Planning your homeschool year can seem like an overwhelming task, especially for new homeschoolers. Taking things step by step makes the whole of it seem more manageable. Here’s what I do to plan my homeschool year.
Flexibility is Key
I spend more time planning my homeschool year than in any other area of homeschooling. My planning system has flexibility in the course work, and allows you to easily move assignments around from week to week. Having a solid foundation in place for the full year, helps me with daily and weekly lesson planning.
My spreadsheet is not a lesson planner for the kids, but rather a tracker for me as their teacher. Formerly, I used an online service called Homeschool Tracker for the kids individual lessons and assignments. It was great for several years when I had multiplie kids who were homeschooling to keep track of. Now I use Asana for my last child.
Spreadsheets-Keep It All In One Place
I still use a spreadsheet when I’m planning out my year. Some call it overkill, but I’m incredibly visual and organized, and it works for me. My yearly spreadsheet keeps me on track as the homeschool teacher. It does not include specific, detailed assignments but rather chapters or lesson numbers, and the general pages of where to find what I need. This brief outline allows me to review the assignment BEFORE the kids start their work. There is nothing worse than sitting down for daily work and YOU the teacher have not had a chance to review the material or missed some of what the kids will be learning.
Spend Time on the Details
Admittedly, my yearly tracking sheet takes about 3-4 hours per child to complete each year. But, it then allows me to spend only about 30 minutes to 1 hour per week for each child, as I prep my individual lessons for them. My kids are very independent in their work now being in 8th & 12th grade.
I have been told that my method is too over the top. Perhaps, but when you are homeschooling multiple kids with at least 5 subjects each and have textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, supplements, and labs to keep track of; this is a method that has worked great for our family. Remember that each homeschooling family needs to find a system that works for them. I take what knowledge I can from other homeschoolers, and adapt it to what works for my family and my homeschooling. My homeschooling is not all academics.
A 4-Day Week
We do a 4 day week with the 5th day being used for co-op classes or to catch up on other things that our busy schedule didn’t allow us to get through during the week. Our textbooks are more of a guide, and we may skip entire chapters just because there might be other things to explore.
But my spreadsheet allows me to recognize when we’ve ditched a chapter or lesson and why. For instance, when my 8th grader is “supposed’ to be studying engines, we skip that chapter/lesson. He rebuilt an entire tractor engine all by himself, so studying this in a book just because it’s there, makes no sense. I can either mark that topic/chapter as complete, (he knows this stuff — why not mark it complete?) or we can just remove the assignment, or move on to something else. It’s all about supporting their learning, and not using the spreadsheets as a mandated curriculum.
What Does Your State Require?
If your state requires completed lesson plans, or other proof of learning at the end of the year, you might want to include this work as completed, and note the engine repair in your portfolio. We have such opportunity to make each homeschooling experience an authentic and genuine one, that following someone else’s plan to a T, almost never works out well.
For unschoolers, you might choose a looser approach and list topics or apprenticeships or whatever else your child is involved in. It could simply be a list of things and places you’d like to explore throughout the year and what you completed. Do you. Do what works for your family. I’ve included the most detailed plan as I can, as many states have requirements for courses and curriculum. If your state requires less, then feel free to adjust accordingly.
Let’s Get Started!
1| Know the Setup of Your Texts.
- Go through the contents of each book or text. When our curriculum arrives, I spend a full day flipping through the books to become familiar with them.
- Traditionally published public school textbooks generally have 36 or so lessons. Surprise! That’s the exact number of weeks in public school. If you follow a traditional school year calendar, then planning out your homeschool year is a no brainer. You complete 1 chapter a week in each subject.
- If you homeschool year round, or in blocks of time, then you need to figure out how much of each chapter you need/want to cover each week. Remember that you don’t have to cover everything in a chapter just because it’s there. Skip those things your children already know and move ahead if they are mastering things at a faster pace.
2| Create a Spreadsheet.
- Create a spreadsheet in Excel or Google Docs with the columns that you need to organize your data.
- I use an excel spreadsheet (a master sheet, and one sheet for each course) labeled with some course code and grade level. I use a new tab for each subject.
- So for 12th grade History, the tab is labeled 12AncHist (ancient history). Math is labeled Precalc12 and so forth.
3| Label & Setup the Spreadsheet.
- Label down the left hand column the number of weeks you plan on holding school. For us it varies between 30 and 36 weeks (depending on how many lessons in the book), and what is going on in life. We may ditch a full lesson in its entirety to explore the topic on a field trip instead.
- The kids math books have only 30 weeks of lessons so we might finish that subject earlier than other subjects, or we might need to adjust or stretch out more time on topics within the book that challenged the kids.
The graph below shows my science layout. We do science only 2 days per week. You will need to set up each spread sheet according to what you need. Science requires a lab component, so I include that as well on this sheet. Note that the complete assignment is not on this tracking sheet. This is where HST or Asana comes into play with the assignment that the child can check off. Remember, this is for the teacher, not student. In the photo below, the vocabulary column may just have the page number of where the list is — so that I can find it. The student’s work assignment would have the full vocabulary list (depending on age or grade). The column labeled lab, might have supplies that I need to pick up or the page where the lab supply list is.
4| Use a Weekly System for Recording, Not the Calendar.
- It’s important that you do not assign dates for students to complete their assignment. Using my system, you simply pick up on the next week from where you left off last time. So if suddenly you need to take a trip out of state to visit a sick relative and you are on week 3, when you return from your trip you will be on week 4. The tracking sheets show how many weeks of completed work, not how many weeks according to the calendar. If you decided to take a month off for family travel, and you are on week 10 of homeschool, when you return you will be on week 11.
- Don’t get hung up on the fact that you may not complete all 30 or 36 weeks of what’s on this list. Your experiences outside this list count as homeschooling too. All this spreadsheet does is help you track WHERE in each text you are,WHERE you left off, and WHERE you pick up the next assignment.
- You can make notes at the bottom of the spreadsheet with dates that include a description of the “missing dates” or vacation time. We call that “off calendar learning experiences”, not absenteeism or missed work. If your state requires a certain number of days or hours, be sure to count non-text work too. Notes like, “1/10/16-1/30/16 — Trip to Mexico. Topics covered —ancient mayans, aztecs, culture, history”, should suffice for record keeping.
5| Date Keeping
- Dates of completion should be filled in AFTER the work is done, as assignments will not completed by the calendar. If there are left over assignments from the prior week you can either skip them, (is it worth your time, or do the kids need this to complete the next lesson), or if they do, can you move it to the next week’s assignment?
- This method works spectacularly for unschoolers. If you are not planning topics, a spreadsheet can simply be filled in AFTER the experience. And, because some state require curriculum documented per subject, this is a great way to show what you’ve learned.
- You also have 7 days out of the week to complete work if you weren’t able to finish what you had scheduled. You have the option of not completing it at all. Homeschooling affords you the decision making in your world. If the kids need more time on a chapter, you can easily move things around, or duplicate work into the next week. If long division takes three weeks instead of 1 to master, then your spreadsheet can be adjusted to reflect that. Move everything down a few weeks and take what time you need.
6| Make It Work for You!
- The next step is to make columns across the top of the spreadsheet that include Topic, chapters, pgs, extras, or anything else you might need to figure out where to turn in the book to review what you are covering this week. That is your only goal from the spreadsheets—to always know where you are.
- Unschoolers can arrange these by topics, subjects, place of class/experience, and date completed. This is a great reference if you are preparing transcripts or other material for review.
- As each week is completed, I highlight the week in gray signifying we’ve completed the work. Homeschooling three kids, and having at least 20 different books is a lot to keep track of. There have been many instances where I’ve lost track of the chapters that have been completed, or thought the kids finished a chapter and they hadn’t. We’ve skipped chapters because they didn’t suit our needs. By highlighting the work completed, I always know which chapter we’re on, and where to pick up next.
7| Planning Subjects and Lessons
The spreadsheet above shows my 12th grader’s precalculus layout.
- She completes 4 lessons per week (4 days of math) in 1 week. So week 1 shows lessons A-D. If she needs more time to master the concept, I can change week 1, to week 1 & 2, while the lesson number stays the same, and then easily adjust the other weeks accordingly. Sometimes Week 1/lesson 1, line up nicely, but more often than not-things get moved around, but I’m still able to track where we are. There are also no grades on this spreadsheet. Those are recorded on her transcript sheet.
- The spreadsheet allows me to easily flip through the chapters each week so that I can review anything the kids will be reading. I can check supply lists from the chapter, or review the questions at the end of the chapter. It allows me to copy and paste page numbers and topics in HST or Asana, and saves me a boatload of time. Further details like, “complete questions 1-10 on page 54”, would be on their weekly lesson plans in HST or Asana, NOT on the tracking sheet.
8| Don’t Stress
My 12th grader is using Oak Meadow for Literature.
- There is an included syllabus that has the entire assigment in it, so I just list the syllabus pages on my tracking sheet. It’s my job to open the syllabus, review the questions, decide which questions to have my student answer, and include any instructions for her written papers in HER assignment sheet. Some of the literature assignments span 2 weeks. So again, lesson 3 may span several weeks as it includes reading and writing papers. The notes section on this spread sheet may include things like, “review APA format” with student.
Don’t stress about planning your homeschool year. Find a system that works for you—it may it a spiral notebook, or dry erase board, or even a listing of topics with links. It may simply be writing down the days activities when you are done. It all works.
This is what works for me and helps me feel organized, even if we don’t get to all the assignments. And we won’t, because after 13 years of homeschooling I know we’ve yet to complete things as they’ve been laid out. Things NEVER go according to my perfectly laid out spreadsheets, so be prepared for the unexpected in your homeschool planning.