Planning our curriculum and daily homeschool schedule for the entire school year is a daunting task. I don't claim to have mastered it by any stretch, but there are some basic steps I take that help me tremendously in the planning process.
What I end up with at the end of this process is an ideal plan and schedule that we never end up following perfectly. But it's a good starting point and helps me at least get a big picture of the school year before we begin.
Here are the steps I take to plan our homeschool year.
Planning the Curriculum
1. Write down a list of subjects for each child.
I begin by writing up a list of all the subjects we plan to cover for that year. Then I
spend several days scouring the house quickly collect all the curriculum for each child that I acquired over the previous year, and I end up with three stacks of curriculum on the floor next to the couch (which usually stay there for several days as I plan).
This process of collecting all the curriculum into one place also helps me discover what materials I might still be lacking.
2. Create a list of lessons for each subject.
I start with one child's stack of books at a time and I write up a list of daily lessons for each subject. These lessons are never detailed; it's usually just the number of the lesson, the page numbers to read, or a reference to a section in a syllabus.
Daily Lesson-based Curriculum. For some subjects this process is simple because the curriculum is broken up neatly into a certain number of daily lessons. For these subjects, my lesson list might look like this.
Joely, Science (Christian Kids Explore Chemistry)
- Read lesson 1 & do hands-on
- Read lesson 2 & do hands-on
- Read lesson 3 & do hands-on
- Read lesson 4 & do hands-on
- Read lesson 5 & do hands-on
- Do Unit 1 Review
- Read lesson 6 & do hands-on
- Read lesson 7 & do hands-on…
Non-daily Curriculum. For other subjects coming up with concise daily lesson assignments is more difficult because each lesson in the curriculum may take several days to cover. For curriculum like this, which for us would be Beautiful Feet history guides and Chalk Dust math, I look over the syllabus and write down the number of days I think each lesson might take. I usually base this on the number of pages required to be read in the case of Beautiful Feet, or the length of the lesson video in the case of Chalk Dust math. I also take into account reviews, quizzes, tests, and project days as applicable.
Then I add up all the lessons to see how many days it would take to complete the curriculum. If I have a lot of leeway in the number of lessons I end up with (like if math added up to 120 lessons when we have 180 days in our school year) I often go back through the syllabus and add days to some of the lessons to allow more time to complete some of the longer ones.
My list of lessons for Chalk Dust might look something like this.
Jerah, Math (Chalk Dust)
- Lesson 1.1 (day 1 of 2)
- Lesson 1.1 (day 2 of 2)
- Lesson 1.2 (day 1 of 3)
- Lesson 1.2 (day 2 of 3)
- Lesson 1.2 (day 3 of 3)
- Mid-Chapter quiz
- Lesson 1.3 (day 1 of 2)
- Lesson 1.3 (day 2 of 2)
- Lesson 1.4 (day 1 of 2)
- Lesson 1.4 (day 2 of 2)
- Review for Chapter 1
- Chapter 1 Test
- Lesson 2.1 (day 1 of 2)…
Based on this list, Chapter 1 should take about 12 days to complete. My kids don't necessarily follow this schedule exactly; but they work on math about an hour a day, so they know that by day 12 they should be taking the Chapter 1 Test.
Project-based subjects. For subjects that don't follow a sequence of lessons, such as independent reading, I might write out a list of books I want them to read, then estimate how many days I think it would take to finish each book. It would be fairly simple to come up with 180 days of reading with that method. (I haven't actually planned independent reading for a full year before. I usually end up deciding reading only a few books at a time.)
Time-based subjects. Other subjects are simply time-based; they don't follow a sequential series of lessons. In our case, that would be instrument practice and keyboarding, and to some extent our self-paced music theory curriculum. For these subjects I just write out the amount of time per week or per day I want my kids to work in that subject.
Plan the Daily Schedule
1. Determine how many days a week each subject needs to be covered.
To figure out how many times a week each subject needs to be done, I first consult my school year calendar to see how many school days we expect to have that year. Then from that I figure the number of weeks of school that translates into, and that's the number I use to figure how many times a week we need to do a particular subject.
Looking back at the list of lessons for each subject, I divide the total number of lessons by the number of weeks of school. Then I (usually) round up to the next full integer so that there's a little wiggle room in our schedule in case we get behind a bit (which always seems to happen).
For example, if there are 100 lessons to cover in a particular subject, I divide 100 by 36 weeks to get 2.77 lessons per week. Obviously if I assigned the subject only 2 days a week, we wouldn't finish it in time. So I round up and schedule that subject for 3 times a week, which gives us that little extra wiggle room. If we stay on track all year, we'll finish the curriculum a little early. But if we get behind a bit because of sickness or other activities, we'll still be able to finish by the end of the year.
By the end of this process, each subject on the lists has a number next to it, indicating how many days a week we plan to do it.
For example, my list might look something like this:
Jerah, 7th Grade
Writers Workshop (5)
Personal Finance (3)
Music Theory (2)
Bass Guitar Practice (5)
Independent Reading (5)
2. Indicate which subjects are group, one-on-one, and independent.
Some subjects my children complete independently. Others require my direct interaction. And others we complete as a group, with more than one child doing the same work at the same time with me.
I take a look at the list of subjects for each child, and I indicate on the list which subjects are group, one-on-one, or independent. If the subject is a group subject, I also mark down which other children are involved.
My list might then look like this:
Jerah, 7th grade
Ind (1-on-1 on Fridays) —Worldviews (3)
Ind — Math (5)
Ind — OYAN (5)
Ind (1-on-1 on Mondays @ 2pm) — Writers Workshop (5)
Ind — Science (5)
Ind — History (4)
1-on-1 — Logic (1)
Ind — Latin (5)
Group (Jerah & Jaden) Personal Finance (3)
Ind — Photography(2)
Ind — Music Theory (2)
Ind — Bass Guitar Practice (5)
Ind — Independent Reading (5)
3. Create an "ideal" daily schedule.
Before I can create a daily schedule, I need to figure out which days of the week each subject will be done. I open up a spreadsheet, put the days of the week across the top and the subjects along the left. Then I put an x on each day of the week we plan to do each subject. This usually gets changed several times throughout my scheduling process, which is why I do it in a spreadsheet where it's easily changed.
This is what my spreadsheet for one child might look like at this point in the process:
Once I have a rough idea of which subjects we'll cover on which days, I make a second spreadsheet. This time I have the days of the week across the top, but I have each child's name under every day as well, so that I can see each child's schedule in relation to the others.
I then put times on the left, starting with the ideal beginning of our school day, and broken down into 15-minute increments. (I did it in 15-minute increments this year because some of my kids' online classes start at the quarter hour.)
This is an example of what that might look like:
The first thing I put into the schedule is the non-negotiable subjects. For us that would include music lessons, online classes, and (according to my kids) lunch. These items occur at a fixed time each week.
Next I fill in group times, where I need to work with more than one child at a time. For us that would be Personal Finance which I scheduled this year after lunchtime.
After group times are filled in, I schedule the one-on-one time for each child. This year I need to do one-on-one time with Joely every day, and only on Monday afternoons with Jerah.
I then fill in the spaces in between with each child's independent subjects.
For independent work, I usually don't assign a specific time for each subject. Instead I will list all the subjects that should be covered in that larger block of time. For example, if there's a 2-hour block of independent time in the morning, I might write Math, English, and History in that space, but the child can complete it in any order she likes during that time.
I also try to assign the subjects that have specific, sequential lessons — such as math, English, history or science — earlier in the day, and then other subjects that are simply time-based later in that day — such as independent reading and instrument practice. That way if something comes up during the day and we have to cut our school day short, we don't get behind in the sequential subjects where we would risk falling behind.
a few minutes hours of juggling and moving subjects around, my spreadsheet might end up looking like this. The yellow indicates subjects which I'm involved with, making it easy to see if I've assigned myself to be in two places at the same time.
One thing I also try to do is keep the subjects in pretty much the same order each day for each child. For example, Jaden's morning routine on most days is spelling, then either music theory or worldviews, then either his online class or his homework for his online class, and finally programming. Joely's routine is (ideally) to do Visual Latin, then practice her drum lesson, then work with me for math, science and writing.
Although my children
sometimes always deviate from their schedules, they still like the idea of a routine, and knowing that drums is always first thing in the morning, or that programming is always immediately before lunch is helpful. They at least have a little direction to their day.
And of course, when they start slacking off and not finishing their school work because they've strayed too far from the schedule, I can crack the whip (metaphorically) and have them go back to following their ideal schedule more strictly. That usually helps jump start them back into a good routine.
4. Enter the schedule and lessons into lesson planning software.
Lesson planning software has always been a huge help to me. I like to be able to plan out everything once at the beginning of the year, enter it into the software, and then just print the to-do list for my kids to check off at the beginning of each week. I don't have to re-plan and write out new lists each week.
I used to use HomeschoolTracker for this, but I don't have easy access to the software anymore. This last summer I looked for different software for the Mac with the same features as HomeschoolTracker, but I couldn't find anything.
But I did find something that was close: Planbook. Although Planbook was created for public school teachers, it has enough of the features that I need to make it work for our homeschool. I can set up a school year for each child, enter the subjects and the days of the week for those subjects, and then enter the lessons for each subject one at a time.
The software looks something like this when I'm done:
By entering the info into Planbook, what I end up with is a weekly schedule that I can then print off for each child at the beginning of each week. And when I need to make adjustments to the schedule, perhaps bump back a lesson in a subject or two, it's simple to do with a couple clicks of a button.
My kids' weekly assignment sheets from Planbook look something like this:
So that's the basic process of curriculum planning I go through at the beginning of every school year.
Again, what I end up with after all that planning is an ideal schedule that we'd like to follow and that will allow us to finish all our curriculum over the course of the school year. But the truth is, we never follow it exactly as planned.
Our actual school day usually starts a good 30 minutes to an hour after the ideal schedule. And even though my children check off their assignments on their weekly assignment sheets, they rarely complete them in the exact order or the specific times they are assigned.
But still, the schedule is helpful in keeping us on track from week to week. It gives us both a place to start and a place to go back to when we get a little too flexible with our school day and subjects start getting missed.
I'm sure my method of planning is quite different from yours. How do you lesson plan? I'd love to hear about it.