. I plan the same way you describe, by looking at the year and breaking down the subjects into manageable chunks. I couldn’t find a planner that met my needs so I created a GINORMOUS Excel spreadsheet that includes sheets for goals, curriculum annual overview, weekly lesson plans, to-do lists to prep for each week, and a few other things. I’ve considered offering it on my blog, but I’ve really let the blog fall by the wayside.

  • This is the most helpful homeschooling post I’ve read! I’m a newbie, my daughter doesn’t even “have” to start kindergarten until Fall of 2014. But I’m wanting to try and get into the swing of things this year, and this totally helps!

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