I’m a planner. I LOVE planning, organizing, and details. I do NOT however enjoy planning parties. Don’t ask me. It’s like the seventh circle of hell for me. I get anxiety just thinking about being asked to plan any kind of shower or party. I will happily help out (decorate or make a pretty salad)…just don’t ask me to plan it. Having four kids’ birthdays in the span of 30 days is always rough, which is why we don’t do parties every year. Ok, with that out of the way… on to home school planning. How do I easily lay out a feast of learning in our home school?
Types of Planning
I don’t think there is any wrong or right way to plan. You have to do what works best for you and your family. Some don’t plan at all, but let the interests of their kids dictate what gets done. Some “plan from behind” and write down what they accomplish after they’ve done it. Some plan a little bit ahead and do a week at a time. Some plan a little further ahead and do a month or more at a time. Some plan a year at a time. You just gotta do you, boo. Whatever makes you happy and sane. Then there are the tools you use to plan. Some choose to use a simple, lined spiral notebook. Some use bullet journals and create their own systems. Some choose to purchase a beautiful, pre-made planner with all the bells and whistles. Again, there is no right way, you just need to use what works for you.
This is our fourth year and each year I make small changes in regards to how I plan out our year. I choose to plan a week at a time, while using a general theme for the month in regards to science, history, and the arts. Each year looks a little different as we are learning our home school style and making tweaks along the way. The beauty of home learning, am I right?? Stick around to the end and I will share where you can get a hold of my planning pieces!
Each weekend I look at the week ahead and at what I would like to accomplish with the kids. If we don’t get to everything that week, it’s totally fine, but I plan out a general guide for the week. Sometimes I start this the Friday before, but a lot of times I don’t get to it until the weekend. I write everything down in pencil, because we rarely do everything I plan, every day I plan it for. Flexibility is the name of the game!
I tend to plan math first because it is literally just moving through the lessons each week. Sometimes we do a lesson a day in the case of my 3rd grader (Teaching Textbooks), and a lesson a week in the case of my 1st grader (Math-U-See). If we need to slow the pace down a bit, we do. If they are moving right along, we move right along!
For now each of my school-aged children have their own handwriting book from The Good and the Beautiful. I try to keep them to one page or less a day so that they can focus on neatness and accuracy. They have other writing assignments for various things like scripture memory copy work, book reports/author studies, and creative writing incorporated into their language arts/reading.
Reading/Other Language Arts
My 1st grader is finishing up All About Reading Level 1 from her kindergarten year. We started her kindergarten year off slowly because she didn’t seem interested in a full-fledged reading program at the start. Once I felt like she was ready, we started on this curriculum (which we also used for my oldest) and she has taken off! She’s a few lessons from the end and she’s excited about her abilities. She generally does a lesson a day, and sometimes if I feel she is tiring in the middle of a lesson, we break it up over two days. I initially plan for one a day, and make adjustments as necessary through the week. She also does a few pages a day (about a lesson a week) in her Explode the Code books for additional phonics review. She loves them!
My 3rd grader is finishing up The Good and the Beautiful Language Arts Level 2 from his 2nd grade year. It’s REALLY easy for him reading and spelling wise, but I knew he needed some of the grammar concepts from this level before moving to Level 3. He does a lesson a day. He also spends a lot of time reading books that we have checked out from the library, re-reading books he loves (Chronicles of Narnia is a favorite), listening to audio books, and listening to various read alouds we are doing in conjunction with history or otherwise. We have a couple other language arts things that I plan to ease into as the year progresses (All About Spelling and First Language Lessons for my 1st grader and Wordly Wise for my 3rd grader).
Now, as I mentioned before, I try to follow a general “theme” for each month and tie in various subject areas to weave it all together and make it nice and cohesive. For instance, for August we have been taking the lead from the first week of Exploring Nature with Children and have been focusing on the Night Sky. We also are studying weather a bit and storms specifically because of the FIAR book we started off with (Storm in the Night). I will look at my various resources already on hand at home, library resources available, online resources and flag anything I think would work nicely with that theme for science. I love looking through my copies of Julie Rothman’s beautiful nature books and Anna Botsford Comstock’s The Handbook of Nature Study for starters. I own lots of other random little science resources as well. After I peruse those, I will look at our web based science curriculum, Mystery Science, for any correlating unit lessons that I can pull in. They offer a subscription based service that is kind of similar to Teaching Textbooks in that it is good for a year. My kids LOVE experiments, so I always try to have at least one per week for them to look forward to. If it’s not an experiment, at least a hands on science activity. We do science about two days per week.
We use Story of the World for our history core. This is our fourth year as I mentioned before, and we are in Volume IV of this curriculum. This covers the span of history from the reign of Queen Victoria up until the end of the USSR. We try to do a chapter or two a week (over two to three days per week) depending on their length. With the ages of my kids, we keep it simple. My 3rd grader (a boy) LOVES history and listening to me read about battles, wars, crazy monarchies, and general drama between countries. My 1st grader (a girl) is much less interested. ha! We read through the chapter, have organic conversations, look at some additional literature and history resources from the library and online, and may do one of the suggested activities from the curriculum activity book. Sometimes we just do the coloring pages and the map along with the chapter and additional literature reading. I follow their lead on what is interesting to them at the time. There’s plenty of time in their schooling at home and independent learning later in life to delve deeper into subjects that pique their interest! Now, I do tend to look ahead a week or two for history because of making sure I have the available resources from the library in time. I reserve my books ahead of time, sometimes a week or two out. I have an Instagram highlight on this hack! It has been super helpful.
Now, my husband is a geography BUFF. He has a Masters in International Relations. (Side note: He has worked on three political campaigns as well.) He’s been to all but three states (Alaska, Hawaii aaaaand North Dakota), been to at least 35 countries, can name and label every country in the world, is a human compass (I absolutely am NOT), loves all things travel and geography, and loves planning trips (real and pretend). We’ve got the area of geography pretty well covered just by the nature of his interest, and his sharing that with his children. Having said all of that, we still use a few resources on a weekly basis to teach the foundations. I have the kids work on that when we have time, maybe once or twice a week. We also naturally talk about aspects of geography in other subjects when it comes up. Check out my Geography Loves on my favorites page for more of our favorite resources!
Morning Time + Extras
Before getting into the topics below, we typically start our school mornings off with our Bible time and morning menu which consists of some calendar time, weather discussions, address and phone number review, and our current hymn that we are learning. The contents of this morning menu change depending on my mood. ha! We are currently using Lyndsey at Treehouse Schoolhouse’s Traceable Calendar and Weather Chart as a part of our menu. Alright, continuing on!
We use a variety of resources for our Bible time. I have an assortment of children’s bibles and devotionals. We especially love Jesus Storybook Bible, Leading Little Ones to God, Indescribable and How Great Is Our God. I typically will choose a variety of these lessons each week to use in conjunction with our monthly theme. In talking about the night sky this month, I have chosen several from the Louie Giglio devotionals that touch on that topic area. I have also chosen to focus on Matthew 5:14-16 as our memory verses for the month. I may work in another verse that is along the same lines.
Five in a Row
I absolutely LOVE this curriculum resource. The general gist of it is that you read the same suggested picture book every day for five days (whether over a week, or two weeks if you like). This is referred to as “rowing” the book. Reading it several days in a row. Each day that you read it, you will then focus on a different subject area (i.e. Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Art, Math, etc.) that pertains to the book. This month I picked Storm in the Night, because we were focusing on the night sky. I wasn’t able to find it at my library, so I ended up purchasing it. The kids like mixing things up each time we read a book, and we always get something different out of it with each read through. A book or two a month is my goal when planning Five In A Row (FIAR). We stretch them out over two weeks and we don’t necessarily do something with it every day.
Art, Music, Poetry
As part of our beautiful feast of learning every week, I like to incorporate some art, music, and poetry. What this looks like differs every week. As I’ve mentioned, I like to work with the same theme over a month’s time because that helps me plan something that is congruent and it just feels like it makes sense. For example, as mentioned we are using the night sky this month as a theme, but we are also studying the 1850s to 1990s in our history this year. So, I am focusing on artists, composers and poets who lived during that time period. Not that I won’t pull in others who were not, but that is my main goal. I feel like it gives a fuller picture when studying our history and the timeline. For example, Vincent Van Gogh lived during this time and his famous Starry Starry Night pairs perfectly with our night sky theme.
We are also listening to some of Richard Wagner’s pieces and talking a little bit about his life and contributions in music. These are all gentle introductions, nothing too intense. We talk about the orchestra and different instruments and how to pick them out when we listen. I’ve really enjoyed using Classics for Kids throughout the years to access some simple listening options, quick biographies, and activities. (They don’t currently have many resources on Richard Wagner, but I just wanted to highlight that resource in general.)
As for poetry readings, I look for poets that lived during the time period we are studying and I may look more specifically for any works that relate to our general theme. Not always necessary. There is nothing stuffy here or over the top. Just a gentle introduction to these more beautiful subjects. We may try our hand at recreating a famous painting, reading child-appropriate literature about the artist or composer, talking about different lines in a piece of poetry. I just follow their lead a bit, and offer the opportunities to learn more if they want to!
I know that all seems like a lot, but it isn’t when you boil it down to what I am actually doing. The regular subjects take me no time at all to write down for the coming week. The subjects that take the most actual planning and thought are history, science, and the arts. A quick library, Pinterest, or Google search can produce all the resources you need, and most of those are free! I like using a monthly theme because it gives me specific ideas and parameters to work within. I’m still learning and growing on this journey of home education, and I’m sure that I will make many changes and tweaks to our environment, process, and form. In reality, I don’t always get to all the things I want to do in a week. I’m ok with that though. It’s just a guide, but the week sometimes takes a different turn. I’m learning to be okay with that in this season. I hope that this was helpful to you in some way! I’ve included some materials I like to use for planning on my Favorites page as well. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions about how I plan, or if you are looking for ideas or specific resources. I love sharing about things I have learned along the way. Also, please feel free to share with ME! I love learning about new things we can use in our home school too!
Need A Simple Planner?
I don’t particularly like overly complicated planners. I just need something that’s easy to use, maintain, and that doesn’t make me feel inadequate if I don’t fill out all the boxes. Feel me? If you are like me, and prefer simplified planning, but still want something beautiful, I’ve got you covered! Head over to my shop and check out my simple Customizable Homeschool Planner! Easy on the printer ink and just the basics. It comes with a 2020-2021 Year-At-A-Glance Calendar, 2020-2021 Attendance Tracker (I use a colored pencil to shade in the days we do school), Extracurricular Tracker, Reading Log, Monthly Morning Time Planner, and four versions of a Weekly Two-Page Spread Planner (Single Student Simple Version, Single Student Full Edit Version, Multiple Student Simple Version, and Multiple Student Full Edit Version). This is what I have been using the last 2-3 years and it works so well for us. Let me know if you end up using this! (I didn’t include any monthly calendar pages in my planner package because Rebecca at A Humble Place has done such a beautiful job already. She has minimal, but beautiful FREE monthly calendar pages on her blog.)
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