Secrets to Successful Homeschool Planning

A successful home school year begins with successful planning. Having a really cool looking class planner that you enjoy filling out, with a calendar and checklist, is a good tool.

This one works for up to four students, and has some wonderful features!

While planners are very useful, alone they cannot guarantee that your plan will be worth the paper it is written on. So, consider the following secrets to successful planning as you set the course for this school year.

SECRET #1: Begin with the WHY.

Why are you homeschooling? Is it to instill faith and the knowledge of God in your child’s heart, through all that they do? Perhaps it is to prepare them for the real world, give them a good work ethic, or focus them on a certain skill set for a career? These are all good “whys.” They are not mutually exclusive. In fact they, along with others, can be synergistic! As we “train up a child in the way they should go,” having the reason behind what we do will strengthen our commitment to seeing the goals through to the end.

Take a few minutes, or several, to work out your own reasons for why you homeschool.

#2  Next is WHO.

Each child has particular needs, strengths, and interests. Design that works will keep their individuality in mind and work with it.

Write down each child’s name and begin with their strengths and their dreams, then add their challenges. Pray over these and ask for guidance before you implement the tools of curriculum and scheduling.

Questions to ask yourself include:

–  At what time of day is my child most alert and receptive?

– Are there subjects where they might work best alone?

–  Do they need a challenge or a competition to stay motivated or complete a certain topic?

– Does your child learn best by seeing, hearing, doing, or a combination of these?

–  Do they need to take breaks during the process or do they do better completing a task before taking a break? (Will they lose focus or gain focus from distraction?)

#3 The SECRET to WHEN:

You do not have to follow a public school schedule in your planning. You do need to have regular times of instruction for the teaching to be effective and create consistency. Children need some measure of that. You decide the times to “do school.” The clock does not have to be your master.

If your child is tired or hungry or just had a fight with a friend, those things need to be taken care of before introducing new material. This is where a schedule needs some flexibility!

TIP: Even children with a short attention span tend to remember the first five minutes and the last five minutes of what is taught. So if you have short spurts of teaching new information, with reinforcement, they will retain it better.

What must be included in presenting a new concept is:

–  Vocabulary. The meaning of new words in any subject must be fully explained along with the new concept. When the child can repeat the concept back in their own words, they understand it.

– Real life application – whenever you can relate a new concept to something they already know and understand, you create a learning link that will stick.

–  Use as many sensory gates as you can. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and doing… will create a stronger impression. There are many books and articles on learning styles that you can find online, that will give ideas for how to do this.

–  Simple, pithy phrases that they can repeat in a drill, should be used daily for at least a week, then repeated occasionally to reinforce long-term memory. Some children remember best when memory work is put to a simple tune.

#4  The SECRET to WHAT

It’s not merely “what will be on the test,” but will this information help them understand the subject?  There are arbitrary facts often taught in grammar school that children just don’t need to know. One example of this is naming the capitals of states. Unless they will be on a game show, that information is superfluous and easily found if needed. Don’t waste your precious time on that.

Focus on the building blocks of learning and the puzzle pieces that need to fit together for the subject to make sense in the real world. See the big picture before creating your foundation and filling in the blanks for understanding. However, too much foundation building, before seeing the sense that the end product will make, will only frustrate your child. Let them see what the outcome will look like. Let textbooks be a tool to learning, and not the master over your day. Use a variety of tools. You are “teaching the student, not the textbook.” You don’t have to buy expensive books, learning can be done inexpensively through your local library and the internet. Biographies may bring more life to a study than a history textbook. Lap books or creative note taking can create a sufficient record for most things. But if a book has special meaning to you or your child, it’s best to buy one. You never know when a valuable resource may disappear from the shelves.

#5  The SECRET to HOW

Planning and goal setting involves getting a young child excited about the outcome.  As the child gets older, they can participate in the goal setting. Doing this will help them “own” their responsibility and be more motivated to finish. You can use the metaphor of a sport, a game, or a journey with a specific end goal. There should be celebration markers along the way for encouragement, and it does not have to be grades (until time to make transcripts in the high school years). Choose your metaphor according to what interests your child. You could use a timeline or game board with their character moving through the various stops. You could make the year into a story book with chapters, pictures, and progress that the hero (your child) is making. For older children, they can plan out goal posts on a calendar and learn what disciplines will help them achieve each one. Moving on to the next will be the reward for achieving the first levels.

#6  The SECRET to WHERE:

Finding the most natural places for learning does not usually include a desk in a classroom with many other students. Though learning is possible in that environment, there are more distractions. Sometimes a quiet place is required. However, sitting down all day will make the brain tired, so try different environments and use what works for you and for them! Having a conversation while walking is quite effective for reinforcement. But let most of the walk be listening to them. This can also be your evaluation. A written test is not the only way to evaluate progress.

In summary, know your own reasons for this journey of learning.
Know your own child and their strengths and weaknesses and their goals.
Don’t skip the foundational understanding that makes sense of the big picture, and give real goal posts along the way to celebrate when you reach them!

This takes prayer, thought and planning. But it is the planning that makes for a successful homeschool year.


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How to Help Your Kids Love Learning Again

Are your kids tired of “school?” Does learning seem like a chore to them? It’s probably not their fault. We’ve been trained to rely on textbooks as authorities of what our children must know, and persevere through them faithfully.

Oh, the tyranny of the textbook! Each subject is presented as separate and distinct, stripped of its vitality and laden with seemingly irrelevant facts. Why do we do this to ourselves? Or, to them? How can we teach the love of learning when it isn’t exciting to us?

Textbooks are useful as a resource. But if you want to teach without quenching curiosity, I think it’s best to keep it as one of several resources.  How about bringing subject matter into a real-life application? Instead of merely stuffing your memory with isolated facts,  you can refocus and create a living lesson!

It is true that advancement in understanding needs a foundation of basic information. Children enjoy memorizing lists and basic fact families from a very early age. This can be done through songs, games and challenges. The grammar stage is when they are hungry to know and identify items in categories. But if these facts do not become connected to a deeper meaning, by the time they hit 9 or 10 years old, their interest will evaporate. There is no reason to wait until they are on the verge of losing interest, either. Knowledge should be applied to bring understanding. They need to move from “the what” to “the how” and “the why.”

Several curricula make use of the library, experiments, and field trips. Even an occasional interview with an expert (or a video clip of one) may be included to add interest. These are a great help! But we still lose something when we strive to separate subjects from each other. Real life isn’t like that. It doesn’t seem natural. Meaning and significance are lost.

How can the four core subjects of math, reading, history/geography, and science come together in one lesson? What about Bible, spelling, handwriting, and literature? If you are following a distinct sequence for each subject, it wouldn’t be easy. But not all subjects need to be taught in a particular order. So, question the table of contents!

This week in history, we have been studying the Pilgrims meeting with Squanto. Here are a few associated topics that could be melded together fairly easily: in science –  germs and infectious disease, hygiene and food preparation, weather, horticulture, and physics (buildings and ships).

Science crosses into math when discussing navigation tools and means from the age of discovery, compared to today. Geography also plays a part both in routes taken and cultural differences. Bible lessons flow from the desire of the pilgrims to worship freely, their treatment of the natives they encountered, and their determination and work ethic in persevering.

Besides matters of faith, the Mayflower Compact touches on sociology, economics, and law. Vocabulary can be taken from this document and sections can be copied. Discussions of the moral rightness or wrongness of settling there against the king’s wishes can be discussed and even debated, with evidence brought for each position.

Math, Science and Reading can also be implemented as your children use original recipes and prepare Johnny Cakes (corn bread) or meat pies from early colonial days. If you double or triple the recipe you not only practice liquid and dry measurement but also add and multiply fractions. The nutritional value of the food available to the Pilgrims is another interesting topic.

Unit Studies make an effort to bring all the disciplines together and many of them do a good job. But again, a curriculum that someone else wrote can be limiting.

I encourage you to be spontaneous from time to time and talk with your children as you help them develop life skills. Let the questions that rise from real work inspire some research and reflection.

One other benefit of this type of learning is that your children see wonder in the world around them. Knowledge does not seem so difficult to attain. Ideas in isolation are soon forgotten. When the creative mind and the senses become engaged, they gain understanding of subject matter and transition into wisdom as knowledge is applied to their lives. There are plenty of mysteries to be discovered. Be free of the tyranny of the textbook. Let learning be a joyful adventure for you and your children!