Most of us have wondered how to make a school schedule simpler yet accomplish more. We want flexibility but we also want to know that stuff is being taught and learned along the way.
So here’s a peek into my favourite method of year-at-a-glance planning that has been like a breath of fresh air to me as a mom…
I like to post an overview year-at-a glance chart.
Setting a specific goal such as “Reading Comprehension every morning from 10:30-11:00” did not work for us. Our “schedule” each year is similar to past years which means “school” is about 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. M-F including all of the lunch chores, interruptions, breaks, household and family needs, etc..
Before you gasp over the “long hours of school” (alright, most of you likely already did 😉 ), I have to clarify something VERY important here. I’m happen to be a fan of lifelong learning and of teaching my children that education is not a burden, but is truly an enjoyable and worthwhile activity with which to spend lots of time in childhood. School-time at our house is not just bookwork because we’d find that too boring. We don’t just want to “finish schoolwork” and then have fun – – – we want to have fun with the schoolwork! We mix together oral discussions, hands-on things, free-play, and practical applications where possible on a skill or topic. And they learn to have fun learning independently from “mom” too so that I can be free to do “mom stuff” not just “teacher stuff” throughout the day.
(I also should say here that just because “Joy and her clan” “plan for school” for “that long” each day, does NOT mean that YOU as a customer of PSLC curriculum will have to do the same. Your hours spent for school will vary depending on how many children you have and how many subject areas you are learning in your household. To my “ordinary” curriculum, I add non-academic things like learning to sew, bake bread, cook, garden, use tools, care for goats, short active recesses, etc. which has no “curriculum” pages to notebook with but I still consider them an important part of my children’s education. A co-op or homeschool group event is also “school” to us. (But personal chores or regular errands are not “school” to us. Neither is free-time or after school riding of bikes or helping with supper or laundry.) So I aim to guide them throughout the day, into lots of good things to learn rather than just letting them waste time with an over-abundance of entertainment or just always reading when they could be doing something better for hours each day. We do like to be balanced in our real life education experiences. And also, my life might have a lot more interruptions than yours. I don’t want anyone to be “scared” to read more on this website because of my honesty of how homeschooling works in our family.)
OK, now back to this flexible chart thing.
How does it work?
Chart: A planner in a book format or binder is more awkward to me, although I’ve used one before for a while when I had fewer children. A wall chart is much more useful. My hands are busy. This method is hands-free. I can hold a toddler while reading it. I can eat breakfast while reading it. My tired brain can focus better if I see the “big picture” and relate it to other necessities at the moment. And I know that my preschooler won’t flip my page to lose my spot when my back is turned. It runs on no batteries and is much easier to read than fine print on a device. I save time and energy by not pulling out a planner and putting it away again daily. I can colour-code it too or add stickers if I want to be creative. If I want to change something, I easily can put a white label over it and write the new idea. I can draw thicker horizontal lines to guess at where a school break might occur. But I’m not crossing out any dates nor losing much space if I guess wrong, because well, it’s just a line.
Highlighting: As we complete a topic, I check it off my big annual list of things to study wall chart (size for my number of kids = 2 sheets of thin Bristol-board or chart paper which sticks onto a wall longer because that paper is lighter-weight) by colouring the box in with a crayon or pale marker. (In case you’ve heard of the “loopy” or “looping” system that I’ve heard about recently in a moms’ group, it is sort of like it but it has some significant differences too. Although, I guess you could use the chart to “loop” in a sense too.)
Column Listings with Specific Descriptions: The first column is a large number representing each week (e.g. 1, 2, 3, and so on. I put down for about 33 weeks as I feel this is very reasonable. I don’t put down a full year even if we are doing things like art and more science over a summer “break”. This is just for the main academic year.) The topics (some would call them sub-topics) are then listed in the rest of the columns (like what you might see in a table of contents). The headings for each column might be “Math for JK/SK”, then “Math for Grade 2”, then “Math for Grade 6” (or use names of the children instead of the grades). Multi-grade subjects just have single columns. At a glance, I can see what we want to accomplish this year (e.g. gears, forces, properties of materials) and choose to work with those topics/skills whenever it looks like it’s a good time. Maybe everyone is getting strained with math for a week so we can simply carry on with other subjects and give math a break until a week and a half later or so. No guilt and no straining the brain to try to rework something to fit it all in. We just complete subjects as we do at the end. If that means we double-up on math for the last week when we’re already done spelling, then so be it. One more note, it’s very helpful to you if a box doesn’t just say “Animal Science” but rather in just a few words, is very specific to trigger your memory such as “Animals – classification”, or “parts of a fish” for each lesson box in the chart. As another example of being specific, rather than just “geometry”, say “3-D shapes” or “angles”. Being specific helps you to know if you need to have manipulatives or other supplies or media easily found by children.
The huge advantages are to plan for the year ahead of time – to see your reasonable goals at one glance and to see if you’re on track with accomplishing anything of value. If you are finding that one subject area hardly has any highlighting in a column, you can adjust your week’s focus, at least for a time, to add more variety again (i.e. avoid getting stuck in a rut). Personally, I’m not the kind of mom who has the time to plan each week at the beginning of it either so I just do batch planning like this for a year and it is a lot easier and reassuring for me.
PLUS, this method helps to keep things fresh and somewhat of a m y s t e r y , although there is still an order that I aim for and the children know what to expect to some extent. I don’t know about you but since I live WITH my students, it can be harder to surprise them. So with this method, they think they have a clue (which they do) but they don’t have to exactly know what Mom is going to have them do on a particular week. ♥
It also means that if I forgot to get some supplies from town or someone is too sick with a stuffed nose or strained wrist for one topic but feeling OK for a different one or the weather is more suitable for something else or the kids are tired, grumpy, bored, easily distracted and the bicycle or garden dirt is calling them, I can change my teacher’s plan super-fast and not waste a day or feel guilty or scatter-brained with “What do I do now??”, when the unexpected bounces into daily life with the same fervour as spring fever.(Whew – what a super-long sentence!)
Hey, if gears are a topic somewhere on my list, why not suddenly go outside and study their bikes! (Then of course, usually complete the studies for that topic of gears before moving to another science topic like animals.)
How refreshing is it to announce that you have a use for the packaging that just came in the mail and you will be making cardboard snowshoes for part of the school day since the snow is just right for learning about things like absorption of paper and distribution of forces?! (see pic below)
Everyone seems to thrive on the elements of variety, relevance to daily life, and surprise!
So, this is the sort of planning system that I like to post up on a wall where I (the adult who coordinates stuff) can read it when I’m planning in my mind for what I’ll do next. For our entire family, it’s just putting together ONE very flexible plan per year rather than constantly re-working a calendar system or a weekly list. ♥
P.S. I also have a modification of this idea that I hope to share with you, one step at a time in a series of future posts. It is just as flexible for what to learn and just as easy to read it with your hands full. But, it is a bit more complex compared to the above charting system to get it set up right. It goes along with our “Four-Year Rotation” planning guide (which we are personally doing in general) and once it is set up, it’s much easier to use and re-use. It also has the advantage of still being on a wall but easily removed if your house gets a lot of “visitors” (e.g. if house is for sale). That’s it for the hints about that but I’m sure you’ll really like that version of our “year-at-a-glance” planning method too. 🙂