There’s a saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Lesson planning is just determining what you want to cover in the school year and laying out a framework to accomplish those goals — a strategy for homeschool success. Some parents will plan in more detail than others, but even an overview or rough sketch in writing puts your priorities in black and white and helps you see what you may have inadvertently left out.
Whether you use a prepackaged curriculum or an eclectic approach, a written plan can help you operate more on “autopilot.” It gives you a timeline to measure against as the year progresses. And if you’re in a state that requires you to submit lists of subjects, student work samples, or other academic records, starting out with a lesson plan puts you ahead of the game. You can check out your state’s law’s here.
There are also advantages to including your kids in the planning process (as long as they can read on their own). Whether you let them look through the lesson plan book, or set out work boxes or learning stations for them, you are sending them on their way toward taking some personal responsibility in their own lesson management. This is also helpful because your children are not waiting for you to tell them what comes next, but can move forward in their day — which takes some pressure off of you!
Different Approaches to Lesson Planning
I liked having a lesson planning book, and once my children could read, each child had her own lesson book to help her learn basic time management. You might use one book for several children, or you can make your own sheets on the computer, use index cards, a daily white board, a spiral notebook, or even a computer to-do list. You could even modify the cards in the article, “Help! I’m Organizationally Challenged!” to hold school assignments, readings, memory verses, and more.
The point is to have a framework in writing that will help keep you accountable—even if only to yourself—and to give you a standard against which to measure as the year progresses. (Just remember — you’re measuring against the goals that God has given you, not your neighbor or the support group leader.)
My plans were really simple: the number of the math lesson or the amount of time to practice typing, for example. Some people are most comfortable writing their plans out in detail. For example, “XYZ text, page 93, prepositional phrases exercises 1-12.” Others might note, under English, “page 93, 1-12.” Still others may just do what comes next in the book, and then just log it afterward, journal style. Some parents even have their older kids log their own lessons.
An alternative to the standard lesson plan book or list is the workbox or workfile approach. This can be especially effective for younger children or especially distractible children. Instead of writing each assignment in a “box” on a page, you physically put the work for each assignment in a separate box, such as a clear plastic shoe box or a stacking drawer unit, or even a hanging file or envelope system. Some parents use this approach all the way into the upper grades: you could teach them to concentrate on the work in one literal box at a time, then (the next year or so) put the papers with assignments in the boxes, then transition into writing the assignments in a lesson planning book.
Divide and Conquer (Goals, That Is)
Whatever system you use, be sure your children know what is expected of them. They are more likely to be motivated to finish their work if they know there is a “finish.” When Mom is the only one privy to the assignments, it can feel to a child that finishing one assignment just means getting another one heaped on (and that sure isn’t very motivating!).
Seeing a manageable (read: finite) number of workboxes—or lesson plan book “squares” for the day, or assignments on the white board—gives them hope that there can be an end in sight (for the day, anyway!), and possibly an incentive to work ahead.
My first year, I thought I would be ultra-organized, so I lesson-planned the entire year in August. In pen. So what happened when the first child didn’t grasp the math concept as quickly as we’d anticipated? Right—we “got behind” (or we thought we did—maybe you’ve been there, too?). So that threw my whole plan off.
This panic taught me to have an overall goal of what I wanted us to cover each year, but to divide that up and put it in writing only eight weeks at a time. After all, I can do anything for eight weeks! At the end of the eight weeks, I would evaluate our progress and, during the week off, would write down the plan for the next eight weeks. At the end of my planner, I had a page for my learning goals and for a basic day- or week-at-a-glance skeleton I could re-use each week so I didn’t have to think too hard to plan the actual weeks.
NOTE: Because my year was blocked off in those 8-week increments, I had a natural evaluation/assessment prompt before we moved into the next 8-week session. If you plan out your year differently, you may need to be intentional about periodic assessments of your goals progress.
I learned to get more specific while planning for smaller time chunks, so this motivated me to regularly evaluate our materials, our methods, and any character issues. Rather than being in bondage to a rigid schedule, we found security in a basic routine that helped me to transition through my day without having to make all the little decisions all over again.
Again, the 8-weeks plan is just what worked well for me. If that seems too set-in-stone for you, try one week at a time, or lesson plan each night for the next day, with a basic routine in place already.
What Should You Include?
What do you want to accomplish this year? And what tools will help you to achieve those goals? Choosing your curriculum and lesson planning are the roadmap for getting from where you are, to where you want to be, with the actual curriculum itself likened to your mode of transportation. An airplane, for example, will get you where you want to go fast, while an RV is good for leisurely trips.
A few years ago, we drove from Virginia to Arizona on a tight deadline for an event, so we drove straight there, no time for sightseeing. But on the way back, we had almost two weeks, so we stopped at landmarks in at least 10 states and had a great family time, just enjoying the trip and enjoying each other’s company.
It’s the same with homeschooling: If your goal this year is to catch up a child who has lagged a little, you’ll take the direct route—the airplane—covering basic areas of math, language, Bible/character, and then add history and science as time allows. Once you feel that you are where you want to be on your timetable, you can start cruising or sight-seeing, taking more time to enjoy the homeschool journey, adding extras to help you meet more advanced, delight-directed goals.
Decide on your basic time frame, keeping in mind any legal requirements for your state. (I found it workable to plan for eight weeks on, one week off, for five cycles, with four-week breaks in December and July.)
Look over the curriculum: What will you cover and what can you skip? How many problems should your child complete to demonstrate mastery? Your curriculum is a tool, not your master, and you want to remember to include life skills and character training, as well as academics. Resources such as Hewitt Homeschooling’s Learning Objectives for Grades K–8 can give you assurance you aren’t leaving major gaps in your child’s academic education.
Divide your materials by the number of weeks or days, for a rough plan. This overview will give you a framework from which to assign specific expectations by the day or week.
While you don’t want to be a slave to your schedules or plans, you’ll want to be diligent and do your best to meet your reasonable goals. Do you have realistic expectations, or have you over-planned? Have you expected too much in too short a time? Have you underestimated the time to master a skill or complete an assignment? Or maybe you had realistic plans, but life broadsided your homeschool and you are totally overwhelmed.
“A Day in Our Homeschool” will give you a peek into the typical day of several other homeschool families (did I really just say typical and homeschool day in the same sentence?), and you’ll find a few ideas in Help, I’m Organizationally Challenged. (Home Education 101 has samples, as well.)
Build in Some “Down” Time
Plan to succeed by recognizing that there will be tough days, sick days, good weather days, catch-up laundry days, and so on. If you have a weekly co-op day or recurring medical appointments, plan a lighter academic load that day.
Consider adding an educational games day every few weeks, which can be used for educational play if your children are on track, or catching up if you feel you need that. For example, I planned math lessons (our toughest subject) on a four-day schedule, with math games on Friday; if the girls were caught up, they played a math game on Friday, but could use that day to finish any lagging lessons or corrections, if needed.
And if you need an occasional catch-up-the-house day, remember that organization, sorting, and classification are math, science, and language arts skills!
The real lesson in lesson planning
Plan prayerfully and realistically, execute those plans diligently, but hold them loosely. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) What we consider interruptions to “our” day, God often intends as the real purpose for the day!
A few lesson-planning resources:
“Lesson Planning” (article and resources at HSLDA)
My Homeschool Planner (lesson plan book developed by a homeschool mom for her many kids; simple to implement)
“Freeform Homeschool Planning” (Almost Unschooling) Rachel Ramey
“What Should I Be Teaching?” (includes scope-and-sequence checklist resources)
“What Records Should You Keep?” (see planning and recordkeeping resources at the end)
“Lessons Learned” – questions to help you evaluate your year – In our online membership community at Everyday Homeschooling with Vicki
Adapted from HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens July 2016 e-newsletter, by the same author. Used with permission. www.hslda.org