The time has come the walrus said… to begin a video series for our followers. The point of this series is to encourage our followers, answer questions and generally cheer you all on. I am beginning with a video on how to plan for a great school year. And whatever happens, wherever you are in your school year… I find it encouraging to see how other moms do it, and so I am going to share how we rock and roll over here. There will be things that resonate with you and you will think, “YEAH…” and there will be things that will make you thing, “Are you mad?” My philosophy is take whatever you need and leave the rest.
Planning Your Homeschool Year
New Years, new adventures, new enthusiasm… it all sounds so marvellous and dreamy, the truth can be far from that though. I have said it before, and I will say it again: Homeschooling is not all blue skies and picnic blankets, and three weeks into your new school year you can be wishing your summer holidays were next week, rather than more than half a year away.
Planning your homeschool year is one corner of homeschooling where homeschool moms of the universe really seem to battle. The thing is there are so many choices and so many decision to make… you think you know what your kids need and then someone else tells you that they are doing a “new and magnificent thing”… and then you start to question yourself… back to the drawing board and all the decisions again. I have found that by having a clear goal for our school takes a lot of decision making out of any planning we do. I talk about our goal in the video…
Gone are the days when we revamp our entire homeschool curriculum at the start of a new year. We really try to lessen our decision making and one way is to have a backbone curriculum. Our backbone curriculum is Sonlight. You may have another curriculum, whatever works for you, trust the choices you have made in the past and stick with them. Our books sit in the front hall and my kids read their way through them. As our firstborn did school we bought a grade of books each year until he was done. By the time he was finished we had a complete homeschool library, ready to be used by his siblings. (I know they add new books to the curriculum that I would love to explore, but with eight kids, this is not the season to be making extra investments.)
Our kids begin with an overview of World History, followed by two years of World History, followed by two years of American History, followed by a year of Eastern Hemisphere (our favourite), and so on… If someone doesn’t finish their full year of Sonlight readers, it doesn’t matter… we just carry on where they left off the previous year. Similarly, if they finish their readers really quickly, then they just start on the next shelf. During some seasons my kids work really fast through the shelves and other times they d.r.a.g… it doesn’t matter… they eventually do read their way through it.
Meanwhile the question remains, how do you plan for a school year with enthusiasm when all you are doing is rolling over from one school year to another. Sometimes you need an injection of new ideas; sometimes you need to swap your school day around; sometimes you need to intervene with a game day… when you are rolling over from one year to the next, whatever you do you need to change the things that aren’t working and you need to stick to the things that are working. While our kids work their way through their readers from year to year we also spend a large part of our homeschool time learning together.
We call this family school, some folk call this Morning Basket Time… our school doesn’t always happen in the morning or from a basket, so we call it family school. These are the books we are reading together and topics that we are exploring together. This is the part of school where I read aloud to our kids: we do our writing together, poetry, culture studies, stories, nature study, art. This is all the extra fun stuff like cooking and outings, experiments, hiking and creating. Not to mention anything that we can learn all together we do learn together. I keep an eye on that list and make sure that when we finish one thing on the dream list that we begin another thing immediately.
How We Actually Start Our Year.
So this is how we start our homeschool year… we have a back to school week, which I do count as our first week of school, even though it is a really slow slow week. During that week my kids find their school books, that were scattered to the four winds at the start of their summer holiday, that pretty much takes an entire day. Even though we keep all our school books in one spot, even though each child has a crate specifically for the books they are currently working in… it still takes a day. No I don’t know why… but it does. I make sure to sweeten the day with tea-time, its a definite pancakes for breakfast kind of a day… and we just look over where we left off. That’s because our school rolls over. I don’t care if they finished a math book at the end of the last school year or not, I don’t care if they finished a set of readers or not… Really we just pick up where we left off and carry on.
During this week I like to reflect on our previous school year. I have found that while lots of folk like to reflect back during their last week of the school year, I am never in a good place to reflect then. I am always ready to crack open a watermelon and head for the beach and the last thing I am thinking about as our school year closes, is how our school year went. However, after a break I am ready to start thinking about school again and during that first week of school I will interview each of my kids. We will definitely have a family meeting to talk about things that they would like to add or take-away from our school year… but a one-on-one meeting with each child is an invaluable way to see what they are thinking, no matter how old they are. I confess that I don’t implement many changes because of their meeting, but I will have a good idea of where their heart lies. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, a trip to the beach for an ice-cream and a chat would be lovely, but honestly… one on one time is hard to come by and I often have to be a little more subtle, and chat to the child that is cooking supper with me, or the early bird who is helping me to sort laundry. Chore time is a really good time to catch your kids and ask them about school… There are no rules here, it is your conversation with your child.
Se7en Questions To Ask Your Kids
After weeks of beach days and reading every book on the book shelves in a shady spot, having friends over to play games and hikes in the early morning before the sun is up… it is a little hard to just spring back into school. It’s just as hard for the homeschooling mother person to find her rhythm as it is for the kids. I season our first few weeks back with a lot of sweetness. After all this is our school and we can create the school we want to learn in… if that means we need pancakes to get the day rolling or a swim in the sea, then I am all for it. The other thing I do is I schedule in a meeting with my kids… Actually two meetings: one with everyone all together, and another meeting one on one.
The point of the meeting is really for me to be quiet and listen… no child needs a lecture: “If you want to be a rocket scientist one day, then you are going to have to do 25 math workbooks this year.” or “If you want to work in Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen one day, then you are going to have to do 25 math workbooks this year.” See what I did there? Kids are very quick to pick up a less than transparent mother person, with a not so hidden homeschooling agenda. This meeting is about “What is their goal?” and “What are they planning to do to get there this year?” This meeting is all about me just listening… and when there is a long pause, to just give them a chance to think before they answer, rather than filing the pause with my wordy words.
Se7en Questions that I like to ask my kids?
- What Was Your Greatest Achievement This Past Year?
- What Did They Love About Their Previous School Year?
- What Was the Worst Thing About Their Previous School Year?
- What Do They Want to Learn in the New School Year?
- Do You Have Any Dream Outings That You Would Want to Go On?
- If You Could Change One Thing About Our School What Would it Be?
- What are You Looking Forward to this Year?
I know, we might be thinking… “That time you got an unexpected podium place at a race, that time you appeared on national television to explain your take on plastic pollution…” but be quiet… because you will get a real insight into your kids, if you just listen and hear what they think their achievements were. It might be that they were working on getting up with a great attitude everyday, it might be that they were trying to read every single Asterix book in the library… it might be that they really wanted to listen to one audio book a month. Listen. Their achievements are achievements, even if they don’t align with any regular school programme anywhere. This is your homeschool… you have chosen not to have regular school goals and so don’t expect your children to have “regular” school achievements.
And yes there is always that one child that says, “nothing”… don’t be offended!!! Keep digging, when you tell them that ice-creams on the beach were part of school, then they can usually start to brainstorm things they really enjoyed. Another one of my kids told me “washing the car…” And this folks is why at this meeting you need to be quiet and let them talk. No judgement, chat now and think later. Maybe if they love washing the car then you could teach them a whole lot more domestic tasks… would they like to wash windows, clean the oven… these are life skills and responsibilities that are very much part of an all round education.
Honestly my kids are having a pretty dreamy education, but my goodness they can find a ton of things to complain about… so for this question I let them voice one thing that didn’t work for them and then we brainstorm how that could be better. Inevitably it will be one workbook they absolutely loath, for example a math workbook (surprise), could we make one of our school days each week, just for games… which I consider to be math anyway. Or it will be one book that just overwhelmed them and stopped them in their tracks, in fact if it is just one reading book… can we not just watch the movie? For one child every reading book was a challenge… and we sweetened the load with every couple of books we got the audible book for them. Figure out the actual problem, it isn’t the story so much as the very hard work of reading for some children… then the audible book for them is an absolute haven.
I love this question, the answers are always full of surprises… one child wanted to learn how to play backgammon, and another wanted to know how to wash windows. One child wanted to build a box and another wanted to roast a dinner… another wanted to learn Japanese. Don’t be afraid of their strange requests, rather see if you can oblige them… how long does it actually take to teach a child how to play Backgammon, and as for Japanese… get the duolingo app and in a few minutes a day they will make noticeable progress and accomplish something towards their goal.
This is also a great question to ask kids, sometimes they will tell me about a restaurant they have always wanted to visit, and sometimes they will tell me about a mountain they want to climb. Then I ask what we can learn about to turn this outing into a project. Can we learn about wildflowers on that mountain, can we explore the restaurant menu and try and make some of the dishes themselves?
I love this question, it has great responses… last year all my kids really wanted to be finished school by lunchtime… I am bad at this, I get totally into what we are doing on a day and lunch can creep later and later. They came up with a fantastic plan, they would be completely responsible for lunch. That means that whoever was making lunch on the day slammed their books shut and started making lunch timeously every single day.
This always gets interesting answers… because as parents we might be looking forward to a weekly hike, or a weekly outing, and our kids come up with the strangest answers. One child mentioned they were really looking forward to their turn to make lunch, and another was looking forward to writing a novel next November.
Just listen, and reflect back… you will discover a whole different angle to your school that you never knew existed. It’s a sweet thing to do with your kids. You can keep it conversational, or write it all down and keep it to look at at the end of the next school year. And will give you a number of ideas on how to get your school rolling, maybe not in terms of more (or less) things to do, but certainly in terms of where the heart of your school is and where the heart of your students lie.