One of the benefits of the homeschool life is that you get to set the calendar! Here’s how to build an academic calendar for homeschooling.
I’ll confess, one of my favorite parts of homeschooling is that no one else tells me where I have to be and when. While I’m a stickler for doing real school and hitting the books, I love the freedom that comes with building my own academic calendar.
And yes, you do need to build an academic calendar. It’s one of the basic records you should be keeping, no matter what your state laws require. Having an academic calendar provides boundaries for you as a teacher and for your children as students.
For some odd reason, my kids woke up this past Monday morning and thought that it was the first day of school. I, on the other hand, was sleeping in because I knew we had one more week of vacation! I woke to find some very sad and dejected children, frustrated that there was a line at the math computer. I’m not sure where our lines got crossed, but you can be sure I made everyone’s
day week by reminding them that they had a little bit more of vacation.
The academic calendar is essential to your homeschool, not just for record keeping, but also so that kids are clear on when it’s time to play and when it’s time to work.
Essential Records for Homeschooling
Years ago at a home education conference, an attorney shared some of the basics to record keeping. I really appreciated his straightforward approach as he explained what we needed to do:
- 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. Going through this process is something that I do at the beginning of every school year. Not only does it equip me with substantive documentation if our home-based private school is ever questioned, but it also sets me up for success.
(If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to set up your homeschool paperwork, check out The Organizing Life as Mom Homeschool Pack. It includes all the planning pages pictured in this post plus several styles of to do lists, course overviews, and student interviews. Buy it here.)
You may balk at the idea of committing to a schedule, I can attest, now in my 15th year of homeschooling, that setting these dates down is important. It draws boundaries between the pressure of work and the freedom of play as well as helps keep you on track so you (more or less) finish the math book before the 4th of July.
Building Your Academic Calendar for Homeschooling
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.
In the early years, I had a lot of freedom to do whatever, whenever we wanted. Now that we’ve got one kid in college and others in co-ops, our schedule has had to mold to more outside forces, but we still have a fair amount of control.
Here is how I go about building our academic calendar.
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. Basically, you want a year at a glance, starting with July or August and ending sometime the following year.
Obviously, if you start your school year some other time, then grab (or create) a calendar that fits that timeline.
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.
We end up with several days off in November, December, and January, but the rest of the school months are pretty packed. This always has me wondering why we don’t just take our “summer vacation” in the winter, but I never end up doing that.
3. Set your days for instruction.
Traditionally, school days were 5 days/week, starting in September and ending somewhere in May or June. Old though I may be, my childhood school system actually started the practice of “year-round schooling” far before its time. We started school in late July and took longer breaks throughout the year.
As a home educator, you may have the freedom to choose whichever combination of days you like. I’ve known families to have 4-day school weeks or to school is 6-week cycles.
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.
My calendar this year has us going from August 15 to late May, barring catastrophe or the Plague. This may allow us to have a good summer break before starting in late July next year and allow us to take more time off in November or December since those months are full of holidays anyway.
You can schedule it anyway you want to, just consider these circumstances when building your academic calendar for homeschool:
Consider state laws.
I don’t mean to hammer this, but you need to know the laws of your state. 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 homeschool co-ops, sports, or other 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.
I use a color key to denote the days that we have outside activities, so I can make sure that we’re in town doing school on those days.
Find your rhythm.
One year I attempted the 6 weeks on, 1 week off schedule, but that didn’t really stick after the first 6 weeks. When I look back at the early years of homeschooling, I started out with a creative scheme and then we drifted into the same patterns. Why fight it? I want the summers free to play, and I don’t (usually) mind having a more traditional schedule during the year. Though, I am going keep trying to figure out that November-December thing.
Find your rhythm and do what works best for you and your family.
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 – Tooling Up.
Originally published August 2, 2011. Updated August 9, 2016.