Homeschool Time Management

If you’re a homeschooling pro you probably have your own system for planning.  (A good system is anything that works well for you and your family.)  When I work with moms in my area, I find many who are homeschooling newbies who wonder how to make a schedule or others who label themselves as “organizationally challenged” who are looking for some ideas.  I’m not an expert, but over the past 14 years I’ve learned a lot about how to plan a homeschool schedule I can live with.  I don’t expect that the Moore family schedule will work perfectly for any other family, but I do hope that some of these ideas will help you better plan for the needs of your homeschool and your family.

PLANNING A CALENDAR FOR THE YEAR

Before I make a plan, I spend some time contemplating our current needs and our future needs.  After I’ve collected the information I can better put it onto a calendar and into a useable form.    When I am planning, I use 2 year-long calendar I’ve printed from the internet so I can see the whole year at a glance. (One calendar year from Sept. to Christmas and the next calendar year from Jan. to the end of school.)  When I’m recording the information and marking on the calendar, I find it easiest to plan using a block-style calendar so I have enough space to write.  Block-style calendar are available at discount dollar stores or you can print individual calendar pages from the internet.  Remember you’ll need a calendar page for every month of the school year which means 2 calendar years.  I make all my marks in pencil, since I often need to make adjustments or changes during the planning process.  Take a deep breath, grab a pencil and here we go…

Choosing Days Off

We seem to be able to focus best when we have regular breaks, short or long.  However, I find that I personally must have a regularly scheduled long break to do some deep cleaning and put the house back together.  (One week off every six weeks is ideal.)  We also take days off around holidays or when my children have scheduled breaks from activities such as piano lessons, dance or sports.  With that in mind, here are some questions to help you plan which days you plan not to do school.  As you make decisions about each area below, put an x over the date (on the block-style calendar) you’ve decided not to have school.

  1. Holidays—Which holidays will we take off?  How much time will I need for preparation (including cleaning, meal prep, laundry, shopping, etc.)  Our standard:  Labor Day, Wednesday before and Friday after Thanksgiving, 2 ½ to 3 weeks off at Christmas, New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day
  2. Vacation—What time of the year is best for our family to take a vacation?  How much time will I need to prepare for the vacation (including shopping, laundry, packing, planning, etc.)  For years we vacationed during the first week of October—cooler weather, fewer tourists, and a more convenient time for our family and my husband’s work situation.  Since we started school in August, a vacation in October was a welcomed break.  Our standard:  One day off before we leave, one day off after we return (This is critical!  After many trips, I realize that I need a day to recover, unpack, and gear up for “normal” life.)
  3. Spring Break—Are my children involved in activities that are affected by the public school spring break schedule?  I found that when I scheduled a different week for our spring break and still had to take the children to activities, it didn’t feel like a break.  There is no right or wrong.  Choose whatever works best for your family.  Our standard:  Spring break based on activity schedules or children enrolled at the community college
  4. Field Trips—Field trip days count as school days in our school.  They aren’t days off, but they are certainly days that are a welcomed break in our normal routine.  I look at the curriculum and try to find activities that coordinate with what we’re learning, but our excursions don’t always line up with our curriculum.  A trip to Williamsburg or the science museum is always educational, no matter what we’re studying.  I generally schedule field trips between our longer breaks.  Our standard:  Between 5 and 10 field trip days a year
  5. Other breaks—When am I or my children less motivated to do school?  I find that January is almost always a tough school month for us—we’ve just had a long break, we’re inside, we’re halfway through school, but still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I increased our productivity by adding a winter break week or long weekend around President’s Day.  It gives us something to look forward to when we’re in the January doldrums.  You may also want to take days off when family comes to visit or if you have a special event for your family.  Our standard:  Winter break the week of President’s Day, spring break usually the week before or after Easter

Planning the First Semester and Determining the First Day of School

I begin with the end in mind.  Here’s my plan.  It may seem a little confusing, but stay with me.

  1. If you haven’t already, put an x on all the days you are not doing school, including the day you want to begin Christmas break.
  2. Determine how many weeks of school you want to finish before Christmas.
  3. Begin with the last day before Christmas break and count backwards, labeling each day you plan have school (ex. 5,4,3,2,1 Week 16; 5,4,3,2,1 Week 15, etc.) until you arrive at Week 1.  The first block of the school week will be labeled with both the week number and the day number.  Week 1 Day 1 is your first day of school.

Planning the Second Semester

Christmas is a real high point in our family so January seems like a bit of a downer, especially since we have to get back to school after a nice long break.  I find that my children are motivated to work when they know there’s a vacation day in the near future.  We finally found a rhythm that works best for our second semester—6 weeks on, one week off, 6 weeks on, one week off, 6 weeks on.  School’s finished!  Sometimes we have to flex a little based on Easter or spring break, but overall this plan works best.

  1. Determine the first day you’ll do school after Christmas break.  Label that day “Week (whatever you stopped at before break.) Day 1.
  2. Label each day you plan to have school with one number in each block (ex. Week __ 1,2,3,4,5; Week__ 1,2,3,4,5; etc.) until you have completed the number of weeks in your school year.  The last day you label is your last day of school.  We usually have 34 weeks of book work and 2 weeks (10 school days) of field trips.  I schedule 34 weeks of school and record the dates of the field trips to equal 36 weeks or 180 instructional days.

Schedule At-A-Glance

Now that my schedule is planned, I take all the information and transfer it into a form that shows me the plan at-a-glance.  Here is a sample of our school calendar.

PLANNING A DAILY SCHEDULE

When homeschooling several children who can read, it is helpful to have a list or schedule to follow and to record what work has been completed.  June is traditionally my planning month when I make weekly sheets with daily assignment grids for each child.  Sounds like a lot of work?  Not really when you consider that once my school year starts, it is turn-key since both they and I are aware of the daily expectations, my students stay on task much better, and I can reuse the schedule with the younger girls.

Daily Schedule for Elementary

Since I am a list person, I naturally love the grid system of planning and scheduling assignments.  When the girls were old enough to work independently, I made each of them an assignment book—a 3-prong folder with weekly grid pages that detailed their assignments.  Sometimes grids are left empty the student isn't able to do the assignment alone.  When each assignment is completed, the block is checked off, providing an easy way to keep track of completed work.   Here is a sample elementary school schedule.

Daily Schedule for Middle and High School

I continued the grid system for my oldest, but then realized that my second daughter was working at a different pace in some subjects.  With some changes and adjustments, I created a syllabus for each subject that included expectations and a grid of daily assignments and assignment due dates.  This way I can mix and match subject levels based on the student’s ability.  Here is a sample of a schedule for an upper level class.

Making Adjustments

When our oldest entered the community college as a dually-enrolled junior *(earning high school and college credit simultaneously), our schedule drastically changed.  Up until that point, my schedule was my own to plan and control.  About four weeks into the first semester I was planning our regular October vacation.  Victoria innocently looked at me and said, “I have class.  I guess I won’t be able to come with you.”  Needless to say, we rescheduled the vacation and I adjusted my schedule to mirror her breaks so that we could be together as a family.  I have no control over the college schedule, but I still have the flexibility to make a schedule that maximizes our family time.

The goal of any daily or yearly schedule is to make the best plan that best suits the needs of your family.  Over the years, that plan will change (after all, how many high school students still have nap time?!).  Our job as parents is to make adjustments and adaptations in the midst of a dynamic situation.

Maybe this is more organization that your world can handle.  That’s ok.  You don’t need to do it our way.  This is only one way to have a plan and keep your students accountable.  The truth is there are many days I could talk us all out of doing any school!  With a schedule, we are much more productive and I know that we’re staying on track and that we won’t be doing school in July.  May God bless you and direct you as you make a schedule for your family.

*Please note that I am not encouraging that every high school student be enrolled at the community college.  Each family must make decisions based on God’s plan for their family and its members.

Proverbs 31 Birthday Party for Girls

The girls often talk about their birthday parties as “unit studies.”  I can’t help it.  I’m a teacher.  I’ve been teaching children something for the last 25 years.  Why should birthday parties be any different?  It’s a great opportunity to teach children--they’re a captive audience!  For Abigail’s tenth birthday, God gave me the idea to have a Proverbs 31 Birthday Party.  The party took about three hours for eleven girls who were ages 9-11.  Cutting out the sewing project will shorten the time by about 45 mins. to 1 hour. Invitations: You can use any lovely note card with a lovely cover design and a blank inside.  Buy twice as many and use them for thank you notes.  If you have some computer skills, you can import a photo or design your own invitations.  Invitation-sized envelopes fit a half sheet of paper folded in half.  On the inside, include the title “Proverbs 31 Birthday” as well as who it’s for, date, time, location, address and RSVP.

Preparations: Preparations for each activity are listed below.  I set up “stations” in the locations listed, including all the supplies and instructions I needed.  I also set the table in the dining room where we’d be eating.  Careful, advanced preparations will make for smooth transitions during the party.

Decorations: I chose hot pink paper plates and napkins that coordinated with the invitation.  The activities for the party kept us in different rooms, but we decorated the dining room with pink and white streamers and pink balloons.  Some fresh flowers would be a nice touch.

Activities: I wanted to teach the girls what it meant to be a Proverbs 31 woman.  We began by reading Proverbs 31: 10-31.  (You can read it to them, or have everyone read together.  You can print out a copy of the scripture from www.biblegateway.com.)  Then, we went back to the beginning and read through it again, stopping after we read the verses that applied to our activity.

Cooking (in the kitchen): v.14-15 Recipe for apple crisp here. Before the party:  You may want to cut the apples and store them in some lemon water in the fridge.  I let the girls use an apple peeler with a handle and an apple slicer so we needed no knives. During the party:  Of course you’ll want the girls to start by washing their hands.  I had the girls take turns measuring, preparing and adding ingredients as well as assembling the apple crisp.  We baked it while we did the next activity.

Gardening (outside):  v. 16 Small pots, plastic or clay a cell-pack of plants or seeds small bag of potting soil Before the party:  I set up the table in the back yard so the dirt would stay out there.  I labeled the bottom of the pots before the girls planted their plants so each one got the right container. During the party:  Then, each girl put a little potting soil in the bottom of the pot, put the flower in, and finished with a little potting soil around the sides of the plant. NOTE:  If you choose not to do the sewing activity, you could use the time to decorate clay pots with paint or permanent markers.  Permanent markets can still rub off some plastics.  Old T-shirts can be worn to protect the girls’ clothing.

Sewing (at the kitchen table):  v. 21 red felt red thread satin ribbon Before the party:  To save time, I set up the sewing machine with the red thread.  I used a lightweight red felt so there were no raw edges to fray and cut a rectangular piece (4 inches x 9 inches) for each girl. During the party:  There are many patterns out there, but this is the simplest pattern I could find.  I recommend labeling the pouches somehow so they don’t get mixed up.

Wise Speech (in the family room):  v. 25-26 Before the party:  Write down a few phrases or Bible verses to use in the game. During the party:  Here we played the telephone game.  (Whisper a message down a line of people and of course it gets changed.)  I divided the girls into two groups and gave each group the same message.  We talked about gossip and how it can hurt those around us and how life and death is in the power of the tongue.  (Proverbs 18:21)

A Treasure (at the kitchen table):  v. 10 Assorted red glass beads (I found mine at a discount superstore) Elastic (also from the discount superstore) Before the party:  I first knotted the end of the elastic string.  (You can’t use a regular knot, but the instructions are on the packaging of the string are simple.)  I divided the beads and put the beads and the elastic into small baggies. During the party:  I gave each girl a baggie and let her bead her own pattern.  When they were finished, we had to tie the ends together with the same instructions as the original knot.  I had each girl put on her bracelet so we wouldn’t get confused.  We talked about how valuable a real ruby is and how much more valuable a godly woman is.

Snack Time (at the dining room table):Apple Crisp (made during the party)

Cake Ice Cream Carrots, cut apples, or whatever your family prefers Pink lemonade, juice boxes, or whatever your family prefers

Party Favors: Of course each girl takes the potted flower, the pouch they sewed, and the bracelet they made.  We included an apple crisp recipe card in the “thank you” notes.

Best of all: It was a great party and the girls seemed to really enjoy themselves.  Most importantly, the girls heard God’s Word and what the Bible says about a virtuous woman.  I believe that the party planted seeds in the hearts of the girls that will reap a great harvest in the years ahead.

God Has a Plan

We’ve started 2010 with a bang.  Literally.  Today was the beginning of our vacation.  We spent yesterday packing and cleaning and preparing everything we’d need for a week away.  We were not yet two hours from home when a doe darted out in front of our van.  (We later heard that it was the last day of hunting season and the hunters were chasing the deer out of hiding.)  The deer slammed into the front of the van, disabling the radiator and rendering our vehicle undrivable.  We stopped to thank God for safety and then asked for wisdom.  With lodging reservations at a location seven hours away, we needed a plan.  And God had one. The 911 operator gave us the name of a towing company that was open on New Year’s Day.  The company was only minutes away.

We stopped on the side of the road right in front of a church.  While we were waiting for the tow truck to arrive, someone from the church came to turn on the heat and allowed us to use the bathroom and the phone.  (Because we were in the middle of nowhere, Harold’s cell phone was not getting reception at the moment.)

The tow truck driver was a kind Christian man who owned a gas station/auto repair shop.  Harold asked him, “What would you do if you and five members of your family were in a disabled van on the side of the road?”  He said, “Read some good scripture and pray.”  “We already did that!” Harold said, laughing.  Brad was able to give a basic assessment of our vehicle and guide us to the right body shop in a town nearby, even choosing a hotel for our family within walking distance to restaurants and a discount store. He helped us carry our luggage to our second floor room, took Harold and the van to the body shop, and brought him back to the hotel.

When we checked into the hotel, the front desk even gave us the stranded motorist rate—a welcomed deal since we had to have two rooms to sleep all six of us.  Not two hours later, someone flushed one of the toilets in our room and it began to overflow.  I couldn’t believe it!  Harold called the front desk and a maintenance man came to fix the toilet and clean up the mess.

God had taken care of repairing our van, but we were still without a vehicle for the remainder of our vacation.  After many phone calls and internet research, we discovered that there was only one car rental place open on Saturday, but it was more than 30 miles away and there was no guarantee that it had a mini van available.  Our church generously allowed us to use their 12 passenger van and our dear friends, Sharolyn, Blaine and Jarrod, drove 120 miles to our hotel to deliver it.  We had a sweet time together for dinner and they drove another 120 miles back home.  I don’t know what other people do without a church family.

And so here I am, in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere.  It’s not the way I planned to start my vacation--or my year for that matter.  This certainly wasn’t my plan.  But how can I complain?  God is faithful and He had a plan.  Not that He planned for us to hit a deer, but even in the midst of a difficult situation He cared for us.  He sent the right people at the right time to provide for just what we needed.

When circumstances don’t follow our plans, we can choose to pout and complain or we can choose to trust God.  God always has a plan.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)  No matter what happens in 2010, trust in God who has a plan.