Friday, March 20, 2015

Planning Out the Whole School Year

This year I decided that I wanted to actually do the things I set out to do at the beginning of our homeschool year... to closely follow the plans I made in the spring for the kids' education. I know that sounds kind of silly and obvious, but I have always been better at making plans than actually following them. I am prone to giving up on things that are difficult, to changing things up too often, and to taking too many breaks and short days if I just don't feel like teaching. I thought that if I just had a clear idea of what I wanted to cover and when, and if I wrote it all down somewhere, that I would stick to it. I think the reason BookShark/Sonlight has worked so well for me is that I really love having a plan to follow. Yep, I am a certified box-checker. I think it is best to admit that and to work with my natural desire for order.

I wanted to be able to check our progress at a glance and know where we were in relation to where I thought we'd be.  I wanted to finish the math books and not have the same Latin book drag on for three years (yes, we've had that happen). So I decided to be a bit more intentional about what we completed each week in our homeschool.

Last summer, I sat down and came up with a week-by-week plan for the whole school year, using Excel. It took quite a bit of time to figure out how I wanted to do this, because I am not the most technologically savvy person out there,  but once I figured out a system it only took a couple of hours to plug everything in.  I made a separate spreadsheet for each child, with the curriculum I wanted scheduled across the top and weeks 1-36 listed down the left-hand side. Then it was just a matter of plugging in lesson numbers or page numbers for each week. My husband helped out quite a bit, putting in formulas for me that greatly simplified the data entry. I am not great with such things, so I can't get into that aspect of it much here.

These simple spreadsheets have made a huge difference in keeping us on track this year.

Now, I did not plan all of our subjects on these spreadsheets. Some things lend themselves to this way of planning, others definitely do not.  These are the subjects that I planned out week by week. Most required very minimal planning, since they are already neatly laid-out programs.

  • Latin: Latin for Children schedules 32 weeks of lessons; I plugged in one per week.
  • Math: I plugged in four Teaching Textbooks lessons per week for Christopher. For James and Rose, I figured out how many Math Mammoth pages we needed to cover each day in order to finish the level half-way through the year (since I only purchased half of a level at first). I scheduled Life of Fred: Algebra for Grace, but I don't hold her to it. She puts in an hour four days a week and I think that's plenty, so I don't care that she's "behind" my schedule.  I also scheduled LOF for Christopher, but he dropped it partway through the year, so I just ignore that column.
  • Grammar: For First Language Lessons (both levels 1 & 4), I plugged in three lessons per week. FLL 4 has a nice schedule in the back of the book;  I just copied it into my spreadsheet. Analytical Grammar has schedules on their website; I used those when deciding which lessons to cover this year and how many lessons to enter each week.
  • Writing: I scheduled in Writing with Skill or Writing with Ease lessons for everyone. Both are already divided into 36 weeks of lessons - love that!
  • Science: For Rose, I scheduled the first 10 weeks as "human body", the next 20 weeks for "animals", and the last 6 weeks for "plants". Each week we spend a little time reading about our current topic and call it good. Grace has her own biology routine, which I did not schedule. The boys' science is folded into their BookShark work, so I did not assign it a separate spreadsheet column.
  • BookShark: This program is already divided up into 36 weeks; I scheduled one BookShark week per week. Since we didn't start our current BS levels at the beginning of the year, the weeks don't line up. So on this week, week 25 of our year, we worked on week 33 of World Cultures, weeks 11 and 17 of World History 1, and week 22 of American History 1.
  • Critical Thinking: For Critical Thinking Books 1 & 2, I scheduled half of a chapter each week.
  • Vocabulary: Grace does one lesson from Vocabulary from Classical Roots each week. She is covering two books this year (A and B), so I plugged in lesson numbers for Level A for the first half of the year, then added lesson numbers for Level B for the rest of the year. 

What didn't make it on the 36 week schedule....

  • Music
  • Picture study
  • Art 
  • Handwriting 
  • Spelling
  • Phonics
  • Memory work
  • Greek and Spanish
  • Typing
  • Current Events

Most of these subjects didn't make it onto the master schedule because they are strictly "do the next thing" or "work at your own pace" type programs that don't make sense to schedule out.  I do wish I had scheduled out picture study and music, because we haven't been very good about doing those every week. There is just something about having a written plan that makes me want to stick with it. Next year, music and picture study will be on my plan for sure.

I sized the finished spreadsheets to fit onto just one page per child and printed them out. I keep the plans in a folder inside my homeschool binder.

So what do I do with the plans? As you can see, I mark them up quite a bit! Above is James's 36 week plan. I scheduled math, grammar, writing, and BookShark work. When I make him a new weekly checklist, I refer to his 36-week plan to see what to add in. Each week, I highlight our progress on each child's list. It is very encouraging to be able to see at a glance how much we have accomplished!

On Grace's plan you can see that we are kind of all over the place, but staying exactly on track isn't the point. The point is to be able to see at a glance where we are, to provide accountability, and to simplify weekly planning.

Obviously, this type of planning would not work for everyone, nor would everyone want to follow something like this. I do it because I enjoy it, it motivates me, and it simplifies my prep time. And I might be just a little bit of a planning nut!

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