Planning and Record Keeping – Christine Dittmann
Through more than two decades of homeschooling, we’ve used various levels of planning and record keeping in our home. There were times we were just flying by the seat of our pants, doing the next lesson, reading the next book, with no clear plan written down. Other times, I’ve had the whole year planned and written down. No matter how I managed the planning and record keeping, learning kept happening, but if I’m honest I’d say more learning happens when we have a plan.
Having a plan, for anything in life actually, gets things out of my head and onto paper, so I can live more in the moment and keep my head out of the clouds. Even if I never show another human my plans, having it written down provides a gentle accountability—so many things can happen in a day, but when you’re keeping track of your goals and obligations on paper, you’ll notice when you’re dropping the ball on anything.
One of the drawbacks of having a detailed plan is that when you don’t get everything done in a day that you had planned to do, one can feel like one has failed, so it’s important to have a healthy relationship with your plans—focus more on what you did accomplish, and don’t let your plans become a ball and chain. Make your plans SMART too: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and within a time frame. When your plan isn’t working well, reevaluate and make a new plan!
In Ontario, homeschoolers aren’t required to keep records as they are in other places. There are still some benefits of keeping records though. If you have multiple children, having a record of what you did with the older children can make planning for the younger children easier. Having a record of the progress they make can be a source of encouragement. You may never have to produce documented evidence that your children are indeed being taught, but if you ever do (sometimes in the case of a custody battle, for example), having records can help make the process smoother. If you ever decide you want or need to put your children into public school, it can help to have a record of what they have studied when they weren’t in school. And although getting into post-secondary studies is generally not too complicated for homeschooled students, for some programs or institutions, it might help if you have a portfolio of some of the work that was done.
There are so many options for planning and record keeping! You can create or use a paper planner, create or use a digital planner, or simply mark the workbook pages with dates and save them in a box. If you’ve purchased a boxed curriculum (or all-in-one curriculum), a day-by-day plan of what you need to get done might be included with that. When we were using Sonlight, all the planning was done for me. One thing I appreciated was that it was written down as Week 1, Day 1, etc. instead of having specific dates. We could start the program at any time, and if we missed a day (due to illness, for example), we just carried on with the next day.
Some families only plan a week at a time, or perhaps a few weeks, while others like to have the whole year planned out. The longer out you plan though, the more flexibility you should incorporate into your plan—because life happens! For a while we used the CMOrganizer, an online subscription planner created by Simply Charlotte Mason. I would list all the materials we planned to use, indicate how many pages or lessons we wanted to complete each day or week, and then it became a matter of checking off what we got accomplished every day. The plan would then be automatically adjusted if we got more done or less done than we had planned to, and it also became a great record of our homeschooling. You can reproduce this idea on a piece of graph paper by listing the materials you plan to use, then making a box for each lesson or page or section that you then check off when you get it done.
The basics of creating a homeschool plan can be broken down into 5 steps:
Think about the goals. What subjects do you want your children to cover? Do you want them to be proficient in a second language? Do you want them to memorize scripture or learn about the stories in the Bible? Do you want them to have a strong knowledge of politics or history or geography? Do you want them to learn cursive penmanship, or to type efficiently on a keyboard? Do you want them to learn the metric system only, or is it also important to know the imperial system? Do you want to encourage a love of reading and writing, or do you really want to emphasize the STEM subjects? Some of your answers will be guided by where your children show an interest, or might be influenced by where you see a deficiency in the public school system. Having an idea of what you hope to achieve is the backbone of any good plan.
Consider what homeschooling style suits you or your child(ren) best. Do a little research into the different homeschool styles, including Charlotte Mason, Classical, Montessori, Unschooling, or Unit Studies, to name a few. You might gravitate strongly to one approach, or find you want to incorporate aspects from a few different approaches. It’s also helpful to find out what your child’s learning style is: are they more of a visual learner, or an auditory learner, or a kinetic (hands-on) learner? Having some understanding of what the different homeschool approaches and learning styles are will help when it comes time to finding homeschool resources and making your plan.
Source the materials. There are curriculum providers that sell a boxed/all-in-one curriculum, which cuts down the work of sourcing materials and makes the planning job easier, but they can be pricey and might not be tailored as well to the needs of your child. You can buy textbooks, workbooks, or digital/online programs for some of your subjects, for example science or math, and then plan other subjects yourself. Some digital programs are just like attending a class, so that the homeschool parent is basically just supervising or encouraging the children to get the work done. Talking to a curriculum advisor at The Learning House in Newmarket is an excellent way to discover what approach will work best for your family (see the ad above). Over the 2-1/2 decades we’ve been homeschooling, what worked best has also changed, depending on the number and ages of our children, or what else we had going on. I also recommend the Cathy Duffy homeschool material reviews to find out what curricula is more teacher-intensive, what educational approach it supports, what religious perspective it uses, etc. Another great resource is other homeschooling parents: find out what they liked, what worked best, and perhaps they might even have some used materials they are willing to lend or sell to you. As your students get into high school, they will likely become more independent learners. If they wish to acquire an official high school diploma or just get accredited Gr. 12 courses, they can take classes through an accredited program like ILC or VLC.
Create a schedule or plan. Do you want to follow the traditional school year, or do you prefer to school year-round? Will you homeschool 4 or 5 or even 6 days a week? Some families homeschool for 4 days and save one day for field trips, science experiments, outdoor activities, or a specific subject they enjoy. If you have a home based business, or do shift work outside the home, then this might also affect what times or days you can homeschool. Another idea is to homeschool for 6 weeks and then take one week off to plan the next term, get your house back in order, or do some fun things. There are choices about how you plan your day as well. Some people like to have a very specific time schedule for their day. Since I had babies and tots for many years, I found a block schedule worked better: an hour or so for math, an hour or so for language arts, lunch, some time in the afternoon for the subjects we did together, and then regular bedtime stories covered a lot of history and religious studies. Another option is to create a loop schedule: list the subjects to cover, then you work your way down the list; the next day you keep going down the list and then start at the top again when you’ve covered all the subjects. Another thing to consider is who will do the teaching? Perhaps the other parent or a friend or relative is keen to teach math or science, or cover for you when you are working.
Prepare your homeschool area(s). Have the books you are using easily accessible, have sufficient pens, pencils, rulers, etc. at hand, and have a supply of toys or activities to keep your little ones occupied. You might find your children are motivated with some special snacks or stickers. Having a meal plan can also make your homeschool day easier. How detailed you wish to plan or record your homeschooling is completely up to you (if you are homeschooling in Ontario). I just hope this gives you some ideas to figure out what might work best for your own family.