Getting Started in Homeschooling: Building Your Academic Calendar

Years ago at an education conference, a homeschool attorney shared some of the basics to record keeping. I really appreciated his straightforward approach:

  • Keep a calendar.
  • Keep an attendance record.
  • Have a written, prepared curriculum, or course of study.
  • Record testing and other assessment scores.
  • Maintain a record of lesson plans.

While you need to know what your state laws require, the basics as he outlined them are helpful even if you are required to do more or less, depending on your situation.

So, as part of my back-to-school routine, I create an academic calendar. One of the beauties of teaching my children at home  is that I get to set the calendar. Our family can work our school around my husband’s work schedule, family events, and other activities in our life.

Here is how I go about it:

1. Print a scholastic calendar.

You can do this through a number of desktop publishing programs, like Publisher, or you can print the one available in my Homeschool Planning Pack. But, basically, you want a year at a glance, starting with August and ending sometime the following year.

2. Mark off your school holidays.

For our family, we consider which days my husband has off from work. We designate those days as true vacation days or field trip days, depending on the season. I also keep in mind birthdays — no one has to do school on his birthday, not even me. So, we cross those off the list.

3. Set your days for instruction.

There are a number of factors to work into this as well as any number of combinations and theories. Simple Homeschool presents a huge variety of ideas for creating a homeschool schedule and FiveJs shares about schooling year-round and taking a low-stress approach.

Consider state laws.

I don’t mean to hammer this, but if your state regulates the number of days of instruction, it’s good to follow that. See HSLDA for the legal analysis of what your state requires.

Consider the seasons where you live.

I’ve always been of the mindset that I want my kids outside when the weather is nice. Let’s do school when it’s too cold or too hot to be outside. Snow days were never an impediment to their education when we lived in snow country.

Consider outside activities.

If you have kids starting sports or lessons on a schedule that is not of your making, you’re going to need to accommodate those. No heading off on a vacation in the middle of hockey season. Keep in mind the schedules set by the other activities you’re involved in.

Find your rhythm.

Last year I attempted the 6 weeks on, 1 week off schedule, but that didn’t really happen after the first 6 weeks. And when I look back at the last few years, I start out with a creative scheme and then we drift into the same patterns. Why fight it? I want the summers free to play and I don’t mind having a more traditional schedule during the year.

So, our schedule this year:

  • September, October, November = school days
  • December = off
  • January, February, beginning of March = school days
  • week off in March
  • end of March, April, May, first of June = school days
  • most of June, July = off

Be flexible.

That said, I also have a husband who embraces the flexibility of homeschooling and gets creative about taking vacations with a week’s notice. I’ve also learned to move things around mid-year if we decide to go to the beach or the mountains. We learn everywhere we go — and we tack on some extra days at the end of the year.

You can’t predict when illness or high stress times will strike, so it’s also important to give yourself some margin, and be willing to adjust the calendar to fit those days.

No matter how you build your calendar, it’s good to have one — and it’s good to be flexible when you need to be.

How do YOU plan your homeschool calendar?

About this series – If you’re interested in getting started in homeschooling, this is a series recounting our experiences in teaching our children at home, the things that I’ve learned, and some resources I’ve discovered along the way. But this way isn’t the only way. Your mileage may vary. Coming up next time – Tooling Up.

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  1. Angela Lierman says:

    Oh, thank you for posting this!!! I started our first ever year of homeschooling yesterday!! This will be such a help for me! Already bought your homeschool packet too. Thank you, Thank you!!! 🙂

  2. Stephanie says:

    I do my school year planning in a similar fashion to you. Our summer starts early in May, so we get an early start in August. (The weather is beautiful in May and horribly hot in August!) We also plan off days when Dad is off work or when grandparents will be visiting (because building relationships is priority for us). Other than that, we plug away at it and tack on sick days at the end of the year because with 6 children, sick days are just part of life! 🙂

  3. Yeah, one kid I’m coaching gets homeschooled. I’m enamored with the idea of HSing my future children. THanks for this beginner’s guide.

  4. I printed off an attendance calendar at Great place for new homeschoolers! It has helped me alot over the years. This year we are starting mid august to be done by memorial day. No matter what schedule I have tried we ALWAYS want to be done by then it seems. 🙂
    Funny how friends are surprised we start now. It is miserably hot and humid, we don’t go outside anyway. We like freedom for Fall and Spring days, after the humidity and long midwest winters. Love the flexiblity! Good post, thanks

  5. Anna Peterson says:

    I usually start with our public school calendar. I find it on their website. This gives me a good framework. Though we start much earlier in the year, I like to know when the neighborhood kids will be out and about – plus it helps to plan vacations to hit at off peak times. I also use – she has TONS of forms, calendars, you name it – and FREE!

  6. This is really helpful – thank you! We’re beginning our second year of homeschooling, and I’d like to be more intentional about planning this year. Your ideas are straightforward and easy to implement!

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