Planning is the difference between a school day that flies along and a day full of frustration. It's easy to fall into the trap of avoiding it, but proper planning is essential to a successful school year. Without it, Mom tries to figure out what needs to happen next while her child disappears into the netherworlds of the house, only to be fished back a few minutes later after he's already become engrossed in another project (or perhaps has wandered off to pester a sibling who is trying to work). With planning, however, children and moms have a checklist for the day and are confident of what they need to do next. Good planning begins with a few basic questions.

Ask the Right Questions

Start with the big picture:

What do you want your children to accomplish this year, both in academics and their physical well-being?

What tools will you use to get there?

  • Curriculum
  • Field trips
  • Activities/Co-ops
  • Mentor relationships

How do you want to schedule your time?

  • Will you school for nine months or year-round?
  • Traditional school breaks? Three weeks on and one week off?
  • All week, or Monday through Thursday only?
  • Will you study each subject every day or try something different? Examples:
    • Assign a subject to each day: Monday – Science; Tuesday – History; Wednesday – Art; and Thursday - Music. After you cover the basics, you can focus the rest of the time on your area of concentration for the day.
    • Monday and Wednesday – Science; Tuesday and Thursday – History
    • Math and Language Arts four times a week; spend Friday on Science and History

Look at Each Subject

Once you've answered these questions, it's time to get more detailed. Look at the curriculum for each subject you've selected. Do you want to add to it? Make it more interesting?

You'll need to account for extra projects like lapbooks, supplemental workbooks, and outside reading. Remember to leave ample time for these items.

Next, consider whether your curriculum offers any online help. Are there discussion boards or e-groups available? A lot of e-groups offer a file section where you may find that others have already done your scheduling for you. Don't re-invent the wheel! A little time spent surfing the internet can save you a lot of time in planning.

Now, consider your 180 days (36 weeks). Begin with the curriculum that will be the simplest to schedule then divide the number of lessons by 36 weeks. This allows you a little bit of flexibility. How many lessons will you need to do each week to complete the curriculum? Be sure to re-evaluate this schedule at different points during the school year – at Christmas time and again in the spring. Life doesn't always go as planned, and you may find that you have to extend your school year or double up lessons in order to end the year when you want to. I know of one family where students were willing to double – even triple up – grammar or math lessons for the last couple of months of school so that they could finish with the rest of the family.

Daily Planning

Next, you need to consider the nuts and bolts of your daily plans. How would you like to set up your planning? Are you a pen and paper planner? You may want to develop your own planning grid or find an existing grid online. Donna Young's website is full of wonderful planning forms, including schedules for specific curricula.

If you prefer to use planning software, there are several options available. All of them have useful websites which will allow you to compare features.

Some programs* that may work for your family:

  • Edu-Track Home School
  • HomeSchool Minder
  • Homeschool Form Share (a Yahoo! group)

Add Some Zing

Finally, once you have all of your regular school days planned, take a bit of extra time and add some fun elements to keep school engaging. I love the great ideas from Cyndy Regeling and Tammy Duby's book, Add Two Cups of Laughter. They have all kinds of suggestions for ways in which you can add a bit of zing to school days, including having a backwards day in which you wear your clothes backwards, your schedule is backwards, your meals are backwards, etc; pajama day, where everyone stays in their pajamas all day and does their school work in their beds; or a color day — choose a specific color for that day and dress in that color, do your schoolwork in that color, prepare foods in that color, and so on.

Remember that a new school year is the perfect time for a new beginning. Set up a plan, follow it, and see how smoothly your days will flow!

Melissa Craig lives in southeastern Michigan and homeschools her four children. She also works for Bright Ideas Press and has co-authored a book entitled Young Scholar's Guide to Composers.

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