How to Plan Your Homeschool Year
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As this school year comes to a close and we enter into our 14th year of homeschooling, one thing I have learned is that I constantly need to reevaluate the way we do things. When I feel like I’ve found our groove, something changes. Isn’t that just the way life is sometimes? I once thought that child-led learning was the answer for us, only to realize that our children (and me) definitely need more structure. I thought prepackaged curriculum was the way! But then I learned that it’s not the best route for every child. I had just found the rhythm of homeschooling two children at a time, and now here I am gearing myself up to teach three children at once for the first time in my life.
You may be dreading planning out the next school year because trying to figure out how to do things differently can seem intimidating. But I’m here to tell you that when you plan your homeschool year, it can actually be exhilarating. Yeah, you read that right! For me, it’s a time to evaluate what didn’t work out well for us and then find ways to work on making the next school year better. I enjoy looking for new curriculum and researching other ways to “do school”. It excites me to imagine all of the new possibilities.
Here are some personal examples of why I have had to reevaluate each year:
- My children change the way they enjoy learning.
One year they might like doing more work on the computer, but when we evaluate what they would like to change, they say they want more workbook type work.
- We ended a study on a specific topic.
For example, this year we did a unit study on the solar system for science. Now that we are finished with that, we need to figure out what next year’s science will look like.
- Another child entered the age of homeschooling.
Teaching just one child is very different from teaching multiples. I have a feeling that I will need a lot of talking with Jesus (and extra caffeine) to get me through the next six years of homeschooling three boys at the same time.
- I GET TIRED!
That’s right. There are some years when I am fully capable of being my boy’s formal teacher, but then there are years where I feel like I just can’t do it all anymore. Thank God for online curriculum during those times of newborn babies! They carried me through homeschooling when I was extremely busy with other motherhood responsibilities.
- I want to give a new method of homeschooling a chance.
When I felt very burnt out, I started searching for a way to make homeschooling more fun. That’s when I discovered unschooling (child-led learning). I researched my brains out over the matter before deciding to give it a try. What I discovered is that although my heart longs to be an unschooler, my family thrives on structure. Which leads me to the next reason we need to reevaluate the way we do things.
- We need more structure.
This is where we are currently at. I don’t want to go back to being very strict. I don’t want to suck all of the fun out of school. And I most certainly don’t want to damage my relationship with my boys. But how do we manage all of this while creating more structure? I believe I have found the answer to this in what is called a loop schedule. Keep reading or skip on down to the part where I explain exactly what a loop schedule is.
Once you have reevaluated what worked and what didn’t, the next step to plan your homeschool year is figuring out what curriculum to use.
Definitely continue onward with whatever worked great for you the previous year. Trust me, when planning your homeschool year, there will be plenty of times where you’re going to want to find something different, so if you’re so lucky to find something that just seemed amazing for your family, I highly suggest not swapping that for something else.
Is there anything that you intended to do, but never got to or didn’t finish? We didn’t get very far in our history book this year even though we really enjoyed it, so we will just pick up where we left off. If you can use what you already have, then why not? I’m all for saving time and keeping things to a minimum.
What if you have no clue what curriculum would work for your family?
I spend many, many DAYS researching curriculum because I don’t want to end up paying for something that we end up hating. Once I find stuff that looks really interesting to me, I try to find reviews about it, look for sample pages to download, and ask others in my homeschool groups their thoughts about it. If you put the hard work into finding what works best for your family, then you will certainly end up with less regrets during the school year.
How to find the best homeschool curriculum
Here are a few tips on places that I always search for a curriculum. Again, this is hard work, but trust me, when you are planning your homeschool year, the extra effort up front is completely worth it.
Check Facebook groups to see what everyone else is using.
You may find a new curriculum that you didn’t even know about.
I go to the Homeschool Convention Web-page and look at each vendor.
Sometimes I go in person and other years I just search each one online. It’s a really long list with a lot of great ideas. Just search “Great Homeschool Convention” and see if there is one in your area. Then you can click on a link that says “vendors” to see all of the people who will be selling there. If a particular vendor catches my eye, there’s usually a link to their website. If not, I just google the company and go from there.
Check out Timberdoodle.
Timberdoodle is one of my favorite companies to purchase curriculum from. They always seem to have the latest and greatest! I like purchasing from them because I earn Doodle Dollars with each purchase. It’s sort of like a membership card. You earn points that convert to money for future purchases. They are a Christian based, family company with exceptional customer service too!
When in doubt, use Google. I will search for things like “best math curriculum for seventh grade” to see what comes up.
There are just so many choices out there, so it can be really hard to figure it all out. But I hope these tips have been helpful!
This will be my first year really teaching three children all at the same time. Technically I could wait another year to do school with my youngest, but he wants to do school like his older brothers. If he were in public school, he would be starting kindergarten this year, but I’ve decided that he isn’t quite ready for that. We will be doing Timberdoodle’s Pre-K curriculum. If we find that the core work is too easy for him, then we will bump him up to kindergarten work. That’s one of the beauties of homeschooling. I can completely work at my child’s individual pace.
Once you have figured out what everyone will be using for curriculum, it’s time to determine how to plan each homeschool day.
Will you do four days on and take the fifth day for field trips? That sounds awesome to me! Will you do school year round with bigger breaks for holidays or whenever else you feel like you need the break? Do you have a big occasion coming up this school year that you will want to plan some time off for, like a surgery, new baby, or moving?
Now is the time to start thinking about what the next school year might possibly look like. Of course we can’t plan for everything, but homeschooling gives us such flexibility to adjust when we need to.
For me, it’s really difficult to determine the days of the week that we will actually sit down for homeschooling. My husband works in retail and typically gets two weekdays off. On those days, there’s a part of me that wants to dig deep and do as much school as possible because he’s there to help with the other boys and whatever else might need attention. But on the flip-side, that is my family time.
It’s hard to guard family time when you have to get school done at some point. The boys and I really don’t want to be doing school on the weekends either. That’s when all the events take place and also when their public school friends can play. Maybe we should just do lighter school on the days that their dad is home. I’m not sure. If you have suggestions for me, I’d love to hear that, especially from those of you who are in a similar situation.
On the days that school will be happening in our home, I’ve decided that I will rotate between children and then come together on subjects like science and history to do together. My seven year old is always begging for a break after each subject, so I’m going to give him that break while I work with another child. For example, once he finishes math, he’ll get to go play while I do math with my five year old. Then my seven year old will come back with me to do Language Arts before getting another break and so on.
My oldest homeschooling son is pretty independent at this point. He should be able to do much of his work without my help, but there will definitely be times he’ll need more direction or help from me. I plan to give both of the little guys a break so I can spend that necessary time with my oldest.
There have been many times that I tried my hardest to stick to a structured schedule where we do certain things at specific times, but that never ever works out for us. Through a conversation with a friend at This Restored Life, I learned about loop schedules. I had heard the term before, but honestly never really looked into it much. Now I wish that I had looked into it sooner because I think it just may be the answer to a lot of our homeschool scheduling issues.
What is a loop schedule?
The loop schedule basically rotates through non-core curriculum until it’s all completed, then you start going through those subjects again, all while doing core curriculum daily. This ensures that the work that is the most important to you actually gets completed. It also helps you to keep from getting very heavy on one subject while majorly lacking in other areas.
I have constantly struggled with this balance, so I think a loop schedule will be a perfect fit for us.
Take this past year as a prime example. I tried to start out by doing history two days a week and science three days a week. That didn’t work at all, and there’s no way I could fit them both in each day. That would end up with tears from all of us. What ended up happening is that we stopped doing history altogether to focus on science. Well, here it is at the end of the school year and we never did get back into our history book. Oops! I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to. I also hate how easy it is to focus so hard on core subjects, that all of the fun things like art and science get pushed aside completely. That’s a sure way to suck the love of learning out of your children!
How to Create a Loop Schedule
First decide what your core subjects are.
This can vary from family to family. Are there subjects that must be completed every single day, no matter what? Those subjects will not be included on your loop schedule because you will be doing them daily. For us, our core subjects are Bible, math, and language arts. The Bible is obviously very important in our home. We were commanded by God to teach our children daily about Him and His commandments. I think it’s really important to get the Word into them when they are young.
I also feel like if you can do math and have a great understanding of reading and writing, then you have a great foundation to learn anything else that you want to learn about. There are also random things that the boys will do on a daily basis, like our seven year old practicing piano. For me, if I don’t include these things in school work, they will most likely get skipped over most days.
Secondly, write out every other subject that you want (or need) to cover this year. These subjects are a part of your loop schedule.
Here are some example subjects that might be included in a loop schedule:
Technology or other electives
Handwriting (if it’s not included in your Language Arts curriculum)
***Keep in mind that requirements vary depending on where you live. In my state we are required to teach certain subjects, however, there are no rules that say that each subject has to be taught on a daily basis.***
If you come to a subject that you’re not sure whether it should be a core subject or a part of your loop schedule, ask yourself if it’s something your child needs extra focus on. One subject in question may be handwriting.
I have handwriting books for my older two boys, but I’m including them in their loop schedule instead of their daily work for three reasons:
- They both have amazing handwriting! I’m totally amazed that so far, three out of four of my boys write beautifully (when they want to).
- There would be tears if I made them do handwriting every single day.
- They do enough writing in other subjects, so I don’t feel like that’s necessary at this point to work on it daily.
My friend who introduced me to the loop schedule laminated her copy and put it on the refrigerator. She used a magnet and just moved it down the list as they worked through each subject.
Let’s use the list above and pretend that it was her loop schedule. She would do the core subjects with her children and then she would start on the loop schedule. For example, on Monday, once they finished their core subjects, they were able to do art and PE. Once they finished those subjects, she would move her magnet down to nature studies and that is where they would resume on Tuesday. Some days she would get a few “extra” subjects in, while other days she would only be able to fit in one other subject from her loop schedule.
To add in just a little more flexibility for my family, I’ve decided to laminate our loop schedule subjects and use a dry erase marker to cross them off once completed. This way if I’m just not in the mood for a certain subject when it rolls around, I can pick something else.
I wasn’t sure how this was going to work with multiple children, but I think I’ve come up with a great solution.
- Instead of one loop schedule for all children, I created one for each of them.
- I generalized each topic. For example, although my oldest will be doing Intro to Physics for science, my younger boys obviously aren’t quite ready for that. They will be doing Timberdoodle’s “Show Me Science: Volcanoes, Magnets & More” together. For this reason, I just wrote “Science” on their loop schedules and I will try my best to make sure that they all complete their science on the same day.
- The only things that differ on each child’s schedules, is that my seven year old plays the piano and our five year old has a category called “Emotional Intelligence”. Trust me, he NEEDS that lesson! Here’s a link to show you exactly what emotional intelligence is in case you are interested. It’s a part of the Pre-K Timberdoodle curriculum kit. These two subjects can be quickly and easily added to any day of school.
To create a loop schedule, you can just type or write out what you want and then either cover it with a page protector or laminate it. Or, you can make it fancy like I did with a program like Canva. It’s really easy to use once you have just a little bit of practice.
Here’s what our loop schedules for 2020-2021 looks like:
Stay tuned for our curriculum choices for this coming school year. I’m so excited to share this with you because I’ve found some AMAZING resources! You know that Timberdoodle will be what we use with G4, but I can’t wait to actually show you the material. Once we have received all of our curriculum, I will do another post to share with you how we keep it all organized.
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Be blessed my friends!
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I’m Amanda and a Christian homeschooling Mom to 4 awesome boys from ages 4 to 20.
I have an amazing, supportive husband, a passion for encouraging others in their faith, and helping new homeschoolers find their way through their journey.
Thank you for stopping by and getting to know me better.