How to plan your homeschool year

The very beauty of home educating is the flexibility it offers to learn as a family in the way that works best for you. There is no wrong or right way of doing it – it’s really down to individual choice. For some people, this means no plans at all, as they work best in a more spontaneous way, completely following the lead of their children and supporting appropriately. Other people prefer having short term plans, allowing them to react to the interests of their children, while some prefer a more structured longer-term planned approach. And yet others adopt a combination of all three (we fit into this mixed-approach category). No method is more effective than another, purely because each child is unique, with different skills, ways of learning and life goals and the best approach for one might be a terrible fit for another.

From experience, our family works best if we have a plan, even if we don’t stick to said plan and instead deviate off, spending time investigating some current passion of the children. So, in the summer break, I spend some time pulling together an overarching yearly plan, with sufficient detail to cover 6-9 months of the time if it’s needed. Then every couple of months, I use this plan to create our weekly schedule for the next 8 weeks or so. But these weekly plans are written in pencil and are, in all honesty, regularly adapted to allow us to maintain spontaneity in our learning! If something piques their interest, whether that’s something we’ve been studying or something completely unrelated, we’ll take the time to dive deep into that topic finding out as much as they’re interested in discovering.

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This method benefits from time to research and find excellent supporting resources associated with a more planned approach, be these books, documentaries or day trips/courses, alongside the flexibility of a less planned, more spontaneous approach. It works for us, but it might not be right for everyone.

Here are the five steps I take to create our homeschool plan:

1. Review and set goals

The very first step involves a simple discussion with the Beans, often whilst out on a walk, about what they loved learning last year, what they didn’t enjoy so much, and what they’d like to learn more about next. They’re never short on ideas, bombarding me with a multitude of possibilities! This year for example, they asked to do: a marine biology study; in depth studies on New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia; more chemistry experiments; a genetics study; motors & mechanisms using their Lego Education set; a video editing course as they’re keen to start their making their own short nature films; and more world history!! Just a little bit to be getting on with then…

We like to travel as much as is feasible with the Beans as we’re big believers in the power of travel to educate and broaden the mind. So, at this point, as a family, we also discuss which countries we’d like to visit in the upcoming year and come to some sort of an agreement. Clearly Bean7 comes up with a list of about 15, so we have to pull him back to his top 2 or 3! Therefore, whilst we won’t have booked the trips yet, we’ll have a plan, which in turn informs the planning process. This year for example, we’re going to Greece in the autumn and so a mini project into the history of ancient Greece alongside the Greek myths and legends will help make their visit to the Parthenon and other monuments that much more meaningful.

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2. Outline the year

The next step is to do a basic outline of the full year, factoring in trips abroad, holidays, birthdays, and any other planned time off, to work out which weeks we’ll be working, which will be holidays and which travelling time.

We like to have a long summer break (at least 2 months), which is slightly offset against the school holiday. This provides opportunity to explore museums, castles and outdoor spaces during the quieter times, but sufficient overlap to allow plenty of time for play dates with school friends & family. In addition to this, we take a week or two off every 7 weeks or so, either to go travelling or rest at home. These breaks are mostly in school term time, allowing us to travel at off peak times.

At this point, I’ll also review the home educating facebook groups to see what trips are already available for the next six months and book onto any that we’re interested in/align with the topics they’re keen to study. We’ll also check out any educational events on during the school half terms which might be of interest. For example, my two are huge fans of the Bard, so we’ve booked onto a Macbeth workshop at the Globe to learn about the plot, language and characters of Macbeth through active play and participation. In preparation for this, they’ll both read the play (Bean9 the unabridged version and Bean7 an abridged option) and we’ll study the relevant sections of the fantastic How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare book to understand and memorise some key passages.

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3. Plan by subject

In my trusty notebook, I’ll write out a plan for each subject, and where their needs are different (such as maths), for each child, based on their defined goals for the year. This will include an idea of how many times a week we’ll cover the subject and for how long. The subjects included are PE (weekly multisports, karate and swimming classes), art, music, maths, english, science (including the marine biology, genetics and Lego education studies they’ve requested), geography (Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia country studies), history, technology (including a video editing study), languages (Spanish & a little bit of Latin) and religion. Some subject areas are simpler than others, as there’s an appropriate curriculum available to buy, but for others, there’s nothing suitable available, so I’ll need to write my own lesson plans.

With supporting curriculum:

Let’s take history as an example. We’ve used the Story of the World curriculum from the beginning and love this resource, partly because it works through history chronologically, so you have a good overview of the basic timeline of events, and partly because it covers major historical events across the world, rather than focussing solely on British history. I do, however, add in additional British history where needed.

To complete the plan, I simply go through the Story of the World Activity book (we’re using Book Three), choose which chapters we’re going to study (some chapters go into too much detail on parts of history that I don’t think they need to know about at this stage), select & purchase any supporting literature recommendations and decide if we’re going to complete any of the activities suggested. Here’s an example for our first lesson:

Lesson 1 – James, King of Two Countries, Chapter 3 Story of the World. Listen to the two sections of the audiobook; answer questions and write summaries; then complete the relevant mapwork. 

Read The National Archives: The Gunpowder plot in Morning Basket. Memorise the rhyme: Remember, Remember, the fifth of November…

Rather than moving straight onto the next chapter of the SOTW though, which covers French & British explorers in Canada, our next lesson goes into more detail about James I and what Britain was like at that time. In this lesson, we’ll be reading and discussing relevant sections of The Tudors & Stuarts book, Kings & Queens of England, and our timeline, whilst also adding James I to our handwritten kings and queens timeline.

The next step would then to find any suitable workshops, events or museums from that time period. We could for example, go to the London Dungeons, where there’s a specific ride/show about the Gunpowder Plot. However, Bean7 is quite an anxious child and this would undoubtedly scare the life out of him, so we’ll have to save that for when he’s a little older! We are however, planning a visit to the Palace of Versailles after we study Louis XIV, which should be an excellent home ed trip and significantly less frightening than the London Dungeons!

Whilst we tend to study history chronologically, we’ll happily put this on hold and dip into another time period to prepare for an interesting workshop that becomes available (for example, a hands-on WWII day a few years ago initiated an in depth study of this time period) or a holiday (as with the Greece trip mentioned above). So, in these instances I’ll plan out separate lessons in my notebook to pull into the relevant weekly schedule.

I plan out enough lessons to cover about three quarters of the total number of weeks we plan to work, on the basis that some weeks we’ll miss a lesson because another trip becomes available or they’re delving deep into some other passion or they’re simply ill.

Without supporting curriculum:

As I mentioned in this post, there isn’t really any curriculum available at the right level for a marine biology study: it’s either overly simplistic or too advanced. In these instances, I have had to write my own curriculum, which obviously takes a lot longer. To do this, I’d first read around the topic, researching and purchasing any supporting resources, including books, audiobooks, documentaries, hands on activities and day trips.

I then work out the overall objectives based on discussion with the Beans and create a mind-map for the different areas to cover, grouping them into lessons and ordering them. For each lesson, I either write my own explanatory notes to discuss with the Beans or I’d make a note of the relevant pages in a book which explains a particular topic and add to these any supporting experiments; art activities; documentaries or short YouTube videos to watch; good books to read together; or museums/exhibitions to visit.

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Finally, I gather all the resources into one place, book the museum trips, buy them each a journal to record their learning and then we can dive into the unit study, working through each lesson.

4. Plan Morning Basket studies

After I’ve mapped out each of the subject areas, I plan our Morning Basket time (see this post):

  • Plan daily activities to be covered, such as prayers & Spanish.
  • Choose hymns to sing & learn throughout the year.
  • Design the memorisation section: this year, we’re focussing on Macbeth to tie into our workshop, followed by a study of some of the key poets of the historical time period we’re studying, including Tennyson, Blake, Wordsworth, Rosetti, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Some of their poems we’ll memorise and others we’ll read and discuss the meaning, form, structure and language.
  • For each subject area, highlight the additional books to be read/games to be played as a support to each lesson. For example, under history, the first entry would be: Read The National Archives: The Gunpowder plot. We’d then read a little bit of this book each morning on the week we were studying this history lesson.

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5. Write weekly schedules

Before starting the year, I’ll write up our weekly schedule for the first eight weeks. I use this simple Weekly Planner 2018 and then write (in pencil) our plans for each day. I start with any weekly commitments (like home ed group, piano and sports lessons), holidays and scheduled trips, and then, using the subject plans, spread the lessons across the week, making sure there’s not too much work on any one day.

Here’s an example of a weekly plan:

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Finally, I print out our Morning Basket plans and, using a different colour for each week, highlight which parts of the Morning Basket we’ll cover in which week, referring back to the weekly schedule where needed to ensure everything is lined up. So, for example, Lesson 1 history will not actually happen until week commencing 8th Oct, after we’ve completed a mini ancient Greeks unit study and been on our holiday to Greece. So, I’ll need to make sure the Read The National Archives: The Gunpowder plot activity happens in this same week.

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And that’s it! It’s a lot of work up front (it normally takes me a couple of weeks), but it means that I have much less to do throughout the year, when inevitably we’re very busy! Each week, all I have to do is check the planner, pull out the relevant books and we’re sorted. And every eight weeks or so, I’ll need to write another set of weekly schedules (which doesn’t take long). This leaves me plenty of time to focus on being present with the Beans and, if their interests are piqued by a topic, quickly pull together any relevant resources to support their learning.

I hope this helps in some way – please feel free to comment below if you have any questions at all. x

 

 


7 thoughts on “How to plan your homeschool year

  1. Hello, thank you this was very helpful! How long do you usually study a subject for? For example, how long will you study ancient Greece or marine biology? And do you study things in a particular order say in history would you stick to learning about it in chronological order or not? Thanks a lot. Love reading your blogs, they’re really informative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, really glad you found it helpful. In terms of how long we study certain topics, it really does depend on the size of the topic and their interest, but to give you an idea, we spent 3 months on the marine biology unit (at probably a day/week), which ran alongside their other work. We’d already studied Ancient Greece before, so this was just a review before visiting Athens, and so we only spent four weeks on this. Others last much longer. Bean10 wanted to study physics for science this year and in particular forces, electricity and waves (sound/light etc). I’ve planned this out for a year’s worth of science study at about three/four hours/week.

      For history, we tend to move chronologically through the time periods, stopping to go deeper into important topics or ones that particularly interest them. For example, at the start of this academic year, we did a three-month study on the Victorians. Since then, we’ve been moving chronologically forward through the Story of the World, skipping chapters that are not so relevant. WW1 is coming up soon though, a topic Bean10 is extremely interested in, so I suspect we’ll take our time on this (probably another three months or so). We only really deviate from this plan if an amazing workshop comes up or we’re going on a trip somewhere with historical significance, that requires us to study a different time period. I find they get so much more out of these trips if they have an appreciation of the topic before they arrive. The trips then act to consolidate their learning.

      Hope that helps,
      x

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  2. Hello, just stumbled upon your lovely blog. Some super helpful tips and tricks, thank you! We’re relatively new to Home Education, whilst we were thinking of jumping the school ship for ages before the Pandemic hit, the lockdown gave us the nudge we needed, and our eldest son (8yrs) didn’t go back. We’re finding our rhythm, slowly, but the biggest challenge I have and not sure if you can advise is, when you have quite a big age gap with your children. Our daughter is 31/2yrs and so write / plan a schedule with this age gap is proving quite tricky. Plus they both require (from me) different levels of attention. If you have any amazing guidance here on how we can manage this, I’m all ears! Our youngest does attend nursery three days a week, so this helps, but we’re still undecided if she will go to primary school… so thinking of the future… Thank you and here’s to Home Ed activities start to open up in the coming year 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there, thank you for your kind comments and so exciting about your new journey into home ed! Although our two have a very small age gap, I can empathise with your situation, because Bean10 was a very full-on, energetic toddler when I started teaching Bean11 all those years ago and I remember trying to juggle their different needs! It’s hard work but manageable, and as your daughter gets older, it will get easier and easier. Also, your children will undoubtedly have a very close relationship as a result of home edding together, which is so precious. I think the important thing to always remember on those tricky days is that at school, with all the interruptions in their school day, like queuing up, rehearsing plays in which your child might have only one line etc, they get very little actual work done. I remember a study done by an ex-school teacher, and she worked it out at only 51 minutes/day…

      But aside from that, here are some practical suggestions for the short term: 1) When you’re planning out each day’s schedule, make sure you have a mixture of activities which require input from you and ones which are self-led in a day, so that you can move between one child and another (I still do this). 2) Audiobooks are your saviour! For example, with history, I bought the Story of the World audio CDs, and so the kids would listen to the passages on their own before I came in at the end to ask them the questions. Naxos Junior Classics do a really good range of educational audiobooks (such as great scientists and their discoveries), but just listening to as many stories as possible is so good for your child, so if you need time with your daughter, you could set your son off on an audiobook. Or just to read on his own. My two like to build Lego or draw whilst they listen too. 3) The same applies to documentaries – there are tons of excellent educational documentaries out there, which your son could do independently. We haven’t used this but lots of homeschoolers enjoy Curiosity Stream (an educational video streaming service). 4) Setting up busy boxes or quiet time bins to keep your toddler busy whilst you work with your son (lots of ideas on Pinterest, but also try https://1plus1plus1equals1.net/?s=quiet+boxes). Little ones love it if you set up their own version of school. 5) Remember your flexibility with home schooling means that you can always do some school in the evenings/at the weekend with your son when you have more support. 6) Print out a weekly schedule for your son and run through it with him on Sunday evening, so he knows what he needs to do and can just get started straight away if you’re busy with the little one. Mine like to tick their schedules off as they go. 7) When you get to know more home educators in your area once restrictions lift, you’ll find it easier, as they may be able to have one of your children over to play with theirs, whilst you have special time with the other, and then you can reciprocate.

      I promise you though that it will get easier once you’ve all settled into a routine, and your children will need you less and less as they get older (your role changes to being more of a facilitator). My husband and I weren’t sure whether to leave Bean10 in school back when he was 5 and we were pulling out Bean11, as I was worried about how to manage my time. I’m SO glad we didn’t. We have so much more freedom as a consequence. I’ve seen a lot of home educators with one in school and one out and they nearly always end up home educating both/all of them in the end, as it’s so much easier not to have to do the school run/be limited by the restrictions of school. But you still have plenty of time to decide and can always start her in school and pull her out later if it doesn’t work out/leave her in if it does. Lots of options.

      Hope that’s helped a bit! Best of luck, xxx

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  3. Hey,

    I simply can’t thank you enough for your wonderful advice, I just had a gut feeling you would have some really, really helpful words of wisdom. You have helped much more than ‘just a bit!’ So much of what you suggest, we try to implement, but always in such a haphazard manner and usually feel quite frazzled by what to suggest to do next! Even if I have planned lots of activities / tasks.

    The more I read and learn myself through our Home Ed journey, I’m starting to really see the value in really observing and understanding how WE function best as a family, how our children best learn and how we can try and do as much of the learning, as possible, together. Our son is a prolific reader and adores listening to audio books, so this always works well. He is a reluctant writer, but we’re slowly getting there with that, and he gets bored very quickly…

    I do get overwhelmed by the rabbit hole of research I can fall down when planning, something I’m trying to get more organised with. And I’m wondering whether investing in a few more curriculum based learning tools might help, as so much is done for you…. I found your blog after searching for our Spy week we’re currently doing and loved you spy adventure day! Such fun!

    Anyway, onwards and upwards !!
    Thanks so much again ☺️

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    1. Hi Liz,

      You’re most welcome. It sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job of home educating them – your spy week sounds awesome!

      Planning does take a lot of time, much more than people realise (and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed!). I find having a mixture of ready-made and self-created curriculum takes the pressure off a bit, whilst still keeping that fun element which is tailored to their interests.

      It’s lovely to hear that your son is a prolific reader – there’s no better way of learning in my opinion. Bean10’s currently obsessed with the Biggles series of books!

      Take care,
      Debsx

      Like

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