Homeschool Planning for the Classical Mom
It’s that time of year again when I try to avoid summer the summer heat, and turn my focus to homeschool planning. And that includes all things homeschool related. I recently finished up curriculum planning for our next school year (which we will not start until the very end of August) and I was pleased at how quickly and smoothly I completed the process.
This will be our fourth year homeschooling our youngest daughter. Even after four years, I confess I do enjoy all aspects of the planning process, even though it is challenging and even daunting. My heart skips a beat when the catalogs arrive in the Spring, I love previewing curriculum and discussing what we will study throughout the year with my daughter, and I especially love when all the books arrive. Thank you Mr. UPS man! I love you more than Santa. But even with my affections ordered around all things scholastic, I was still surprised at how things just fell into place. Then I realized that I have been following roughly the same process for the last couple of years. Now I have a set of go-to resources that I turn to again and again that help make my school planning such a pleasure.
Dorothy Sayers’ “Lost Tools of Learning”
Every year in the late Spring or early Summer, I re-read this essay. I have a highlighted copy of it in my homeschool planning folder, front and center. When I started homeschooling, it was a centering reminder of what I was trying to accomplish with my curriculum choices. Now that I have a few years of homeschooling under my belt, it’s a classical touch stone that keeps me focused on what is essential education and what is “fluff” … not that I mind a little fluff in our school life. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dorothy Sayers, in addition to being an educator, an expert on the Middle Ages, and mystery novelist, she was also a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford.
Teaching from Rest
I am a HUGE fan of Sarah MacKenzie for a number of reasons. Her headbands alone are endearing, and we LOVE her Read-Aloud Revival podcast in our house. But what I admire most of all is her book Teaching from Rest. This is another thing I read each year to gear-up for the planning process. It’s a short little book, only 112 pages, but it is dense with reassurance, practical ideas, and some gentle challenges to my recovering-perfectionist tendencies. Every year I need to be reminded that “curriculum isn’t something you buy,” and that in homeschooling, as in all things, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” Reading this book gives me the peace and confidence to know that, yes, I actually AM equipped to educate my child. It’s the kick in the pants and the shot in the art I need every year to tackle the big planning exercise.
The Well-Trained Mind
Twelve years ago, when I first flirted with the idea of homeschooling my oldest daughter, I bought a copy of The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. I poured over it for hours, thinking to myself “if we homeschool, THIS is how we’re going to do it.” I loved the structure, I loved the booklists, and I loved the idea of The Trivium. This book was my first introduction to The Trivium, the idea of dividing education into three phases: the grammar years, the logic years, and the rhetoric years. In each phase, the same basic content (particularly for science and history) is taught over four years, but with increasing depth and application.
Now that I have been homeschooling in the real world, I realize that the program outlined in this book is the gold-standard for classical education, and not necessarily a practical curriculum plan. It is not realistic to expect that every child would follow every prescribed course of study. Susan Wide Bauer herself said in a lecture that even she sees it as the ideal program, and not to be followed to the letter. But that does not make this resource any less valuable.
The Well-Trained Mind is not just a guide for the most intellectually-gifted, academically-aggressive students, as many of my cohorts seem to think. I think it is for anyone who is interested in applying elements of classical education in their homeschool (or supplementary at-home education.) The book is a wealth of proven methods and resources for classical education across all subjects. I return to this book each year to see recommendations about what content to cover for each subject for the next grade (not that I always follow the recommendations) and to find curriculum suggestions and strategies for teaching those subjects. In the most recent edition, Bauer has provided an on-line extended guide to include additional curriculum recommendations and updates to recommendations made in the book that have changed or are no longer available. I would not recommend going straight to the website without at least scanning the book, though. You will quickly find yourself lost and overwhelmed by all the possibilities.
Memoria Press Catalogs
I already mentioned my excitement when the curriculum catalogs start hitting my mailbox. It reminds me of the arrival of the JCPenny Christmas toy catalog every year when I was a girl. Such joy and anticipation and possibility. By far, my favorite catalog is from Memoria Press, The Classical Teacher. When we started homeschooling, I wanted to keep things very simple and chose an “out of the box” curriculum from Memoria Press (I substituted different math and spelling resources.) Over time I swapped out curricula, one subject at a time, for different options that worked better for my daughter. However, we still use a number of MP products every year, including Latin, Geography, and their Famous Men series. I also look each year at their recommended literature suggestions by grade level for books to include in our curriculum. I don’t always buy their literature guides, depending on goals and budget for the year, but the books they choose are classic and age-appropriate.
Pam Barnhill at EdSnapshots
I can honestly say I did not feel completely comfortable with my annual planning process until I purchased the Plan Your Year course at EdSnapshots.com. This eCourse is so valuable. In terms of saving me time and frustration, it is easily the best $29 I have ever spent. Yes, I could go through homeschool planning without this roadmap. But it would probably take me twice as long and I would not be as confident or organized at the end of the process. There is a private Facebook group facilitated by the nice people at EdSnapshots for people who have purchased the course. This group is a wonderful resource for answering questions – a nice community of people going through the homeschooling planning process together.
Another great resource is the Homeschool Organization Challenge, also from EdSnapshots, is big help in getting all books and supplies organized for the start of school each year. It breaks the whole process, from corralling crayons to cleaning electronics, into 28 manageable tasks. At the end, I am ready and raring for another year of homeschooling.
Once upon a time, I looked at a many, many lesson planning and scheduling tools in an effort to simplify and automate our daily course of study. But I quickly learned that as in war, no plan survives the first contact with the enemy, er, student. We have a rough plan, but in our homeschool we still allow room for a little spontaneity (a long lunch with the grandparents, a park day when the weather is particularly nice, and the occasional Drop Everything And Just Read day.) Flexibility and spontaneity are one of the joys of homeschooling, and honestly it’s what keeps me sane. I found paper planners cumbersome and not adaptable. On-line or software tools required too much manual data entry and still weren’t as flexible as I would have liked. So after the first year, I decided to go radically simple. I use an Excel spreadsheet.
Each year I create a new Excel spreadsheet. I list each week across the top, and each subject down the side. I use a color to block off our holiday weeks, and then hide those columns. Then I just fill out the cells with what we should cover that week. Usually it’s just Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. For science or history, I include the topics so I can align them to what we’re covering in co-op or other subjects that week. As we finish a week of lessons, I go back into the spreadsheet and highlight the cells we completed with another color to show that we’ve completed it.
Using a spreadsheet makes changing our schedule a snap. If we unexpected skip a week of classes, or just fall behind, I can easily cut and paste the remaining contents of a row to the right, and boom, we’re back on schedule. If I had more than one student at home (right now I am only teaching one at home) I would have a separate tab for each child. I also keep age-appropriate historical book lists in a separate tab in the same spreadsheet. This makes it easy to find and reserve books at the library when we start a new topic in history.
I store the Excel file in a Dropbox folder. That makes this incredibly simple to find and easy to use. I can pull it up from anywhere – any computer in the house, my iPad or even my phone. It’s always there, and it’s always updated. I have used this system for three years, and it’s still working. But it’s working for me, and it may or may not work for you. I think the point is to think about what you need in a “planner” — flexibility, accessibility, ease of use, etc. Do what works for YOU.
I don’t think a homeschool planning post I write would be complete without a shoutout to the source of ultimate homeschool organization inspiration, that amazing Ikea catalog. Yes, we are one of those families who, once we made the monumental commitment to homeschool, immediately ran out to Ikea and purchased a KALLAX bookshelf and some cubes. Just kidding … sort of. Seriously, I do love Ikea. The products are well designed, clever, and so darn affordable. So here is a quick list of my favorite Ikea products that have really helped us keep it all together.
- KALLAK Bookshelf – We like the 2×4 unit, which we have used both horizontally and vertically.
- DRÖNA Box – The most affordable 13″ storage cube. You can find prettier, but these are durable and cheap.
- ALEX Drawer/Desk – Two ALEX drawer units and a tabletop, and you have a small desk with lots of storage.
- TJENA Box – Sturdy cardboard 13″ storage boxes with lids, also perfect for the KALLAX bookshelf.
- TJENA Magazine Files – Perfect for all the workbooks, coloring books, and even corralling looseleaf paper.
- STÖDJA Flatware tray – This fits perfectly in an ALEX drawer, and is just right for pens, pencils, etc. And it’s $2!
- MÅLA Paper – We still use this paper on a roll, for drawing and as a table protector for craft projects.
Finally, here’s a link to my Homeschool Organization Pinterest board. Just a little something to suck you into the internet for and hour or two. Enjoy!
Once again, I’m linking up with Kelly over at This Ain’t the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes.
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