One thing I wish I knew when getting started with planning a homeschool year was how to make the process less overwhelming. I made the mistake of planning too much and not leaving enough space for changes along the way. Now, I’ve learned a better (more simple) system to plan our homeschool year.
Plan your homeschool year by using a 3 step process. These steps include: Make your Calendar, Plan your Content (what you will teach), Map your Curriculum (when you will teach it).
These are really the three essential pieces of yearly planning on the front end that result in a great use of your time in the long run. Below is the process I use and it may give you some ideas as a springboard for your own planning processes.
Make your Homeschool Calendar
We homeschool using the same calendar as the school system. It simplifies the process because the calendar year is already divided into 4 quarters of 9 weeks each for a 36 week school year. This requires a simple print out of the calendar from the school website, which I also use for crossing off instructional days to track attendance.
Before you can make your homeschool calendar, you need to decide on the schedule that will best work for your family. Some of the questions below may help in determining what will work best.
- Will you homeschool all year with a rotation of (for example) nine weeks of instruction followed by a three week break?
- Will you homeschool 3 longer days a week or 4-5 shorter days?
- How long will you break for holidays? Which holidays will you reserve for breaks?
- What are your state homeschool requirements for hours and/or days of instruction?
Knowing the calendar is an important first step of planning because your content and curriculum map will be spaced out depending on when you’re teaching or not.
You can easily find a yearly calendar for free online or usually in a planner book. A simple highlighting system would work to count your number of homeschool days. My planner has a yearly calendar that I made a copy of below with an image of what a simple highlighting system of one color- days of instruction, another color- breaks or holidays can be accomplished simply with a one page copy of a calendar.
The number of homeschool days in your calendar year will be dependent on the hours and requirements of your state guidelines. Our state gives us the number of required hours per day, but the decision of how to structure those hours and our calendar is left up to each family.
Now that your calendar is set, you can move on to planning your content for the year.
Plan your Homeschool Content
The second step of the yearly planning process to know what you are going to teach.
Many homeschool families get bogged down in the details of curriculum planning in the beginning because there is so much available across different formats. It seems to be the number one question… what homeschool curriculum do I use?! There are so many resources now (much for free) that it’s overwhelming to figure out what to teach. It’s actually a good problem to have!
You can determine what topics you will teach without having the resource yet… in fact, doing this step could be a way to organize the topics for your child’s grade level(s) and then find a resource that you think will be a good fit.
So how do you find these topics/content for the grade level?
Some families use the state’s school standards as a starting point and add other areas of study throughout the year. These standards are available on each state’s Department of Education Website. That way, if your child may return to a traditional brick and mortar school at some point, the same material has been covered in the homeschool environment.
There can be a lot of negative association with “common core” but the great thing about homeschool is that we are not bound to teach any topic in any specific way. Many of the standards are basics for that grade level and homeschool parents can choose how (or if) we want to teach anything else.
We build a DIY curriculum and choose to use the state standards as a starting point, but the problem I ran into was the state websites often including a lot of non-essential information that made them difficult to print or organize. I found that the easiest solution was to find them in a checklist format is on Teachers Pay Teachers. So far, for $3-6, I have found a teacher who has taken the time to put all standards in one document and I have gladly paid them for that time and effort! This type of checklist is what I use for planning what I will teach for the year.
If you use a pre-packaged curriculum, much of the content planning is done for you. Even if you know what you are using but haven’t ordered it yet, you can still plan by finding the table of contents for your curriculum and using it as a guide. In a quick search, a couple of clicks on Google allowed me to preview the contents of a common pre-packaged homeschool curriculum.
Others may use a digital curriculum that is already built with a clear path of units and lessons in sequential order. If you have access and can see all of the units, then much of the “what to teach” is already done for you. In this case, you could preview the content and make note if there is any particular unit that you want to skip or supplement (if the digital format allows that).
Now you have the topics for your upcoming school year, and the last step is to know when you will teach those topics.
Map Your Homeschool Curriculum
Once you know what you will teach, you can map out your year.
Lesson learned the hard way from my first curriculum map… give yourself plenty of room to change so that it’s not a big deal when you need to slow down, speed up, or skip around.
Now I use a much more general outline and it looks very simple. In fact, this is an example! Nothing fancy, a simple spreadsheet with the topics I gathered from Step #2 organized into a map that matches the calendar plan from Step #1 (nine weeks for us).
You can make this as general or as detailed as you would like. I do not plan individual lessons at this point. I plan more detailed lessons week to week through the homeschool year. But a map saves so much time and gives me direction for the individual lessons. It’s lays out a clear learning path.
You could, however, list resources, books, experiments, activities that come to mind during the planning process. In the middle of the homeschool year, it’s hard to think as clearly as it is during time reserved just for brainstorming and mapping out the topics and timeline for the year. So this part of the process could be more detailed with your ideas specific lesson plans for a topic.
Hopefully this gave you some ideas as a springboard for planning your homeschool year!