(Yesterday we talked about setting goals for your children. Today we're going to cover the actual planning process to ensure those goals are met and learning is occurring. This post will apply more to those parents who are homeschooling, but even if your child is in a traditional classroom or is learning virtually, you can still supplement their learning by incorporating educational activities--trips to the zoo, a museum, a farm/dairy, or an art gallery count. So do visits to national/state parks or historic sites. Reading great books together, playing strategy game, and learning new skills like cooking, sewing, or woodworking are "educational" and supplement a classroom education too. You can plan these kinds of activities into your weeks and months and over time, you will have created a rich learning experience for your children!
Deciding what kinds of learning activities to include or what kind of curriculum to use will depend on those goals you settled on. If you missed the first part, I encourage you to go back and read it (scroll down to view) and create those goal lists! Once you have thought through your goals for each child—where you’d like to be at the end of this school year as well as the end of your parenting journey—and have written these down, it is time to create a learning plan.
Consider our recipe analogy in part 1 of this Planning for Learning Success duo. Some people love to follow a detailed recipe while others like to experiment a little, trying a dash of this and pinch of that. In the same way, some academic planning styles are very traditional and detailed while others are loose and free form. But regardless of your preference, it is important to have some kind of plan in mind to accomplish your child’s academic progress. There are five broad planning styles. Let’s examine each here.
Curriculum Teacher’s Manual
Some curricula are all-inclusive (cover most or all academic subjects). Many of these include a teacher’s manual that details what needs to be covered in each subject each day. These are comprehensive enough that you don’t really need another planner. Everything you need is already all in one place. Some examples of these include: Heart of Dakota, My Father’s World, Book Shark, and Timberdoodle.
Pros: I don’t have to do anything! Just open and go.
Cons: I may want my kids to study something not listed in the teacher’s manual, or we may get behind in just one subject and have to keep flipping between days.
This is set up for academic planning (think a teacher’s planner) with the days of the week along the top, a spot for 6-8 academic subjects along the left side, and blanks (or lined squares) for jotting what you want to cover in each of those subjects on which days. This is the planning method I’ve used most because it is familiar, seems thorough, and it helps me think through what I’m going to cover each week (and if I need to purchase or collect any supplies). Plus, I personally love the sense of accomplishment I get from checking things off! The downside is I have to enter all the information for each week. I’ve gotten faster at this and more adept at planning ahead, so whereas I used to plan one week at a time, I can now plan the whole month in one sitting. Still, I have to take the time to do the entry work. Examples of this type of planner include: The Well Planned Day, The Ultimate Homeschool Planner, or academic planners by Barnes & Noble, Erin Condren, Purple Trail, and Plum Paper (some of these are customizable which is nice). You can also find PDF and online planners as well as academic planning apps by doing a Google search for academic planner and/or homeschool planner).
Pros: You choose the subjects. Helps you think through the week before teaching it. Check list. Each child can have his/her own planner to keep kids straight.
Cons: You have to write or type all the assignments out. If you change your mind or get behind, you have to cross out and rewrite/retype the whole week/month.
In this method, you know you have certain subjects you want to cover regularly, but rather than scheduling them for a certain day, you create a rotating schedule that you follow regardless of the day of the week. For example, maybe you want to cover math and reading every day, but you want to (on average) cover science and history three times a week, grammar twice a week, and typing or art once a week. You create a schedule that looks like this:
When I did this method, I typed my schedule up and printed it out, then slipped the pages into page protectors. We then used wet erase markers to check things off as we completed them (and I could also add little notes or specific page numbers, etc.). When we were done with the loop, I just wiped them clean and we started over.
Pros: You don’t “get behind” if you miss a day or two of school.
Cons: There is no place for recording specific information for each subject. (So you still have to write it down somewhere—either on the side as I did, in a planner, or on a master list you print out.)
This approach capitalizes on the benefits of learning at home. It’s so much easier to teach all ages together than have everyone studying something different in each of the 5-8 subjects. When you think about it, does it matter which grade you learn about the Civil War or the solar system as long as you learn it? (Obviously, some topics will be repeated more than once, giving opportunity for more in-depth learning at the higher level.) A morning basket allows the parent to group everyone together for an hour or two to study the subjects that are not skill dependent, leaving the afternoon for independent learning on subjects such as math, spelling, etc. Alternately, some people use a morning basket for just a half hour or so, allowing for together time over some subjects that might not otherwise be covered: Bible memory, poetry, music, art appreciation, vocabulary expansion, etc.
The contents of your morning basket may be shaped by a curriculum or may be delight directed. The sky’s the limit here! (I saw one morning basket that was Marvel movie themed. They read a biography of Stan Lee, learned about stunt doubles and special effects, played a trivia game covering the movies and actors, wrote their own screen play, and created their very own movie short!) Typical morning baskets include:
Pros: Family time. Parent isn’t stretched so thin trying to get every subject taught to every child. Fun!
Cons: Not as structured and sequential, so might create learning “gaps.”
This is the loosest form of planning. It has been around for a long time but is currently gaining more interest thanks to Julie Bogart of The Brave Writer. She calls it “planning from behind.” In essence this is going to your planner or notebook after the fact and writing down what you did, read, or studied. Whenever you do something that could count as learning (which is practically everything!), go back and record it—with learning objectives if required or desired. This recording could happen at the end of each day (I recommend this because everything will still be fresh in your memory) or the end of the week, but the point is to write it down! Otherwise you don’t have a record of the learning your children have been doing, and most states require that you keep some kind of records if you are homeschooling. Of course, you can use this method if you are not homeschooling but are just choosing to augment your child’s learning. Personally, I think it’s a fabulous way to keep a record of any “unofficial” learning that is happening. You’ll be amazed when you look back to see how much you’ve actually accomplished.
One thing I do recommend, however, is having a clear goal list in mind (see the first part of this blog duo). Without any goals, learning can be haphazard. (Which might be fine if you’re just supplementing traditional school but is probably not so great if this is your main mode of homeschooling.)
Pros: More organic. Not tied to a curriculum. Anything and everything can count as learning.
Cons: Parent has to remember to record the learning that occurred. May result in learning “gaps.”
AND FINALLY…It might be obvious, but it is possible (and perhaps even preferable) to use more than one of these methods simultaneously. You might do Morning Basket time together as a family and use Subject Looping for independent study. You might use the Teacher’s Manual to keep track of core learning and Post Record learning that occurs outside of what the curriculum prescribes. In any case, experiment a little—find what works for you! If something isn’t working, try another approach. And remember, just because you used one method of planning this year doesn’t mean your stuck with it forever. You will probably use a variety of methods over the years, depending on the ages of your kids, the curriculum you’re using, and other life factors (like COVID virtual learning!). What matters is that you’ve got a plan that minimizes your stress level and ensures quality learning for your kids!
Planning for learning can be tricky, but it’s so important. Without a plan (at least a loose one), your academic goals will surely flouder. Think of a plan like a recipe…
A good recipe can:
Educational planning is a lot like that recipe.
Plans are important, but before you can effectively plan for academic learning (or anything else for that matter) you’ve got to have some goals in mind. If plans are like a recipe, then goals are like your shopping list. You can’t make that recipe if you haven’t got the ingredients, so before you get out the pans and actually get to work, you may need to go shopping!
Goals are all about keeping the end in sight.
Since my children were tiny I’ve set goals for their learning and development (yep, I’m one of those weird people who likes to plan ahead and make lists). I’ve got master lists of goals I made years ago and which have hardly changed over the years, and I’ve got much shorter-term goal lists that I reassess regularly. These goals come in handy for making all kinds of decisions: choosing homeschooling curriculum, making choices about extra-curricular activities, setting expectations for chores, and even guiding intentional conversations. In short, they help me think about the end result.
My long-term goal list consists of those skills and ideas I want my children to have acquired by the time they graduate and leave home. On this list I’ve included:
On the other hand, I also have shorter-term goal lists. For example, each school year I create a list of goals I want to focus on for the coming nine months. (I do the same for the summer months, though these goals are usually not so academic focused.) When setting my school year goals, I try to think about each child’s strengths and weaknesses. Maybe I want to really develop a strength and encourage more pursuit in that area. Or maybe I want to shore up a weak area. In any case, this list helps me decide what classes to include for homeschooling, as well as what character qualities to focus on, what chores to require, etc.
In part 2 of this duo, we'll examine different styles of planning, when to use which style, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. But for now I would encourage you to spend a little time thinking through both your long-term and short-term goals for each child. Then write them down!
As Benjamin Franklin once said: By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail. Take the time to prepare and your planning will be that much more productive and successful!
Aimee Fuhrman is a full-time homeschooling mother of four (some of whom are now grown) who moonlights as an author. She loves Jesus, encouraging others, books, knitting, and coming up with delicious allergy-friendly recipes. She lives at the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her husband of 25 years and their brood.