Sunday, July 01, 2007


Are you a highly-organized planner? A loosely-organized one? Or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants planner? I've been all of the above, and everything in between! My homeschooling friends run the planning-gamut as well, and I've seen it work- however it's done. Some years being highly-planned works for me. Other years it drives me nuts. It depends on the season, the ages of my children, our family mission and ministry opportunities, and quite frankly, my energy level!

Now that it's July, my mind has turned to planning. I usually spend April and May wrapping things up for the current school year and solidifying and purchasing some of my curriculum choices for the next year. If we're not on a mission trip, I spend June facedown in a deckchair by the pool taking some time to record what we did, weeding through their work and deciding what to keep, and researching/ buying for the next year. I've learned in recent years to focus as much as I can on the "year at hand," since I tend to prefer living in the future (planning, buying, and strategizing) to the exclusion of actually doing what I had planned, bought, and strategized for current day. So, I reserve time in July and August for heavy-duty long range planning and buying, and during the school year I try to focus on the current week and only about two weeks ahead. As I begin my month of planning, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and experience in this area.

Buying a Planbook vs. Making Your Own: For years I used a premade planbook. Actually, I was so "stuck" on the way I had planned when I had taught public school that I wanted my plan book to be exactly the same. Exactly. So, my mom,who still taught for the district, would snag me a district-issued plan book each year. (Shhhhh. Don't tell. Actually she would give me the one they gave her, as she was a renegade who did her own planning forms.) So, there I was with my one little Pre-K/Kindergarten homeschooled child, clutching my forest green " ______ Independent School District" planner like a security blanket. But, hey, it worked! And eventually I moved on. I bought this one, mainly because I thought it was cute. I taped the word "Mom's" over the word "Preschool" at the top because apparently I had time on my hands and had learned how to do cute fonts on my computer. One that I used once both my kids were school-aged was this one. With its 11x9 size (which meant oodles of slots) I could use one side to plan our combined subjects for each week, and the other side for their individual subjects. (With only two kids, this works.) Eventually, I was comfortable enough with planning to do my own sheets and made my own plan book (pictured here) with a section for each child, and a section for our combined subjects. Two years ago I began doing all of my planning on my computer, which has been revolutionary for me. Now I use the binder I created, but I simply print out the "final version" of the current week and put it in the proper section of my binder.

Forms and Charts: One resource I have enjoyed over the years for any type of planning I'm into is Donna Young's site. She has many, many downloadable forms that you can customize to fit your family. I enjoy clicking around over there and downloading charts, then seeing if I can tweak them to fit my family's needs. In the past I've downloaded some, printed them out, and started a binder just to see if it would work for me or if I would be working for it. Summer is a great time to check out some different planning strategies. Since then I have adapted her forms and use my own in Excel. My plans for the year are 40 weekly "sheets" within one Excel "book," so I just fill in the dates each summer for the upcoming year and plan for each child week-by-week that way. Each week I cut and paste whatever didn't get done and move it to the next week. I wrote more about that strategy here.

Logging Rather Than Planning: When my kids were very young (Pre-K through and K) and when I was incorporating the File Box System (below) I would use a planbook more as a log rather than a planner. I kept it open for the current week with the subject area headings filled in, and simply jotted down activities we had done that fit certain categories. A cooking activity might count for math if they helped me count or measure, books we read were logged under "Reading", and I recorded workbook pages we completed. Every couple of weeks I would note which squares in my logbook seemed to be empty and then make an effort in the weeks ahead to do more things in whatever area needed a boost. (The early years, though, are mainly times to have lots of experiences, not just book work, so I would give more weight to an outdoor outing or field trip, or watching the construction workers build something down the street than sitting at the table working on a "community helpers" worksheet!) The two main areas, in my opinion, are reading and math at that age. In fact, there were weeks I pared it down to "Reading," "Math," and "Life" and my kids fared just fine!

List-making: I came across this great post over at Faithlifts, in which Carrie describes her system of list-making, which I think is very helpful. There are weeks, even in my planned-out and scheduled years, where I simply go through my plans and make lists of what needs to be accomplished. I've done this when we travel and it throws our school schedule off, or when I need to be more flexible due to unexpected situations. The kids like it, and our work still gets done. I love the way Carrie outlines how she does her lists. Very informative!

The File Box System: I came across this system, posted here on the Well-Trained Mind website back in 2001 and LOVED it. I adapted it to fit our needs and used this for a couple of years. I found that it was similar to making lists, in that it allowed us to move at a more doable pace, eliminated the circles and arrows in my plan book, and gave us flexibility when the flu hit. I found it especially helpful to figure out how to print notecards on my printer, so I created a notecard-sized template in Word, which I would use every few weeks and quickly plug in page numbers/assignments by subject. I would print the cards for their individual subjects and keep them on our school table, one box per child, divided by subject. They knew each day they were to pull a Reading card, a Math card, a Spelling card, etc. I had a separate box for our "together subjects"- Bible,Science, History, Latin, Spanish, and Art. They loved this system. In fact, one year at Wal Mart I found a roll of achievement stickers that had a little bell on top, and when they finished a card, they would put a sticker on it and ring the bell. Corny, but fun! And, it motivated them!

Color Coding: Early on, I gave each of my kids a color. I may have let them pick, I'm not sure. My daughter is blue, my son is green. They've been those colors for years, they are permanent from year-to-year. I've found various ways over the years to color code them. For instance: When I printed the notecards, I printed them according to their color so I'd know at a glance whose they were. Their lesson plan pages are the same way (or at least the headings are). Before I did them on the computer, I would write their subject headings in colored pencil in my plan book. The tabs in my plan book are color-coded by child as well. As much as possible, I use their colors so I can quickly file things where they go. I utilize accordion-file folders for loose papers, and purchase those according to their colors, so I can tell when I'm digging through old files whose they are. When I make name stickers for their workbooks or folders, I print them in their colors as well. Anything that helps me sort through a pile! In fact, right now I have next year's curriculum divided into two color-coded crates so I can see who still needs what (and I even found a basket last year at Walmart that had both colors combined, for the books they're doing together. How did Walmart know I needed that color combo? :) Here are some pictures of our school room and the back-to-school baskets, which show how I've used their colors. If I had more than two children, I would certainly color code. If I had more than three or four, I might even assign numbers! ( Just kidding.) Since I'm so visual, I have found it particularly helpful.

Well, these are some of my thoughts on planning. Since I do things a little differently each year, it'll be interesting to see what this year brings. And I'd love to know what works for you. Happy planning!


Amberly said...

Posts like this is why I love your blog!! Thanks for the ideas!

Christy said...

*gasp* You mean I'm actually supposed to plan?

Haha, I just have one who's doing preschool and we have a program with an instructor's guide, so at this point I jus topen it and go, and check off what we've done and cross off what we're skipping. But I love the ideas you gave for as they get older and I actually need to plan and do prep! Thanks!

Lindsey @ Enjoythejourney said...

Are we twins seperated at birth? :) I LOVE to organize with baskets, file folders, you name it!

I am doing a little series on our curriculum choices this week and it seems alot of homeschool mom blogs are doing the same. It must be in the air!

Alycia said...

What a super helpful Post Cyndi! I am planning right now and trying to come up with a better system than what I used (preprinted lesson plan book w/fill-in-the-blanks). I did find that comforting but I am ready for something new. I am also going to utilize your color coded boxes for my children too. I'm heading back to reread your post and check out your links. As always, thank you for such a helpful homeschooling post! Blesssings!


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