The very beauty of home educating is the flexibility it offers to learn as a family in the way that works best for you. There is no wrong or right way of doing it – it’s really down to individual choice. For some people, this means no plans at all, as they work best in a more spontaneous way, completely following the lead of their children and supporting appropriately. Other people prefer having short term plans, allowing them to react to the interests of their children, while some prefer a more structured longer-term planned approach. And yet others adopt a combination of all three (we fit into this mixed-approach category). No method is more effective than another, purely because each child is unique, with different skills, ways of learning and life goals and the best approach for one might be a terrible fit for another.
From experience, our family works best if we have a plan, even if we don’t stick to said plan and instead deviate off, spending time investigating some current passion of the children. So, in the summer break, I spend some time pulling together an overarching yearly plan, with sufficient detail to cover 6-9 months of the time if it’s needed. Then every couple of months, I use this plan to create our weekly schedule for the next 8 weeks or so. But these weekly plans are written in pencil and are, in all honesty, regularly adapted to allow us to maintain spontaneity in our learning! If something piques their interest, whether that’s something we’ve been studying or something completely unrelated, we’ll take the time to dive deep into that topic finding out as much as they’re interested in discovering.
This method benefits from time to research and find excellent supporting resources associated with a more planned approach, be these books, documentaries or day trips/courses, alongside the flexibility of a less planned, more spontaneous approach. It works for us, but it might not be right for everyone.
Here are the five steps I take to create our homeschool plan:
1. Review and set goals
The very first step involves a simple discussion with the Beans, often whilst out on a walk, about what they loved learning last year, what they didn’t enjoy so much, and what they’d like to learn more about next. They’re never short on ideas, bombarding me with a multitude of possibilities! This year for example, they asked to do: a marine biology study; in depth studies on New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia; more chemistry experiments; a genetics study; motors & mechanisms using their Lego Education set; a video editing course as they’re keen to start their making their own short nature films; and more world history!! Just a little bit to be getting on with then…
We like to travel as much as is feasible with the Beans as we’re big believers in the power of travel to educate and broaden the mind. So, at this point, as a family, we also discuss which countries we’d like to visit in the upcoming year and come to some sort of an agreement. Clearly Bean7 comes up with a list of about 15, so we have to pull him back to his top 2 or 3! Therefore, whilst we won’t have booked the trips yet, we’ll have a plan, which in turn informs the planning process. This year for example, we’re going to Greece in the autumn and so a mini project into the history of ancient Greece alongside the Greek myths and legends will help make their visit to the Parthenon and other monuments that much more meaningful.
2. Outline the year
The next step is to do a basic outline of the full year, factoring in trips abroad, holidays, birthdays, and any other planned time off, to work out which weeks we’ll be working, which will be holidays and which travelling time.
We like to have a long summer break (at least 2 months), which is slightly offset against the school holiday. This provides opportunity to explore museums, castles and outdoor spaces during the quieter times, but sufficient overlap to allow plenty of time for play dates with school friends & family. In addition to this, we take a week or two off every 7 weeks or so, either to go travelling or rest at home. These breaks are mostly in school term time, allowing us to travel at off peak times.
At this point, I’ll also review the home educating facebook groups to see what trips are already available for the next six months and book onto any that we’re interested in/align with the topics they’re keen to study. We’ll also check out any educational events on during the school half terms which might be of interest. For example, my two are huge fans of the Bard, so we’ve booked onto a Macbeth workshop at the Globe to learn about the plot, language and characters of Macbeth through active play and participation. In preparation for this, they’ll both read the play (Bean9 the unabridged version and Bean7 an abridged option) and we’ll study the relevant sections of the fantastic How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare book to understand and memorise some key passages.
3. Plan by subject
In my trusty notebook, I’ll write out a plan for each subject, and where their needs are different (such as maths), for each child, based on their defined goals for the year. This will include an idea of how many times a week we’ll cover the subject and for how long. The subjects included are PE (weekly multisports, karate and swimming classes), art, music, maths, english, science (including the marine biology, genetics and Lego education studies they’ve requested), geography (Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia country studies), history, technology (including a video editing study), languages (Spanish & a little bit of Latin) and religion. Some subject areas are simpler than others, as there’s an appropriate curriculum available to buy, but for others, there’s nothing suitable available, so I’ll need to write my own lesson plans.
With supporting curriculum:
Let’s take history as an example. We’ve used the Story of the World curriculum from the beginning and love this resource, partly because it works through history chronologically, so you have a good overview of the basic timeline of events, and partly because it covers major historical events across the world, rather than focussing solely on British history. I do, however, add in additional British history where needed.
To complete the plan, I simply go through the Story of the World Activity book (we’re using Book Three), choose which chapters we’re going to study (some chapters go into too much detail on parts of history that I don’t think they need to know about at this stage), select & purchase any supporting literature recommendations and decide if we’re going to complete any of the activities suggested. Here’s an example for our first lesson:
Lesson 1 – James, King of Two Countries, Chapter 3 Story of the World. Listen to the two sections of the audiobook; answer questions and write summaries; then complete the relevant mapwork.
Read The National Archives: The Gunpowder plot in Morning Basket. Memorise the rhyme: Remember, Remember, the fifth of November…
Rather than moving straight onto the next chapter of the SOTW though, which covers French & British explorers in Canada, our next lesson goes into more detail about James I and what Britain was like at that time. In this lesson, we’ll be reading and discussing relevant sections of The Tudors & Stuarts book, Kings & Queens of England, and our timeline, whilst also adding James I to our handwritten kings and queens timeline.
The next step would then to find any suitable workshops, events or museums from that time period. We could for example, go to the London Dungeons, where there’s a specific ride/show about the Gunpowder Plot. However, Bean7 is quite an anxious child and this would undoubtedly scare the life out of him, so we’ll have to save that for when he’s a little older! We are however, planning a visit to the Palace of Versailles after we study Louis XIV, which should be an excellent home ed trip and significantly less frightening than the London Dungeons!
Whilst we tend to study history chronologically, we’ll happily put this on hold and dip into another time period to prepare for an interesting workshop that becomes available (for example, a hands-on WWII day a few years ago initiated an in depth study of this time period) or a holiday (as with the Greece trip mentioned above). So, in these instances I’ll plan out separate lessons in my notebook to pull into the relevant weekly schedule.
I plan out enough lessons to cover about three quarters of the total number of weeks we plan to work, on the basis that some weeks we’ll miss a lesson because another trip becomes available or they’re delving deep into some other passion or they’re simply ill.
Without supporting curriculum:
As I mentioned in this post, there isn’t really any curriculum available at the right level for a marine biology study: it’s either overly simplistic or too advanced. In these instances, I have had to write my own curriculum, which obviously takes a lot longer. To do this, I’d first read around the topic, researching and purchasing any supporting resources, including books, audiobooks, documentaries, hands on activities and day trips.
I then work out the overall objectives based on discussion with the Beans and create a mind-map for the different areas to cover, grouping them into lessons and ordering them. For each lesson, I either write my own explanatory notes to discuss with the Beans or I’d make a note of the relevant pages in a book which explains a particular topic and add to these any supporting experiments; art activities; documentaries or short YouTube videos to watch; good books to read together; or museums/exhibitions to visit.
Finally, I gather all the resources into one place, book the museum trips, buy them each a journal to record their learning and then we can dive into the unit study, working through each lesson.
4. Plan Morning Basket studies
After I’ve mapped out each of the subject areas, I plan our Morning Basket time (see this post):
- Plan daily activities to be covered, such as prayers & Spanish.
- Choose hymns to sing & learn throughout the year.
- Design the memorisation section: this year, we’re focussing on Macbeth to tie into our workshop, followed by a study of some of the key poets of the historical time period we’re studying, including Tennyson, Blake, Wordsworth, Rosetti, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Some of their poems we’ll memorise and others we’ll read and discuss the meaning, form, structure and language.
- For each subject area, highlight the additional books to be read/games to be played as a support to each lesson. For example, under history, the first entry would be: Read The National Archives: The Gunpowder plot. We’d then read a little bit of this book each morning on the week we were studying this history lesson.
5. Write weekly schedules
Before starting the year, I’ll write up our weekly schedule for the first eight weeks. I use this simple Weekly Planner 2018 and then write (in pencil) our plans for each day. I start with any weekly commitments (like home ed group, piano and sports lessons), holidays and scheduled trips, and then, using the subject plans, spread the lessons across the week, making sure there’s not too much work on any one day.
Here’s an example of a weekly plan:
Finally, I print out our Morning Basket plans and, using a different colour for each week, highlight which parts of the Morning Basket we’ll cover in which week, referring back to the weekly schedule where needed to ensure everything is lined up. So, for example, Lesson 1 history will not actually happen until week commencing 8th Oct, after we’ve completed a mini ancient Greeks unit study and been on our holiday to Greece. So, I’ll need to make sure the Read The National Archives: The Gunpowder plot activity happens in this same week.
And that’s it! It’s a lot of work up front (it normally takes me a couple of weeks), but it means that I have much less to do throughout the year, when inevitably we’re very busy! Each week, all I have to do is check the planner, pull out the relevant books and we’re sorted. And every eight weeks or so, I’ll need to write another set of weekly schedules (which doesn’t take long). This leaves me plenty of time to focus on being present with the Beans and, if their interests are piqued by a topic, quickly pull together any relevant resources to support their learning.
I hope this helps in some way – please feel free to comment below if you have any questions at all. x