My daughter is about to start 11th grade, which means we have been homeschooling for (gulp) nine years. A lot of the credit for navigating that process successfully goes to her—she has been an engaged, interested participant and a totally good sport about pretty much everything. But I also think a planning routine we established early on has helped us achieve our version of homeschooling success.
Not everyone is a planner, and not every homeschool needs a plan — but my inner worrywart could not handle homeschooling without some kind of framework. If you follow the blog, you know that I try to have it both ways: I am an as-we-go homeschooler for the day-to-day (which basically means that instead of trying to predict what we will do each week, I keep track of what we’ve actually done), but I also like to have a big-picture sense of what our year will be like before it starts. (If you’ve used my planner, you know that the beginning is all about setting those bigger goals!) Those bigger goals are the point of our annual coffee/planning meeting.
I’ve talked before about making love-it, hate-it, need-it lists, but they have been such a helpful tool for our homeschool. Every month-ish, we all jot down a list of things that are going great or that we’re really excited about — that’s our love-it list, and it might include anything from a big Minecraft building project (my 10-year-old) to an awesome Japanese tutor to a particular book or subject. I think it’s also important to take stock of the things that just aren’t clicking — a clunky science program, too much writing in history, getting up early for a class at the nature center. The hate-it list is a place to vent, sure, but it’s also a good record of what doesn’t work well for a particular kid or subject, which is useful information for adjusting our schedule now if possible and definitely helpful for future planning. Finally, there’s a need-it list, which for my high schooler includes the classes colleges will be looking for on her transcript. (She isn’t particularly excited about chemistry, for instance, but since her favorite college option right now requires three years of lab science, she’s got Chemistry I on her need-it list.) The need-it list isn’t just about have-tos, though — want-tos go there, too, which makes it a more fun list than it would be without them. More practice writing essays, drama classes, more park days, “messier science experiments,” and Pokemon taxonomy have all featured on need-to lists alongside more prosaic entries like grammar and algebra.
Because we keep monthly records this way, we can chart whether a passion is short-term — geometry featured on my daughter’s hate-it list for a couple of months before she realized that she actually enjoyed it — or persistent. (More outside time shows up on my son’s need-it list every single month — and I swear it’s not because we don’t make his outside time a priority!) It’s also a good reminder of things that we get excited about but then forget — my daughter’s “something with Studio Ghibli” note on her want-to list morphed into one of our all-time favorite high school classes a couple of years later.
I keep my own lists, which are based on my observations and so often look a little different from my kids’ lists. My love-it list emphasizes things that seem to be working well and my kids’ particular strengths; my hate-it list is usually made up of things that cause friction or stress or that just don’t seem to be delivering the way I’d hoped they would. And I keep a kind of master need-it list based around each grade’s major milestones and/or college requirements as well as adding the random interests and ideas that pop up in our learning life. Like the kids’ need-it lists, mine is not a prime directive but a list of suggestions — some things from it will end up in our final plan and some won’t, and that’s fine. It’s just reassuring for me to have that big master list, which I update with specifics every month.
This monthly tracking makes it simple when we sit down over the summer to plan the coming year. We sort through our lists (and sometimes also through previous year’s lists) to see what feels important to consider in figuring out the next year’s plan. It’s usually a mix of some things that are working great that we want to keep going, some things that we cannot wait to see the hind end of, and some things that we’d really like to (or really need to) explore adding to the schedule. We also grab our book lists (which are so long at this point that it’s borderline ridiculous to keep adding books to them because science is really going to have to make some serious breakthroughs if we are going to get through these lists in one lifetime) and go through them together, highlighting titles that connect to things we know we want to study. By the time we get to this point, we’re usually on our second iced coffee drink and a little too excited about everything, but there’s one thing left to do.
The final stage of our planning meeting is taking our plan and figuring out what we need to get from where we are to where we’d like to be over the next 12-ish months. (We are year-round homeschoolers.) Sometimes, we have something that we already love and know we want to continue. (Our awesome Japanese tutor!) Sometimes, we already have an idea in mind of what we want to try for a subject. (Zumdahl chemistry!) Often, we leave with a list of things that need investigating. (How should we organize our feminist literature/history unit? What would make the best spine for AP Language and Composition?) We usually take a few weeks to do a little independent research, then meet back to fill in those last few blanks. From there, it’s easy to strategize our three to five big goals for the year. (That seems to be the sweet spot for us — fewer doesn’t seem like quite enough, and more feels like it stretches the goals too thin.)
I’m realizing that what feels like a one coffee date planning session is actually something that we work on all year — those love it-hate it-need it lists have been one of my favorite homeschool innovations because they really help all of us stay tuned into what we’re doing throughout the year, even as our methods and the specifics of our plans may change. We’re able to figure out our plans with so little stress overall because we’re building them all year long, one month at time — by the time we sit down to actually plan, we’re ready to focus on the fun stuff.
How do you get ready for the upcoming academic year?