Overview of the Homeschooling Planning Tools I Use

I’m joining in the Timberdoodle Blog Hop again today, and I wanted to talk about planning. I’m a big fan of planning. I feel like even if I don’t follow the plan exactly, if I have a plan, that’s a huge boost to getting things done. It helps to eliminate the risk of decision fatigue. There are lots of great tools out there for doing this, and perhaps at another time I’ll do more detailed reviews of some of the options. For now, though, I want to give an overview of what you can use to plan your homeschool.

Paper Planners

There are many different paper planners out there – Happy Planner and Erin Condren are two of the biggest providers that are popular with homeschooling parents. There are also bullet journals (which I prefer). Paper planners are just how they sound. I use a paper planner post-work. I use a composition notebook and write down exactly what we did in each subject. That way, I just pull it out to see where we finished the week & to update my plan for the following week.

Excel or Google Sheets

In-progress lesson plan for the week

Right now, because we were thrown back into homeschooling, I’m using an Excel spredsheet just so I can get a general overview of the week. I’ll adjust as needed for the following week – for example, if I find it takes two days to complete a lesson in our reading curriculum, I’ll account for that (that’s one of the big reasons I like using the paper planner to record what we actually do). This allows me to see what supplies I’ll need for the week & plan accordingly. If our library were open, it would also allow me to make sure that on Sunday we pick up what books we’d need for the week as supplimental resources.

Microsoft Word or Google Docs

This is where I do my long-term planning and my brainstorming for curriculum ideas. In the above image, I have links to all the different resources. I’m not going to actually use all the resources listed, but I still like to go through, make notes of everything I’m interested in, and have it all in one spot. That way if one curriculum choice doesn’t work well or if I find we need extra help in an area, I don’t have to go searching. I can just go to my document, click on the link, and go to the page where I found the resource.

It’s also where I lay out the lesson plans for the entire year for each subject. I outline everything we will cover for a specific subject, then find resources, choose some science projects, research videos and documentariess that are available, etc. Again, this is a lot of up-front work, but then it makes life easier later when we’re knee-deep in talking about evolution and I want to remember which videos I’d found that were age-appropriate for the subject matter and what science projects I found to do that week. This isn’t something I’ll do while we’re temporarily homeschooling to the end of the year – my goal is to make sure the remaining standards are met – but it is something that I’m doing for the next level of subjects.

Homeschool Tracker

If you’re looking for an online tool that also allows your students to sign in, Homeschool Tracker is a good resource. It allows you to track anything you can possibly want to track with your homeschool. I will likely go back to this depending on what happens with COVID-19. (and use it in place of Excel) It’s really robust, and it’s handy and you can create transcripts with it. It costs $8 a month, and yes, there is an annual subscription discount.

It definitely is a more handy tool when you have older children who are independent – because they can sign in and see their assignments and chores. You can also enter in those state standards we talked about, and track which assignments link to them – this actually came in really handy with my oldest when we put him in public school for 8th grade. It helped with placement.

So there you have it. These are the tools I use when I’m planning for homeschooling. I’m a classical homeschooler, so that means I do follow the Trivium, depsite being secular, and I do have a much more traditional school approach with lesson planning and tracking. Unschoolers likely will not use these tools – and maybe an unschooler can weigh in on the comments to talk about what they do with tracking/planning in their homeschool.

Be sure to check out some of the other blogs in the blog hop:

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

How Do You Know What to Teach?

One challenge parents struggle with is determining what to teach. In the case where you’re homeschooling through K-12 or an online school, that information is often provided for you, but if you want to veer from what’s prescribed, how do you figure out what to teach, and what constitutes covering a given subject?

Providing A Solid Foundation for Learning

I’m a big fan of general education and of teaching children how to learn. A child who knows how to learn, and has the skills to do so, will be able to learn anything that catches his or her interest. Thus, language arts needs to be a big part of your child’s education – reading skills and phonics, reading comprehension, writing (technical aspects and penmanship, spelling, grammar, and writing for communication’s sake), and critical thinking (as it will become important as your child gets older for him or her to be able to discern whether something is a valid source). Mathematics is also an important part of learning as it’s the language of (higher) science and technology and it is a technical life skill.

It’s also important for children to have a general grasp of social studies (history, how government works, their local community) and science. I would also argue that getting a general appreciation of the arts (music, art, theater, literature, dance), how to take care of oneself (physical education, health, nutrition) and general life skills are also important.

This might seem somewhat overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be – keep in mind many things can be learned through everyday life.

Enhancing Interest Areas

Some children love science, some are enthralled with music, and some really want to delve into history. When you’re choosing what to teach, consider areas your student is interested in already. It may even be helpful to use some of those interest areas to springboard into other areas. A reluctant reader may be more excited if basic readers are about dinosaurs. A child who loves to read might really enjoy a biography about a historical figure and be less excited by project-based learning for history. Your child will have her or his own interest areas – and that’s great – but it’s also important to take care to push the child out of that comfort zone. It’s one thing to use an interest area as an entry-point. It’s another thing to neglect mathematics instruction or a basic understanding of history because a child’s interest in bugs has taken over everything during learning time.

Becoming a Global Citizen

Even young children can become involved in some form of service learning. It’s important for children to learn where they fit in society – both now as children and as they grow up. Service learning opportunities can help with this, give children a firm feeling of connection with the communities in which they live, and empathy for those who have different backgrounds and experiences from their own. Right now, service learning is going to require a lot of thinking outside of the box. I’m hoping to compile a list of service opportunities forr kids while they’re also maintaining social distance.

That’s all great but… how do I know what they need to know?

When I’m choosing curriculum, I look at standards-based learning. While I follow the Classical method for learning, I also like to look at what state and national standards are for each grade level – this can also help when determining whether a curriculum is a good fit. Where do you find what the standards are for each grade? Here are some resources:

Core Knowledge Sequence – Not to be mistaken with “Common Core,” this is the sequence put together by those who created the “What Your ___ Needs to Know” series of books (which are a great K-6 resource for those looking for a place to start).

Massachusetts Framework – Massachusetts has repeatedly been ranked top in the nation for their education system. That’s not the only reason to check out their standards. They offer Digital Literacy, STEM, Health Education, Foreign Language, and Vo-Tech standards as well.

New Jersey Student Learning Standards – New Jersey also leads the nation in education, so it’s worth looking at their standards as well. They also list preschool teaching and learning standards as well as life and careers standards.

Common Core Standards – These are definitely worth looking at. It’s not “new math,” it’s a list of what students should know by which ages – and an attempt to standardize this between states so that students who move from say, California, can jump right in in Kansas and expect to pick up right where they left off.

Your Own State’s Standards – You’ll also want to do a search for your own state’s standards.

Keep in mind that standards are just a jumping point to help you determine what should be covered at each grade – they’re not an end all be-all. It’s easy to get caught up in them. Instead, use them to get an idea of what should be taught, when, and if your child seemed ahead or behind, where you should start with language arts or math.

This post is part of a Blog Hop by Timberdoodle with all kinds of tips for homeschooling while we’re social distancing to help flatten the curve.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Tips for Temporarily Homeschooling

Wow. None of us expected to be where we are right now. It’s overwhelming, it’s a little bit scary, and we have our kids to keep calm and occupy. Last summer, we’d made a decision that we’d send our kids to public school, but that I would “afterschool” and do summer enrichment wtih them. Our little Miss 6 wanted the school experience, and went in for Kindergarten, since she didn’t meet the state’s age requirements to start 1st Grade. She was enjoying it. We all liked her teacher, who worked hard with Miss 6 to help her anxiety the best way possible.

Then, we all know what happened, because it’s happening across the country. School is out for the rest of the school year. Perhaps longer depending on what’s going on this summer. We didn’t get to say goodbye to our kindergarten teacher. No kinder graduation. No muffins with mom. We’re just suddenly done for the year – but going online.

This is not what homeschooling looks like.

First, it’s important to understand that this is not what homeschooling looks like. Yes, we’re at home when doing it, but we go to park days, zoo classes, museums, the library. I feel like I’m floundering as much as everyone else – not because school is out and I have to teach the kids at home. That, I can do. Being at home 24/7 with no library resources (our library has shut down), no zoo, no museums, no park days with other kids? No Girl Scouts.

I’m bracing myself for everyone to get a horrible case of cabin fever, really quickly.

Recognize that this is an uncertain time and a time of transition.

I’m going to be honest right now; I’m dealing with large levels of anxiety. Uncertainty is extremely triggering for me. Despite all of our good intentions to get in there and have a schedule and have our kids learn learn learn! They’re likely also feeling anxiety. They didn’t say goodbye to their friends. Seniors have had prom canceled. Fifth graders won’t get their important transitions for junior high. Every child, from preschoolers who were just getting used to the out of the house routine to teens missing out on the important milestone of graduation, is also feeling uncertain, anxious, and likely sad.

Give space for big emotions.

When I first got into this homeschooling journey, when Mr. 21 was 8 and halfway through second grade (I’d never intended on homeschooling), the best piece of advice I recieved was to give some time for “deschooling.” It’s important to recognize that there’s a transition happening, and here, now, with COVID-19 threatening us, shaping our lives, shifting our routines – radically, there are going to be a lot of big emotions going on. It’s okay if your days are a bit of a hot mess at first. This isn’t “homeschooling as usual.” It’s every parent and guardian in the nation being thrown into something we’ve never seen before. Everyone is going to have big emotions.

Reach out if you need help.

You’re not alone. Most schools are providing at least some sort of learning continuation. We’ll see what our school does, but we’ll likely return to the curriculum I was planning to use. I’ll share that in another post. So many people are sharing resources – zoos are live-streaming learning videos, operas are online, there are so many great free resources – many of them geared for younger kids. If you need help, ask. I am very familiar with ECE materials, but I’ve also homeschooled a kid from 2nd-7th grade with secular materials.

In the coming days, it’s my plan to share as many resources as I can for older kids who may have online work, but might be wanting more resources to learn. I will do my best to share that information with you.

Meanwhile, if you’re a veteran homeschooler, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with someone who has been thrown into this lifestyle? Share in the comments.

This post is part of a blog hop, hosted by Timberdoodle. Check out the other posts.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

How to Start Homeschooling

I’ve had a number of friends ask, “If I wanted to homeschool my child, how do I get started?”

I’ve also had a number of friends say, “There’s so much information, where do I start? What do I need to know? What do I need to teach in my homeschool?”

I’ve answered these questions so many times, in fact, that I thought I’d put together a quick and dirty guide on how to start homeschooling your children.

1. Learn your state’s homeschooling laws

Some states are really lax in what they require for homeschooling. Other states require things like testing, portfolios, and careful record-keeping. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a good resource for finding information about homeschooling including whether you need to notify officials or not, whether you need to keep records and what records you need to keep, whether an outside evaluation is necessary, etc.

It’s important to understand the laws for homeschooling in your state so that you can maintain compliance and so that you can avoid truancy and educational neglect cases stemming from not following the steps that are necessary to legally homeschool in your state.

2. Are you able to commit to homeschooling?

While homeschooling a child is really exciting at first, and there are a lot of positives to it, I won’t lie! It can be rough-going sometimes. Kids won’t want to work, you won’t want to make them work. After the honeymoon period wears off, can you ensure that you will be responsible for your child’s education even on the days when you don’t want to be?

When I started homeschooling, I was a single parent and a graduate student in a demanding program. As I’d mentioned in my introductory post, I was a reluctant homeschooling parent. I had really wanted to make public school work for my boy, but it just didn’t. When I pulled him out, I was very committed to ensuring he received the education he deserved. That meant that I had to become a master at scheduling when I’d teach him and when I’d work on my own educational and career projects. Ultimately, I left graduate school (for a myriad of reasons) and started my own home-based business so that I could dedicate the time needed to ensure that he had the best education possible.

3. Do some research on homeschooling styles

There are as many homeschooling styles as there are homeschoolers! Over the years, I’ve become more of an eclectic homeschooler, still focused on using the classical model as an outline for what to teach and when, but when I started out, I was very much a rigid classical homeschooler. Here’s a basic (very basic) rundown of the different styles of homeschooling. Remember that just because you start out one way doesn’t mean you have to stay that way for the entire homeschool journey. Once you’re actually homeschooling, you’ll find what works best for your children and youself.

  • School-at-home: This approach generally involves the purchase of boxed curriculum and a parent trying to replicate the school experience at home. There’s usually a schedule involved, and schooling happens during traditional hours, most, if not all, days of the school/work week. Many umbrella charter and private schools and online schools provide this sort of education. This can be convenient for those who are unsure what to teach and/or like to feel confident that they are covering everything a traditional school would cover. It lends itself fairly well to secular homeschoolers, as many using this method will be working through a K-12 online program.
  • Unschooling: Student-led learning based on a child’s interests happening wherever the child happens to be. While unschooling is contrasted to school-at-home as an absolute opposite, children may still have some structure to their day. A lot of unschooling is done based on experiential and service learning. It lends itself well to secular homeschoolers. It also has developed a bit of a “reputation” both in homeschooling communities and communities at large for being too loose with education.
  • Classical: Based on the five tools of learning – reason, record, research, relate, rhetoric – schooling years are divided into the grammar stage, logic stage, and rhetoric stage, where children get a foundation of knowledge, learn how to organize knowledge, and then learn how to relate and analyze what they have learned. Think of this as your “traditional private Catholic school” method. The classical method can work well for secular homeschoolers.
  • Charlotte Mason: Charlotte Mason homeschooling methods are based on the principal idea that children are not receptacles for knowledge, but rather that childhood ought to be play-based and learning happens through play, creating, and real-life situations. There’s a lot of emphasis on nature studies in Charlotte Mason. This is also one of the harder methods to find secular curriculum for.
  • Waldorf: This is another educational style that is based on nature. Waldorf homeschoolers focus on educating the whole child – body, mind, spirit. Creativity, music, nature, movement, are all emphasized. Screens are discouraged in this method (so educational videos are out). Rather than using textbooks children learning in this style create their own books.
  • Montessori: Montessori education focuses on child-led exploration within a framework of experiences provided by adults. Practical life, cultural, and sensorial skills are emphasized along with language, math, art, and music. Montessori methods are best-suited for early childhood education and also discourage screen use. Children are encouraged to learn at their own pace. This method lends itself well to secular homeschooling.
  • Unit Studies: All studies are built around a particular theme – for instance, weather. Students will learn about the theme, and engage in language arts and mathematics activities based on the theme. Again, this is a method that works well for early childhood education and is easily used by those wanting to use secular curriculum.
  • Eclectic: Eclectic homeschoolers use a combination of the various methods and educational philosophies. They may use workbooks for some subjects while taking an unschooling approach for others.

4. Determine what you will teach

At a minimum, you’ll want to teach:

  • Language Arts
    • Reading
    • Writing
    • Spelling
    • Grammar
    • Handwriting/penmanship
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • History

It’s also a good idea to teach the arts – both art and music history and art techniques and some music theory. Doing so helps children with many other skills.

You’ll want to incorporate some sort of physical activity – either organized or informal into your routine.

You may want to teach a foreign language.

You may also want to do nature studies, practical life/life skills exercises, logic, rhetoric, or any number of electives based upon your child’s interest.

To get an idea of what to teach, you may find benefit in looking at your state’s standards or the Core Knowledge Sequence. Here are a few book resources that also list suggestions for what to teach (these are Amazon associate links, so should you purchase one of these books, I will receive a small percentage of that sale at no extra cost to you.)

5. Find a good support system

Even if you don’t have a homeschooling group in your city that is secular, you can find other secular homeschoolers online. There are many great Facebook groups for secular homeschooling families. You’ll want a support system for when things get tough, and so you can ask questions about curriculum choices before making purchases. Other families can be great resources when it comes to homeschooling.

6. Plan time for socializing

We’re lucky that here in Wichita most of the museums have homeschooling classes. There’s a rec department with lots of different classes and sports. There’s even a group of secular homeschoolers that gets together. It’s important to account for opportunities for your child to be around other children on a regular basis.

7. Choose your resources

Whether you’re using a curriculum or pulling together a variety of resources, you’ll want to get that together so that you’re ready to go.

8. Determine what method you’ll use for record-keeping

Even if your state doesn’t require record-keeping, you’ll want to keep a record of some sort of what your child(ren) has/have read. You can keep records in a binder, you can use a planner of some sort or other. You can use online planners like Homeschool Tracker, or you could use a program like SeeSaw or Evernote. It may take you some time to figure out what works best for you.

9. Get started!

Once you’ve done all of the foundation-building, it’s time to do the fun stuff. If you’re pulling your child out of a public, charter, or private school, you might want to allow for a period of “deschooling,” especially if your child did not have a good experience with learning. This time could be a week, or it could be a month or two – especially if the child is dealing with burnout. This will help ensure a healthy and welcome transition to learning at home.

Veteran homeschoolers, do you have anything to add? Comment or tweet me at @justasechs!



What Life Skills Are You Teaching Your Children?

My small ones love helping around the house with various tasks. Here they are, using the stud finder and measuring tape to “help” mount the television set in our master bedroom. What sorts of chores/tasks do you let children help with? Do you have a list of skills you’d like them to learn by the time they graduate and leave home?