A Homeschool Planner is an important tool for the homeschool teacher. Since you will be using your homeschool planner all year long, it is important to choose a planner that suits your needs and personality. This one stop guide will help you compare homeschool planners, teacher planners, print your own planners, online planners, and creative planners.
Pre-Printed Homeschool or Teacher Planners
If it is your first year teaching, you may want a planner geared for homeschoolers that gives you a little guidance on how to fill in those big blank pages. You may want to check out three of the most popular planners that are made with homeschool families in mind.
The Well-Planned Day If you are looking for one planner to plan both your homeschool and home life, this planner has you covered. So much is done for you that you just need to fill in the blanks. This planner is dated, so make sure you buy the planner that corresponds to your school year.
The Ultimate Homeschool Planner If you want a homeschool planner that integrates journaling--especially faith based journaling--into your planning, you may want to check this planner out. This planner is also undated, so you can start using it the week it comes in the mail.
A Simple Plan Of the three homeschool planners I have mentioned, I have only used A Simple Plan, which is an excellent quality planner. The paper was nice and thick and it had a sturdy cover and dividers. It has a page for everything I could possible want to record and plenty of open ended note taking pages, too. As far as I know, it is only available on the Mardel site. This planner is dated, so make sure you buy the planner that corresponds to your school year.
As a side note, each of these planners comes with a coordinating student planners, too.
You can also adapt a teacher planner for your homeschool, which is what I am currently doing. I like planning in a book, but I find that I can save a little money and shelf space by using a thin teacher plan book. I am currently using a Blue Sky Teacher Planner which I got on sale last year at the beginning of the school year. I like the colorful pages and slim design. It also has a nice pocket to store the unique record pages that I need to homeschool in my district and the pages that are unique to my family's homeschool. The cover and dividers are nice and sturdy without being bulky. As another benefit, it also has zero pages that I have to tear out because they are specific to public school teachers. I will probably purchase it again next year.
Build Your Own Homeschool Planner
The internet abounds with free printable resources and you could search and find and print what you need for the cost of paper and ink. After printing your planner, you would just need to bind your pages in a binder or have it professionally bound at a print shop.
The idea of building my own teacher planner appeals to many because they like the idea of having unique, custom made planner.
However, if you don't like the bulk of a binder and don't like the idea going to an office store to have my planner bound, custom making a planner probably wouldn't work for you. I know that I would probably have all the pages printed up and ready to go at the beginning of the school year and by the end of September they would be a mess. So, while I am playing around with designing my own weekly planning pages that would work with my homeschool, unless I really love them, I know that I will probably buy another Blue Sky Teacher Planner or invest in a homeschool planner like A Simple Plan again.
Use a Bullet Journal and Customize as You Go
I have to admit that I am very tempted to buy a large dot journal and create a planner as we journey through the year. The idea of getting out my markers and washi and making a weekly layout appeals to my creative side. I love my bullet journal for my personal life. It is flexible and fun to use and really doesn't take that much time to set up.
One of the benefits of bullet journaling is that you can have everything in the same spot and plans, reflections, and lists flow together very organically. When I flip through my bullet journal, it is a very accurate reflection of my days.
However, I learned the value of having a pre-dated and formatted teacher planner ready to go this year when we had a major family emergency. I was so glad that I everything was ready for me to just fill out. My record keeping didn’t suffer because everything was laid out. I simply had to fill in the blanks and it only took minutes.
You can read more about using a bullet journal for homeschooling here, here, here, and here.
Read about more strategies that save me in difficult times in this post: Homeschooling on Autopilot
Digitize Your Planning With an Online Planner
Some homeschoolers keep their plans on their phone calendars so they always have their plans with them. This works great for homeschoolers who are always on the go and need to always have their lesson plans with them. There are also several online planners that you can subscribe to.
Planning online helps to keep your paper clutter to a minimum—and in the event of a fire or flood, your records would be safe. Online planners often let you print out assignment sheets for each student and keep records for you also. If you are interested in researching online planners, be sure to check out Homeschool Tracker, Homeschool Skedtrack, Planbook, and Planboard.
You can also use an notetaking program like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote. Here's a nice overview of crafting lesson plans on Evernote and another way to use Evernote as a lesson planning tool. Here's an overview on using OneNote as a planner. One of the benefits of using Evernote and OneNote is that you can link to videos, images, website, and sound files directly in your lesson plans.
If you are in a state or district that requires that you turn in records annually, using an online planner will help you turn in records that look professional.
No Matter Which Planner Type You Choose...
Don't forget that the most important part of choosing a planner is choosing a planner that you want to to keep records in. It may take a few years to find the planner that works for you.
What kind of planner do you like to use?
Today's tip to reduce clutter in your homeschool is a simple on, but I know from experience that it has big results!
None of my kids ever really liked coloring books, but they all love to draw. From a young age, they would raid the printer for fresh white paper and get their crayons, markers, and pencils and draw. When it was time to clean up, they would put away their drawing supplies and give me their drawing as a gift. Since I can't just toss a gift the second I get it, a pile of drawings would grow. Eventually, I would toss the pile, but it always reappears.
I love when my kids draw. It's a quiet, creative activity. I love that all three of my kids like to draw together. Drawing is an activity that my 4, 6, and 12 year old do together regularly. But with three kids, the loose papers pile up.
At the beginning of this series, I talked about giving my oldest son a sketchbook. This school year, I gave my other two kids a sketchbook. I got my kids their sketchbooks at Target. They aren't artist quality, of course, but they are just fine for drawing.
My four year old still works on an elaborate, scribbly doodle that ends up being a robot or spaceship. When he's done, he never looks back.
My six year old has already figured out that she can come back to her work. She no longer quickly scribbles in some color when her hands get tired so she can be done and move on to another activity. She takes her time, does a good job, and leaves a little for the next day when she starts to get tired of drawing.
I really like that she is learning to take her time and spread her work out over multiple days so that she can do a good job.
My oldest works out ideas in his sketchbook. He has a large chunk where he drew dragon after dragon. He also draws castles and fortresses and various characters for the stories that he writes in his spare time.
And as for me, my mind has a bit less clutter as a result. I no longer have to decide what art to toss and when to toss it. I don't have to decide what to keep and how to store what I keep.
Wait, But Isn't it More Cost Effective to Let Kids Draw on Printer Paper?
Page by page, printer paper is way cheaper than sketchbook paper but as I mentioned before, my older kids are taking more days to finish their drawings, so they are using less paper. My youngest seems to be going through pages at the same rate, but he is more likely to use both sides of the paper in a sketchbook when he draws with markers. Even with the extra cost, I do think that it is a good trade in the end to have better quality work out of my oldest kids and less mess from my youngest.
Read the Rest of the Homeschool Clutter Buster Series
Tip #1: Reduce Throwaway Projects
Tip #2: Workbook Management 101
Tip #3: Buy Each Child a Cheap Sketchbook
Tip #4: One Notebook to Rule Them All
Tip #5: Corral the Small Stuff
Miscellaneous Tips and Tricks
I write this post as I look at too many barely used workbooks flopped over on our school shelves. (Why can't they stand up straight?) The truth of these underused educational materials reminds me that I chose workbooks in years past unwisely.
This post is the first in a series on reducing homeschool clutter. Read the first post here.
A Workbook that is Mainly Busywork will Flop on Your Shelf
Workbooks promise ready made, open and go curriculum. However, very few deliver on that promise. Many workbooks contain mundane tasks that don't really do much except leave a paper trail, both literally and figuratively. Many grammar books are mainly busywork. Do you really need the extra practice math book when there are a few apps out there for math practice that your kids won't cry over. Though I love Costco, most of the workbooks they throughout the summer sell are cute, colorful, and worthless.
I have many workbooks that I've started my kids on and realized that they are actually busywork. I've kept them out of guilt, thinking I can use them for another child. But I finally realized a workbook that was worthless for one child will be worthless for the next because it is simply a low quality product. As I write this post I'm am making a pile of the workbooks I don't use so I can dump them. Or I may let my preschooler scribble on them first, then toss them.
Choose Workbooks Wisely
Only buy the workbooks that you will likely use 85% of the pages.
The advice is simple, but it is easier said than done, especially during the first year of homeschooling
I used to buy a workbook for every possible topic, figuring that I could just pick and choose pages to teach and reinforce topics as I needed them. Of course that lead to a lot of waste and a lot of clutter.
I now buy two workbooks for my 7th grader. I've learned that a Math workbook is a necessary, though floppy, evil. I've also learned that Writing and Rhetoric is a valuable curriculum that has workbook sections. It not only covers writing, it also covers reading skills, critical thinking, memory work, a little grammar, and vocabulary. It is the core book for my son's language arts curriculum. In addition to Writing and Rhetoric, we read literature together and work on a few custom spelling lists on the side and language arts is done. I call that a valuable workbook!
Any workbook that is an integral part of a curriculum or that teaches a valuable skill that I cannot teach on my own is worth keeping on my shelf.
There are a few free, online workbooks that I have links to, just in case I need a page or two. I also go to sites like education.com when I just need a workbook page for extra practice.
My daughter has a math workbook,spelling workbook, and a handwriting workbook. Our charter school adds a couple others which I politely keep on my shelf. They do come in handy when she needs just a little extra practice, or when she feels like doing a workbook (she's funny like that!) Her workbooks don't sit nicely on a shelf, which is where the next tip comes in...
Corral Skinny Worbooks in Magazine Holders
Magazine holders are the best solution to floppy workbook syndrome. Go from this:
To this in about 5.2 seconds.
I have used the file boxes pictured for three years and they are in great condition! (Follow this link to the exact magazine holder shown.) I also use the large size to hold art supplies and sketchbooks together.
If you missed the first post in this series, be sure to go back and read how I have been reducing clutter by eliminating throwaway projects.
I wish I could say that I had mastered the clutter, but I haven't. I'm in the clutter filled homeschool trenches alongside you, but I have a plan to reduce the homeschool clutter as the school aged kids in my house increase.
The first thing on my list of cluttery things to eliminate is any project that will soon be thrown away.
What is a Throwaway Project?
A throwaway project is any project that you have no intention of keeping. These include cut and paste worksheets, anything made with Do a Dot Markers, or paper plates, salt dough maps, or most of the cute little things that you found on Pinterest and are loosely related to your history-science-or-literature theme.
Throwaway projects are are done for the process or to achieve vague goals like improving fine motor skills or reinforcing concepts.
Throwaway projects are busywork disguised with construction paper and glitter glue. They entertain your kids and keep them busy, but have little educational value.
Most importantly, throwaway projects increase clutter because as parents, we have to leave them around until the child who created it kind of forgets about it and is also out of the room.
But Don't Fun Projects Make School, Well, Fun?
Of course, it is fun cut, paste, glue, and paint and stuff is leaned along the way...but sometimes it is a bit much to have tambourines, frogs, bats, and fraction pizzas all made out of paper plates scattered around the house and a barely used package of cheap paper plates in the back of your cupboard. Once a project like this is made, its value has already come and gone.
Replace Throwaway Projects with Long-Term, Meaningful Projects
Children need meaningful work, just like we adults need meaningful work. Instead of investing in construction paper, paper plates, glitter glue, and googly eyes, why not invest in a sketch book for each child and a quality set of colored pencils, pastels, and art markers? Or journal with nice paper and pens that just feel good to write with? These books can contain your children's artistic and written responses to what they are learning.
When I switched away from loose worksheets and throwaway projects and focused on helping my kids make quality books, I ended up getting higher quality work from them. Check out this entry in my daughter's science notebook:
I wrote "jellyfish" for her because she was stressed about copying two long words correctly, but she did the rest with her textbook and a nice set of colored pencils, a mechanical pencil, and a crayon. She loves mixing medias. Oh, and did I mention that she's barely six?
When I handed my oldest son a $4 sketchbook and told him, no more typing paper, he began doing drawing that took him multiple days to do. So instead of working quickly on a drawing while he waited for dinner and tossing it, he started making more complex drawings of castles, dragons, and spaceships because he knew that he had multiple days to finish it. My favorite drawing of his are a series of moody dragon scenes inspired bythe illustrations in this book.
With the time that it takes to get out, make, and clean up a cut and paste project, you and your kids can develop lifelong skills. I taught my daughter to sew, even though I didn't really know how with this book. You can read how I did it here. My oldest son works on coding and writes stories in his spare time. I teach all of my kids to cook, drawing inspiration from our history lessons and literature,
I Still Do a Few Throwaway Projects
I have let my kids make maps out of dough...play dough. Then the monsters or pirates destroy the state and we put everything away. My kids make models of architectural masterpieces...out of blocks. We use sticks, rocks, and vines to build castles, fishing poles, and crowns, and then leave them outside until my husband blows out the backyard. Some projects become a part of the landscape, like our resurrection garden. Then we rake them up and toss them in the greens bin.
I do require cut and past projects from my kids, but I limit the size of the completed project to 8-1/2 by 11, and they must lie flat when completed. (History Pockets are great for this type of flat project.) This way, everything goes in a notebook. I wrote a whole post about the project books I use for the Middle Ages, with more details about how I use History Pockets.
Thanks for reading! This is the first in a series of reducing homeschool clutter. Next up, I'll be giving tips on reducing the clutter created by multiple floppy workbooks.
Mystery of History is a BIG program to sort through. I have found that it is easier on me if I do the majority of my planning and preparing before I read the first page to my kids.
This Post Contains Affiliate Links.
Step 1: Make a Lesson Planning Grid and Fill it Out
For me, the first step to planning is to print up a simple grid to use as a planner. I used Google Docs to make a four column grid and included enough rows for two weeks worth of lessons per page.
As I glanced over the lessons, I took notes for each lesson. In the first column, I wrote the title of each chapter, lesson number, and page numbers. The second column is for writing additional readings. I also used it to jot down map activities and quizzes I planned on doing. The third and fourth columns are to jot down notes on narrations and activities I want my kids to do. Most of the activities come straight from Mystery of History, but a few come from Story of the World Activity Book 2.
After going through the book and filling out the grid, I jotted down the titles of relevant library books at the top of each page so I can quickly go to our library's website and reserve the books I need. I found most of these books by browsing through the literature recommendations at the back of the book and in the Story of the World Activity Book 2. I also checked to see if our library had the books I wanted before writing the titles down.
I used the bottom margin to jot down notes on lessons that I want to include. I plan on doing a lesson on William Tell, because he is part of my heritage. I also plan on adding lessons on ancient Mexico, because that is a part of my husband's heritage.
I still have to write in my son's additional readings, which will be from books like Adam of the Road and the Adventures of Robin Hood, but I don't have all of those books in my hands yet.
Step 2: Make Copies and File Them Behind the Relevant Planning Page
I hate making copies. Since I hate making them as much on busy school days as on lazy summer days I decided to put on a podcast and make all the copies that I would need for history for the year.
It actually took a few podcasts to get the job done.
After making copies, I filed them behind the relevant lesson planning page.
Not all of my copies were from the Mystery of History book. Some I found online and some of the other supplement books I drew from were:
Amy Pak's History Through the Ages Timeline Figures
History Pockets: Ancient Civilizations
History Pockets: Ancient Rome
History Pockets: Native Americans
Story of the World Activity Book 2
Days of Knights and Damsels
I reviewed some of these supplemental activity books in this post and discussed how I used them.
Step 3: Pick a Storage System and Put Everything Away
I store my copies and plans in colorful folders and a file box. I include 12 lessons per folder. This is what my finished folders and file look like:
You could just as easily store everything in a binder and pull out pages as you need them.
Whenever I pull out a set of copies, I usually just put them in my Mystery of History book at the relevant chapter, so I have them ready to go the minute I open the book.
That's it! Since I'm already familiar with Mystery of History, once I got started, it only took a few hours to plan my year and a couple more hours to make copies and file them.
If this is your first year using Mystery of History, you will probably want to take a couple more hours to read the introductory chapters and familiarize yourself with the book.
Here's everything, shelved and ready to go! Here is a link to my exact small file box and large file box. Both are super sturdy and I've used them for years.
Be sure to read my next post in this series: Activity Books to Use With Mystery of History, Vol. 2
Back to school shopping is a little different for us homeschoolers, but not that much different. Here are my must buys at this year's back to school sales.
This post contains affiliate links
Besides buying packs of cheap Crayolas, packs of paper, and pens, some of the things I always get at back to school sales are:
Mechanical Pencils--I used to hate mechanical pencils, but we recently tried out these Paper Mate Clearpoint Mechanical Pencils and converted from our beloved Ticonderoga Pencils. The leads are sturdy and hard to break. With an always-sharp-point, my dysgraphic son's handwriting is a bit easier to read. And I'm less likely to have to clean up pencil shavings when someone drops the sharpener on the floor.
Graph Paper Notebooks--These are for my oldest son. Read why they are a must for his handwriting issues here and here. He currently uses one for math and one for science. I am adding one for his history narrations this year, too. These notebooks are pricey and don't go on sale outside of back to school season.
Composition Notebooks--The bindings never come apart, they are super portable, the smaller page size not intimidating at all, and some even have a sturdy cover. I get this one with room to draw for my first grader's journal. I get stacks of the plain college rule ones for myself and wide rule ones for my oldest son who likes to compose stories in his. I prefer the Mead 100 page composition books and will pay an extra quarter for them over the off brands any day of the week.
Permanent Glue Sticks--If you don't want anything your kids glued into their notebooks to fall out after a few weeks, get the permanent glue sticks. These are my favorite. Oh and be sure to put them away, unless you want a permanent collage on your daughter's door. Ahem.
Back to School clothes shopping is a lot more relaxed for us homeschoolers because we don't need quite as much to start the school year. It's easier on my budget to spread out clothes shopping throughout the year. That doesn't mean that I don't take advantage of the sales. A few things that I always buy at the back to school sales are:
Jean Sales--Jeans never go cheaper than at back to school time and my kids manage to get holes in the knees of their jeans before they outgrow them, so I stock up.
BOGO Shoe Sales--Usually the sales are buy one get one half off. I always try to hold out for BOGO shoe sales.
Packages of Socks--The only clothing item to get holes quicker than jeans. I stock up on the cute packs for kids when they go on sale at Costco.
A Few Fresh New Shirts and a Couple Pairs of Shorts--Where I live, we have HOT weather through October. I don't even look at jackets and sweatshirts until they move to clearance.
How About You?
What are your must buys for this year's back to school sales? Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear how you approach back to school shopping!
More to Read
I hit the end of last week and I was exhausted. In addition to five days of cycling through my typical duties of feeding my family, running a homeschool, keeping the house and yard clean enough, transporting to and from activities, and monitoring my kid's behavior and hygiene, I also had a couple of evenings where my husband was home really late from work , a birthday to plan for, a math unit that turned out to be much harder that I hand anticipated, and we had just been camping, so I had the after camping chores to do, too. I was on my feet for nearly five days straight and the work still wasn't done. It's no wonder I could barely think by the time Friday rolled around so I texted my husband to please plan on my not being around for a stretch of time on Saturday.
After a walk and a visit to the bookstore, my mind cleared enough to realize that I had not taken a single hour during the week to just read a book or write a little or draw a picture or sit in the garden to soak up some sunshine and enjoy the signs of spring. I had neither renewed my mind nor my soul.
I needed rest. Not the zone out on the couch with the TV or smartphone type of relaxing that is merely an escape from life, but the deep soul rest that Christians call Sabbath and classical educators call scholé. I thought about how I could work in a little scholé time in during the week.
A couple of friends in college had introduced me to the concept of a 24 hour Sabbath, where a person could choose a 24 hour block of time, preferably overlapping Sunday church services, during which no regular work (such as studying or a job) could be done. If you started your Sabbath after dinner Saturday night, you would have 24 hours of rest before hitting the books on Sunday evening. I tested out the 24 hour Sabbath before I committed to it, and after a few week of getting a lot of work done while always having a Sunday to devote to leisure, I was sold and kept a Sabbath all through college.
As a full time mom, a 24 hour Sabbath would be impossible for my work was always before me as I had young kids who need feeding, and dressing, and bathing, and loving attention whether it was Tuesday or Sunday.
The Lord models rest for us in the very first chapter of Genesis. He creates for six days and on the seventh he rests. Later, we read in the Gospels that Jesus spends his days healing and preaching and spending time with children, but he also slips away from the crowds to pray. If the God of the universe takes time to rest, perhaps I should, too.
God shows us that there is a proper cycle of work and leisure. Work is followed by rest. The next round of work should not start until rest has been taken.
What if, within each 24 hour period, I were to carve out one hour for rest for every six hours of work? What would my day look like if I intentionally followed a schedule of work and rest? It would probably look something like this schedule where I the leisure time is blue and the work time is orange:
6:00 Quiet. Coffee. Read the Bible. Pray. Journal. Read.
7:00-1:00 Breakfast. Dishes. Get kids ready for the day. Homeschool. Laundry. Lunch. Dishes.
1:00-2:00 Read or Paint or Write or Gather a bouquet of flowers or Talk to a friend or Sit in the sun and daydream.
2:00-8:00 Laundry. Clean. Exercise. Plan. Make phone calls. Dinner. Baths. Put kids to bed.
8:00-10:00 Get ready for bed. Talk to husband. Read. Watch a show.
That hour of rest in the middle of the day is huge, but I have to be intentional not to flop on the couch and waste time on Instagram because even though it occupies my attention, it is not restful.
Without that carefully placed hour of leisure in the middle of the schedule, my day would probably look something like this:
6:00 Drag myself out of bed to read the Bible and hopefully pray.
7:00-8:00 Breakfast. Dishes. Get kids ready for the day. Homeschool. Laundry. Lunch. Dishes. More laundry. Clean. Plan. Be grumpy. Forget something. Dinner. Baths. Put kids to bed.
8:00-11:00 Get ready for bed. Complain to husband. Instagram. Watch a show. Stay up too late.
The first schedule is so much better than the second and I can say so because I've tested both. I've probably spent far too many days following the rest-less schedule than the first, but the days when I follow the first are so much better.
Linked to: Monday Musings, Mommy Monday, Hip Homeschool Moms and Homeschool Blog and Tell
Stay tuned for part 2 where I write about adding rest to your student's homeschool days.
For Further Reading
In a perfect homeschooling world, we'd always have a couple of uninterrupted hours at the end of the week to gather materials and plan out the upcoming weeks, no one would get sick, December would only be a little bit chaotic, Mom would always get eight hours of sleep, and family crises would just not happen during the school year.
Unfortunately, life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Giving our kids a good education means that sometimes we have to flip on the autopilot switch and homeschool the best we can in the middle of our crazy lives. Here are a few thing that I've found help me educate my kids well during the busiest times of the year.
Have a Routine to Fall Back On
Having a routine means that even when I fall short of sleep because I'm up most of the night with a sick kid or because I'm a bad sleeper, I can fall into the pattern of breakfast, get kids ready for the day, read aloud time, math lessons, then supervise the kids' independent work. A routine saves our homeschool day more often than I care to admit.
My kids have their routines that they fall into, too. My oldest son is so in the habit of narrating what he read in his history and literature readers that even if I am in the middle of cleaning up a big spill, he will be telling me about the Panama Canal while getting me another towel. He knows that he can't check history off his list and move on to the next subject until that part of the lesson is done. Believe me, he doesn't like to be doing a lot of work after lunch, so he is motivated to move forward.
My daughter (age 5) is still learning her schedule but she knows that she has to write something, read something, and do a math activity before she is free to do drag out her art supplies to make yet another messy mixed media collage/drawing/painting/masterpiece. So she will ask to do her math before she asks to do art.
Always Be in the Middle of a Few Longer Books
For a while, a few subjects in our homeschool week were solely dependent on shorter books from the library. This meant that if I didn't reserve my books or couldn't go to the library, we didn't have anything to do for history, art, or science.
While I still depend on the library to round out our curriculum and to add richness to our homeschool day, I am careful to have a few longer books that we are reading aloud at all times.Genevieve Foster's books and the D'Aulaires books are great read for reading aloud to a wide range of ages and they are long enough to last several weeks. My kids all time favorite science book was Birds do the Strangest Things. We would read about one bird a day over the course of a few weeks and they still talk about the crazy birds we read about. Often, I will take a book from theLets-Read-And-Find-Out series, divide it into quarters, and read it over the course of a week.
Currently, during our morning read aloud time, we are always working through a book of the Bible, a history book, a poetry book, and a science book. Even on the craziest days, if I just continue to read a chapter or section of each of those and add in math, give the kids free reading time, and ask each child to write in their journal, we've still covered seven subjects in our homeschool. That's what we call a minimum day!
Map Out Subjects So It's Easy to "Do the Next Thing"
While with some curriculum may be easy to open the book and do the next section, some subjects are a little more difficult to do without a little planning. A math book may need change for a lesson on money or a compass for a geometry lesson. A history lesson may require a trip to the library for a research project. Science labs always require materials. A writing curriculum may have some lessons that take less than 20 minutes while others take close to an hour.
There are many ways to plan ahead, without investing a lot of time. Spending a little time periodically to look ahead to make note of which shorter lessons could be combined and which longer lessons will require extra days is a great practice. Jotting down a list of materials that will be needed for each unit on post it notes at the beginning of the year and sticking them in the book is super helpful.
Technology as a Substitute Teacher
When I was a substitute teacher, I usually had to take students to the computer lab or pop in a movie. When I was a teacher, I usually kept a few VHS tapes in my top right hand drawer for emergencies. As a homeschool teacher, why should I feel guilty about occasionally relying on technology to fill in the gaps in my kids education?
There are enough great documentaries, movie adaptations of literature, websites, and apps out there that in a pinch I can call in a technological substitute teacher to help me through a pinch. ABCya, Duolingo, Xtra Math, Starfall, and Typing.com are a few websites I can count on to fill in the gaps on rough days. As a matter of fact, most of those websites show up on our homeschool on a rotating basis anyway! We just spend more time on them when Mom or the baby is sick. As for apps, we have Stack the States (geography), Zeus vs the Monsters (mythology and math), Moose Math, and Starfall (reading and phonics). I try to record documentaries on Animal Planet for rainy days. I can also pull up an episode of Salsa Spanish for the little ones.
How About You?
How do you homeschool on autopilot?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Linked to Hip Homeschool Moms and FinishingStrong
At the beginning of our homeschool journey, I started coming across the name Charlotte Mason, over and over and over. Unfortunately, I had no idea who she was.
I finally turned to Google and came across a series of articles explaining Mason's methods of education. I skimmed over articles on narration and nature study and then stumbled on one about short lessons.
The concept wasn't hard. Charlotte Mason advised that lessons for children should be challenging, varied, and short. A short lesson meant that a child could give full attention to the lesson without a wandering mind. A short lesson wouldn't burn out a child which also meant that the child would be left eager for the next lesson.
Mason's concept of short lessons was so different from how I was organizing education in my mind. I had latched on to a block schedule, thinking it would be easier in the end. Our early block schedule included a substantial block of time for language arts, almost an hour for a math lesson and practice, and then another substantial block of time for either history, science, or art.
To me, it made sense to to get out the books for a subject once and then work with them for a good amount of time before putting them away again. If we only did history twice a week, I only had to get out the books, notebook, and other materials twice a week. It made less sense to get out the history book read a little then put it away and get out the math book for a lesson then put it away then get out a poetry book to read a poem then put it away then get out the spelling book and do an exercise then put it away... Unfortunately my ideas about what made sense had everything to do with efficiently getting out and putting away materials and not much to do with effectively educating a young mind.
It turns out, that spending longer amounts of time in a block type schedule wasn't working even though it seemed to be so common sense. I may not have spent as much time pulling books off the shelf, but I was spending way too much time pushing my son to just get to the end of the lesson.
Unfortunately, my ideas about what made sense had everything to do with efficiency and nothing to do with effectively educating a young mind.
Something had to change, and short lessons was a method that I knew I had to put to the test to see if it would actually work. I began by writing out a long checklist for my son so he could see what we were going to cover during the day. I made a point of making sure no two like activities or subjects were right next to each other. It looked something like this:
Story of the World
Black Ships Before Troy-1 Chapter
Chore of the Day
Of course, I didn't show him the list until he could check a few things off. He would have seen so many things scheduled before lunch instead of the usual three. I finally showed the list to him and of course he grumbled when he saw it. Why did he have to do so much today?
However, we were done with school in record time. We had hit every subject and I never once had to say, can you please just finish this page first and then you can have a break?
At the end of the week, when I added up everything that he had accomplished, more had been done in a dozen short lessons four days in a row than in four days of block scheduling. Also, we had accomplished more in less time.
Switching to a new schedule is hard, and it took me a few weeks to convince my son that what we were doing was better. The familiar pattern of doing things that we inherited from public schools was just that, familiar. We are comfortable with the familiar even if it isn't good for us. "Shouldn't I do more spelling exercises?" I'd see the question in his eyes, but he didn't dare ask.
My son had to build new habits, but I had to build new habits too. Pulling out three books for three subjects at a time and setting them on the table to work through one at a time became necessary because as soon as I turned my back to put one book away and take another out, I'd find myself alone at the table and my son already engaging his sister in a game. I have learned to pull out at least three books at once if I don't want a break between each and every short lesson.
Now that my son is older, I write out his schedule out in the order I want him to accomplish his lessons and he is no longer daunted when he gets a list of 12 tasks in the morning because now he knows that he can accomplish a lot in a little amount of time.
Charlotte Mason's short lessons have transformed our school mornings. We hit every subject between 8:30 am and lunch time with breaks in between. I do save activities that my kids like to dwell on, including science labs, art projects, and PE for after lunch. They have hours of free time for playing, reading, and personal projects.
Short lessons are the first area that I put Charlotte Mason's philosophy to the test, and I am so glad that I did because they just may have saved our sanity during our first year homeschooling.
Linked to The Homeschool Nook, Monday Musings, Finishing Strong and Hip Homeschool Moms