Over the years, I have picked up several different planning strategies that help me get a handle on where we will be going with our studies.
Before we take a look, I want to add a disclaimer that because we use a homeschool charter I am required to do waayyyy more microlevel planning than I might ordinarily do. What does that mean? It means that I have to submit a highly detailed semester learning plan for each of my children, which contains specific information regarding which resources we’ll use, and even which assignments they’ll complete within each learning period (20 or so school days, so about a calendar month). This level of detail has forced me to implement tools and systems that I may not otherwise utilize, as I would prefer the ability to be able to follow my children’s interests, etc.
However, I do know that there are some parents who, while they may have the freedom, would prefer to see examples of tools that could make them feel more comfortable or in control of what their lesson plans may look like over a period of time.
So, let’s have a look, shall we?
Index Card Long Term Planning
First up, two years ago, when I was preparing my first semester plan, I realized that it would be very helpful for me to take a look at our curriculum alongside the common core requirements for each kid by grade and subject. That way it would be easier for me to see which weeks we needed to make sure that we met, and which weeks we might skip. I considered blending several levels of Bookshark science (one of my favorites on the market, BTW) in order to hit the standards for my 3 kids that year. (Spoiler alert, we didn’t end up doing that!)
I really liked the approach, because it gave me a way to see all of the different concepts on a micro level & get a sense of what we would cover over all, in the course of a year, or semester.
I started with the Bookshark weekly lesson plans, and I went to the page for the assignment, then I wrote down the topic that was covered within the reading. (They offer extensive preview/samples on their site if you are interested in seeing what lessons typically look like. The scope & sequence for each level is also readily available (and such a helpful planning tool!!)
If I use Bookshark reading with history for my younger kids at some future point, I will likely do this for History as well. Currently, my two middle schoolers are doing the Bookshark reading with history, but they are able to follow the lesson plan without any prompting, and the work would therefore be duplicative and unnecessary.
This year for Science, we will be using Blossom & Root for 2 kids, which does come with a detailed lesson plan as well. I will use my index card method to map out where those 2 kiddos will be going, especially as I get into semester plan creation mode.
I am not sure how I will use the system for my other 2 kids, who will be doing the REAL Science 4 Kids, but I will have to report back once I figure that out!
Index Card Weekly Rhythm Planning
This next idea was mentioned on a podcast episode by Simply Charlotte Mason, I believe.
Here’s how it works: you take index cards, and you write all the things in a week on them. What are all the things? Any outside the home commitments (how sad during this particular time, amiright?), regular activities, and school subjects or tasks that you want to include within your day.
The most important first step, that SCM pointed out, was to put all of the things that are fixed in your schedule first. For example, if your kid takes tap lessons on Mondays at 11, and tuba lessons on Thursdays at 5, those go onto the calendar first. Next, if your family has a hike club that’s Wednesdays at 12, put that on there too. You get the idea.
Next, you go in and start adding things like your morning basket. If you do that every morning, make 5 cards and put one on each morning. (We do not do the morning basket at ALL, but I know it’s a super common thing, so I figured it was worth noting as an example).
So here’s the thing for my planning. My kids rarely if ever do anything together. I know the common paradigm for big families is to study the same topics for things like Science & History, and for everyone to get together at the table and do the family read aloud, etc. and to a certain extent, I wish we could be that way. In fact, I had a big identity crisis over it for a hot minute this summer. But then I realized that this approach just doesn’t work for us. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t. My kids all do their own separate things, and I try to find the things that they actually like and want to study. Yes, it’s a ridiculous amount of work, especially with the (swear word) lesson plans. Of course I thought about how much easier it would be to be able to copy and paste Science & History across 4 lesson plans, but that’s not who we are, and that’s not what works for us. Moving on.
SO, it would be impossible for me to create one of these posters for all of my kids. (I do however create one of these every semester solely for our regular commitments, like Hebrew school piano, violin, soccer or baseball (we only do one sport per season, max of 2 kids at a time), etc. That document is integral when I’m trying to figure out who will be where and when, and what else we can sign up for, or whether we are at capacity, etc.)
As my oldest kid has gotten older, she has been taking on an increasingly big role in her own education, as she should. I explained the concept to her, wrote out all of her “stuff” (she asked me to), and then she was able to affix the cards in the order that she wanted to, taking into consideration her schedule. (which dang is getting so intense as she gets older!)
After she figured an order that she liked, she followed it! I got her a lesson planner schedule book thing, and she wrote down whatever she did each day. This year I got her a fancier planner, and she is already planning what schoolwork she plans to do when we start school on Monday. I am now starting this process with my rising 6th grader, and she is loving her planner too so far!
The last tool that I use has been a huge help for me and the children. It sets out clear (and very minimal honestly) expectations for what they are expected to complete each day. I do not set any time constraints. The only limitations they have for when work must be completed by is if we have outside of the house commitments, like soccer practice. And yes, I have had kids finishing work in the minivan on the way to soccer practice, omg.
The way it works is simple, no free screentime until you’re done. If a kid is working diligently, but isn’t yet finished, I will let them take a fun videogame break (brain break) and mess around for 15 minutes or so. However, if feet are being dragged and nothing has been accomplished, they are free to do things like puzzles or play outside, read in their room, whatever, but they’re not getting any access to screens that isn’t assigned work or primarily academic in nature.
(I do occasionally waive this rule depending on the circumstances. If the kid is super burnt out or just did some big project, it may be appropriate to let them off the hook for a while & circle back to assignments later. However, these checklists are our basic framework for the day. And if there is a pattern of disaster, I will re-evaluate the ask & whether the curriculum is the best fit, etc. Spoiler alert: 2 of my kids ended up ditching their history curriculum & 1 of my kids ended up ditching their science curriculum. So flexibility is still a cornerstone for me. Reality matters too.)
I really like having the weekly next to the daily, because it gives the kids more control over their daily schedule. I do work with my younger kids especially on including school related activities that they can do if they finish their work super quickly (this is a rare occasion, also extremely possible, as these checklists are my bare minimum expectations).
I have posted these checklists on my personal IG before & had positive feedback, so I went ahead and included them as downloads in this blogpost for your personal use. The first is a mock up with what we did last fall for my 4 kids. The second one is completely blank, but with the check boxes for you to fill in.
You’ll see my Kindergartener has a list of several activities like LEGOs, drawing, etc. I will again be including those in his checklist this year. He rarely likes to sit down and bang out all of his work at once. He prefers the work-break-work-break model, so the list is intended to give him direction when he isn’t necessarily feeling like getting all the work done at once, if that makes sense?
I also make good use of my teacher planner, but I will devote an entirely separate post for that. I think these tools will be the most accessible & easy to use without necessarily having to buy anything.
Let me know if any of these planning tools are helpful & thanks for reading!