Thursday, August 25, 2011

The First Day of School

This past week was a bit stressful and busy in our house.  

My husband decided in July that he would like to take the week off before we started our homeschool year.  I also had been notified that I had jury duty and we thought that this of all times I could actually go.  So, last Wednesday we headed off to Dutch Wonderland for the day.  It was great.  We all had a good time, though the water park area was way to crowded to be enjoyable.  The lines for the rides were never too long (I grew up near Disneyland which routinely had 1-2 hr. waits for rides).  So, that was Wednesday.  

Thursday my husband began talking again about a second motorcycle.  We've been in the discussion phase for a long time about this.  I had shared with him that I felt my van loan should be paid off before we bought a new bike.  We realized that next month we could either a) pay for a bike outright or b) pay off the van.  On Sunday, I called in and missed being called for jury duty by one panel!  So, we spent Monday with the kids and discussing motorcycles.  I'm sure you understand this--big purchases require a lot of discussion.  You want to make the right decision and not waste the resources God has given you.  On Monday, we did decide to buy a second bike outright.  The question left to answer was: "Which one is the right one?"  God was gracious and brought about a few conversations so it became clear to my husband which was the right bike.  So, Tuesday we spent the purchasing said bike-- a Suzuki Bandit 1250s.  New vehicle purchases always seem to take a while, so it consumed our Tuesday.  We rushed home and got to share a meal of crabs with good friends.  

Wednesday morning rolled around and my husband headed off to work and I headed off...  to start planning the first 3 days of school!!  Lost in the shuffle of the past week because there wasn't time was the planning I had planned to do!  Mid summer, I had planned out my overall plan.  But, not my daily plan.  

There are many ways to plan for homeschooling.  I have to admit that I love to plan and organize.  I feel better when everything has a place.

One of the ways to plan is to plan week by week.  Take your books and plan out your lessons for the week based on what you were able to do that week.  This works well when you don't need to get through the whole book and you are working on a skill like phonics and reading instruction.  You don't want to rush or feel pushed by a deadline.  

One friend of mine plans for 6 weeks at a time.  She takes a day and spends that time writing out daily plans.  I assume she probably writes 4 days of plans per week--allowing for one day of unexpected events and activities.  The rule of thumb that I've heard is that the goal is to get through 80% of your material in a year.  

Then, there's me, the uber-planner.  I have to admit that when I first started homeschooling I really didn't plan at all.  But, that's when my husband got concerned and my plan book became my first proof that I was teaching our daughter.  So, for PreK3 and PreK4, I wrote 2 or 3 days of plans.  For those years, I didn't have set goals of which books I wanted to complete.  They were open ended years.  So, I planned on Sunday afternoon for the following week.  It took me about 15 minutes.  My curriculum for those years is simple.  My plans were more like checklists for me.  I would check off what I taught to hold me accountable.

Kindergarten was different.  I realized that I needed to cover more.  But, the subjects I was focusing on were math and reading.  Both are subjects that need mastery.  I think I wrote a week's plans at a time.  I didn't allow for many days off, though, and showed my daughter and myself only a little grace.  I was afraid and nervous about teaching my daughter to read.  It is an enormous skill that I marvel at.  It is amazing how God helps our children's brains connect symbols to sounds, then connects those sounds together to form words, and connect words to form sentences.  It is amazing when you consider it!  It is also awe-inspiring and inspires fear in me.  I hadn't gone through this process before.  I did not have any fellowship or guidance that year so it was a difficult time for me to find my way on my own.  I wasn't exactly sure what to do.  My weekly planning worked okay, but I knew it wouldn't be enough for first grade.  I needed to plan more extensively for first grade.  It would be my first official year and I wanted to make sure I covered everything.

I should mention that when I was a classroom teacher my greatest weakness was switching plans midstream.  I didn't follow through when I was teaching language arts long enough to see the fruit of that curriculum plan.  If it wasn't working right off, I scrapped it.  The way this experience affected me as a homeschooler was that I was afraid I would do the same thing--and my children would suffer for it.  So, I chose textbooks that I could use which hold me silently accountable to teaching my children what they need to learn.  God has graciously helped me find books that work for me and my kids.  Except for one occasion (Autumn's first grade math), I try to switch in the summer instead of in the middle of the year if possible.  

After preschool, I had asked my mother in law how she planned when she homeschooled.  She explained that she would take her books at the beginning of the year and divide them into 4 quarters and then write the days on top of the pages of when they were to be completed.  At the time, I assumed she meant Mon/Tues/Weds/Thurs/Friday, but I realize now that I didn't specifically ask what she wrote on each day to label that day's work.  What I attempted to do for first grade with Autumn's Explode the Code book was to write a calendar date for each Monday, and then write Mon/Tues/Weds/Thurs or Fri at the top of each page.  Again, I got myself into trouble.  When Autumn was sick or I was sick, the daily plan got messed up or I had her make up and do double pages to get back on track.  I think this method could work if you numbered the days  of school (1-180) instead of assigning them to days or dates. 

For my first grade planning, I did increase my planning.  Bu, I OVER planned.  I made a daily plan for the year for all subjects (subject by subject).  Crazy, huh?! I realized about two weeks in that it was crazy.  It was completely impractical.  For one thing, it was too much paper and I had planned for each individual subject.  Then, I took those individual subject plans and colated them into daily plans the week before and filled in my plan book.  I wasted a lot of my time and paper.  The other problem was that it didn't allow for unexpected breaks or days off.  So, I pushed through.  I felt constrained by my plan--Blech!  I felt locked in and so did Autumn.  In many ways, it was a miserable year for her and I.  I think I may have learned more than she did that year!  When I finished up that year, I knew I needed to keep pursuing a plan that would work for me.  

An even bigger problem I face that year was that I pushed Autumn and myself too hard.  I realized that I could get our grammar done in March--so I did!  We finished several of her subjects early in March and April.  I think I was afraid that we wouldn't get through it all.  I also switched math curriculums on Autumn in the middle of the year so we had to double up a bit on Math to catch up and get on grade level.  At the end of the year, Autumn wasn't happy and either was I.  I saw improvements--more efficient planning and less time wasted.  I also saw my folly--pushing too hard and cramming our year into a shorter time span.  I asked too much of my daughter and of myself.

For second grade (last year), I made some big improvements.  My weakness in first grade had been the impulse to work ahead and to over plan.  In second grade, I resolved to fight the impulse to work ahead and to remind myself that the planner showed me we'd get through our books by the end of the year.  

So, I made my monthly calendar using abbreviations.  This planner had a page for each month.  I took my books and broke them down by chapters.  Since I typically try to do 180 days of school like the public schools (which is typically 36 weeks), I divided the number of chapters into the weeks.  I spread the chapters over the year.  (I didn't do this for our phonics and reading instruction books.)  I made this plan so that I would know that we'd get through the books by the end of the year and also so that I would be better able to resist the impulse to work ahead.  I allowed a week for spring break and two weeks for Christmas break.  

Each week, I wrote the plans for the coming week.  When Christmas break came and we weren't on track with social studies and science, we only worked on those subjects for the first 3 days (no Math or Language Arts) until we were back on track.  By the end of the year, we'd completed all of our subjects except for Art.  I have realized that Art is often a hard one for homeschoolers to get done.  We made it through about half of our book.  That was enough for me.  Art isn't a core subject.  I was encouraged through conversations with friends that I could show myself and my kids grace in this area.  

I felt good about my planning last year.  The improvements I made worked well.  We finished the year without being burned out.  There wasn't as much tension or stress in our classroom.  Of course there was some when my daughters struggled to focus and procrastinated, but that's just part of homeschooling.  My weakness was art (a required subject in this state)--so I signed my kids up for an art class this year.  I have also started looking into other art curriculums in case I'm not always able to sign them up for a class.  I'm going to be posting reviews in the coming weeks of the curriculums and resources I've found.  

I have looked at a lot of planners over the past few years.  Last year, I used this one by Carson-Dellosa.  It had lined blocks for all of the subjects.  I used one side for Autumn and one side for Sami.  I had ordered the Well-Planned Day the year before, but it only had room for 4 subjects.  I loved all of the extras in the planner, but there wasn't enough planning space for me.  I found this planner at a garage sale for $2--it's normally $10-15.  

Since I am not a unit study person and teach subject by subject, I need a lot of space to write.  There were 8 skinny blocks on each page of the Big Plan Book.  That was my one complaint.  I wanted wider blocks.  The neat freak in me had a hard time going over the lines.  

This year, I used pages from my Mom's Journal for the monthly pages when I planned back in July, but I wasn't entirely happy with it.  I knew last week that I needed either to make a planner that worked for me or go get one!  Lakeshore had a coupon for a free planner if you spent $20.  I thought it was worth a look.  So, we stopped by there on the way to Trader Joe's.  Lakeshore had lots of planners to look at so I could compare.  Surprisingly, I liked the Lakeshore Planner best!  It's only $7 and has lots of pages.  It has a monthly section as well as a daily section which is perfect for how I plan.  So, I had my planner--now I just needed to get my planning done before the school year began!  

Tuesday night after our friends left I copied my monthly plans into the monthly section so everything would be in the same book.  You can see my abbreviations.  I made one column for Sami's books and one column for Autumn.  The subjects I've included in these monthly plans are Social Studies, Health, Science, Literature, and Math.  If my children need to stay on a math chapter longer, I do slow down for that.  It is very important that they master math concepts before they move on.

Back to my planning story... Wednesday morning, I printed out a copy of my curriculum plan for each girl and went subject by subject to write the first three days of lessons in.  I clipped this copy with paper clips to the inside of the front cover of my planner.  By 9:30 a.m. I had those plans written.  It meant a later start to our day, but so be it.  We're homeschoolers after all.  I needed to show myself grace.  My husband had actually encouraged me to wait another day, but I wanted to get started!  I wanted the routine back and so did the girls.

This picture shows my daily plans for the first three days.  There are 8 blocks across the two pages.  I like it.  I drew a line in the middle of the daily blocks for the kids.  I use abbreviations for each book and check off as we go.  I put the corners in each section to show when we've completed this subject.  

For the first time this year, I bought student planners at Lakeshore for the girls.  I have written the assignments they can work through mostly on their own in this book.  Both Autumn and Sami liked being able to check off what they completed.  There are lines for each subject (which I'll probably use in years to come if I use the same student planner), but I just wrote each book on a separate line for now.  I suspect these planners are going to be a work in progress for this year to figure out how to use them best.  

So, that's my planning story.  Probably a far longer one than you'd expect.  But, I think that's how homeschooling is.  Try something.  Figure out what works for you and what doesn't.  Keep what's good.  Make improvements.  My planning this year was so much easier than last year, because I found what worked for me.  Now I get to work on helping my kids keep track of their assignments too!

If you were wondering how my first day went, well, it was a mixed bag.  I had organized my room at the beginning of the summer.  Not only was my planner not ready yesterday, neither was my room.  Desks needed to be cleaned out at the beginning of the day and so did my homeschool room! Over the course of the summer my room got cluttered.  As I began teaching, I started feeling claustrophobic and cluttered.  I couldn't lay out my planner.  So, as soon as we'd gotten our work done for the day, I started cleaning out.  A pile for storage, two bags to donate to a new teacher, a big pile for the garage...  

Today is day two.  I have a less cluttered room and plans done for the day.  The glitch today is that a thunderstorm is forecasted for this afternoon.  So... we're heading out to grocery shop this morning and come home to homeschool afterwards.  Life's just that way--flexibility is required! ;)

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