Planning a New Homeschool Year

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The new school year is just a round the corner. Have you started planning a new homeschool year? Now’s the time to get organized, if you aren’t already.

6 Steps to Planning a New Homeschool Year | Life as MOM

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We start school in a week. I know. Early. But, I got my planning done, and the pool’s crowded, so why not?

Actually, local schools start only a few weeks later than we do, so I’m not really jumping the gun that much. We like to take breaks during the year and my stamina wanes after a couple months anyway, so it’s nice to start early so that we can take those breaks, guilt-free, without falling behind. I love it that we can build our own school calendar.

I’m entering my 14th year of teaching my children at home. One son has graduated and starts his studies at a state university in late August. The five students in our homeschool are going into 10th, 8th, 6th, 4th, and 2nd grades.

Everyone say, “Yikes!”

In some ways, my responsibilities are lightening. Several of the kids are becoming more and more independent, and as they move into more solid math and writing skills, they don’t technically need me glued to their sides anymore. In other ways, my responsibilities are weightier. Comprehension, course work, extracurricular activities, and grades matter more as they get into the high school years. I’ve still got a lot to do. Clearly, it’s a little mix of everything.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to do this learning at home with my kids. You better believe I’ve learned more than a few things with my kids. I didn’t know I had gaps in my education, but I did. It’s pretty safe to say that they know more than I do now.

I know that homeschooling is not a great fit for everyone, or even possible for everyone who wants to do it. I’m thankful for the opportunity, and I hope I won’t squander it. The days slip by, and I know that I’m not always doing the best I could. I think that’s why I’m excited about the new year. It’s a great big do-over.

6 Steps to Planning a New Homeschool Year

Over the last month, I’ve made some significant changes in curriculum choices and how I do our homeschool planning in general. I’m really hoping the new plan will work. I’ll be sharing our curriculum plan as well as our new fangled assignment binders over the next week, but today I want to share the steps that I’ve found helpful each year as I gear up for another round of teaching my kids at home.

new planner goals
The Print & Go Planner

1. Do a self-check.

If you’ve already been homeschooling, you probably have some successes as well as some missed expectations to consider. Right there with you, sister! Now is a good time to reevaluate.

I’m usually exhausted by the time May rolls around, but I get a new burst of energy in June when I attend the Great Homeschool Convention. I’ve gone three times now and it’s been super helpful in thinking through where I really want our homeschool to go in comparison to where it’s been. I think about these questions:

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work at all?
  • Are there gaps in my kids’ knowledge and understanding?
  • Where can I improve as a teacher?
  • How can I help them as students to grow and learn?
  • What does success look like?

I’m pleased to say that the experiment is working, but I also fully realize that we are a work in progress. There’s always room for improvement as well as moving past mistakes.

(If you’re just starting out in homeschooling, you might want to read this series for homeschool beginners. Certainly consider what your goals and motivations are so that you have clear expectations of yourself and how you can measure success for your kids.)

6 Steps to Planning a New Homeschool Year | Life as MOM

2. Check out new curriculum and resources.

Usually once I’ve answered those questions, I have an idea of what “needs” to fill in the coming year. Sometimes it might be new curriculum, sometimes it might be a new teacher. (Don’t we all wish we could find a replacement for ourselves?!)

I found both at the GHC this year: Great Books curriculum for my teens and an online French teacher who will be more diligent than I have been.

I often walk away from the exhibit hall, assured that some, if not most of what we already have will work just fine. In fact, I was super duper impressed with the salesman at the Berean Builders table. I bought Science in the Beginning last year, hoping to doing Science in the Ancient World this year when we studied Ancient History. I almost bought the second book, but the salesman talked me out of it, saying that science is sequential, so I should finish the first book first before moving on to the next one. I saved money and renewed my resolve to finish that first book.

(Science is one of my weaknesses, if you haven’t guessed already, and why my high schoolers have always had an outside tutor.)

6 Steps to Planning a New Homeschool Year | Life as MOM

3. Clean out.

Since we’ve never used the formal dining room as a formal dining room, in each house we’ve lived in we’ve transformed it into a school room. Unfortunately, this is the place that tends to be the most cluttered over the course of the school year. It’s helpful for me to clean out everything.

A week or two ago, I gutted the bookshelves, ala the Life-Changing Magic. I filed away important things, recycled a million pieces of paper, and tried to replace only the things that we really needed for the new year. I put all of last year’s books back in the library and pulled out the stuff I know I will use this year.

I sneezed for hours, but eventually the dust settled, and I know what we have. Quite a few empty binders, I might say!

6 Steps to Planning a New Homeschool Year | Life as MOM

4. Stock up.

Stocking up is not hard, is it? The pencils and 25-cent boxes of crayons just beckon us from the Target bins, don’t they?

Paying for it all as well as finding a home for it are two different challenges. Since I’d already cleaned out the school room, I had a better idea of what we had (52 million crayons) and what we needed (good quality pencils – Hello, Ticonderoga!) I tried to limit myself to the things that we needed, though I’ll confess, the school supply display is a weakness of mine.

When I cleaned the school room, I decided we weren’t going to buy more crayons. FishChick6 sorted what we had and we were able to fill four empty crayola boxes as well as fill a large pencil box to the brim with almost brand-new crayons. I dumped the broken ones, and we are back in coloring business — for free.

I also ordered all the school books we needed for the year, mostly from Amazon and CBD, but some directly from the publishers. (You can see some of the homeschool stuff I like here.)

6 Steps to Planning a New Homeschool Year | Life as MOM

5. Organize.

It’s a beautiful thing to have all kinds of wonderful new books and resources, but if you can’t find them or your kids don’t know where to put them away, things can get crazy. I’m not sure that I’ve got the best method, but at least it’s a new one!

The teen boys each have designated shelves in the bookcases for all their books. As book orders come in, I’m divvying them up to whoever will be using that particular book. I’ve had to fend them off from reading them early.

I’ve got a shelf for library books and another for the reference books we’ll all use as well as spots for math manipulatives and art supplies. I know that putting stuff away is the bigger part of the battle, but theoretically everything has a place to get to.

I even labeled all the shelves with these Post-it multi-use labels. May they stick and serve their purpose forever and ever, Amen.

Now that there aren’t as many littles in the house, I’ve got three kids using cubbies with an extra cubby for me. I’m hoping this will work well for storing teacher’s manuals and stuff like that. I’m not super crazy about the roughness of the baskets, but whatever.

6 Steps to Planning a New Homeschool Year | Life as MOM

Planning pages from OLAM Homeschool Pack

6. Plan.

There are several facets of planning a new homeschool year. There’s choosing books and subjects to cover, but there’s also the weekly and daily nitty gritty to address.

I used to plan my kids’ assignments a week at a time. If I planned more than one week at a time, and then we missed a day due to illness or spontaneous field trip, the subsequent weeks’ plans would be messed up. The never-getting-ahead aspect of it all was a little defeating.

This year I’m trying something new. I planned out the year of lessons for each child for each subject. With five kids to teach, this took a week, sitting at an old laptop in the school room, flipping through every single book, all day every day. (And you wondered what I was doing with my summer!) Each child has a printout of his entire year’s assignments in a binder.

I did this not because I am OCD, but because I am flaky. Really flaky. I can have great intentions now when it’s summer and life is carefree. Those intentions often fly out the window when the school year is under way and I’m overwhelmed with all that’s on my plate.

One of the biggest ways I let my kids down last year was not having their assignment sheets ready on Monday morning. Or even sometimes Tuesday or Wednesday morning. They were ready to work, but I was making breakfast, changing sheets, or wasting time on Facebook.

I want to protect my kids from their flaky teacher next year. I did the planning now so that at least in this area, I won’t let them down. (I’m also reading the high school books now as fast as ever I can.)

I’ll be sharing the kids’ assignment notebooks as well as my curriculum choices for next year in the next week or two. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what works for you in your planning.

What tips do you have for planning a new homeschool year?

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  1. Oh my goodness. I bunny-trailed to this post from the 10 Tools…post, via the binder post. Point #6 above is a huge weakness. I just read how you made the binders with the assignments for the year for your children and am face-palming for not thinking of such a logical solution to a frustrating problem sooner (or reading the post when it was posted). My youngest is the only one still being home-schooled and she has been begging me to write out her assignments farther in advance (which is very ironic since I’m usually riding her case to finish yesterday’s work), and I, too, am often trying to fill in the weekly sheets as we go. However she is getting close to high school and says she wants to stay home, yet I know we have to accomplish more to continue. I’m excited to give this approach a try and see if we don’t make better progress. Thank you! Now I’m going to track down the post on curriculum.

  2. Curious…do you really manage to read all of the textbooks before your kids…even the hs ones? 2. What do your kids do while you read all of this and devote an entire week to it?

    1. Also, what you are saying is that you went through each subject, and divided that into 32-36 weeks (or whatever) to figure out what each kid had to do for each subject each day/week, correct? That way, the planning was all done and they always knew what they had to do each week for each subject? What about those times when you get behind–just scrunch it all in? How do YOU be disciplined enough to make sure they have done all of what they have been assigned? I loved the part about the FLAKY TEACHER–I’m one of those, too, having 7 kids at home!

      1. One more question…are you able to fit all 5-6 kids plans for the year into ONE major notebook for the year?

    2. I had to reread this post twice to make sure I didn’t say that. No, I don’t read everything before the kids do. Not sure where that idea can from. I’m not exactly sure what you mean about what my kids do while I what? Plan school? I do it during summer vacation when they are happy to entertain themselves.

      The lesson plans are not divided into weeks for the exact reason that sometimes we get behind. A weird day would throw off the entire sequence of weeks, so it’s just a list of all the things to do in order. You can read more about our binders here:

      Every child has his own binder with lesson plans.

      1. You said, “I want to protect my kids from their flaky teacher next year. I did the planning now so that at least in this area, I won’t let them down. (I’m also reading the high school books now as fast as ever I can.)”

        The part about reading the hs books is where I got the part about you reading all of their stuff.

        Yes, I wondered what the kids did while you planned school…okay, got that they are happy to entertain themselves.

        The lesson plans that you did for the entire year…are those just the page for each subject that you talk about in the homeschool-assignement-binders post? Do you, or your children fill in the grid page for each week? Is that part done on a weekly basis?

        1. I am trying to read the high school books but last year I fell behind. Yesterday I was reading The Church History by Eusebius at the pool. 😂 I’m not sure I will be able to keep up this year. Thankfully there’s a teachers guide.

          Ideally, they are filling in the dates next to each lesson in the subject sections and I’m checking it off every afternoon. Sometimes we catch up every couple days. I’m checking the logs for sure every week but I’d rather be in a daily rhythm.

  3. I’m kind of dreading planning for homeschool this year. Usually I plan during the spring, while we’re still going strong and things are fresh in my mind. This year, our plans for the summer/fall were uncertain, and I already had a general idea of what we were doing. (We mostly use Sonlight, which we love, especially all the reading.)

    But we’re going to be returning to the US (from Congo) right before the school year would start, and do a bit of traveling, too. It’ll all work out though. One of the best things for me about homeschooling is the flexibility.

    One of the things I did this past year that worked really well is use some spreadsheets for each subject for each child. It took some time putting all the assignments in, but then they could just check off the assignments when they were done. Instead of dates, I numbered the weeks. Then if we were not exactly where I thought we would be on a certain day, we could still keep plugging along. And since I did it on the computer, if they were lost, it was easy to print a new one.

    With school supplies, I’ve started to assign a color to each child. I just have 3, and our colors are blue, green, and pink/purple. That makes it simpler for me when purchasing supplies, and also helps at clean-up time. Not every product comes in the colors we want, but most do.

    I like having a spot set aside for each child, and for various school supplies. It drives me crazy when things get really disorganized, so having a place for everything helps keep me sane throughout the year. (And a place where the kids know where to put things is the key to that!)

    When we’re traveling a lot, we have a few plastic boxes (12×12 paper boxes work great). The kids each have a small one for their workbooks, notebooks, and supplies, and then we have two taller ones for textbooks, etc. They are very portable, and keep things together when we are moving from place to place.

    1. That system sounds a lot like ours. The only different from my lesson plans and your spreadsheets is that I left the date blank. No week or anything. That way if we get three lessons done one week and five done the next, we don’t have to redo anything.

      Have a great trip!

  4. Is there a form you used to plan out the whole year of assignments? I like this idea, but can’t quite picture how to implement it. Thank you for this motivating post.

  5. I don’t homeschool. I don’t think it’s as common here in England as in America (but I could be wrong on that!) so my children are in the regular state school system. And being in different countries, our curriculums are different.

    But…I still find posts like this helpful – our school encourages parental assistance with homework/ projects/ extra curricular learning and I often find it hard to manage alongside the normal day to day stuff. My enthusiasm wanes as the school year passes and I find it hard to balance the demands of super-high-achieving- girl (her world crashes if she is not top of everything) and sporty-but-academically-lazy-boy. Your suggestions and pointers for running a great home school (kudos for you for doing so but I do think you’re slightly crazy!) can be translated into ideas for helping my children with their homework. Having it scheduled and organised makes it way easier to get everything done on time and some of the resources you mention give a different approach that has helped explain things that has been done in school but perhaps not fully grasped (by me at least).

    1. Haha! I never said I wasn’t crazy. I am glad to hear that these posts translate into school support. I’m so glad to hear that! You can’t know how very much!

      As an aside, we are hoping to get back to England next year. Would love to meet you! 🙂

  6. Jessica, just visited your site this morning for the first time, and have to say thank you for the chuckles. I appreciate your “realness”. I am also so encouraged knowing that you are giving it your best to overcome the same struggles I battle with. Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to seeing your kids’ assignment books. ~From another flaky homeschooling mom who is determined to do better this year!

  7. Thanks, Jessica! I’m planning my 20th year, but everything is changing this year and I’m so overwhelmed that I just needed to see things laid out logically. We’ll be stuck at step one for a few more weeks, I guess, but after that things will go quickly.

    I’ve been looking at EduScrum and how to apply that computing/business model to homeschool. Lots of thinking.