Thursday, July 10, 2008

Homeschool Planning the Heidi Way

I have had a few readers ask about how I approach lesson planning within our homeschool. I know that quite a few of you are just starting out with Kindergarten or 1st Grade (as are we), and wondered if it would be helpful for me to share the steps I've taken to plan our lessons the past two years.

I don't create elaborate spreadsheets or highly specific weekly or daily lesson plans, but it is important for me to know where we are headed and have an idea of what it will require weekly to take us there as smoothly as possible.

Education Planning: The Heidi Approach
[Kindergarten and 1st Grade]

Define Your Big-Picture Educational Goals

For me, this was an easy one. The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise connected with me so perfectly, that I have in book form a complete 12-year educational plan. You might start with a book on homeschooling methods such as Charlotte Mason, or you could sit and write out your own goals for your child.

Will you be homeschooling just a year or two, taking it one year at a time, schooling through middle school, or going all the way through to graduation? What are your reasons for homeschooling? What do you want to accomplish in the lives of your children? What do you want them to learn? Will you be using a particular method or style?

Start Breaking it Down

After I had a good idea of our 12-year overview, I knew that I could start focusing on a 4-year plan. The Well-Trained Mind addresses three stages of learning, the first four years being the grammar stage. It also introduces a chronological study of history with a 4-year rotation, around which is centered literature, science, and even art and music. I knew what basic skills were a priority to our family, what history period we would be studying each year, and what science subject we would focus on.

Make Goals for the Current Year in Each Subject

When I planned our Kindergarten year I placed reading (phonics), handwriting, and math as our foundation. I chose to add in a relaxed selection of American history, knowing that it would be a few years before we got back to it. The rest was gravy.

For our 1st grade year reading, handwriting, math and grammar made up our core skills. History and literature (Ancients) and science (biology) were our secondary subjects. Art, music, and geography rounded out the list. Bible and physical education are a part of our natural family life and were not specifically planned as school subjects.

Time to purchase any necessary curriculum.

After you have your subject list and curriculum, it is time to figure out what you would like to accomplish within the year. What material would you like to cover? What lessons books would you like to finish?

Plan Backwards

::Figure out how many weeks you will be schooling throughout your year. Be sure to leave enough wiggle room for unexpected illnesses, activities, or vacations. The average school year is 180 days or 36 weeks. You could plan 32 weeks of lessons with 4 for review, catch up, or educational activities.

::Calculate what you need to complete on a weekly basis to accomplish your yearly goals.

::Start with your basics.

Phonics. I didn't want to have a goal of finishing a certain number of lessons in The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading so that we could go at Levi's own pace. I did want to be consistent about phonics lessons, though, so I planned to do something (a lesson, review, a phonics reader, etc.) 4 times minimum each week.When we finished the phonics book, I planned to have Levi read aloud to me to replace the lessons.

Handwriting. Same thing. I wanted to practice handwriting 4 times minimum each week. When we finished the Handwriting Without Tears book, we replaced lessons with copy work (various selections from history, science, Bible memory work, poetry, hymns, or pen pal and thank you letters.)

Grammar. First Language Lessons has 100 lessons for first grade which means we needed to schedule 3 lessons per week to finish the book by the end of the year.

Math. RightStart Math B has 106 lessons. 3-4 lessons per week.
::Add in your secondary subjects.

Ancient History and Literature. The Story of the World has 42 chapters. Rather than squeezing those into a 34-week plan, I planned to cover an average of a chapter a week and study history during our breaks as well. (Lucky for us we love history and literature!) I knew that we would need to plan at least two days to cover any color pages, map work, projects, and additional reading.

Science. Christian Kids Explore Biology has 35 lessons. One a week plus a day for additional activities.
::Make provisions for the fun stuff.

Music. I didn't have a yearly goal, but I did want to read about an instrument, composer, or musician each week. I planned two days for music so that we could read one day and listen to a CD or find an internet source another day. Because we don't have record of many composers during the Ancients (grin) I chose not to tie music (or art, particularly) to history this year. Levi also takes weekly piano lessons. We try to fit in 5 practice sessions each week.

Art. Again, no yearly goal, but I planned to read one art book (mostly picture books about various artists) each week. Eventually I would like to add a second day for art projects.

Geography, fun Read-alouds, and Free Reading were added to the list so that I could keep track of what we did, without any specific goals at all.

(Spanish got left by the wayside this year after completing La Clase Divertida last year. Hopefully we'll get something added back in.)
Create a Weekly Goal Sheet

Now that I had an idea of what we needed to accomplish each week, I typed up a weekly goal sheet listing each subject with goals. Something like: Math 4x, Grammar 3x, Handwriting 4x, Phonics 4x, History (and Literature) 2x, Science 2x, Music 2x, Art 1x, Geography, Reading.

This is where you can make detailed plans or leave things open-ended. I prefer open-ended. I leave a space next to each subject where I write in what we did rather than what we hope to do. At this stage of the game (and with two younger and unpredictable children) I would rather not feel constantly 'behind' or 'off kilter.' I don't want to rewrite the plans 100 times when Leif doesn't take his normal nap or Luke heads to the ER for stitches or Levi gets the stomach flu.

So, be as detailed as you want to be. If you want to make a weekly schedule that tells you when to do each subject or a plan for exactly what lessons, chapters, or projects you intend to complete, go for it!

Our plans will certainly increase in detail as Levi progresses in age and the other two boys follow him. It will take a little more scheduling to fit everything in!

Set Aside Time Each Week for Preparation

Each week I try to find time to sit down and review what we did the past week and plan the next. I make sure I have the books and project materials I need. I might glance through any lessons so that I am familiar with them. I make sure we are relatively on track with our yearly goals. I look ahead in science and history to see if I need to order any books or add project materials to my shopping list. I make a want list for our library trip.

I print off a new weekly goal sheet and add it to my 3-ring planning binder. If I need to make any notes on the goal sheet, I do so. Most of the books we'll be reading are placed on the desk behind the couch so that I can just grab them during the week as we sit on the couch.

Allow Yourself Flexibility

Making guidelines and setting goals help keep me motivated and moving forward, but I have to be careful. If I lock myself into detailed plans, it isn't very long before I begin to feel the stress of keeping up. It is easy to get down on myself for everything I didn't do, rather than realizing how much we learn while still enjoying ourselves!

There is a fine balance between aiming high (as it seems we all should when it comes to the education of our children) and finding something that works well in our very real lives.

Set realistic goals. Planning is worth nothing if the doing doesn't happen.

You are the only one who knows your family, yourself, and your children. Don't expect your homeschool to look like another. If you need a curriculum that does planning for you, give that a try. If you want more freedom than my plan suggests, do what works for you!

Feel the freedom to create a successful education for your children according to your own values and goals.

Any questions?

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.
~Gail Godwin

She knows what is the best purpose of education: not to be frightened by the best but to treat it as part of daily life.
~John Mason Brown.


Kathy said...

excellent post! thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas with us. I'm in the process of planning my year and find your advice helpful. =)

Blessings, Kathy

Precision Quality Laser said...

Thanks for so graciously taking the time to share how you do what you do :) I'm going to have to read through this again. Sigh, I feel so overwhelmed right!

Jennifer said...

Thank you for this post!

I love your ideas about how to be planned but open-ended. Weekly Goal Sheet - perfect. Keeping the Big Picture - needed to hear. We are using most of the same curriculum, so your details helped me to understand the time SOTW requires and so on. This week I have settled on the school calendar/weeks off. And now I am ready to figure out the lessons per week for each subject.
Starting from scratch has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I needed this post today! And I needed to not see a spreadsheet attached! :)

Bless you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to put this all together and share it. It is a great resource

Anonymous said...

Hi, great reading. I’ve recently discovered Bayard’s Books which seem to have the right mix of education and fun for all ages: StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks, DiscoveryBoxBooks Also, I see they have a guest illustrator for one of their stories in the September edition of Storybox - award winning illustrator Helen Oxenbury, who also provided illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. They Also have some great ideas for a rainy day!

Precision Quality Laser said...

Heidi, I received and award and I get to pass it on to seven of my favorite bloggers...TAG you're it!
Come on over to pick it up!


Heidi said...

I'm glad the post was helpful! Happy planning! :)

Mrs. Q~ Awww. Thanks!

Elise said...

Thank you for this!! I, like Mrs. Querido, am feeling overwhelmed. I think this will help. Maybe reading over it again when its not so close to 1:00am(yikes!!)
Thanks again!!

Beth@Pages of Our Life said...


You are a great encouragement to young moms! I loved the quotes you included. What you are doing now is very similar to what we did in the beginning. I never used OPGTTR so I don't know how the approach is to compare. With my second son I discovered a wonderful resource called Explode the Code. It's not for teaching reading but allows them to work on writing in the context of phonic rules. I combined this with HWTears. It was a good combo and reinforced our reading lessons.

Renee said...

Thanks for sharing, Heidi. I am very inspired! This post came at the perfect time, as I am currently gearing up for our year.

tie-dyed doula said...

You are very inspiring.
Just curious, is your little Levi starting 1st grade in the fall or 2nd grade? I am starting K this year with my 5 year old and I just wanted to know how to do it and came acrossed this post. I am very excited. Will I ruin the 4 year WEll Trained Mind thing by starting some of that in K this fall? I guess maybe I should just stick to reading, math and writing first huh and jump into the 4 year program next fall? is my addy-please drop me line if you get a chance.
Shine On!!

Lora @ my blessed life said...

This post was very informative and helpful to me. I'm starting to homeschool my daughter in kindergarten this fall and it still looks a little overwhelming to me right now.

tie-dyed doula said...

Hi there! Just going through your recommendations for level K (starting this year with my son age 5)
which handwriting without tears book were you using? I looked on the web and wasn't sure where to start-any help is appreciated. Please email to if you get a sec

Lily said...

Hi, Heidi,
Thank you for sharing your experience. You are a good inspiration. The doctor told me to take my daughter(3) out of preschool due to her low immune system. I am going to try some of your suggestion with her.

kim said...

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing all this valuable information. This is exactly what I have been looking for. I have a 6, 4 and almost 2 year old - this is right where I am at.
THANKS again!

Megan said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to put all these thoughts and plans down and for archiving it. I'm an expat living in China about to begin 1st grade using WTM curriculum and this has been a HUGE blessing.

Kelly said...

Just stumbled on your blog! I am loving your school room! I pinned it on my pin board. :-D Can't wait to surf around!