Welcome to part two of my three-part series on beginning homeschooling. Now that you’ve spent some time getting your mind around general approaches and values, I’m going to talk a bit about some methods and tools that can help you plan, organize, and keep records.
Step 1: Brainstorming. Use a huge white board or notebook, or your computer as an idea dumping ground.
For steps 1-3, I exclusively use my teacher planner, which has plenty of lined paper in the back for note-taking. It helps me keep it all in one place. You can download the template here: Homeschooling Teacher Planner Template, which is in a Word format, and can be personalized as you like.
Each year, the first thing I do is touch base with my kids. We have many brainstorming and idea generating sessions – sometimes these are simply conversations held over lunchtime – and Ian and Eva get to place their special requests. For example, for our upcoming school term, Eva has asked for a “makers” year, focusing mostly on hands-on work in engineering, math, crafting, and robotics. She also wants to make a documentary on the endangered state of the koala, write another book, and study chemistry. She wants to take choir and band as well.
As her mother, I keep in mind my desire to nurture her emotional and physical; to that end, I am interested in exposing her to powerful women of all ages as role models and partnering up with her to exercise regularly. I also want to challenge her to take on more difficult novels this year, as story comprehension is her special gift. The 20th century is next up in our history timeline, and I would like to continue our work in computer coding and (some) traditional math. I keep a running list of these things until I feel satisfied that I can’t pack in any more.
Step 2: Identify themes.
What connects all these fun ideas? Perhaps you’ll identify several themes, or just one or two, depending on you and your child. When I looked at Eva’s and my collective lists, I saw “making” and the empowerment of women as overarching ideas. Under the “making” heading are the obvious hands-on science and math projects, but also coding, her next book project, and filmmaking. Perhaps this would be a great time to try our hand at knitting as well (a perfectly fine makers project), as fine motor skills and patience are both skills I would like Eva to work on.
And then I think of how to tie in powerful female role models. Easy! How are women and girls making the world a better place? What are they making and how? What fascinating women can I find working in the fields that Eva is already naturally interested in? In addition, the novels I’m looking at for Eva include Pride and Prejudice for the fall semester and Little Dorrit in the spring. Both books are ideal for inspiring conversation about the power and role of women in society and interrelationships. You get the idea.
Step 3: Once you have the bigger picture, break it down.
It helped me to begin with the science-y related items. Eva wants to make things and continue her study in chemistry, so I focused my resource research to that topic, and created that plan first.
For the rest, in early summer I start bookmarking items on my computer and gathering materials from both our public library and from my personal collection (you can see a bit of that list here), and I’m now using Pinterest to keep better track of it all. We’ll see. You can also write it down in your handy teacher planner, a notebook, in a Word document, or on your over-sized white board (you’ve bought one by now, yes?) – whatever works for you. In late summer, I sift through all my gathered materials, choose the activities I like best, and block them out in my teacher planner monthly calendar. I then begin to order the project materials we’ll need. I never worry whether I’ve blocked out enough or too much time for a particular activity. I reassess and shift and move stuff all the time. But it’s nice to have a starting point.
Concerned about how to find the best materials? No worries: I’ll talk more about that in Part 3 of this post.
Step 4: Create your daily schedule.
Everyone does this in their own way, and you should feel free to do what works for you. I start by writing down how many days per week I would like to do a particular activity (for example, coding 30 minutes/day, 4 days/week; exercise 1 hour/day, 5 days/week). Next up, I write down all the activities that are out of my control, such as public school band and choir classes, private trumpet lessons, and dance class. I know Eva will do better work in math if she does it in the mornings – that helps. And we begin at 8 am. So unless band or choir are in a particular time slot, I’ll start by writing down “math” in the 8 am box, coding in the 9-9:30 box, and exercise in the 10-11 box (allowing 30 minutes to get to the gym). I’ll fill this in for Monday through Thursday, as I like to keep my Fridays more flexible for creative work. I’ll continue in this way until I have all subjects covered.
You can see the schedule we’re using this year here. But be aware: I create many schedules like this over the year as activities and/or priorities shift and change. Schedules are meant to serve you, not the other way around. Each day I write up our predetermined schedule on the white board. We attempt to follow it, but if we’re really into a particular project and aren’t ready to move on, we just stick with what we’re doing. At the end of the week if we realize that we’ve consistently neglected history for a makers project, we’ll shift our priorities for the next week to re-establish the balance. No biggie.
One other tip: after much experimentation, we choose to alternate science and history study in quarter increments. Because the kids are most excited about science, we bookend our year with it, studying one quarter of science from August to mid-semester (October), two quarters of history from October to March, and then one final science quarter from March to May to close out our year. Not all years are like that, but it works pretty well when it works.
Step 5: Record your daily work in your teacher planner.
Seriously, even on days when you’re exhausted, try to take the time at the end of the day to sum up what you’ve done, even if it’s just a few words. This will help you find completion to each day, and will be invaluable in creating your end-of-year report, (which you should write even if nobody requires it). Though my planner has spaces for multiple subject records, most days only have notes in a few of them. The planner isn’t meant to pressure you to study every subject every day; it’s just there, happily available to receive information about whatever subjects you did address. The level of detail you keep is up to you and your particular state’s requirements. If you’ve used a particular text heavily and found it meaningful, perhaps you want to write that one down. But when I bring home 30 books on ancient Egypt, my note will say something like “myriad library resources.”
Step 6: Create your end-of-year report and file everything away.
Our state is very loose in its homeschooling reporting requirements; we’re asked only to participate in standardized testing every two years, and we’re good. However, creating these end-of-year reports is an essential activity for me. I have a small filing cabinet in my “office;” in the top drawer, I have one hanging file for each year of school. In that hanging file I have two manila folders, one for Eva and one for Ian. In these files I put:
- My end of year report, which is basically a summary of my teacher planner (you can see an example by clicking here)
- A list of the books the kids have read (I have them keep these lists on Goodreads and simply print them out at year’s end)
- A few samples of their best work
- Any awards they may have received over the year
- Next to the manila folders, the teacher planner itself
When keeping your reports, be sure to include things that don’t fit the normal core boxes, such as private lessons, community clubs, volunteer work, etc. These reports help me reflect on and celebrate the work we’ve done, and were a life-saver when I created the transcripts for Ian’s high school placement this fall. For more about my fervent devotion to end-of-year reports, click here.
Step 7: On down the line, create thorough transcripts.
This isn’t something you need to worry about in the early years. I only created Ian’s transcripts this spring as I began my advocacy work for his early public high school graduation plan. If you’ve kept good records, this process won’t be so painful. Transcripts are personalized for particular needs. If you’re putting a transcript together for a university, contact their admissions office for formatting advice. If you’re putting it together for high school admission like we did, go visit the school counselor.
Our counselor gave us the high school handbook, with course descriptions and requirements. I was able to use this text to frame Ian’s transcript, matching our work with the school’s language and format as closely as I could. For example, if the high school called their one-year course “World History from 1500 – 1900”, I put all the relevant work we did under that heading and only claimed the one credit, even if we did it over the course of two years. Matching your transcript to the language and logarithm of the receiving organization helps administrators accept the work you’ve done. And don’t forget electives! Elective work is a great category for activities you have done that don’t fit other slots. Especially for college admissions, reflect it all – universities are actively seeking homeschoolers specifically because they often do work outside the core. For an excerpt of Ian’s transcript, click here: Transcript excerpt.
Let me know if you have other specific needs or questions about record keeping and organization. And don’t forget to click on the “Organization” subject category on the right side of the blog for more entries on this topic.
This post is a part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum August 19th blog hop entitled “Homeschooling: Where and How to Begin.” To see the other posts in the hop, click here or on the image to the left.
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