Welcome to the first article in Catie's Notebook! Catie is a homeschooling mom of five kids and lives on the Seacoast with her husband. They also run a home-based business that keeps the family hoping. We hope you'll enjoy Catie's insight and observations as she shares a little glimpse into her homeschool notes.
Planning and Preparing for the Next Homeschool Year
Most of us probably remember bells ringing on the hour as signals to stop whatever we were doing, pack up our supplies, visit our locker, and switch classes. Sometimes it was a welcome relief out of a boring class. Other times, you may have finally just reached a flow state on a project and that bell is a grand annoyance breaking your concentration.
Thankfully, we as homeschoolers don’t have to adhere to any arbitrary sirens. Some of us may follow some schedules, even with alarms, while others prefer a laissez faire approach.
I think even schedule-resistant families still have a schedule of some sort dictated by eating three meals a day, work hours, preferred wake/sleep patterns, etc. Seasons from nature and budgets also dictate constraints for us.
I am one of those who finds scheduling not only beneficial, but necessary for my family of seven, and I am already making plans for next year.
What?! This early?! Yes, I am! And I think most of us are, whether we all realize it or not. You’re probably making mental notes as you go through this year that will affect how you want to approach next year, perhaps with thoughts like, “I hate how busy we are right now,” “I wish we had room for this awesome opportunity that came up!” or, “This literature group is awesome!” Or maybe big changes are coming your way — maybe you’re considering making the switch to homeschooling or another type of school for the first time, or you just know your family needs a shift in focus.
We all know writing down goals makes them more likely to be achieved. And if you have a lot of people wanting and needing to do a lot of things, being on the same sheet of music as a family will go a long way to keeping you all in sync! Over the years, I’ve seen even my live-in-the-moment friends recognize the benefits of planning in advance and scheduling, especially as their kids get older.
So today, I’m sharing my method for preparing for a year of homeschooling five kids and keeping our family business running. I don’t use anything except my phone and computer — no fancy or expensive software or planners. My style is to plan a lot, but with margins throughout, and to execute with fluidity. Over the years, I’ve learned generally how to balance how much is scheduled versus flexible and how much time we like to have at home compared to out of the house. If you’re new to homeschooling, just pay attention to your family’s highest-functioning states and you will achieve it as you make adaptations.
Reflections: What’s Working and What’s Not
First, starting around February, I assess what is going well and what isn’t this year and start asking the kids for their input. Major negative themes need not be repeated, thankfully, since we as homeschoolers have quite a bit of freedom! And if something is going well, it’s likely worth doing again! I ask the kids about their academic, activity, and social lives.
Major Themes, Priorities, and Parameters for Next Year
Next, I jot down what I sense next year’s priorities may be, which includes more than academics. In John Taylor Gatto’s words, also essential to the growing up process are: “knowing their families, mingling with the world, assuming real obligations, striving to be independent and self-reliant and free.” Major family themes I’ve focused on have included: food pantry work, field trips, building friendships, fitness, legislative activism, extra music, family business building, college research, etc.
At this point, it would also be good to know what monetary parameters you are working with. Home ed can be either practically free or insanely expensive, especially when you add in the costs associated with extra-curriculars. Since debt can be a major source of stress, commit to getting as creative as possible to avoid it; giving yourself extra lead time gives you more time to do that.
Catch those Fly-by Thoughts!
I quickly start keeping a list on my phone, starting the second I realize I’m having lots of thoughts related to the upcoming year. Because thoughts fly in (and very quickly, out!) of my mind (surely you can relate!) throughout the day, I employ my phone that’s usually within reach and bears a more trustworthy memory than I do. As I come across websites, discuss ideas with friends, or find a curriculum I like, I type up a phrase quickly in a running Note in the Notes app on my phone. This note lists each child and under each name, I list my ideas. If you have your Notes app synced with your other devices, that can be handy!
When I have moments to myself, I search online. I like opening a multitude of browsers at once, letting the computer’s brain help me remember all the sites I want to explore.
Live and self-paced online classes I’ve considered include: Excelsior, XNorDirective, MyFunScience, Veritas Press, Bright Ideas Press, Classical Academic Press, Outschool, VLACS, and many more!
At this time, I also might check out websites like Kahn Academy, Beast Academy, IXL math, and other free and subscription-based ed platforms which may fill a need in our curriculum.
For researching and reading reviews, I commonly visit: Cathy Duffy’s Reviews, Christian Book Distributors, Rainbow Resource, Sonlight and My Father’s World (for their literature suggestions!), and the Well-Trained Mind forums.
When something strikes me as “This might be an awesome fit for this child,” I type in the class/subjects, day/time/location of class, fall/spring/full year, and cost in the Note app. Yep, that Note can get really long, but I’d rather those ideas be stored here than nowhere!
Type a Typical Week Schedule
Before I make any final commitments, I like to place my ideas into a table inside Word or Pages, showing the entire family’s “Typical Week” schedule, listing each day of the week broken out hourly or by morning/afternoon/evening time blocks. I may not do this until May or June, but I try to always do it before committing to a group or more expensive live, online class. This gives me an excellent visual for myself and the rest of the family and has at times reminded me I can’t possibly drive this child there when another child needs to be over there!
I hope I haven’t lost you as I mention yet another list! This one tends to be short: the Monthly List. I list out September through June and write under them what these months may hold. For example, skiing is December through March. Legislative season is January through April. Travel here, Grandma visits there.... you get the idea! Take note of everything significant to your family that comes to mind. You may want to note which months to do certain field trips or outdoor excursions, sports seasons, etc.
Sit, Stare, Pray, and Discuss before Finalizing!
Now sit, stare, pray, and contemplate over your ideas. Ask yourself if the balance and margin is there as well as the appropriate rigor and wise use of time. Discuss with your spouse and friends. Ask: Does this fit our priorities? Our budget? Does it align with next year’s main goals? Is this sustainable through the notoriously difficult winter months? Is each child appropriately challenged but also ensured enough sleep and unconstructed time? How’s the social life looking? Use your answers to modify your Note, your Typical Week, and your Monthly List with new ideas as they fly swoop in!
This part of the process may be ongoing from February until June, or at least it is for me. Be ready to be patient during this step if you are a natural planner but are trying to coordinate things with free-spirited friends who resist making commitments! We all can learn from each other!
It’s Buy Time!
Over the summer, we order our remaining materials, swap the new for the old on our shelves, prepare our supplies, ensure everyone knows all their logins, expectations, incentives, etc. My kids start on their literature reading, and sometimes other subjects as long as they don’t divert too much attention from me watching my toes sift through warm sand!
For purchasing used materials, I’ve had great luck finding bargains on materials on eBay, Facebook groups (like GSHE), and homeschoolclassifieds.com. This is another benefit of starting early — you give yourself plenty of time to bargain hunt!
Engage the Team!
Ensure all kids, parents, and others on your homeschool team (relatives, babysitters) are on the same page! The last and final document I prepare is “A Typical Monday,” A Typical Tuesday, etc, sheet for each day, print them, and post them on the fridge, basement, and in my office. The chorus is about to start singing, bellowing it out, and if we’re in the same key and rhythm, it will be much more pleasing to everyone involved!
When the Going Gets Tough....
After you’ve launched your new plans, remember to go easy on yourself and everyone, allowing for dust to settle and for what’s new to become routine, but if you’ve tried something and it’s just not working, you can employ the old “ditch and switch” tactic. You can scrap some or all of your plans for new ones, and if you’re new to homeschooling, you may realize there’s a lot that needs changing (that is very normal!). Just learn from what didn’t go well, kiss a forever goodbye to whatever was standing in the way of meeting your family’s goals. And rejoice - there are no unsolicited bells in your life anymore!
I hope you are able to finish out this year strong, and if your strength or motivations are failing, then keep seeking alternatives. As you look to next year, enjoy every moment of planning — ok, not every moment, but realize that your investment won’t return void!
by Catie McLaughlin