We’re delving into “middle school” this year for the first time. My oldest is so excited for this milestone. He’s my Flint Lockwood (from Cloudy and a Chance of Meatballs), my absent-minded, super-dramatic, techy science guy. So putting together his curriculum is always a lot of fun. For the most part, we are classical homeschoolers, making a few adjustments here and there for our rampant ADHD. To accommodate for personality and attention-span, we include lots of variety with short lessons. None of our subjects extend beyond 20-30 minutes at a time, but I serve up a variety each day to keep all his firing cylinders on task. In classical terms, he will be in the logic or dialectic stage this year, learning to think critically and make deeper connections with what he is learning in his homeschool curriculum for 6th grade.
There is nothing that beats being able to hold a curriculum and flip through its pages when you are trying to decide what to buy, but that’s not always possible. Whether you simply can’t make it to a homeschool convention, or the curriculum you are interested in isn’t anywhere to be seen, shopping homeschool curriculum online can be done. Even though it’s not quite the same as seeing a book “in person,” you can still get a good idea of what a curriculum is like with a few simple tips.
Tips for Shopping Homeschool Curriculum online
As we are wrapping up the last of our subjects, I’m in the throes of homeschool planning for the new school year. My decisions are all made, my online carts are empty, and the boxes of curriculum are beginning to roll in. In my routine, May and June are my intense planning months. I like to get all my homeschool planning out of the way so that I can truly take a break. Nothing homeschool related is swirling around in my brain come July and August; it’s done, on the shelf, and just waiting for us.
I plan the new year while the struggles of this year are fresh on my mind. I map out my solutions to all of our homeschool problems, from learning struggles to organization-fails, and then give it all a rest. My kids salivate over the new folders and books they are dying to read, and I dangle next year in front of them—my proverbial carrot—tantalizing their appetite for next year’s menu. It’s fun. We all love this time of year.
So since homeschool planning is consuming all my mind and energy right now, I thought I’d share with you the method to my madness, my steps to mapping out our next year. And over the next couple of weeks, I’ll go into more detail.
My steps to homeschool planning:
Planning our core curriculum: Tapestry of Grace
I’ll just give you a brief summary here, but just know this one step is getting a complete post of it’s own. For one, 60% of my homeschool planning is tied into Tapestry of Grace. It’s a huge undertaking, and when it’s finally done, I feel like I’ve scaled Mt. Everest. When I plan Tapestry, I’m not just planning our history studies; I’m planning our reading list, literature skills, Bible study, writing assignments, arts and crafts, and geography—for all three kids! This year, I will be teaching Tapestry of Grace on three of the four different levels that the curriculum provides: lower grammar, upper grammar, and dialectic. I combine as much as I can, and have my upper grammar student practicing her reading-aloud skills by reading the lower grammar book choices to my kindergartener. A lot of the writing, arts, crafts, and even Bible we will be doing together. The key to teaching multiple ages and keeping your sanity is to combine as much as you possibly can so that you can maximize your time. Tapestry of Grace is wonderful for this.
Gathering our other curriculum.
I have to see what I have to be able to plan. I can’t visualize anything on my own. Whether my husband is discussing house renovations or I’m planning math, I just can’t imagine what something is going to look like until I have it in front of me. Thus, the next step for me is to lay it all out where I can see what I’m working with. I’m also a sucker for the downloadable, print-your-own curriculum. I have a decent printer that uses inexpensive ink, and I shop paper prices and buy it in bulk by the case. So, in order to see what I have, I usually have a ton of printing to finish. Once everyone’s curriculum has been printed or has arrived in the mail, then I’ll take a look at one child’s complete curriculum at a time.
Mapping out the weekly/daily schedule.
In order to make sure I’m not biting off more than we can all chew in a reasonable amount of time, I sketch out a rough daily schedule for each child. It’s not a precise schedule. I simply jot done each child subject’s, the days of the week they will work on that subject, and how much time I anticipate them spending on that subject. I’ll also jot down how much time I expect to work one-on-one with each child. This way, if I’ve planned for a subject to take 15 min. each day, then I need to be sure I don’t assign more than 15 minutes worth of work. If I’ve decided that a total of one and a half hours of independent work is appropriate for one child, than I need to be sure I don’t assign him more than that. If I have only 45 minute with each child, than I need to be sure that I don’t assign more work than we can get through in that amount of time. A rough-draft of our schedule provides boundaries for me as I plan the assignments.
Tackling the master plan.
Some subjects require more planning than others. But in general I usually keep this as simple as possible. I divide our year into three 12 week terms. Some resources I use for just one term, to add some variety to our year. For the subjects that we will be doing through out the year, I schedule out how many lessons we need to accomplish each term or how many page numbers we need to get through. Some subjects, like math, require nothing more than that. Other subjects, like science or writing, I need to think through more specific assignments. Because I’m a little OCD about my planning, I plan on “scrap paper”; I actually have a notebook of grid paper that is specifically for these rough draft plans. Then, when I’ve sketched it all out the way I like it and I’m finished making all my mistakes and alterations, I’ll copy it into a finalized plan for my planner. (I’m an editor at heart, even more than a writer, so everything I do has to have at least a few rough drafts and revisions—even my text messages.)
Organizing the resources.
This is not necessarily a final step. Usually, I’m organizing resources throughout the whole process. And this year, I’m totally overhauling my system of organization. We had a major “loose-paper and missing-supplies” crisis this year. As a result, I reworked and revised how I’ve doing everything. Where will books go, where will loose paper go, what folders will go with what subject, how will each subject be organized, how will the kids recognize their own supplies, what supplies will be shared, how will I be able to quickly and efficiently double-check to make sure books and supplies get back where they belong—I’m serious! I rethought everything. (And I’ll be sharing the final results when it’s finished.)
Bonus: Accommodating ADHD and Dyslexia
There is a difference between coddling a child and accommodating learning struggles. If one of my kids has an attitude or behavioral issue that does not necessarily stem from their difficulties, I will not coddle that behavior; I allow my kids to experience consequences of bad decisions. However, I do believe in accommodating if there are legitimate struggles. I my kids have some legitimate issues. For instance, we have always accommodated ADHD with short bursts of learning. I keep most subjects limited to about 15 minutes each. For my fourth grader, her longest subject is scheduled for 20 minutes. That means on a good day, when her attitude is right, she has no problem completing the assigned work in 20 minutes. On a bad day—well, yes, we have bad days that require further adjustments and natural consequences. For my sixth grader, 30 minutes is a good average for his major subjects. I arrange my schedule according to which children will need me most. This next year, that will be my kindergartener and dyslexic daughter. My oldest is not suffering from this arrangement; he’s old enough for the responsibility and, in my opinion, it’s part of his learning process to need less of me. My daughter, though fourth grade, requires more hand-holding than my other two; it’s a combination of her dyslexia and ADHD. She’s my “Dory,” and she needs some accommodations for her short-term memory struggles. (I also make accommodations to fill in her learning gaps.)
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to and what I’ll be wrapping up next month as well. By July, I hope to be posting pictures of me on the beach with not a single homeschool planning thought in the world!
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