I’ve been working like a maniac the past week or so trying to plan out every last detail of school after the baby is due. I’ve scheduled in a three-week break, but hoping to get back on the horse again thereafter and get some real work done before Christmas.
And it’s so much easier if you have a plan. No excuses.
Generally, I plan out a workbook at a time or so, a very rolling process—this is what my weekly planner looks like, and I try to make sure it’s finished before I need it, with no blanks, which sometimes means taking 10-30 minutes at a time to “load up” the next set of assignments if we’re drawing to the end of a book.
There’s not anything preventing me from entering months of assignments at a time, though, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Some subjects will be wrapping up in October, so I had to get out the next books to plot them out, and some more subjects in December, and so more books. Books to preorder, programs to coordinate—basically, heaps of planning now in hopes that no matter how rough our November and December might go, we will yet be able to redeem the time. (I should probably add that it’s super-easy to change days to “vacation” or change vacation days to “school,” or reschedule a bunch of days at once, etc.)
Anyway, in the process of this, I hit upon the odd idea of making up a really long-view schedule. Our kids are all in slightly different spots in their own curricula, not to mention that they aren’t in synch with each other or with the “normal” school year, so, while I do keep track that we’re making appropriate progress, I hadn’t sat down and sketched out when all our subject-grade-transitions should theoretically happen for the next couple of years, such that I could point my finger at a calendar of, say, October 2016, and said, this child will be in this book for English, and this book for math, and this book for English, and that child will be in this book by that point, and so on.
So that’s what I did. Each child is a color, each row is a calendar month, each column is a subject, and each shade is a course. I can look up “April 2016” on the left and look across the row to see which course each child should roughly be doing at the time. (I obviously didn’t detail every single subject—and some of them are combined, like grammar and spelling are “LA.” And some of them contain multiple children—science is the first green column, history/geography/literature is the first blue column.)
It turns out this is an incredibly useful exercise.
- First of all, I realized only our first child (purple) is significantly out of sync with herself (a full grade apart in grammar vs. math, with reading floating in the middle), which made me realize some reasons why child two (pink) is more synchronized—some things I did differently the second time around—and led me to a plan to make child three (blue) even more cohesive. This was a major curriculum change (to a different publisher for a “gap year” sort of thing) that I wouldn’t have thought of without seeing it all laid out together, and it will be a permanent change if it goes half as well as I expect it to.
- Secondly, I had been stressing about child #4 (yellow) because I was really sick for most of the spring and summer and hadn’t been able to do his schooling as smoothly as I had intended, but the schedule made me see where we’re actually at, and it’s not as bad as I thought it was! At the same time, though, now I really know that that schedule is a little tense, and I don’t just have the vague idea that I need to be careful with it—I know I definitely need to! On the other hand, I struggle with remembering when I start each child into preschool, and it’s nice to see all those empty white months with child five (right-hand green column) and know I don’t need to be stressing about him joining us before I’m ready! (We have lots of preschool type activities that he does do, but I mean a more structured/guided/purposeful preschool program.)
- Thirdly, it made it clear that my intention of alternating history and science wasn’t going to work. I thought going year-round, that we could switch back and forth (primarily because I’m loving this videoconference science class, which is double-accelerated so it makes it hard to do simultaneously with our equally intense history curriculum), but when I sat down and actually planned it out… there just aren’t enough weeks in the year to do them one after the other, even if both are at an accelerated pace. So—I’m switched back to doing science and history simultaneously… but with a more bite-sized science curriculum (shorter lessons, but six times as many of them) that is synchronized with our history program. So they will support and back each other up almost as a singular subject. I’m still planning to do some more videoconferenced science classes, but probably not until at least late 2017, when we have some more independent learners who can handle the higher workload. Possibly not until middle school. (Previously I had been planning to return to a videoconferenced course in about ten months!)
- Fourthly, I can clearly see what happens when we take months “off” or “easy.” We are year-round schoolers, which includes lots of room for flexibility, and I even built that flexibility into the schedule (most subjects are sketched out to last ten months, even though usually we can easily finish in eight)… but, the lack of a clear “school year” / “summer break” delineation can make it difficult to know when those lighter times are appropriate, or when they are simply indulgent. This way, when we deviate from the schedule, I’ll have to actually change it—and see the effect it creates over the course of years. I think this will help me make wiser, more effective decisions, both to decide a break (or detour) is justified and helpful, and to decide that no, we really don’t need the break right now. It also helps to time their chronological ages to the appropriate point in the course progression—to realize that while Child A can push and get through Subject B right now, that isn’t going to be helpful when Child A is still too young to do Subject B, level 2 in a few months.
In short, sketching out a rough “lesson plan” for the years ahead was something I thought I was doing largely for curiosity’s sake, and to make sure I was prepared for spring 2016 with, Lord willing, a young baby, but after I had made up the beginnings of the plan and it percolated around my brain… it transformed our homeschool. It changed one key point of our curriculum path, led me to switch to a different science altogether, alerted me to many possibilities (good and bad) that I didn’t even describe above, and helped me get a MUCH better grasp of where we are at, where we need to be, and gave me much more solid ground for decision-making as we progress.
I highly recommend it. 🙂