Back to School Planning for a Homeschool Mom

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I’m astounded that our summer vacation is already coming to a close. It has flown by. We didn’t quite do all that we intended, but we did a lot. And mostly, it turns out that what the kids and I really wanted was to veg a little. We’ve had a lot of changes over the last two years and a few quiet weeks at home were welcome, indeed.

Onward and upward!

Over the past month or so, I’ve been reading, reviewing, and researching our school plan for the next year. And while our How We Do School series has a few more installments, I’m going to take some time each week to talk about school planning for me as the teacher as well as for each level of students.

Homeschooling is a way of life for us. While I am a total book geek, I also see all of life as learning. So there aren’t always clear cut boundaries between learning and fun.

Many of the things we do “for fun” are also educational. Our kids often select nonfiction books at the library. They love documentaries. We choose vacations and adventures that teach. That’s just how we roll.

Our kids love to learn new things, even though they groan over the book work and a return to formal studies just like the next kid.

Assessing Our Stage in Life

This summer vacation allowed me time to reflect on our family, the different ages of our kids, mine and FishPapa’s goals for their educations, and where we hope to go this year in our studies.

In many ways, we are breaking new ground.

  • A kid in every stage – I realized that I have children in almost every stage of development. My eldest son, my first teenager, is entering 8th grade, while his brothers will be in 5th, 3rd, and 1st grade. The girls at the end of the train are my preschoolers.
  • No baby in our school – While FishBaby will always be “the baby of the family,” she’s not really a baby. She turns 2 this month and is teasing us with efforts to potty train herself. While she certainly is not “independent,” her new stage in life should contribute to a new look for our school. It’s been a long time since we didn’t have a baby-baby around. While I will hold onto naptime for dear life, I anticipate fewer interruptions and happier playtimes for my preschoolers.
  • More flexibility – As our kids are growing, we have a little more flexibility now in working in extra-curricular activities and elective subjects. We’re including Latin, Logic, and Spanish into our course of study this year. At the end of last year, FishPapa began music instruction with each of the boys. So, I am hopeful that the subjects that haven’t received the attention I wanted them to have will get that this year.

Reviewing My Philosophies of Education

It was so helpful this summer to spend some time thinking through our course of study for the year, talking with friends, asking you all on Facebook and Twitter, visiting homeschooling websites and forums, and rereading the book that has been a casual guide for our family’s education adventure.

Once upon a time I was a high school English and French teacher. I have a Master’s  Degree in Education as well as an-oh-so-helpful-in-today’s-society, BA in French Literature. Despite the fact that I had “professional training” in educational philosophy, it was only when I applied it to my own children and my hopes and dreams for them, that it became real. There’s a depth and passion for my kids’ learning that is exhilarating.

In rereading my vintage edition of The Well-Trained Mind I am reminded of the excitement I had when we first embarked on classical education and teaching our children at home. Researching curriculum and thinking through each child’s needs and abilities has been a welcome task. Like flipping through the pages of their scrapbooks, thinking about their schooling has been a joy and a reminder of the blessing it it to walk this path alongside them.

Renewing My Energy

In the last few years we’ve added babies, started a home business, moved cross-country, and experienced a number of major life changes that have pulled me in a number of directions. There’s always been something more I could do, something more to pull my attention, something more to nag at me.

This past month of a relaxed schedule has been really good. I was able to incrementally work on and eventually complete a major writing project on my to-do list. And then, even the mouse invasion produced good fruits. It was the jump start I needed to clean every nook and cranny of our home. I got the schoolroom emptied and sorted.And we’re ready to start with a clean slate come next week. I feel like huge weights have been lifted from my shoulders.

One night I lay in bed feeling like I had climbed Mount Everest. Now what do I want to do? I thought.

Dreaming Big Dreams

While I have big dreams for many areas of my life, it came home to me that school is the most important area right now. Getting our school off to a great start and not falling behind are going to be the keys to success in all the other areas of my life this year.

Some big plans I have?

  1. 6 weeks on, 1 week off – One of the benefits of teaching my children at home is that I can build our own calendar. We’re going to try 6 6-week sessions with a week off in between each one. I’m hoping that this will allow for timely breaks as well as a little breather for each of us in order to avoid burnout.
  2. A regular daily schedule – I hate schedules, but I know that our days will go better if we have one. I also know that unless I plan for each of the subjects I want to include, they won’t happen on their own.
  3. Stay on top of things – Getting behind is no fun. So, I want to make a concerted effort not to get behind in lessons and grading. Yes, life will happen. But, I hate digging myself out of a hole.
  4. Work hard, play hard – I want to make sure that when we’re supposed to be working, we are. The rest of the time we should be free to play and have fun.

I am hopeful, prayerful, and excited for the new school year. I don’t have all my ducks in a row, but I’m getting there. Back to school planning for this homeschool mom is off to a good start.

What do YOU do to get the year off to a great start?

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  1. Excellent post! Our goals and life stages are very similar. I’m cleaning out my bedroom this week (the last room to be purged), then taking junk out of my house and then starting my school planning. Staying on top of things is my #1 academic goal. My parents moved in with us last year and I walked my dad through a heart transplant and recovery. Academics were put on the back burner. I’ve hardly left home this summer, my parents have left, and my batteries are recharged. My baby is almost 3 and my oldest 15! Wow! One of the biggies for me is being intentional to write down and check assignments weekly and I must come up with a good chore system. We are planning to begin next week!

  2. I have a question that might be a bit personal, but I’m really curious so I’m asking. If you’re a former French teacher…why Spanish? And what are you planning to use to learn it? CD-Rom? Personal tutor? Books? I’m trying to learn a foreign language (my husband speaks Spanish from growing up as an MK in South America), but I feel like a brick wall when it comes to language learning. Yay for teaching your kids a second language when they are young!

    1. @Carrie, well, despite the fact that teaching French would be WAY easier and a few kids would prefer it, we realize that Spanish is the more practical language for life in the US. I didn’t buy it when my dad said it 24 years ago, but he was right. We are going to use a Rosetta Stone CD-ROM program for Spanish.

      I have a feeling if we see success with that program, we will probably buy the French for those interested later on down the line.

  3. My kids are ages 7-2 and we have four of them. I did a LOT of reading about how I wanted to school and our goals for each child. In general I did a lot of planning last summer. Not much has changed since last year ast far as how I want to do school and my goals for the kids. I add to it and adjust a little, then move on.

    We are reorganizing our books and school “stuff”. Last year I was starting with a one year old, this year it’s a two year old. This means that I can change the way we do things and where they are put.

    I set a schedule last year but I couldn’t keep to it with my little ones to care for. We had to go with the flow for the most part. I do see how a schedule is better and I am hoping that we can stick to one this year.

    I used to think that school in my kitchen was the best but I am finding that it is driving me crazy. I need to get the papers and stuff out of my kitchen. So, everyone is getting their own school space. We do not do the school room thing because it is too distracting for some of my learners. They are thrilled that they will have “their own” space.

    Field trip schedule….. that is one of the most fun parts of planning! It is said that if you don’t put it on the schedule and have someone counting on you to show up, it will never happen. We have a plan and we are going!

    1. @Krystal, “go with the flow” is how I’ve survived all these years. lol

      Concerning the school room, not everyone does their work here all the time, but it is the central location for all our stuff and there are work tables here.

  4. This post has been inspirational for me. This is the first year that my boys (4th and 5th grade) will have their own schoolroom instead of being at the kitchen table. Our daughter will turn one this week, so I’m trying to think of ways to get in teaching while keeping her occupied. I’m looking forward to getting organized and getting our schoolbooks in that we ordered. Thanks for the great tips.

  5. I’m organizing the school room/play room this week. Working on activity box for my 2-year old. Still need to do lesson plans and choose a math curriculum for my 6-year old – we start on Aug. 17th! We are trying out a “hybrid” private school this year – my daughter will go 2 days a week for hands on enrichment and then we will do the rest at home. I was wondering what you use for your lesson plans? The format I used last year didn’t always work for me so I’m looking for something new.

  6. Do you have printables for your schedule on today’s post? I really like how clean and uncluttered it is and I would love to make copies. Thanks so much for a great website!

  7. Jessica, thank you for this post! I am “right there with you” ~planning, cleaning, sorting and getting ready for a new school year. Blessings to you today! ~C

  8. As you well know, I’ve chosen public school for my kiddos. And we’ve had summer school to contend with (4 bus runs a day, each about an hour apart… ICK!), so I don’t imagine it will be too much of a challenge to get back in the swing of things. Mostly, I just had to comment on your oh-so-useful degree (made me giggle)… because you know I have the same one. 😉 You’re very correct!! Still, I sure enjoyed studying it…

  9. We went on a field trip today to kick off the year! I’ve been scheduling like mad, too, and am really excited about the upcoming year! We’re adding art and science to our curriculum for the first time this year. It should be exciting!

  10. We don’t homeschool – I wish I could, but sincerely doubt my ability to be organized enough (and patient enough) to pull it off. Mostly, I just wanted to comment how totally awed I am by your ability to accomplish so very much in what you describe as a lay-back summer! You truly have superhuman stamina!!!

  11. I just want to add a great resource for Mom’s to pull it all together. I have used the MomAgenda Day planner for three years now and although I also use Google Calendar for our family, I find that nothing beats paper to keep the family together.

    The calendar has spots for you, your children and dinner planning. I just love it. If remembering “hat day” and “math tests” as well as “bible study” are difficult for you, this is a perfect calendar for you. The website is

  12. I enjoyed reading this post and everyone’s comments! My husband and I were just talking about the fact that “summer break” as an adult really isn’t a break! We have five children (ages 13, 8, 5, 3, and 1). It seems that with every baby I get behind on things around the house, and then have to spend a summer catching up. This has been my catch up summer–organizing, purging, cleaning, etc. So I just about have all of the homeschooling supplies/books organized, most things are cleaned up and orderly (a never ending job), and the new curriculum just arrived in the mail. The only trouble is that now that I’ve done so much this summer, I pooped! I need to find a super-energy-pill so that we can start school next week! Then only 180 more days until our next summer “break!” 🙂

  13. Good for you! We have school year-round, taking time off for new babies (I have 6 children 8 and under), for canning times, and right before Christmas (when I’m busy sewing Christmas gifts). Right now it’s canning season, so we’re taking a little break, but many of those days they do some school as well.

    But as soon as the canning is done, I have TWO children who want to learn to read! So I expect it will be busy real soon.

  14. Sigh. I’m not anywhere near ready for summer to end. (8/17 start date for our kids.) I’m enjoying our days so much, and feel like we’ve barely begun enjoying summer. (our kids are older, 13, 16 and 19.)

    We are using public school for the younger two, as our daughter gets excellent resources for her special needs, and our son’s primary goal is to play high school baseball. But, not enthused about starting up with 7:26 start time, long days, plus homework. Grrrrr.

  15. The Well Trained Mind sounds like a book I would enjoy reading. I know I want to homeschool but the how of it all is still uncertain to me. My B is 2 so we read a lot but I look forward to the days of more formal training as well.

    Your post helps me get a grasp on the how. Thank you!

  16. Thank you so much for your post. This year will be our “official” homeschool year. We are using the workboxes by Sue Patrick. I was wondering if you had any free downloads for homeschool.

  17. Thank you for this post! I didn’t know you were using the Classical method; we are too! We use Veritas Press for our curriculum. We have two sons, ages almost-7 and 4. The oldest is going into second grade. I am SO excited about this school year (even though I am exhausted from summer activities!) because we get to study ancient Egypt (Genesis through Joshua). We have everything, but I will be spending all next week going through all of it, and making a plan. We have been thinking of doing school Monday through Friday, and then off on Friday. We tend to have group meetings and field trips on Friday anyway. And since I am the coordinator of our homeschool group, those are very busy days for me! I really appreciate these posts. They are very encouraging!

  18. Your post is an inspiration to me! For the last five years we have used a charter school, and this will be the first year going alone! I have no clue how to do a lesson plan, so I was wondering if you could post pictures on how you organize each child. I have a 5th grader, 1st grader, and pre-schooler and would love to combing all three with history and science. Have you ever done this? Thanks for your help, and I will be reading again real soon!!

    1. I’m planning to share bits and pieces over the few weeks, enough to help those interested, but not so much that I bore people. 😉

  19. Just now reading this, as I am in the planning mode for next school year. I am curious about the 6 weeks on, 1 week off. How did that work for you? It sounds dreamy!

    1. I was just thinking about that this weekend. I gave it up mid-year! LOL. Hubs couldn’t get time off, so we just pushed through at some point. I know that I like the change of pace, so I’m wondering how to mix up our school year next year so that we (I) don’t get bored.