The style in which we homeschool has quite a rhythmic feel, which (5 short weeks in) we seem to really love. Emily was very clear in 'idea stage' of things that she wanting routine and structure. Can do kiddo - I've got your back. I've already shared how I've put her requests into action with our environment, curriculum and daily rhythm. Today I'll share a few other tools that I use to keep this homeschool ship afloat, mostly from my end. Consider this an insider's tour of the administrative offices (ha!). I spent some time over the summer thinking about a system and style that would best help me to feel organized... because if the homeschool needs to have a easy going, yet steady and predictable rhythm, so does the mama!
Homeschool laws and requirements (such as record keeping, work portfolios, reporting, etc.) vary from state to state. Some demand quite a bit of documentation, others not so much. Here in Connecticut, there is very little that homeschoolers legally need to do or account for. I think it's probably one of the most liberal states in the country in that regard. Actually, we are required to do absolutely nothing by law to homeschool our children. We are encouraged to submit a letter of intent (stating we are homeschooling) to the state, but that is voluntary. So technically, I don't need to keep track of a whole lot - but for me, I find maintaining records, plans and a general sense of order helps me feel like my head is screwed on straight. And that is a good thing.
Designated Space for Me
That little turquoise chest of drawers (which now has handles) and the wooden box that sits on top is my mision control zone. The chair right next to it is naturally my spot at the table so I have all of my homeschool mama gear at arms length. It makes me feel like a superhero.
Planners, staplers, paper clips, blank journals, records, dictionary, reference material, paper cutter, "done" box for Emily to put completed work, my markers and pens, folder containing every bit of museum, science center, historical house, pick your own farm, etc, info within in a 100 miles radius. Many other things reside here as well.
It's impressive how much is packed into that wooden box.
I keep all sorts of project supplies in the chest of drawers. It's so much more exciting to pull out fresh gel pens, poster board, graphic papers, etc. when we decide to make a certain project for an area of study.
I try to model using print materials as the first (and sometimes only) place of research. Especially for those easy to find in a book questions like spelling a word, a grammar rule, major bodies of water in Cambodia...
The pretty folder in which I keep all those brochures and upcoming events.
All sorts of good things inside...
As I sit and think about the month (or season) ahead, I can easily pull this out to pencil some outings into our calendar. Keeping things like this within reach allows me to take care of a little scheduling while Emily sits across the table, busy with her work at hand.
Let's get into the nitty gritty now... The Planner!!
There are a few sections to my planner, starting with our weekly lesson plans. It's a simple three ring binder with tabbed sections and a few pockets folders (for keeping track of additional, printed curriculum materials). This is how I stay on top of things. I love taking a few minutes each day to pencil in what's in store for the following day. Referring to our texts and teacher manuals as my guide.
Generally, I have an idea of where we are headed as we use a curriculum, much of the year is mapped out for us. We add and enhance as inspiration strikes. All that we hope to accomplish day to day is logged here. I find it totally liberating to not have to locate something in my cluttered mental filing system. It has proved too often in the past to be a hopeless state of affairs. It turns out this three ring binder is my new best friend.
A couple of things I've learned about lesson planning:
- Planning more than a day or two ahead does not work for me. I started the year thinking I would lesson plan a week or two in advance. Well, life shifts and the unexpected happens everyday it seems. Staying present to the work of only a day or two ahead prevents a GREAT deal of erasing and rescheduling. (Of course, upcoming events or outings are plugged in further in advance.)
- I only use pencil when planning. See above about all that erasing I did early on. The green pen that you see checks off completed items.
- I really like the selection of printable forms on Donna Young's site. I chose this one. It is a two sided weekly plan, giving me plenty of space for all of our areas of study and I love the spacious notes column for the brain draining I need a place for each day.The fields are left blank so I can add my own text/categories which is great. If her website overwhelms you (it's fantastically huge), start at the site index.
These pages keep track of Emily's grades. I'm not all that into it, but I do it because it matters to Emily. It's actually been a good tool to help her ease up on the outcome and focus more on the process. Early on I was clear that I would not be grading every little thing that came across my desk, that sometimes learning just needs to be learning. She has quickly developed an appreciation and understanding for that. I do grade enough to keep a good sense of things - both excellent and not not so excellent examples of work are represented here.
The form I chose to use is the Single Subject Grade Form. I like that looking at just one page, I can see the entire year for a particular subject right in front of me. Love that!
We are part of a homeschool co-op and Friday is our day to meet weekly. I keep a section in the binder for her class schedule, handouts, etc. relating to the co-op. I should mention this co-op is for teens and pre-teens, hence the absence of classes for younger ones. But as homeschool families go, there are often young siblings present! There are classrooms/playrooms for them with loose programming. I'll write a more in depth post in the future about the co-op as we gain more experience with it. So far so good though!
I really love this section, on simple lined paper I keep a journal of sorts. While the lesson plan is just that, a plan, this section is a written record of how the day truly evolved. Some states (especially high school level, for accreditation) require hours to be accounted for in particular subjects. I like it as a point of reference looking back on the days and weeks. More so than the keeping time of things, I love these pages for the opportunity and space they offer to record thoughts about the day's particulars. For example, "fantastic effort in math today, this operation really landed for her... need to figure out a way to make physics a little less dry, how the heck do I make physics less dry... love the characters she's developing for her written dialogue between a federalist and an anti-federalist" - you get the idea. These pages are a great tool for me.
In praise of the five subject notebook.
I read ahead a lesson or two in each of Emily's subjects, taking notes, planning project ideas. A simple five subject notebook has been my saving grace to keep all of those notes in one easy place. I also have a section in here for "notes and ideas" that has been handy as well. You know, for when Emily mentions she'd like to make duct tape purses next week... if I don't write it down, it's gone!
Taking a little time to develop this organizational plan has given me tremendous room in my days. All of the day's details and support materials are within easy reach, and I feel like I always know what is happening. It's great to have a clue! Also, I think for Emily this will be an added keepsake to her experience as a homeschooler. Most importantly, when these housekeeping details are in check, I have the mental space available to stay present for Emily's life and learning. Which is really the most important detail of all.