Four Tips for Successful Homeschool Planning
Of course, as soon as one year ends you are planning the next year. So summer is really just "getting ready for fall" for many people, and I thought this would be a great time to write a blog post I have been thinking about, which, as it goes, ended up REALLY long, (like this sentence) so it will be a blog series instead.
Tip One: Change Happens
One thing I think is often overlooked in planning a home school year is the changing life we all live. From big changes like new babies and new houses, to smaller changes like the seasonal differences in the year and the phases our children (and us!) all go through, one-size-fits-all schedules just don't work well- even within our own family! So the first tip I have for figuring out a plan for your family is Don't Be Afraid to Change.
Change is good and the ability to be flexible within your plan is important. How flexible you need to be will depend on your lifestyle, personality, and your kids. But we all need the ability to move things around, take a day off, fix the toilet, or find the band aids without ruining our plan. So plan margin into your day.
Tip Two: Start Small
It's inevitable. The year is planned perfectly. Every math lesson has it's 15 minute block, every composer study is on the list, and all the books are arranged each day, with just enough time to read and narrate each lovely selection. I have everything printed and bound neatly, with encouraging Bible verses on the cover of my planner. I can tell you what I will be reading to each child next November 18th. I am super excited to begin. And then by the second week the entire thing will be scrapped. Maybe we had an unexpected field trip, or we found out that child needs twice as long to read that book as the last child did. Maybe the Librivox book I planned to use is incomprehensible for one child, while math needs to happen independently and later in the day for another.
While it's nice to have some things planned ahead, if you go out too far there's simply no way to know what life will throw in your path that will force changes into your plan. Sometimes we make our lovely plans and then force ourselves and our kids to keep using them out of guilt, even when it's clear something else is badly needed.
Mason's principles are important to keep in mind while scheduling. We need to remember the overarching goals to avoid stuffing ourselves into little boxes, while at the same time neglecting other aspects of her method. The PNEU timetables we have are excellent examples of how she implemented her curriculum and how she guided her schools into following those principles, but the timetables are not themselves principles. We can't expect them to work in every circumstance. In fact we have reason to understand that even Mason's schools were not always able to follow them perfectly, and our homes are even more variable then schools.
On the other hand, there is no reason to throw the timetables out completely. They are a great practical example of HOW principles such as short, varied lessons worked in a school setting. What should you take away from them? Lessons are short, but grow as the child gets older. Lessons are varied- don't stick all the readings in a two-hour session. Lessons don't have to be all in the morning- if you need to make some time in the afternoon or evening or weekend, that's okay. For older kids especially, there was time in the afternoon for those things that tend to take longer or drag out because they are enjoyable, such as nature study and handicrafts.
Use the timetables as a reference, but make your schedule fit your life, not the other way around.
School in the morning might not be best for every family at every time. Many times people try to fit their lives into the "school in the morning" model, and for whatever reason it just doesn't work for them. Do you have little ones? Sometimes the only quiet time of day is during naps. That's a great time to do math. Baby feeding time with mom in the rocking chair? That's a great time to sneak in a reading or an older child's narration.
Do you have young kids close together? Maybe consider combining some subjects. Maybe something like a block schedule would help, where each child works with you for one hour. Perhaps one longer reading a day can be saved for the afternoon.
Are your kids farther apart, in different stages? Maybe an older child needs some science experiment time or a younger one needs a longer literature chapter read- those are things that maybe the other parent can do in the evenings, or even on Saturday. An independent reader can narrate at creative times. I often have someone telling me back stories while I wash dishes or cook.
These are all things that I have learned, some painfully, through the last six years of changes and homeschool lesson planning. Most important, have grace with your children and yourself, accept that you will mess up, and move on with hugs and chocolate.