The last time I purchased lesson plans was in the summer of 2006 as I prepared for Addie to start pre-school. Homeschooling was an exciting yet overwhelming prospect. I needed someone to hold my hand and guide me (and Addie) through these unknown waters. Within a few weeks, I quickly realized that we were not following the plans correctly.These lesson plans were supposed to last two years and form a full pre-K and Kindergarten program, and we were speeding through and would complete them in less than one school year. Plus, there was a lot of extra stuff that I didn’t feel like doing (maybe because I was nursing clingy baby Edie and trying to potty train Byron.) Anyway, by the next school year, I was looking for something else. As a classical homeschooler, I loved the ideas in The Well Trained Mind and Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum but neither one was exactly what I wanted. It seemed that if I wanted the absolute perfect curriculum for each of my children, I’d just have to create it myself. (Type A perfectionist much???)
On one hand, it’s great. I’m not limited by one school’s selections or required to do work I feel is unnecessary. (It goes without saying I’ve never enrolled with one program.) I love selecting programs that work for each of my kids rather than forcing my kids to conform to one program, like say making everyone complete Saxon Math. Despite the work, I can honestly say I enjoy August lesson planning. I think it’s just my personality. The potential for great things looms large at the beginning of a new year!
But on the flip side, it’s a lot of work, especially as more kids hit school age and the older ones begin harder subjects like Logic. Sometimes, I do a good job finding new curriculum and using it. Other times, I select something that’s a dud and have to switch it out midstream. Occasionally, I get too ambitious in my plans and we’re all overwhelmed by October. My lesson plans are continually a work in progress.
I wanted to outline how I do this so those of you feeling confined by your current lesson plans might feel confident to step out and try something new. Your kids are no more likely to have gaps in their education using your lesson plans than any other schooling option; home, private or public. The biggest thing to keep in mind is accountability. When you enroll with a program and use their plans, someone is making sure your follow through and probably providing you with feedback in the way of grades. When you take on all the planning yourself, you need to make sure you can meet the goals you set without someone prodding you along.
You also need to be realistic about what you are capable of doing. Are you expecting a new baby or relocation? Will one of your children be on a traveling sports team with a demanding schedule? No one can do it all. Honestly look at your calendar and your own disposition before committing to any lesson plans. I personally cannot hover around my kids to make sure their work is done. The first few years are the most difficult for me; I just want everyone to read and work on their own the majority of the time. The few times I’ve selected very parent intensive curricula I lasted a week at best.
Certainly, I work one on one with all my kids, discussing literature, correcting work,helping them with questions; but anything that requires us to sit together for 15 to 30 minutes with a script and do these very specific activities while I basically turn a blind eye to everything else in the house just is not humanly possible for me. So now, I choose programs that allow my kids to work independently and everyone is happier. I stopped feeling bad about not being able to use a particular program. It’s not “The greatest program in the world!!!” if it makes everyone in our house unhappy. Do what works for you and your homeschool.
Okay, so if you’ve decided you want to create your own lesson plans first figure out the dates of your school year. We school mostly year round in three trimesters. You might prefer a standard school year or a variation of semesters and quarters. Whatever you pick, select the dates you’re on, and when you’re off. Think about everything coming up over the course of the next year and plan you’re breaks accordingly. Sure, you might have some surprises, but you can plan for summer camp, a new baby, Christmas, Easter, sacramental years, etc.
Once you have the dates, consider whether you’d prefer an online or digital planner or a paper planner. I am a paper planner, (in that I need a hard copy) so this post will detail that process but much of the same info would apply if you were saving and viewing on a device or computer.
Next decide if you’re going to plan for the year, a semester or a week. I plan by trimester. I allow myself a large chunk of time to plan in August and then I can usually plan for the remaining trimesters in a couple of intensive days closer to each’s start. I like to be able to change up curriculum between trimesters if we have any snags or allow for the possibility of one of my kids moving faster or slower than I originally though. I know I could not be trusted to plan on a weekly or even monthly basis, so I find planning three times a year is just right for me. You’ll find your own groove in no time.
The next step is the most important one of the year for me; completing a Course of Study for each child. I’ve used this free printable from Donna Young (second one down) since Addie was in Kindergarten. It’s not pretty, but it’s gotten the job done. I write in all the subjects we want to cover and all the main materials I’ll need. Sometimes I’ll write a more detailed Literature or book list on the back. Sometimes I know what curricula I want to use and sometimes I don’t.
This year, after filing out Addie’s COS I wasn’t sure what resource I wanted to use for Logic, Literature and Writing. I researched several options before deciding and then I filled in the online classes on the COS. And so on and so forth with each child. It’s easier with the younger children because their older siblings have been the guinea pigs for most products. While I still have Fulton and Teddy’s fine motor skills to consider, it doesn’t take nearly as long to select their materials, or even Edie’s, as it does for Addie and Byron. If we do different programs in different trimesters, I just add them to the COS with a note.
It can be very overwhelming to select curriculum; the choices are endless. I’ve had a lot of trial and error and if I want to use something new, I often turn to moms with older kids to either get a first hand review or maybe even a book to try. I will no longer consider a product without a positive first person recommendation or free trial item. Am I missing something? Maybe, but at some point you have to stop shopping around and pull the trigger.
Coming up in part two, how I plug all the curriculum choices into weekly schedules, and how I help keep my older children accountable for their work.
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Note: We live in NJ where we are not required to keep any records or portfolios. Check your state requirements to make sure your lesson plans or Course of Studies are not missing any vital information.