How to Get Started Planning Your Homeschooling Year

Plan Your Homeschooling Year

I’m a big fan of lesson planning. I know, I know, there are many people out there who do not enjoy the planning process, and many balk at it. I find that planning is a key component of having a successful year and combating that malaise we get when the excitement of new curriculum wears off. It helps to ensure that your child is having all of her or his educational needs met. The best part of planning: You can always change things if they’re not working out. After a couple of years, you’ll have a good idea of what works for your family and what does not work for your family. Here is how I plan my homeschooling year.

1. I look up state standards, Common Core standards, and Core Knowledge standards

Every state varies a little bit in what they expect for each grade level. I know, it’s super-annoying to me, too. It’s one of the reasons I think a standardized list of standards is important (say that five times fast). The reason I start my planning by looking at and noting standards is I want to guard against holes in my kids’ knowledge. It’s also important to know where children “should” be at for their grade level – just in case anything happens and I have to send my kids into a traditional school setting.

I live in Kansas, and a lot of the standards are a little more behind other state standards, so I also pull up California, Pennsylvania, and New York.  I know. It seems like a lot of work. A lot of the standards overlap. But some standards do not, and some topics in science and history, in particular, have radically different state standards in Kansas from the standards in Pennsylvania and New York.

I also look up the Common Core standards. I know a lot of people thumb their nose at them, but it’s still important to be aware of what the actual language is and what the “Common Core” actually says. Finally, I look up the Core Knowledge standards.

2. I enter those standards into my record-keeping software.

I use Homeschool Tracker. I do have some qualms about using it, but I’ve also found that it’s the best for what I want to track and for how my mind works. I’ll do a post soon about different types of homeschool planning programs.

This is such a tedious step, but if you use a program that allows you to enter standards in, you’ll be able to create assignments and pull in the standards. When the assignment is completed, it marks that that skill has been worked on. That’s super useful in putting together an end-of-year report and portfolio. Yes, I live in a state that doesn’t require any of this stuff. I want to know where my kids are at and what they’ve learned. I like being able to print off a report on that.

3. I review my curriculum and make note of how it aligns to standards

By the time I’m sitting down to plan, I’ve already purchased my curriculum. BUT! When I’m entering in standards, I’ll sometimes find holes that I need to fill. I make a note to find resources for these things so they don’t get skipped. I then search my local library, the Internet, and Amazon to see if I can find resources to make sure that I don’t have significant gaps in the education my kids are receiving. Oh, and sometimes, I find that a field trip or an outside class will do just what I need it to do.

4. I have a composition book for my records for each kid

I don’t want to be glued to my computer while teaching. It’s too tempting to go into Facebook world or trying-to-get-things-done land. So, I created a notebook for each child. At the front, I have a list of the courses we’re studying, then a list of resources with abbreviations I’ll use. At the back, I paper clip off some pages so I can write down the titles of any books we read so I can add those to the record-keeping software. Each day, I’ll write what I want to accomplish & any extra we do.

When I’m planning the next year, I have a more realistic picture of what my child does in a single day and a single week. This helps me to better plan for that child. I highlight what was planned ahead and leave the extra that was done alone. If we don’t finish what was planned, I put a small dot next to it and carry it into the next day.

5. I sort my resources by course

This goes without saying. Sort resources by course.

6. I figure out what our homeschool schedule will be

Kansas asks for 186 days and not less than 6 hours per day for grades 1-11. Since we’re doing Kindergarten and Preschool this year, I don’t need to worry about so much, but I do try to schedule out at least 186 days just so we’re in the habit.

7. I outline each course by topic

I select one course resource to be the main resource by which I outline the entire course. Other resources then become the supplemental resources. I go through and ensure that everything matches up. This means some jumping around in some resource materials, but it also makes for much easier scheduling. I put this outline into a Word document.

8. I create my lesson plans

I enter in my lesson plans into Homeschool Tracker. I used to plan out the whole year at once. Now I only do that if I’m absolutely certain that a curriculum works for us. Otherwise, I enter the lesson plans for the next month. That way, if something’s not working for our family, I didn’t spend a lot of time entering stuff from a resource we won’t continue to use. Also, a month’s time gives me a good idea of how fast/slow we’re going to move through the material I have planned, so I can make adjustments for the next month.

How do you plan out your homeschooling year?

Share your thoughts in the comments. I’m always looking for ways to tweak my system!



Gardening with Kids When You Don’t Garden – Guest Post at Minnesota Country Girl

I am participating in the blog tour over at Minnesota Country Girl, where I provided a guest post for her series: “Summer in the Outdoors: A Series of Gardening, Foraging, and Nature Studies”

Simple Coffee Photo Recipe Pinterest Graphic.pngIn preparing for writing the post, I was faced with a little bit of a dilemma:

I run. I hike. I love the outdoors, but I am not a gardener. Sure, there was that fluke summer, years ago, where I managed to grow a vegetable garden in my dad’s back yard, and it was successful. I think, though, that my dad may have been behind the scenes helping that garden to boom.

We bought our house wanting to garden. I would really love to put a kids’ garden area in, and it would be awesome to give my kids the skills that, despite my parents’ best efforts, I just didn’t pick up. So, the question is: How does one teach children the skill of gardening when one is not a “green thumb?”

Most of the advice I found for gardening with kids assumes that you already sort of know what you’re doing when it comes to gardening, or at least that you haven’t killed every plant you’ve attempted to grow over the last (mumble) years of adulthood.

To solve this problem, I came up with a way to create a lesson plan and “course” on gardening that would benefit both myself and my kids this summer. I’m really excited about it, and I decided that I would share my planning process in the guest post. I’m a classical homeschooler by nature, so I was already familiar with one of the resources from when my oldest and I tried (and failed at!) gardening when he was 8.

Join me over at Minnesota Country Girl where I have the privilege of guest posting for Summer in the Outdoors: A Series of Gardening, Foraging & Nature Studies.

Book Review: My Big Tree by Maria Ashworth

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of that purchase at no additional cost to you. 

Recently, I received a copy of  My Big Tree by Maria Ashworth to post an unpaid review on this blog. This book is a fun counting story featuring various animals who can be found in a tree. In addition to providing children with a charming story of a bluebird in a tree, the story allows preschoolers the opportunity to practice counting with 1-to-1 correspondence. The picture book also has an authors note that describes some of the characteristics of the animals depicted.


The illustrations in this picture book are simple, but that’s not a bad thing. My four-year-old enjoyed the images as well as the story. I think it’s an important thing for using the book as a preschool math enrichment resource that the animals are all uniform. This makes it easier for children to make the 1-to-1 connections necessary for developing number sense. The illustrations are also colorful, with each of the animal species having its own vivid color distinct from the others.

Enrichment ideas

In addition to asking the child to count along while you read the book, here are some fun ideas to stretch the book into learning and play:

  • Collect some animal figures such as these by Safari, Ltd. and identify a squirrel, bear, owl, bat, mouse, opossum, frog, snake, bee and bird. My local zoo gift shop has a bin where you can select your animals to fill a Toob for a discounted price. Have your child match up the animal figure to the animal in the book.
  • Ask your child to count how many animals all together are on each page. Once you have the two black bears join the blue bird, you could phrase it like this: “There was one bird in the tree, now there are two bears in the tree also. How many animals all together are in the tree?”
  • See if your child can recall the different animal sounds from the animals who join in the tree. Play “who said it?” Make a noise and see if your child can remember who made the noise – or try the reverse – name an animal and ask if your child remembers what sound that animal makes.

What activities would you come up with to have your children do alongside reading this book?

Downtime Is Just As Important as Time Spent Learning

Parents, especially those who homeschool, can get really caught up in ensuring their kids are always learning. Whether this is through ensuring that every toy is “educational” and every television program consumed teaches something or it’s through carting children from one enrichment activity to another, it’s a mistake.

“What?” you may say, “but I thought that we’re supposed to teach our kids!”

Yes, we are, but part of teaching and guiding children includes teaching kids how to just be. College Boy spends some of his time at home laying on the bed and staring at the ceiling. Princess Boogie plays with her Ponies and flits about running in what seems to me to be pointless circles. Sometimes we all just zone out on the couch to some silly kids’ movie or TV show.

Kids can suffer from burnout

According to the article, “The Downside of No Downtime for Kids” from PBS News Hour, we should not  be packing every free moment of our kids’ lives. The article quotes Alvin Rosenfeld (author of The Over-Scheduled Child) as saying:

“First, I’d ask myself what kind of adult you want your kid to grow up to be,” Rosenfeld said. “And then I’d ask how you get there. How do you balance academics, athletics and character?”

Most parents Rosenfeld encounters say developing a strong character is most important. “Unfortunately, actions don’t always follow aspirations in terms of saying character is most important,” he said.

When you don’t allow children to have unstructured time, they never have the opportunity to test out their character – or even really get to know who they are when they’re not playing soccer, practicing violin, and working on the next awesome robot club creation.

Instead, a child may be left feeling lost when he or she can’t be constantly busy.

How much downtime is enough?

Every family will be different. While the author of the PBS New Hour article believes that for every week of structure a child needs three weeks of unstructured time, not everyone agrees. Susan Bartell, in “Is Your Child Getting Enough Real Downtime?” points out that screen-time, can be problematic:

Video games and all other screen-related activities require a child to be fully engaged in problem-solving, competition or socializing – and sometimes all three. A primary reason why kids have trouble falling asleep is that they’re staring at screens too close to bedtime. The activity is overstimulating, rather than calming, and the light from the screen tricks the brain into staying awake, rather than preparing the child for sleep.

If video games aren’t “real” downtime, then what is? For Bartell, true downtime is time spent doing not much at all – daydreaming, creative play, creating art, or even playing in the bath – for at least 20 minutes a day.

Dr. Claire McCarthy, author of “Does Your Child Get Enough Downtime?” believes that the answer to this question is more nuanced. She recommends that instead of a set time that parents watch their children for signs of distress:

Since every child’s different when it comes to what will upset her, it’s important to be watchful. An overscheduled child may be moody, or clingier than usual. She may have trouble sleeping, or experience a dip  — or an increase  — in her appetite. She may also lose interest in the activities she usually enjoys, or start to struggle in school.

If you see any of these changes in your child, talk to her right away. Let her know that the most important thing to you is that she’s happy. Spend some time trying to figure out with her what exactly is upsetting her, and change it.

How do you find balance?

Finding balance can be as simple as being strict about the total number of activities that each child is allowed to participate in as well as watching how many hours you’re spending in “on-task” learning activities. One of the great things about homeschooling is that we are able to adapt our programs of learning to each child’s needs. This allows us to be more efficient in our time as well. That also allows us to take a much-needed day off when it’s warranted.

So, how do you handle downtime in your homeschool? Do you have set hours? Do you have a cap on the number of activities you allow your child(ren) to participate in? Share your thoughts below.

Recommended resource:

The Over-Scheduled Child by Alvin Rosenfeld, M. D. and Nicole Wise.

(This is an Amazon Associate link. Should you choose to click on this link and make a purchase, I will receive a small fee at no additional cost to you. Providing such links helps me to support my family.)

Music: Violin Practice

Miss 4 loves music, and she’d been begging us since forever for a “pretty little violin.” I did a lot of research, and last year, she started taking violin lessons. While I know that she enjoys her violin, sometimes lessons are a struggle (as anything at 4 could be expected to be).

Do your children take music lessons?

What do you do to get them to practice?

(I’ll write more about the Suzuki method of learning music soon. For now, happy Friday!)

Throwback Thursday: The Cat in the Castle

In 2012, my oldest built this castle from a kit as we studied the Middle Ages. Our family cat (well one of our cats) decided that it was the perfect spot for her to lounge, so lounge she did. This castle found a home in my husband’s work office for a long while.

One of the awesome things about homeschooling is how fun the projects are for the whole family. This is still one of Mr. College’s favorite projects he put together.

What projects have you done that have been a lot of fun? 

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!