For so many years, I was frustrated. I needed lots and lots of time to plan my homeschool year in the summer, but I didn't have it. My husband had other ideas for how to spend the summer and frankly so did I. I finally learned what I was doing wrong and I'll share it with you in this episode.
I'm so glad I don't have to spend my whole summer planning anymore. I have a lot going on this summer. I just returned from getting my second oldest son registered for college in the fall. I was surprised when my son was asked to share something about himself and he chose to say that he was the first child in his family to be homeschooled all the way through high school. I thought it was pretty neat that he's proud of that. I'm sure proud of him. And I'll really miss him when he is off to college.
Now if you'd like to get a huge jump start on homeschool planning and organizing this summer, I have just the thing for you. It's a 30-day challenge that you can start any time. It's free for you in the show notes.
Teaching Tip of the Week
One area of the homeschooling life that I rarely write about is the financial aspect. I have written about where to find homeschool freebies and the best places to pick up used curriculum. I used to be a couponer, so I love a good deal. But I don't focus on frugal living on Psychowith6.com or on this podcast. Fortunately, I can direct you to a blog that shares great frugal ideas for every area of your homeschool life. It's Our Thrifty Home. Brandy, the brilliant blogger behind Our Thrifty Home, has helped me see that I spend money I don't have to. I can find what I need in what I have, at rummage sales, or for free from local businesses or online. I love that she doesn't just focus on freebies as she recognizes the value of our time as well. Be sure to subscribe. Your budget and your life will be blessed.
Organized Homeschool Challenge of the Week
is the Planning Challenge.
How to Keep Homeschool Planning from Taking All Summer
Now that I've shared the simple steps to take to finish planning, I want to explain how to keep the planning process from taking weeks. When I started homeschooling multiple elementary students, I tried digital planners. I love digital organizers. I use Google calendar, ToDoist, a scheduler called Skedpal, and my iPhone for everything. I just knew that a digital planner was the answer for me. I would add the information, click a button, and the scheduler would tell me what to do. Yes, the digital planners I tried were a bit difficult to use at first, but I'm computer savvy. I got into the groove.
The problem is I stayed in the groove. I planned and I planned and I planned. And after hours and days of work I had several weeks planned. It took so long. I had to enter the page numbers for each lesson for each subject for each child. I did the same for our family lessons. Yes, there were ways of copying and pasting some things. That should have made it easier, right? Not so much. I entered all the information for every book we used and every book we planned to read. It was so exciting when it started to come together. The kids would not only know exactly what to do each day, but would have a way of marking assignments complete. It felt blissfully organized. Absolutely worth staying in the school room all summer planning for. Or so I thought.
When school started, I had to print off the boys' planned activities. That was exciting when school first started, but became a real drag as the school year continued. I couldn't just print off the whole year's worth of assignments so I could be done with it either. Our schedule was constantly changing. A field trip was planned or an activity was added. When that happened, I would have to go in and postpone everything. This was not a one-click operation. So did I swear off digital planning systems? Nope. I determined that I just needed a different program. The next summer I was working like I had a job as a data entry person. So tedious. But worth it for the promise of stress-free homeschooling in the fall.
The next digital planning system I used allowed the kids to mark their assignments complete online. The kids bickered over accessing the computer. Even worse, every single assignment was sent to me for approval. There was no universal approval button. Then after spending so much time entering all the assignments for a curriculum, I would discover that said curriculum wasn't working. I needed to delete all those and add a different curriculum. If you're thinking I should have given up on digital planners, you're right. But tenacity is one of my virtues. I then attempted to use a variety of iPhone apps. But at least by that point, I wasn't spending all summer setting them up. Just several wasted hours before I abandoned them.
I thought my mistake was trying to use a digital planner for so many kids. So I reverted to a paper planner. That was a smart move. I tried to enter information into my word processor so I could print neat lesson plans. I could copy and paste and save time. That took all summer, too. I abandoned that and started hand writing all the lessons. It was time-consuming, but not nearly as time-consuming as the digital programs. Go figure. But throw in a change of schedule or a change in curriculum and the paper planner was almost as much of a problem as the digital ones. “Oh, just ignore that part, kids,” I'd say. If you say that often enough, your kids will just hear ‘ignore' and it's all over.
I decided there was something wrong with me. I had a planner disability. I knew so many other moms who planned their years in the summer and it was smooth sailing all year long. I was ready to try work boxes where I put each child's assignments in a different plastic box by subject. Then I realized we would have to move furniture to fit all the boxes. I thought I could try doing hanging file folders instead. The second week of October, my sweet little cherubs could go to the corresponding file, remove their assignments, and gleefully complete them. I wouldn't have to be involved in the process at all. This would save me so much time that I could do volunteer work. Then I woke up to reality. What would happen is that we wouldn't finish our work on time. If my toddler hadn't pulled all the folders out of the drawers, my older kids would have no idea which folder we were actually on — the one for this week or the folder we should have finished two months ago.
I'm a slow learner with this stuff. It took me over a decade to figure out that I was approaching summer planning all wrong. It wasn't the software or the planner or even my ADD issues. I'm going to tell you what I learned that has saved me from sacrificing my summers to homeschool planning, but I want you to know that if your current planning process works for you, stick with it. We're all different. My planning process may cause you immense anxiety and may even cause you to question whether I should have this podcast. That's ok. I admire you if you can plan the way I never could. But for the rest of you…here goes.
#1 Stop planning your whole year
I get it. Whenever I see the Pinterest pins with beautiful file folders full of great learning opportunities, perfectly organized, I still swoon. Sometimes I still click. Maybe if I tried harder, simplified, or put some of the kids in school, I could make it work. But usually I come to my senses and realize that planning my whole year has NEVER worked. I've tried planning content for my blog all year, too. Yeah, that didn't worth either.
I'm not suggesting that we all unschool and just see what unfolds — not that there's anything wrong with that. I do plan my whole school year in terms of subjects studied and the curriculum we'll use. I even create a full-year lesson plan for co-op classes I teach. That works because it's one once-a-week class. It's on paper and easy to reschedule for all the students as needed. But that's the end of my yearly planning process.
#2 Stop planning details
Some of my favorite memories of my data entry days are realizing I got off track with page numbers. I would try to save time by just writing in 4 pages for a subject by adding rather than looking at the actual book. I think I looked at the book during my first attempt at digital planning. Getting the numbers wrong meant I had to find the error and redo each successive lesson. I think one of the planners I tried had the capability of doing that automatically, but it took more time to figure out how to do that correctly than it did to enter it manually. Just adding lesson numbers made no sense either. Why was I planning that my child had to do the next lesson number when that was obvious?
Planning details can be very helpful when it comes to supplies. If you're doing activities with a co-op or running science experiments, it's imperative that you know that you need duct tape and red cabbage. The problem is when life happens and your planner tells you to get red cabbage now but it's rotten by the time you need it.
#3 Stop planning everything
If a little planning is good, more has to be better. What if we could have all our meals, all our activities, and even our clothing choices pre-planned? Wouldn't that be great? That's called living in a prison camp. But we organized homeschool moms can be deluded into thinking that this level of organization is bliss. What it really is is slavery. The Bible tells us that we don't know what tomorrow holds. Even if everything goes according to our plans, here's the problem with that much planning: we rebel. Yes, we treat our own schedule like some horrible task master has meted it out to us as punishment. And that's not far from the truth. Too many of us plan absolutely everything because we're mad at ourselves or our kids for not being more disciplined in the past. I'll show you! we seem to be saying. It's comical how ineffective it is.
A Better Way to Plan
So if we should stop planning our year, details, and everything that we try to plan, what should we do instead?
First, plan for the short-term. I like to plan the quarter — nine weeks. Other homeschool moms I know plan a week at a time. Still others plan a day at a time. Any of these choices will keep you from having to spend all summer planning.
Second, use a basic plan. Instead of asking your kids to do pages 49-52 in math, ask them to do 3 pages or the next lesson. Then you don't have to write that every time. It's part of your child's general schedule, allowing them to check that math is done. If you need to plan details, do it only for the subjects that require it and make it a separate schedule. I prefer to have my schedules for science and co-op classes on paper.
Finally, only plan the basics. Plan your main curriculum. Wait to plan curriculum you're not sure of. Don't plan exactly how many jumping jacks you want your kids to do. I knew someone who did this. Don't be that mom.
I created two different approaches to homeschool planning on paper that my listeners can get for free. They are easy and even with a bunch of kids, you'll be done in hours–not days.
Have a happy homeschool week!