Homeschool Planning: 4 Tools for Creating a Flexible, Focused Homeschool

Crafting a homeschool year can be a daunting task.  The curriculum catalogs trickle in like a monsoon, enticing us with the new and improved that we hope will solve all of our homeschool struggles.  If we just buy a different phonics program, our struggling reader will magically read.  If we plunk down a bucket of cash, the new math program will stop the math tears.  This may be true.  But often it's not. 

That's why creating a homeschool vision and looking deeply at the children in front of you is key to a realistic and productive plan.  Without taking the time to consider the learning styles of your children, the realities of your homeschool, and the priorities you hold, you are likely to find yourself in a cycle of frustration and impulse buying which will only lead to more frustration and wasted time and money. 

It's taken me ten years to recognize this cycle and find the tools I need to step out of it.  Along the way, though, I've learned a lot about what our family's needs and how to meet them.  The most important factor is flexibility.  With six kids ranging from pre-school to 9th grade, I definitely need a plan, to lay my intentions out on paper so that the details don't get swept away with the tide.  But these plans need to be flexible enough to allow for the ever-changing individuals in our home.  Here I am sharing 4 of my favorite homeschool planning tools that have helped shape our flexible plan for the upcoming year. Well, let's make that 5.  Homeschool planning is not complete without a steady supply of chocolate ;-)

{This post contains some affiliate links.}

The Homeschool Alliance

Homeschool Alliance

The Homeschool Alliance is hosted by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer.  Inside you'll find a wealth of wisdom and support that is like no other.  It's a safe place to ask your questions, share your fears and celebrate the joys of homeschooling.  I recently meandered through the archives and uncovered the gem of Planning Month (July 2016).  With a new stage of homeschooling ahead of me, it was exactly what I needed.  The webinar replay, readings, and community conversations were alive and relevant to me now as I plan for a high-schooler, a struggling reader, and everything in between.  Working through Planning Month left me with a sense of calm as I moved forward to planning the nitty-gritty of our homeschool.  It helped me look at the big picture and the individuals in front of me.  The best news is that The Homeschool Alliance will be hosting another planning month starting in just over a week!  Even if you join just for July, it will be well worth your time!

Plan Your Year Planning Kit

Plan Your Year Homeschool

Pam Barnhill's Plan Your Year Planning Kit was the perfect complement to the work I did in The Homeschool Alliance.  It helped me continue to focus in on our homeschool vision and goals.  From there, I was able to identify what books and resources would best fit my unique family of learners.  I love the practicality of Pam's kit.  It includes:

  • 79-Page Planning Guide
  • Over 40 editable planning forms
  • Audio workshops with Sarah Mackenzie and Mystie Winckler
  • Free lifetime updates and bonuses
  • Free Facebook community

And as a free bonus, Pam is including a student planner and audio workshop! (This offer ends July 2, 2017)  I love everything about this kit!  I can type right into the forms and print them out or print them and then write.  The Facebook community keeps me motivated and encouraged when I'm in the trenches of planning.  The planning guide walks me through the steps I need to craft a productive, flexible year.  And best of all, whenever Pam adds or updates new pages, they're available to all those who have purchased the kit. Forever! 

You can download a free sample right now.  I think you'll love what you find!

Your Morning Basket Guide

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We love our daily basket over here.  That basket of goodies that we dig into each day, usually in the morning but not always.  It's full of exciting read-alouds, beautiful art prints, poetry, music and whatever else we are obsessed with at the time.  The problem I run into, though, is not remembering what I wanted to do over the course of the week, month or year.  This left me frustrated, feeling as though I hadn't made the most of this special morning time.  Then I found Pam's Your Morning Basket Guide.  In it, I found all the pages I need to personalize our daily basket and enrich our homeschool days. 

If you're new to the idea of the morning basket or just need some inspiration to breath some life back into yours, you'll love all the other resources that comes with Your Morning Basket Guide.  From the video tour of Pam's morning basket notebook, to the Facebook community, to the Morning time snapshots and e-book guide, there is a wealth of inspiration and practical tips for starting or enlivening your morning time.  Even after years of morning time, I found myself learning something new and nodding in agreement with Pam's advice.  I think you'll love it.

The ProClick Binding Machine

ProClick Binding Homemade Planner

With all these amazing forms printed and ready to go, I was looking for a way to keep them organized without having to carry a clunky binder.  But I still needed a system that was flexible and able to add and delete pages as necessary.  Thankfully a friend recommended the ProClick Binding Machine.  With it and the ProClick spines, I'm able to use Pam's planning and morning basket pages to create my own planner.  This video gives a quick demo of how the ProClick Binding Machine works. 

I love it!  I print what I need, as I need it, and pop the pages into the spine.  I'm notorious for tucking papers into random "safe" places assuming I will remember where I put them.  Nope. Never happens. Instead, I wander around rummaging through stacks looking for that one paper.  So it may not be too bold to say that the ProClick is going to save my life.  

So there you have my four favorite planning tools (so far) this year!  What are you loving right now?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments!  Happy Planning!

Documentary Day: February Edition

The days of winter are short, but they can feel so long, especially when you’re home all day.  Sibling squabbles, sniffles & sleepless nights, long weeks of gray skies can start to wear on even the most enthusiastic of homeschool moms (and kids).   If this sounds like you and your family, I’ve got a solution for you: Documentary Day!

Documentary day started last winter, as a way for me to take a breath during the closed-in, kids-have-so-much-energy days. It was my way of pausing, while continuing to remain engaged in meaningful learning.  What started as a tool for surviving the winter months, became an anticipated space for connection with new ideas and each other.  Together, my kids and I were exploring the world without leaving our living room.   We had big, juicy conversations about history, science, art, and music.  By listening to my own needs and the needs of my family, we found treasure in learning together.

So now, each month, through every season, I look for documentaries to complement our studies and special events.  I keep a list of YouTube links handy so that all I have to do is open and click.  Or I reserve DVDs from our local library.  This small amount of planning allows us the freedom to use Documentary Day in a variety of ways. 

3 Ways to Use Documentary Day:

 

  1. Choose one day each week to watch a film.  For the month of February we’re choosing Friday evenings. 
     
  2. Choose a day or two a month.  We once binge-watched a whole series of wildlife documentaries.  At the time I wondered if it was a good idea to spend all afternoon two days in a row watching documentaries.  Our next trip to the library proved it was a fruitful choice.  As I watched my kids sit among stacks of animal books, I knew that they were truly learning.  Sparked by the images and information the documentaries provided, they were insatiable for weeks with all things wildlife.
     
  3. Keep your list handy for an S-O-S.  This can be a Save-Our-Sanity day or an honest-to-goodness sick day.  Either way, you’ll be glad you have a list of educational films to nourish the mind while the body rests.

February's Documentary List:

*Please use your own judgment about whether or not a film is appropriate for your family.  I have included documentaries of various maturity levels.  There are countless other documentaries that could be included.  If you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear about it!  Please share it in the comments.


Black History Month:
Animated Hero Classics: Harriet Tubman
Up from Slavery
 This links to the trailer for the 7-part series.  I highly recommend previewing this before sharing it with your children.  It is definitely more appropriate for high school age.

Chocolate, in honor of Valentine’s Day (February 14):
The Dark Side of Chocolate: Stop the Modern Child Slavery - History Channel
How Stuff Works: Secrets of Chocolate - Discovery Channel

Great Backyard Bird Count (February 17-20):
Snowy Owl - National Geographic
Hummingbird - National Geographic

Presidents’ Day (February 20):
The Presidents 1789-1825 - History Channel, series
Animated Hero Classics: George Washington

Engineering Week (February 19-25):
Engineering an Empire: Ancient Greece - History Channel
Hoover Dam - National Geographic  

Artists:
Art Institute of Chicago - Sister Wendy series

Quitting is the Greatest Victory

You know the saying. “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Well, it’s wrong. Yep! Just plain wrong. Sure, there is something to be said for persevering and sweating your way to your goal. Hard work is commendable and often necessary. But what if quitting is just as admirable and essential? I think that it is. Here’s why.

At the end of the summer, I did what I have done at the end of every summer for as long as we have been homeschooling. I made plans. Lots and lots of plans. And schedules and checklists and booklists. I crafted a beautifully, synchronized symphony of chores, music lessons, sports, and learning activities for six kids. It was a masterpiece. All laid out on the paper.

Our “school year” began and, lo and behold, it worked. For three days. That’s it! Three days!

Don’t get me wrong. I tried for weeks to maintain the smooth flow of those first glorious days when every box was checked. But the truth is. I was tired. It takes an obscene amount of energy to do it ALL. And quite frankly, I’m not cut out to do it all. So, I quit!

Yep. After four weeks of trudging through four math lessons a day, four language arts lesson, history, geography, science, art, music, nursery rhymes, and salt dough making while overseeing countless other trivial details like meals and laundry, I just quit. Not the exasperated why-is-this-so-hard-quit. (Though I have done that before.) But the there-is-no-possible-way-to-do-it-all quit.

What’s the difference? Not much unless you experience a shift in perspective when you throw in the towel. And for me, that’s what happened. When I fully grasped that my approach to homeschooling wasn’t working, and even more humbly admitted that my approach didn’t reflect my view of learning or values about family, then and only then could I fully quit. Knowing that in quitting I was allowing myself the biggest victory I had ever experienced.

You see, in that moment, flooded with realization and crystal clear vision, I knew that continuing on in our old, familiarly uncomfortable patterns, shuffling kids through lessons without ever feeling fully connected, wasn’t working. It was actually doing more harm than good. My patience was stretched thinner than the threads of a spider web, and exasperation was my new tone of voice.

So it was time. Time to quit and walk away.

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Waving the flag of surrender was simultaneously liberating and terrifying. Self-doubt crept in from every side. Maybe you’re just not cut out for this. Why did you think you could homeschool all these kids? What were you thinking?

But fortunately, my more optimistic self stood up and shouted, “You can do this if you do it your way!”

What? What was that? My way? I would have to fashion my own mold? Clear my own path? Find my own homeschooling voice?

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For once I didn’t go searching books and blogs for answers, looking for someone else’s ideals to guide me. Instead, I looked into the eyes of my children and the heart of family. What I found was an absolute, all-out love affair with books and conversation. A deep trust of natural learning. And an even deeper desire for connectedness.

From here, from these pillars, I have begun to re-build. Now, instead of rushing through the checklists, we linger....reading for hours, playing games, memorizing math facts, building block towers and more importantly, nurturing relationships. The days still feel full to bursting and chaos flows freely as before, but I have found something that before felt like an elusive dream. Peace.

I have to laugh. I never thought that in quitting and throwing it all away, we would gain so much. Because, like most people, I believed that quitters never win. But not now. I’m proud to call myself a quitter. I quit seeking and looked within. I quit putting the opinions of others above the truth in my heart. I quit trying to meet the expectations I thought I were needed. As a family, we quit being anything other than what we are and what we may yet become. Us.

The best part is that you can find the same peace, your own greatest victory, if only you have the courage to quit.

There's a Book for That, Day 5: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast

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31 days large

There's a Book for That, Day 5:
What the Most Successful People
Do Before Breakfast

I just stumbled across this little gem and it was so inspiring! I hesitated as to whether or not to include it in this series because it isn’t exactly a story, though it does include several vignettes that perfectly illustrate the author’s well-thought-out point. After careful consideration, I did decide to share this book in my write31days challenge because What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast will jumpstart your learning, whatever that may be.

It will also help you learn more about yourself & what you value. And it will help you decide if the latter is reflected in how you spend your time. I don’t know about you, but this is something I need to revisit often. One of the great things about this book is that it's short and easy to read. Something even better is that there is an audio version available on YouTube. It takes only an hour to listen to and could significantly change your approach to your morning and your whole day!

The Secret to Finding Peace in Your Day

seeds that you plantI don’t know about you, but I think I need to tattoo this quote on my forehead! I get so caught up in judging my days by what I accomplished, what I checked off my to-do list, what I have harvested. I often forget that the value of my day is not measured by how many tasks I managed to rush through. The seeds that I plant for myself and my family are far more important than the number of check marks I accrue. I often feel inadequate to the task of raising these 6 kiddos. Do you ever feel that way? Ever wonder how it is that you were chosen for such an awesome responsibility as being a parent? I do. Almost every day! But then I come across quotes like this one and heave a sigh of relief. It really isn’t about pouring knowledge or virtue into them, but lighting a fire within them that they seek it on their own.

This got me to thinking. What seeds am I sowing? How can I be more intentional with the hours of the day so that when the harvest does come I can be sure it sprang from good seeds? Basically, what are my priorities?

Here’s what I’ve come up with…

  1. Close Relationships
  2. Caring for the Body: Exercise, Time Outside, Healthy Eating, Sleep & Rest
  3. Caring for the Mind: Reading, Thinking, Communicating, Problem Solving
  4. Caring for the Soul: Prayer, Meditation, Music, Art, Play

This is not a definitive list by far. It is more like a work-in-progress, but I share it because, as parents, we often carry too much guilt over what we feel we aren’t doing well enough. Shifting our perspective to the planting of seeds rather than the harvest reminds us that it is the daily, small ways that we tend to our children that make the most difference. The harvest will come, but it takes time.  Can you hear me sighing with relief?  Knowing that I don't have to do it all or be it all brings me so much peace.  Instead, I can rest in the assurance that seeds well planted will reap a beautiful harvest.

So what would be on your list? What seeds do you want to sow? Will you leave a note in the comments and so that we can encourage each other to look not only to the harvest but to the quality of our seeds?  Or you can pop on over to Facebook and join the conversation there.  Can't wait to hear from you!