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In the Northern Hemisphere, the stores are starting to offer Back to School Sales, families who have to meet local reporting requirements are tweaking their syllabus to send in to the school board, and even  families who school year round are hearing about “back to school” from families and friends.

For families in the Southern Hemisphere, the middle of the school year may mean a yearning for something fresh and new in their homeschool.

Even though we’re schooling more or less year round, I’m prey to the excitement of the new year.  I have to submit high school learning plans and an overview of the next four years for my new 9th grader, even though she’s considered herself a 9th grader for several months already (and frankly, she’s really considered herself a 9th grader for about 15 months.)

This is the time of year when all my plans are going to work out, we’re going to achieve more than ever before, and every book I pick will be a winner.

Organization

It seems as though every year, I try something a bit different to organize my life. (Full disclosure: nothing I’ve tried so far has really worked.) This year, I’m going to try to do all my planning for the many different strands in my life – two jobs, family organization, and homeschooling – in one place, using a Numbered Page Journal (not as sexy a title as a Bullet Journal, but less Rambo).

I bought a 100-page, plasticy cover, sewn binding 7 ¼” X 9 3/4” Mead notebook several years ago for the kids’ school. They both hated it, so it went to the bottom of a Rubbermaid box until I discovered it this year.  I’ve numbered all the pages, saved the first five for a table of contents, the last 10 for to do lists, and separated the other strands of my life into chunks of the book.  I don’t do all my school planning in there, but I have about twenty pages dedicated to school, by subject and shopping lists.

As soon as I find an organizational system for homeschool, it stops working within a few months.  I thought that my daughters would work more independently in high school, and I could say vague things like “learn chemistry,” and all would be well, but in fact, they are more anxious for a syllabus than they were in middle school, because they want to know they are covering enough material. So now, I’m writing up about 6 weeks at a time for the sciences and history (we simply plod along in math), and we’re taking the month off from English, while one daughter works on a science presentation and the other works on a novel. I have a vague idea of what books/topics will be covered after those six weeks, roughed out by month, but I find it too hard to sit down and sketch out every day of the school year at one go.  Forty days or so at a time is all I can manage.

Block Scheduling

As I said, we’re taking a bit of a break from English.  Because we have school much of the year, we can afford to do this.  In September, we’ll do a big biology project, and everything else will fall by the wayside. In November, February and March, we’ll be flat-out, studying far more than your typical high school schedule, and in December and January, we’ll be staying with family, so we’ll reduce everything to e books and a laptop, and sneaking in studying when we can. This is one of the great advantages of homeschooling.  If you look a rough idea of what you want to accomplish over the entire school year, school can expand and contract as other events compete with it.

Pre-reading

In high school, a lot of my time is devoted to pre-reading and writing the syllabus, even though I don’t do it all in one hit. Last night I finished How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, which has been strongly recommended by other homeschooling teachers online.  I spent a couple of days over it – I won’t assign it to Helen and Anna for several months, but I can now fit it into their schedule more easily.  It’s an ebook, which means I may shuffle it to our traveling time, but now that I’ve read it, I can say, okay, I want them to read many of the works Foster discusses before they encounter his interpretation. In one night, my plans for the semester have shifted dramatically (which is one good thing about only planning 6 weeks in advance in any detail). I suddenly need to squeeze in time for “Sonny’s Blues,” “Rocking-Horse Winner,” “Out, out…,” “The Garden Party,” and a dozen more, if I want to use Foster’s work most effectively.

Pre-reading often leads to this sort of re-alignment of the curriculum. I’ve bought a dozen books for their history curriculum, but I will probably only assign nine or ten. As the work gets harder in literature and history, I find it more important to purchase hard copies of the books.  For tough literature assignments, I buy two (or sometimes three) copies so they can write directly in the books.  In history, I tend to buy one copy, and we all three share it.  If I’m not too worried about retention and detail, I buy a Kindle copy (all our Kindles are linked to my account, so one purchase covers all three of us.)

Waste Budget

I’ve learned to budget about 5-10% of a waste budget, books and materials I’ve bought that simply don’t work for my children or that phase in our homeschool.  It’s maddening, but there’s nothing worse than buying a program (especially if you buy too many levels at one time!) and then persisting with it, even after it’s obvious it’s not working.  We’ve all done that. It was so convincing online, so enthusiastically recommended, looked so good when it came in the package.  Those highly recommended ones have good resale value, some things I donate to the local library or homeschoolers with younger children.  Just because it doesn’t work for us, doesn’t mean it won’t be a perfect fit for another family.

I try very hard not be swayed by curriculum sales in August.  It is much cheaper not to buy something than buy it as a discount.  If you know you’ll need it, jump at that sale, but don’t be pushed to buy everything right away: you don’t have to have that bookshelf full on September first.

Having a PO Box

In elementary and middle school, we didn’t have a stable address and lived abroad, so I had to be far more organized about having all the books selected and purchased in time to send them by boat mail. Now, I glory in the power of having a US PO Box – I buy items much more slowly, and I absolutely don’t feel that I have to have the entire year organized and planned out at a single moment in time. It’s such a luxury! Math? We’ll just persist with the program we’re using (which doesn’t have an answer key), until I can’t teach it any more, then we’ll switch to the Art of Problem Solving. That could happen in a month’s time, three months, next year … maybe I can keep going for another year after that. (Although I had an awful lot of trouble with the homework for last night, so maybe the day is coming sooner than I expect.)  It doesn’t matter. I can order the books and they’ll turn up within two weeks. If we have to wait, we can simply do some review, or concentrate hard on another subject.

This is a big change from when we were traveling, when math was the only subject I felt I had to have lined up ready to go – I always shopped a year ahead in those days, just in case the children suddenly accelerated.

I love these days

I love planning out the syllabus, adjusting, adding, sorting through books and reviews.  I’m on about draft three of the rough sketch of Helen’s chemistry class.  I keep finding new things, and add them in.  I’m finding Chemistry difficult: she wants to take the SAT Chemistry test, and while there are plenty of homeschool programs for AP Chem and plenty for basic Chem, I haven’t found anything but the SAT guides that target this middle ground of Honors Chem. So, I do the best I can, try to reverse engineer it from the SAT study guide, and leave a lot of empty chunks in the schedule, so we she can learn it in the most logical order, even if that order changes slightly over the school year.

A week after I spent many nights planning my younger daughter’s Physics First class, she came to me.  “I really want to do biology this year.” So, guess what, my blog on Physics First isn’t going to be updated, but maybe by the end of the year I’ll have a good Biology First one to replace it.

The school year won’t progress the way I see it in August, in the bright shiny days of new books and ideas.  But these days of planning won’t be wasted: my daughters will know more next August than they do now.

Looking for Ideas?

Try Homeschooling in a Box, Out of the Box if you’re just starting out with four to eight year olds.
Or preview my book Homeschool Teacher or order it online for elementary and middle school homeschooling or afterschool help.
Try High School links for the courses we’ve done in high school.

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