Here is a guest blog from Christopherus consultant and discussion forum moderator, Barbara Benson. I hope you find what she wrote to be useful - she and our other Christopherus consultant and moderator, Lisa Marshall, will be writing guest posts here on my blog from time to time.
It can feel like an overwhelming task to consider planning a new academic year of homeschooling for one child let along multiple age children. When Donna asked me to do a guest blog on this topic I asked her to give me two weeks because I am in the middle of planning myself! However, upon reflection I now believe that it might be more helpful to give you the view from within that process itself.
Let me begin by saying that my planning for a new academic year is a lot easier than it used to be when I had five school aged children! Now my 9 to 5 type scheduling life revolves around homeschooling my two daughters (ages 10 and 12) , a 20 hour a week at home computer job and my consulting work for Christopherus.
As I consider my preparation for a new academic year, the first things I always reflect on are the rhythms of my life, seasonal, monthly, weekly and daily, in order to celebrate my life and space and the life and space of my family. Our family is a little microcosm of the organic in-breath and out-breath here on the earth. Some of the planning that I do for that is probably quite personal to me but other parts that I will share should be generally applicable to homeschoolers.
SPRING PLANNING: Overall assessment of current year and family goals for festivals/celebrations/travel.
Every spring (generally April, May) as the current year winds down, I begin the looking forward process to the next year. I ask myself what worked in the current year and what didnt. I consider how my children are developing on many levels and what I need to do to keep drawing forth the gifts that are within them, waiting to be released to the world. I look at where I might have overcommitted myself and where I might need to simplify things in order to maintain or create a healthy rhythm to my homeschooling life. I generally am able to do this much better once my garden is planted (generally by the second week in May)
I then think about our special family goals for the upcoming year. For us, it will include a celebratory graduation trip in May for my eldest son who will graduate from college at the beginning of May. I think about our extended families and if visits will be needed. In my case, a visit in March to Grandma is essential since Grandpa just passed away June 15. I consider our July summer vacation to our cottage in Maine as well which is very important to all of us. I think about whether there are any special festival requirements that are different from the usual way we celebrate them each year. This year, for example we may need to visit Grandma in Florida over Christmas break as well. These broader goals and plans I pencil into a year planner if I am able to do so definitely. For example, with my sons graduation, I know the date of his graduation and I know we will have at least a ten day trip somewhere but I dont know the specifics so I just block out that time as time away from homeschooling and my job. I also consider my daughters little business called Happy Hearts and how that will work from September to December with the overall family goals.
EARLY SUMMER PLANNING: Blocking out the Main Lessons for the next year; making book purchases or library rentals
Sometime in June, before we leave for Maine in July, I create a list of all the main lessons for my two daughters that will be covered in the next year. This kind of planning is now made a lot easier for many of us by using Donnas Curriculum Overview or by purchasing Donnas Curriculum Syllabus (available K through 4th grade as of now).
I think about how my two daughters main lessons (4th and 7th for this new year) will breathe well together. I try to balance academic subjects so that there is a breathing in and out between the main lesson subjects as well. This is not always so easy for me because I also teach co-op classes for both my daughters and so I have to consider the time issues of a group of parents and students as well. I consider carefully what co-op classes I will offer for our homeschooling community and the general season they will be offered. I offer these classes by email to our group in June and then firm up time details with the folks who sign up by around August 10. Today, however, I had to completely change the order of classes based on some real scheduling conflicts in the co-op group. So, Instead of having a three month break between two sessions of history, there is only a one month break and I had to shorten my African Geography and Culture class by a week so that interested members of the group could attend a major Renaissance Festival. I had to tell my daughters that the fall schedule would be more demanding time wise and that they would have to be very well organized if they wanted to still do their Happy Hearts business in the fall. They replied that they wanted to do it and would take more responsibility for business planning and production. I will also have to teach the coop classes for each of my daughters on different days since I no longer have my co-teacher helping me as she is busy at home with two high school students.
Once I have a basic feeling for the months of the main lessons and how they fit with our family goals, I type up a main lesson schedule for both girls together (along with major vacations and festivals) and post it on the wall by my computer. I then start to look at how I have taught these main lessons to my other children in the past and I pull out the resources for that next year onto my shelves before we go to Maine. I also consider any books I might need to read that I dont have (this year it was several history/Geography books; a Math Book, two science books and some related perspective drawing pamphlets.) I make sure and order these used from Amazon or from Bob and Nancys or from Donna prior to my July vacation. It is always my intent to do a lot of reading on vacation. This year, however, the two gardens in Maine that I caretake needed two weeks of my time to get themselves in order and I spent time dealing with some medical issues of one of my siblings. So, not as much reading got done. Once I knew not much reading would happen, I relaxed and enjoyed my vacation and committed to working very efficiently on my return.
LATE SUMMER PLANNING: Firming up the schedule, lesson plan prep, scheduling field trips and extra-curricular activities; staying flexible!
Now that I am back from Maine this week, I find that the garden has tall grass and weeds, my boss at work has a real time crunch on a project that requires me to work at least three hours a day from home and I have three new consulting clients! And remember, I still havent done all that July reading either! My sons need help with apartment issues and with translating their scholarship awards for college. I think I have ironed out the schedule conflicts for coo-op class and hope I dont get yet another email from them! I find that in this situation I first make sure my house is clean after being gone for a month. Then, I make sure I pray for guidance and meditate daily and do an hour of weeding in the garden. And then I work!
And of course, more things come up as well. The car needs a brake job immediately and I find out that our best friends of 15 years are suddenly moving to Utah on August 15. So I also am giving a major dinner party on Sunday for them and letting my girls have a sleep-over that night with their oldest daughter, my girls closest friend. Yes, I will drop everything to make sure they have a proper send off! At times like these I am glad that our house has an established rhythm of daily chores and that I have a deep spiritual life!
Now that my main lesson schedule has been changed a bit, I am working to prepare for my first main lessons with the girls that I will do starting August 12. We are starting at the same time as the public school next week because we want to be able to take that graduation trip in May as a family and still finish up by June 1. I am also working about an hour a night in preparation for the coop classes in September and because I will hand out a written assignment about Africas eco-regions to each student to complete prior to the first class so that we can create a map from our regions in the first class since I had to cut a week out of the schedule of that coop class.
Today I am scheduling extra-curricular activities such as dance lessons (that at least has no schedule change this year), finding a photography mentor for Alana and interviewing new piano teachers since our best friends that are leaving were also their music teachers!
I have penciled in two field trips- one for the Renaissance Festival in Ohio and one called the Feast of The Hunters Moon which is a re-creation of the annual fall gathering of the French and Native Americans that took place at a fur trading outpost in the mid- 1700s on the banks of the Wabash River in Indiana. This will occur happily during our local and state geography and history main lesson for my fourth grader. We may also schedule a field trip to our wild animal rescue center during Man and Animal unit in September but no real advance notice is required for that visit.
My youngest has also told me today that she wants to work into her lessons a study on dinosaurs and their relationship in size to human beings. Should I put that somehow into Man and Animal? J
What I work to do these last days before school starts is to remember to keep it all in perspective. Things wont work very well if their mother is completely off her center! Some parts of my lesson planning may be more last minute than I am used to, but I do have the benefit of being a veteran at this and when I relax and remember the rhythm of the day, generally good ideas come to me about how to work up a main lesson. My husband will say that I should just teach it the way I did it with the boys if I am busy. My answer is that the girls are not the boys and they need their own creative approach to the main lessons based on who they are. So, we are basically off and running to the library tomorrow to get out books on South America to begin that Geography lesson next week and to begin local geography with Rhea. And now I better go and plan the food shopping because both of my ravenous 20 year old twins will be home for supper! Family meals are a very important part of that daily rhythm.
As each of you start your homeschooling journey in this new academic year, I send you my support, enthusiasm, comradeship and blessings!