It's that time of year. Everyone is gearing up for school. All of the stores are having "back to school" sales on everything from school supplies, clothing and even furniture. Parents are anxious, students are feeling dread, and everyone's pocketbooks are getting thinner. BUT this need not be the case!
We can keep our spending under control and we can be prepared and confident for a new school year. We can even pass that enthusiasm onto our kids so that the sense of dread is replaced by a sense of anticipation and excitement. So let's get started.
But first, take a moment to read an archived article on the subject of How Not to Overspend on Curricula if you still have some purchasing to do and then click right back here to get your scheduling plans in place.
Step 1: Plan Your Subjects
Consider the ages and grades of your school children and decide which subjects they need to study this year. Obviously, you want to cover the basics primarily when your kids are still young - reading, writing and arithmetic. As they get older, you will eventually drop formal reading lessons and even handwriting assignments and begin to focus more on what they are reading and how they express themselves. Most students are ready for grammar and spelling by 3rd grade, if not earlier. Arithmetic will one day be replaced by algebra and higher math and science and history will become of greater significance to their studies as they progress through the years. At some point during your children's education, you may want to add in other subjects such as foreign language, logic, fine arts, debate, and geography. Did I miss anything?
But I hope that it is obvious that you do not want to try to cover all of these subjects with all of your students every year. It is just too overwhelming. Pick 5 or 6 subjects that your students are most in need of and let the rest go. These are the subjects that my children study at these grade levels:
Grades K-2 - Reading, Handwriting, Math, and History (w/narration)
Grades 3-6 - Math, Grammar, Spelling, History and Science
Grades 7-8 - Math, Grammar, Spelling, History, Science and Logic
Grades 9-12 - Well, lets just say that it gets to be quite a bit more! We'll cover higher math, literature, grammar, history, science, health, fine arts, debate, government, foreign language and various electives. But not all in one year!
By the way, we do our writing assignments across the curriculum so we do not separate it out as a separate subject. I hope that makes sense.
Step 2: Purchase Your Materials
Hopefully, you have already purchased the majority of the curricula, books and other materials that you plan on using this upcoming year, especially if you intend to start school sometime this month. If you have not, then you might want to hurry up and do so and perhaps even request expedited shipping. I am not your stellar example as I just placed all of my orders last week, but I also do not intend to start school until mid-September, so I should have plenty of time still to review the materials that will begin to arrive over the next 2-3 weeks and get my scheduling done before we start school.
If you have not decided on what curriculum you want to use, or have it narrowed down to 2 or 3 choices, then this is the time to ramp up your online and offline research and make some decisions.
Your online research includes checking out the websites of the curriculum providers that you are considering (do a Google search), reading reviews that have been posted online and asking questions on homeschool chat boards. Your offline research will include asking your friends' opinions, visiting your local homeschool bookstore and browsing through your favorite catalogs.
Some curriculum companies offer a "trial run", meaning if you don't like it after 30 or 60 days then you can return it for a full refund. You may want to consider this if you are still unsure which program to use for your children.
Step 3: Set Aside Some Time
Ideally, I would suggest that you find a weekend between now and when you start school to get away with your husband and get your final preparations in order. This is not exactly a cheap option, but priceless when it comes to the time that you will have to strategize with your spouse and get your goals and schedule out on paper. The place you would choose would need to fall somewhere between boring and exciting. Let me explain... if you just pick a motel down the road to "get away", most likely the view will not inspire you nor the surroundings intrigue you when you need to take a break and get out for a walk.
On the other hand, if you choose to head for the lake with your ski boat in tow, you might not get anything accomplished because who wants to think and strategize when you can be out waterskiing! My husband and I often head for a quaint inn on the Oregon coast which has breathtaking views, fantastic restaurants and not a whole lot to do but sit on the beach or take a walk through the foaming surf. It's an ideal place for us to talk, to dream, to set goals and to get our thoughts out on paper.
If you absolutely cannot get away for a weekend or even an overnighter, then consider scheduling an afternoon or two at the library. This will give you the time you need to focus without the constant interruptions of family life (as charming as those interruptions can be!).
Step 4: Open the Books
Bring all of the core books that you will be using this year with you on your scheduling day or weekend, as well as any teacher's manuals that came with your chosen programs. Bring, also, any books that you will be using for the first month or so of school. The tools that you have chosen for your children's education will help you to determine your daily and weekly schedules. Here's how...
Let's use a grammar book for our example. Let's say that there are 120 lessons in the grammar book. Take 120 and divide that by 36 weeks in the school year. Your answer is 3.33 and that means that your student will have to cover 3 and 1/3 lessons per week to finish the book in one school year. What this means to me is that I will need to schedule grammar for this child at least 3x per week. Perhaps a goal that you have for this child is that they catch up from last year. Then you might want to schedule 4 lessons per week. Or maybe you honestly don't care if you finish every last lesson in the book, then 3 days should suffice. You get the idea.
How about math? Let's say that the book only has 90 lessons. Well, 2 1/2 lessons per week may not be enough mathematical stimulation for this particular child. You may decide that you do not mind if your student gets ahead in this subject, so you bump it up to 4 lessons per week. These are decisions you will want to make for each student and each subject as you look through each of the core books and teacher's manuals that you will be using with your children this year.
Here are some suggestions for how many lessons to cover each week, but by no means are these hard and fast rules, so make your own decisions and feel confident about them based on your own goals that you have set for your children and the books that you have chosen to use this year.
Math - 4-5 days per week
Reading/Phonics - 5 days per week
Handwriting/Copywork - 4-5 days per week
Grammar - 3-4 days per week
Spelling - 2-3 days per week
Writing - 2-3 days per week
History - 3-5 days per week
Science - 2-3 days per week
Foreign Language - 2-4 days per week
Logic - 1-2 days per week
Step 5: Write it Out!
Now, by this time, you have invested some significant thinking time. You want to get your ideas out on paper so that you can continue to use this information all year long. You don't want to have to go through this process again this year unless you change your program or curriculum at some point during the year.
On a piece of paper, draw out boxes for a typical school week. You may not want to schedule your subjects for specific times of the day but prefer to simply schedule the order of the subjects. Either way is fine. Personally, I choose a start time for school, but after that we just keep plugging along until all of the scheduled subjects are completed for the day. We take breaks when necessary!
You can keep this schedule solely for school subjects or you may want to include chores and other weekly events on your schedule as well. Rework the schedule until you are satisfied with it and then type it up on the computer. Post your schedule once completed in a prominent place and place one in each child's school notebooks as well. You can't follow a schedule that you don't see!
Here are some examples of schedules from previous years. I don't know if they will be helpful to you at all because we are all so different and operate within our families differently, but I wanted to post them in case you can glean anything of use from them.
General School Schedule - list of subjects and order to be tackled
Specific Time Schedule - initials represent different children
Specific Week Schedule - for one child only
On this last schedule, I set time aside every Sunday evening to look ahead through the books and determine exactly what each child would be doing during that particular week. I typed in page numbers and specific activities onto the individual schedules that I kept for my two school children that I had at that time. I now have four children in school along with a toddler and a baby on the way. I will not be making these specific schedules for the children every Sunday night this year, but I will be looking ahead each Sunday to see what we'll cover during the week ahead to determine if I need any supplies, library books, etc.
Well, I hope that I haven't overwhelmed you and that you can appreciate how scheduling your school year in advance will alleviate most of your worrying and wondering about whether you are covering all that you should be this year. But please remember that your schedule and your plan are only tools to help you. You are not a servant to them, they are servants for you. If it's not working, revise it or ditch it altogether and start over. You are the teacher. Modify your schedule or your books to make them work for you.
Have a great school year and enjoy the process,
Knowledge Quest, Inc.
Make this the best year ever!