I love how summer learning kind of takes on a rhythm of its own. We don’t have any formal “school” going on just yet, but as we wrap up this season, I’ve loved watching spontaneous learning just happen. And nature study is one of my favorite ways to watch learning happen naturally. It’s such a fun activity to encourage curiosity, exploration, and research. This summer, we’ve been noticing dragonflies and damselflies. The result has been an informal dragonfly summer nature study that has lasted all season.
Our Dragonfly Summer Nature Study
It all started with a dragonfly on our outside patio.
As we “oohed” and “ahhed” over it, I asked the kids if they knew any differences between a damselfly and a dragonfly. We consulted some nature books and Google Images and observed some basic differences: dragonflies have larger wings that spread out when at rest, thicker bodies, and eyes that are closer together; damselflies typically have wings that fold when at rest (many times, it looks as though they only have two wings), thinner bodies, and more distance between their eyes.
Honestly, my kids took it from there. We observed dragonflies and damselflies on every nature walk for the rest of this summer. They even built damselfly and dragonfly lego creatures.
They watched a swarm of damselflies mating and laying eggs in our favorite pond. And they picked up a dead dragonfly in a parking lot to observe at home under our microscope.
Tips for a summer nature study (or any nature study)
Take a walk and see what catches your child’s attention.
Ask some questions and find some answers together. Google it, or check out a library book. But make sure that it’s answering your child’s questions and feeding his interest in the topic.
Allow your child to “narrate” or put the new info to use—whether that’s teaching the new info to you on the next nature walk, drawing in a nature journal, or playing with legos!
I love having a time of the year to take a break from our classical/charlotte homeschool and to enjoy some summer spontaneity. And while I’m looking forward to adding some structure back into our lives and am excited about our new books and fresh supplies, I also love that learning can happen without those lesson plans, too. Learning happens anywhere!
Over the years, I’ve taken the whole idea of customizing our homeschool to a new extreme. Our homeschool style is largely classical with a Charlotte Mason twist, and my homeschool lesson plans tend to be just as “custom.” I plan some subjects in the most traditional sense; I loop-plan other subjects; and I just record what we accomplished for still other subjects. Because my homeschool lesson plans are so unique, finding the right homeschool planner can be a little tricky. Which is why this year, I’ve ditched the traditional planner and just picked up a cute graph-paper notebook from Plum Paper Planner.
Take a peak inside my homeschool lesson plans.
Planning by Terms
I love the Charlotte Mason method of planning the year by three 12-week terms. We have one term in the fall, a one-month break for Christmas, followed by a winter term and a spring term. Each term, I change things up. We finish certain books or subjects and add in others. We finish certain topics in our classical-style history cycle and begin others. It also gives me the freedom to tweak our schedule every 12 weeks and re-evaluate what is working and what isn’t.
Planning the “Discipline” Subjects
My “discipline” subjects like math and grammar and spelling are easy to plan in the traditional sense. I figure out how much we need to get accomplished each term, dividing the number of pages or lessons by the number of days. I usually also assign how much time I expect the assignment to take, just to help us set goals and manage time well. From here, I type out a printable weekly assignment sheet that my kids use to actually check off their work.
Planning the “Inspiration” Subjects
Our “inspiration” subjects include history, science, literature, and some writing. Although I assign certain books for my kids to read and plan for when I think we will get to those books within the term, I tend to loop-plan these subjects. As in, we move on when the topic has been covered. When we finish our projects and books on the Vikings, we move on to knights and castles. When we wrap up one writing project, I introduce the next. My younger two (K and 4th grades) will be continuing with science in this same fashion, looping through different biology topics. My 6th grader, on the other hand, likes to take his science more seriously, with weekly assignments.
In my homeschool lesson plans, this loop-planning looks almost like bullet journaling. I write in the projects, books, and audiobooks I expect us to get to in the next few weeks. As those assignments are completed, I’ll check them off. If they don’t get completed, it’s no big deal. I’ll write an arrow through the box and move the assignment to the following week.
Planning “Meeting Times”
The time I spend one-on-one with each child is what we call “meeting time.” And I plan this time pretty loosely, mostly just recording what we’ve done. For my 6th grader, we plan to meet once a week, similar to last year. I’ll check over his work, hand back graded assignments, and answer questions on the upcoming assignments. New to this year, we’ll also be adding a discussion time with some questions about his reading and history topics, in a very classical model.
The “meeting times” with my younger kids are much different. For my kindergartener, all of his assignments require one-on-one with me. We’ll cover reading and phonics as well as math, and his time with me should take about 45 minutes or so each day. As those assignments are completed, I will circle the letter for the day of the week we worked together. At this stage, I usually work through subjects for an allotted amount of time, doing a little extra if he’s in the mood or a little less if he needs more playtime, rather than forcing him to complete an entire lesson on a particular day. I’ve never had any trouble completing subjects this way, and it gives my littles the flexibility they need early on.
My “meeting time” with my fourth grader is done very similarly. Because of her dyslexia and other learning challenges, she needs a lot more of my attention to get her harder assignments completed. Our subjects together include math, grammar, spelling, and some writing, but I adhere to the Charlotte Mason “short lessons” principle. All together, we’ll spend about an hour, and I’ll circle the letter for the day of the week that we got to each subject, alternating some of the subjects each day.
Planning for flexibility
As you might have noticed, I don’t have daily homeschool lesson plans. I like to see my week and customize each day to get done what needs to be done. This allows us some flexibility and margin when we have busy weeks or bad days or sickness or whatever else life throws our way. On their good days, my kids will knock out quite a bit of the week’s work. On our bad days, we may only get to math. But by the end of the week, it works out—and I don’t stress about being “behind.”
We also have a unique schedule for easing into Mondays, which includes projects, game-schooling, art, and other casual learning opportunities. I don’t necessarily have a lesson plan for Mondays.
Though our system may not work for everyone, it’s perfect for us. Just like your system should be one that works for you, regardless of whether or not someone else could do it your way. That’s the nature and beauty of homeschooling—finding a learning lifestyle that fits your family, your personality, and your planning style.
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My earliest homeschool memories include my mom working over homeschool schedules in her spiral notebook. Nothing fancy. Just a cheap spiral notebook with ruled paper. That “homeschool planner” served her well for years. Over the 6 years or so that I’ve homeschooled my own kids, I’ve been all over the gamut of homeschool planning. I’ve tried online planners, planning apps, free planning pages, printable homeschool planner pdfs, dry-erase calendar board, the Ultimate Homeschool Planner, Plum Paper Planner—you name it, I’ve probably given it a try. My planning needs and preferences are constantly morphing. But the one thing I’ve learned is that the key to finding the right homeschool planner is to know yourself and what you’ll use.
Tips to Finding the Right Homeschool Planner
Know yourself (and be honest).We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have short-comings. You won’t find your perfect planning system if you can’t be honest about what just won’t work. It’s not a statement of who you are if you can’t make a paper planner work or if you never get on the computer to log those lessons as completed. It’s simply a matter of a system that failed you. We are individuals with unique personalities; what works for one person won’t work for everyone.
Know what you are most likely to use.Some of this is trial and error. You simply won’t know until you give a few things a try. If you are good at keeping your Google Calendar up to date and like to keep Reminders and Notes on your phone, then try an online planner. If you are a list person who likes to write it all out by hand, then try a paper planner. Do you like to see your week’s events lined up vertically or horizontally? Do you like a large 8×11 size plan or a smaller “throw it in your purse” style planner? If you have no clue, then jump in and give something a try. Within a few days or weeks of using it, you’ll know what you love or hate about it.
Know what motivates you.And again, be honest. I’m cheap, and I hate to spend money on myself. But one thing I’ve had to be honest about: I just don’t plan well in an ugly planner. As shallow as that sounds, I have to have a pretty planner with soft, high-quality paper that invites me to sit down and plan. I literally try to think of something just so that I can write on that paper. If my pen scratches across the page, I won’t write it in it the way I should. Bottom line, if you hate your planning system, you won’t plan. If you hate sitting at a computer, online planning will not change that. If writing by hand is hard for you, then writing in a planner is not going to be a win. So find motivation that will make planning pleasant, and reward yourself for doing it. If stickers are your thing, than motivate yourself with some cute stickers and a Lisa Frank pen. If chocolate is your proverbial carrot, than by all means, have a private stash that only comes out during planning.
My homeschool planner for the 2017-18 school year
This year, I’m stepping way out of my norm for planning. But in a way, it really makes sense for me. Last year, I had two “planners” for homeschool. I had a traditional weekly planner from Plum Paper Planner that allowed me to customize my headings, add extra note pages and checklists, etc. It was my second year to use a Plum Paper Planner for homeschool, and I’ve loved them. But last year, I also had a cute little notebook from Plum Paper that was smaller and filled with graph paper. My idea was that all my brainstorming and Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, etc. would end up in my little notebook, then the final version would make it to the planner. But what I found last year was that I was much more excited about jotting down plans on that graph paper inside the notebook than actually using the planner itself.
While I love Plum Paper Planners as my personal planner for church, work, and home life, I’ve opted for the (much cheaper) Plum Paper notebook for my homeschool plans this year. It’s been fun to set it up, similar to bullet-journaling. And when I was done with planning, I didn’t want to be—I sat with it open hoping I’d think of something else to write in it. That, my friend, tells me I’ve got a winner. (Or that I’m a total nerd. lol!)
Here are a couple of other posts to get you started planning your homeschool year:
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