Planning Our Homeschool Year

Planning Our Homeschool Year

If you’ve decided to homeschool and are now panicked in a cycle of “What now?” thinking, congratulations! You’re officially a homeschooler! But seriously, we’ve all taken on a huge and sacred responsibility to educate our children. It can be daunting to figure out where to go from there! So, I wanted to share how I went about planning our homeschool year!

How I Started Planning Our Homeschool Year

Before you start planning, I’d suggest taking a moment to reflect on why you’re choosing to homeschool. Think about what’s important to your family. Each family has different reasons and different goals for their homeschooling.

For my family, we want to foster deep understanding and meaningful connections. We also want flexibility in the pace of learning to accomplish those goals. We also place high value on science, civics, and literature.

Learning Styles

As an educator, I already had some experience with how kids learn. I know that hands-on exploration is the best way to teach kids new information. And that tests don’t always reflect mastery, but projects with a rubric more often do. I also know that kids need to move and play. And that they can memorize endless information, but it won’t hold any meaning without understanding. That being said, I also believe that kids do need practice. And sometimes worksheets are the best means to that end.

I also know my kids and how they’ve learned up to this point. Ru needs kinesthetic learning – to use her hands and body, to touch things, and actually do things to understand them. She also needs to process things through conversation. If I tell her something new, she immediately tries to give me examples, creating a mental rule for what it is. For instance, I recently used the word “install”. It occurred to me that she may not understand the meaning. I gave her a kid-friendly definition (something along the lines of “it means to put something new inside of something else”). Ru then gave me several examples, trying to work out the minutiae of the word. After we went through them, she felt confident she knew the word.

Taking all of those factors into consideration, I felt like I knew what we were looking for. This was my jumping off point to start actually planning our homeschool year!

State Requirements

Each state has their own requirements for homeschoolers. Here in Louisiana, we are registered as nonpublic – not seeking state approval. The requirements are very lax – we basically just have to register annually and do 180 days of school.

I highly recommend getting an understanding of your state’s specific laws before making any other decisions though! Not all states are as easy as ours!

Curriculum or Not?

Many, if not most, homeschool families purchase curriculum of some kind. There are so many different kinds of curriculum that, even if you know what you’re looking for, it can still feel overwhelming. Secular or religious, STEM or literature based, lesson plans or total package, the choices go on and on.

As I started researching curriculum, I couldn’t find the right fit for us. I didn’t want to throw all traditional schoolwork out the window for a strictly nature-based program, but I also didn’t want to stick my kids at a desk all day. I wanted to do lots of projects and experiments, but I also wanted to foster a love of literature. And I love Montessori and a couple of other specific approaches, but our style is more eclectic in nature. And I didn’t want a “school year in a box”, where someone else decided how my kids learned all year.

So, I took a deep breath decided to throw out the idea of buying any kind of curriculum and start rogue planning our homeschool year. (Insert gasp here!) But seriously, I knew that I could pull my own resources and build a really fun school year that was completely tailored to my kids, so, why not?

State Standards

I decided to homeschool because I wanted to give my children a different kind of experience with how they learn, but not necessarily what they learn. I still want them to learn the same things (and more!) that their peers are learning in traditional school. We’re just going about it in our own way and enriching it as we go.

Because of this, I decided to use our state’s standards as my guideposts for creating our school year. I know that many homeschool families opt not to do this and that’s their choice. This is just our way.

I started planning our homeschool year by printing and reading our state standards. If you’re starting at the preschool level, you may be surprised to find standards for all ages too! From here, I knew what we should cover and could then decide how we’d do it!

Pacing Guide

When I was a classroom teacher, I started every year with a Pacing Guide. It helped me visualize our year and see where everything would fit, in one easy document.

The Pacing Guide also made weekly lesson planning easy, because the outline was already there! I didn’t have to worry about starting a project, only to run into a vacation day or long holiday break. It also gave me confidence that we’d get to everything, so I [almost] never felt rushed. And if I did need to extend something, I could quickly see how much time we could spare and where we’d make it up later.

What is a Pacing Guide?

A pacing guide is basically an overview of the year. It serves as a road map to completion, gently reminding you that, yes, you will actually get it all done! It takes many forms for different people, so you can figure out what works for you.

For me, I use a spreadsheet format, with a separate sheet for each quarter. Each row is a week and each column is a subject. In the corresponding cell, the subject for that week is summarized in a few words.

Important Dates

When I started planning our homeschool year, I knew that flexibility to travel and spend quality time was also really important. So, my first step was entering important dates that I’d want to work around. I plugged in holidays, birthdays, vacations, and even some “oddball holidays” that I thought we could have fun with.

Once I had those dates in place, I blocked out my ideal weeks for breaks. I looked at things like typical holidays, the girls’ birthdays, Mardi Gras, and the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World!

Then, I pulled out my calculator. I knew that we were required to do 180 days of school, or 36 weeks. That meant that we could take 16 weeks off, as we chose. I have long admired the year-round school year model, because I think kids could use more downtime throughout the year, rather than 2 months off for summer. Here in the South, our summers are suffocatingly hot. We have very little desire to vacation and get outside during those months!

I counted my ideal breaks and was surprised that we were well under 16 weeks. That was including all of my ideals and taking 4 weeks off in June! That’s when I officially decided that we were going to do a year-round school year!

Planning Our Schoolwork

With our school weeks determined, I then started looking at our state standards again. Some naturally lended themselves to certain placement. For instance, renewable resources seemed like a natural fit for Earth Day and life science fit perfectly sometime in the Spring. I even looked at themes that might match up with some of the “oddball holidays”, like Sound/Energy with “Uncommon Musical Instruments Day”.

Once I had some of those units in place, I started thinking about the logical progression of things too. For instance, I wanted to make sure Ru was fluent in writing, recognizing, and counting within 10 before we did any graphing or measuring. I wanted to make sure we’d talked about scientific inquiry and lab safety before starting to do experiments. From there, I started to loosely order things, checking off standards as I went.

I also considered how long it might take for us to master a topic before moving on. For instance, I know that Ruby is already great at adding and subtracting within 10, so that would likely only need a week of review before moving on. But I know that she’s never really worked with money, so that would likely need at least two weeks of practice. As another example, we have spent a lot of time learning about space in preschool. She’s already met and exceeded the kindergarten standards there, so I only dedicated one week to it. But we have a ton of life science topics to discuss, so we’ll spend about two months discussing plants, the human body, life cycles, and animals.

I also added in at least two review weeks in ELA and math for each quarter. This guarantees that we can slow our speed when necessary or circle back to something later.

One More Thing

The Pacing Guide is just that – a guide. We may stick to it for the whole year, but more likely, it will change. The key is to keep it updated as things change, so that there’s still a map to the end of the year.

Lesson Planning

While the Pacing Guide tells me what Ru will learn, my weekly lesson plans help me figure out how she’ll learn it!

Weekly Lesson Plan Sheet

Each month, I create a new sheet in my master spreadsheet that will hold our weekly lesson plans. I try to plan one month at a time. This helps me with my own time management, so I’m not sitting down at the end of every week panicking for the next week, but I’m also not trying to plan every detail of the year all at once either. The latter is surely a recipe for disaster, because learning styles, interests, plans, and life in general are always changing!

The Details

Each week’s plan has five main features: standards, selected books, selected media, supplies and planning, and then the actual lesson plans.

In the “standards” section, I outline the standards we’ll be covering. This is an extra step that isn’t completely necessary, but I find that it helps me stay focused in my planning.

The “selected books” and “selected media” sections are probably pretty self explanatory, but I’m going to explain them anyway. Teachers gonna teach! The selected books list contains the book titles that we’ll use as part of our schoolwork. I also add an (L) after the books that I need to check out from the library, so I don’t forget! When we take our weekly library trip (usually planned for Friday), I’ll reference the next week’s list and make sure to grab those books while we’re there! The selected media list contains any other media resources we’ll use, like YouTube videos, DVDs, TV show episodes, podcasts, or iPad apps. Again, this helps me remember to bookmark/download/pull them before the week starts.

The “supplies and planning” section serves as a to-do list for me. I include tasks here like “buy alphabet pasta” or “print growth mindset worksheets”. Basically, it’s all the tasks that I might miss when I’m looking over our lesson plans for the upcoming week.

And then there’s the “lesson plans” section, which is broken down by day and subject, much like the Pacing Guide. Here, I’ll typically include our focus for each subject each day (for example, “CVC short a words” or “Planets”) and then the actual activities (for example, “Use hand lens and microscope to explore the backyard” or “Play Zingo”).

My Infamous Binder for Planning Our Homeschool Year

When I post in various homeschool groups, everyone wants to know what’s in my binder! I’m actually working on a separate post that will take you through the entire thing.

For now, I just want to add that I highly suggest developing some organization system early on. It can be a binder, files, folders, or whatever feels right. But having one specific place where everything lives has been really useful for me!

How do you plan your school year? Are you making your own curriculum or have a favorite curriculum already? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!