Who else looks forward to summer days spent lugging coolers and towels to the beach and spending hours refusing to move off your beach lounger for all but the most desperate of cries? Summer is meant to be enjoyed and during a good summer break, a house should be full of sand, dirt, and sunburned kids.
On my beach lounger, though, I begin to dream about our homeschool. I maintain that nothing makes a school year run more smoothly than spending some summer hours creating a specific plan for the following academic year.
If you school year round, this post is for you too. Use use whatever break you take for an annual review and planning what comes next.
Step 1: The Theme.
Decide what overall education values are important to your family. Essentially you are creating a mission statement for your family’s homeschool.
A good starting question to ask yourself is: If I teach my child nothing, ever, what is it important that my child has absorbed living in our home? For our family our theme is, generally: learning is a privilege and a delight; don’t screw it up.
Many people’s answers will be education related, but others are not. Some families want to emphasize familial closeness or cooperation. This is your family; there is no wrong answer.
Remember, though, not to be too specific. Be general. Often I find with my friends that their mission statement could apply to everything they do as a family, not just the homeschool part.
Why this step matters: When you are in the nitty-gritty of the school year and a problem pops up, sometimes it’s difficult to see what specifically isn’t working. Re-examining the difficulty from a more generalized vantage point often allows a better diagnosis of the problem, and gives us permission to change things.
Step 2: Get Creative.
Set aside a chunk of quiet time by yourself with no distractions (put that phone away!) This might be the most important step of all, and I encourage you to pencil a good block of time into your family’s schedule. If you have little kids, line up child care so that you can close the door to your office or, better yet, leave the house.
Have a notebook handy to jot down ideas. If you’re the visual type, buy yourself a pretty notebook and nice pens (a new Moleskine and a medium tip Sharpie pen are pretty much heaven on earth). Spend time thinking about each child’s strengths, weaknesses, and goals, both longterm and short term. Jot every thought down; you never quite know how some seemingly benign thought will open up new opportunities.
Think about the past school year. What worked? What didn’t? Write your answers down. Think about them. Chew on them. What would have made things run more smoothly? If you are preparing for your first year as a homeschool parent, think about your goals. Think about why you decided to homeschool, and what you’d like to accomplish, both broadly (I’d like my child to get into Harvard) and specifically (I’d like to teach my six-year-old to read).
By the end of this time, you probably will have a skeleton outline of what you would like your school year to look like (or, if you don’t, you could put one together by reviewing your notes).
Why this step matters: I have learned countless things from this time with myself. Often little things that have been nagging at me reach that “a ha!” moment and forming a solution becomes simple. Often this time alone allows me to see patterns, and plan and change academics accordingly.
Step 3: The Specifics.
Now you’ve got a guidepost and a framework and it’s time to get down to the specifics. Make this part work for you. Do you hate depending on the library? Then buy the books you need to reach your academic goals. Do you like specific, grid-like schedules that take you through the academic year? Make one. Do to-do lists motivate you? Then create your child’s courses and materials in the form of lists that you can check off regularly.
The purpose of the nitty-gritty to to create specific academics for your school year that stay true to your family’s theme, consider your child’s goals (or your goals for your child, as the case may be,) and that are tailored to work for you.
And it should be noted that, for many families, what works for them is a boxed curriculum. If that’s the case, you’re done! Go back to the beach!
Step three can take awhile. I sometimes spend hours agonizing how to divvy up specific books so that they will match up, timeline-wise, with some piece of historical fiction I have chosen for a particular child. Let me repeat what I said above: you’re making a plan that works for you. If you want to assign your child The Witch of Blackbird Pond while you’re studying ancient Greece, then do it! It’s your life and your family.
Step three can also involve a lot of research. If you have decided your daughter needs to focus on diagramming sentences and you’ve never done that before, you may need to spend some time researching what texts are out there and how you are going to plug that work into your school day.
Why this step matters: By the time you are done, you will have all the materials you need for the school year ordered (or know where you can locate them), and a plan for how you are going to execute the day to day of your homeschool for your entire academic year, and that feels pretty great.
Happy planning, and let me know how it goes!
CATE OLSON is a former political hack and freelance writer turned homeschool mom. She lives with her husband and their four kids in Milwaukee.