Over the last two or three weeks, we have been flooded with questions about planning.
How do we plan a homeschool year? How do we plan with multiple curriculums and multiple children? How do we make sure we get everything in?
The response is simple. We plan with grace in mind.
You can find a hundred and one free planners, organizations tips, bedazzled homeschool room tours and end-all-be-all lists of curriculums. You will not have any trouble finding “answers” for planning a school year. If you are looking for a post that lays out a fool proof plan, you have come to the wrong place.
Planning is hard work. The thought of shuffling it up each year with some massive layout is exhausting to me. So we use the same rubric each year, eleven things we plan on.
Farmhouse Schoolhouse recommendations for best laid plans….
1. Plan on constant changes.
No two school years are ever the same, make that ‘month’, no two months are ever the same. The children are growing! Personalities and learning styles are evolving. New needs arise each month. Last year felt like roller coaster: #1 needed extra help with phonics and then #2 needed lots of attention in the math department, and then it flip-flopped and… wait…oh, it flip flopped again! We started school five weeks ago and the pattern has continued. It keeps me on my toes. Pay attention, you need to keep adapting! An iron-clad, year-long schedule would end up as scrap paper around this schoolhouse. We don’t schedule, we do rhythms. And that rhythm is really more of a framework, that somehow becomes both looser and stiffer with time. We know the goal of each hour but what occurs in each block depends on the ever-changing pattern of our days.
2. Plan on saying “Not right now”
What worked last year may not work this year– and that is ok! One of my favorite activities last year no longer works for our family because my youngest has sensory issues that require more of my time and energy. We’ve had to add new elements into the mix which necessitated a departure from our previous schedule. I’ll admit, it was hard to let go of something that had worked so well for us. But in the end, saying “not right now” and cutting back, opened the window for some truly beautiful things in our lives. You don’t have to say “no.” No is a pretty loud closed door that can isolate communities and friends. “Not right now” says “We’ll get back to you some other time.” I love saying, “Not right now.” It leads to so many other possibilities! I can say “YES” toddler, lets read that book! My eldest children have time to decide what they would like to do next. Unscheduled play. Freedom! Time to be artists, explorers, discoverers. Time is one of the greatest childhood gifts. Its good to have spare time, isn’t it?
3. Plan on not fitting EVERYTHING in.
When we first started, I knew absolutely nothing about this enormous world of homeschooling. I knew I wanted to be with my kids and that I did not want them anywhere near our modern school system. I began to research and soon fell in love with Montessori, Charlotte Mason and Classical Christian Education. As I tried to gain my footing in understanding these approaches, I began to get some heat about our decision to homeschool. Suddenly, my kids and I were in a position of having to prove that homeschool was working. The pressure was on to pull out the organ grinder and call the crowd in, “Look everyone! They are not jumper-clad freaks AND they can read by age 4! Dance, little monkey, Dance!” (Disclaimer: not a single one of my kids read by the age of 4).
I started adding things in and handing out worksheets. 3 weeks into this insanity, my eldest, four years old at the time, looked up and said, “These papers are hurting my heart. Mom, will you run away to the woods with me so we can play?” I had turned my homeschool into everything I wanted to get away from. Why? I was scared of missing out on something. I was scared that my kids would not get the best education possible. I was worried that I could not do it all. I did not like the way people said, “Homeschooling??? Why???”
Truth is, I can not do it all. No one can. It is impossible to teach someone every single available piece of information out there. We made a list of things that were important to our homeschool. Every piece of curriculum, book, handout, etc that comes into our classroom needs to meet those standards. If it doesn’t, we don’t need it. We don’t worry about EVERYTHING; we celebrate our Big Fifteen! We teach from a place of rest.
4. Plan on Toddlers
Like most homes, the first set of toddlers received lots and lots of attention. I was pretty obsessed with them. What they ate, what they played with, what they learned, what their poop looked like. The second set came along and it was pretty much, “Go forage in the pantry for your snack and don’t break anything please!” Last year, while schooling my eldest children, I caught myself shouting at #3 “PLEASE! We have a zillion toys in here, just go and play with something and leave me alone with your brothers so we can finish!” It hurt him. I could see it in his eyes. He didn’t want to go play with a toy. He wanted me. He should get to have me. Trying to plan out a school year with toddlers in tow is like trying to dance a tarantella blind-folded while someone follows you around yanking on your arm and dribbling yogurt down the side of your leg. Its a demanding, frenzied whirlwind. My littlest guys deserve wonder and curiosity and discovery and confidence-building habit training. They shouldn’t have to settle for entertainment or mindless occupation. Is it difficult? Yes, its incredibly difficult. To be honest, I needed to repent of my selfish heart and lazy attitude. I needed to die to self and read “Blueberries for Sal” a hundred times because this is the only chance I have to do that. Mere months from now the opportunity will have vanished. That is what it comes down to: toddlers are an opportunity, not a distraction from older children’s schoolwork. This year I am putting on my big girl panties, mustering up the last dregs of my excitement and energy and pouring everything I can into my youngest kids. I need to plan spaces of emptiness. Pockets of time that belong to them. Then I need to prepare myself to include them outside of those time blocks so we can all join them in their wonder at any given time of day.
5. Plan on sickness.
We organize our curriculum with manilla folders. On the outside of these folders I write down all the possible resources, pinterest ideas and activities that we could use on that given week. However, I never expect that we will complete everything on the list. Because tiny people get sick. If its a bad case of the sniffles, I adjust accordingly. We scratch that big outdoor walk or the trampoline game or anything extra snot-inducing. If they are projectile vomiting we will scrap that whole kitchen experiment series or save it for another week. I never write down dates in ink. No way will I commit to the planner, “Finish Unit 8 by Sept 8.” That is just asking for failure and days of self loathing and doubt. We adjust, we scale back. The kids pick what interests them. We are always learning, but there is never any pressure to learn it all. Ten years from now they may not remember everything they learned on that healthy week 16, but they will have many memories from that difficult week 17. #2 often reminds me, “Remember that once upon a time when I was sick and you wrapped me up in a quilt and gave me a mug of soup and read me all those books about animals? That was my favorite day.” We didn’t do arithmetic or science that day. Ah well, who cares? He remembers coziness, hot soup, the soothing comfort of good books read by the voice of one who loves him. To me, that is the greater lesson and a memory to cherish. Learning that drips down to the very core of who he is.
6. Plan on flexibility!
If its in ink, I am in trouble. I have tattooed my failures, now memorialized in a spiral-bound book I paid $15 for. One of the greatest boons of homeschooling is the flexibility, yet most of us are determined to schedule it away! Flexibility is a homeschool mother’s gift of grace to herself and her home. Please don’t plan yourself into a hard place that, weeks down the road, will make you feel less-than. I think goals are wonderful! Please, write down things you are aiming for this year. How lovely to look back and see what was accomplished. But if your planner is a relentless task master that only works as a whipping post for your sense of worth, scrap that sucker and run to Jesus! If He has called you to homeschool, He will equip you. I believe that with my whole heart. Pray about your school year. He cares about it! Talk with your spouse. Make a tentative plan and inject it with grace and flexibility. Leave room for mistakes.
Schedule GRACE DAYS so that you have entire days devoted to getting back on track. If you have stayed on track, use the grace day as a celebration day or day of thankfulness!
Your identity as a person is not the planner. Put the planner down and back away slowly, please. Don’t plan on perfection. Plan on flexibility. My hubby repeats it at least 9 times a week, “Have some grace for yourself.” I am really hard on myself. I shouldn’t be. This is not the time for my house to look like a magazine cover. Expect legos everywhere. Expect dirty dishes. Expect irremovable stains from science projects. Invite friends over, even when the house is a mess. Take a few extra days to really explore something your kids really enjoyed.
7. Plan on learning alongside them.
I spoke with a group of mamas at a recent homeschool conference and we all agreed: We are susceptible to overcompensating our children’s workload, because of our own perceived academic insecurities. We see the gaping hole in our own education and there is this visceral reaction to run out, find some beefed up program, and shove it at our kids. Take a deep breathe and accept the fact that you suck at math (or whatever your achilles heel is. If you have no achilles heel and are a paragon of academia, congratulations, move on to #8 but know that our chances of being friends just decreased by about 15%). Accept your weakness, then humble yourself and get ready to learn alongside your child. Don’t respond by cramming your schedule with something you are terrified of or loathe unto death, in a blind attempt at insuring your child’s academic perfection. Guess who is currently working her way through Saxon 2? Me! Yup, second grade math. I’m rocking it right now, but in a few short years I will be knee deep in a pit of “Have mercy, Jesus!” Yes, my kids will see me
miserable working hard to learn something I failed to learn before. Maybe it will encourage one of them to press on with something they don’t like. Or hey, maybe they won’t learn a single lesson from my sufferings, but at the very least I will finally learn some math! The answer to my insecurity isn’t to blitz my kids with math worksheets today, its to start working hard alongside them now so I can demonstrate that learning is possible.
8. Plan on gratitude!
Maybe last year wasn’t a banner year at your house. Maybe you couldn’t afford to get the curriculum you really wanted. Maybe you didn’t have the budget for a classroom makeover. Maybe it was a bit more serious than all the above…maybe it was a devastating year. Loss of loved ones, life-altering illness, depression, cross-country moves, upheavals in your home church, problems in your community, job loss, foreclosures. Life is hard. Homeschoolers get to face the hard all day long, all together. I’ve known some hard. Hard is hard to plan for because it usually creeps up with all the subtlety of a tornado. And disappointment is rich fodder for that bitter root to take hold and spread fast, tangling up the whole family in its life-sucking thorns. So make room for gratitude in all circumstances. It is breathtakingly difficult at first. But once that gratitude leads to unexpected, life-giving joy over something seemingly insignificant and small in your day, that very gratitude becomes necessary for your survival in the hardest of places. Be grateful for the resources you were blessed with. Thank the Lord for that shabby dining room table your children gather round each day to learn about the God of the universe. Find gratitude for the tiniest things in the midst of overwhelming grief and darkness. Gratitude is a game changer.
9.Plan on going outside
Go outside. Go outside often. Nature should be a part of everyone’s childhood. If you are urban locked, find a park and make it your special place. The best part of my boys’ day is when the door swings outward and the world is opened to them.
10. Plan on self care.
POOF. Where did Mom go? Do your little ones a favor and disappear. You need a break once in awhile. You need time to yourself. Even if all you do is wander around Target alone looking like the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse, get thee to Target! You don’t have to spend money. Go sit on the seashore. Climb a tree and sit up there by yourself with the squirrels (totally did that once). Sit in a coffeeshop. Leave the kids with your spouse, sister, friend, grandparents, whatever. Leave the kids and GO! And if at all possible, claim a few days of the year for a personal retreat. Not a romantic getaway with hubby (those are important too) I am talking about time just for yourself. Don’t wait to hit rock bottom before you ask for help. Take care of your own health. Schedule your yearly exam. Get your blood work done. Get that funky mole checked out. Take care of yourself. GO ON A PERSONAL RETREAT. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, right? Get happy. Get time with Jesus. Get peace and quiet for a few days. You, your hubby and your kids will be the better for it.
11. Plan on fun!
I have a picture of my two eldest children taped on the wall of our classroom. They are tiny little tots, seated at an old play table, scribbling away. I look at it every day. It reminds me that time moves quickly and now is their only chance to be little. Whenever I am tempted to overwhelm their lives with academic nonsense, I look up and remember to keep it simple and let them play. Read lovely books aloud, for the minutes are ticking by. Let them build the transcontinental railroad out of legos instead of filling out a meaningless worksheet. After all, they are only 7 for one dazzling rush around the sun. Yes, lets make a mess. Yes, lets go for that walk. YES. YES. YES. Let us have fun together. You can plan on it!