Loop Planning with file folders (for themes, topics, and unit Studies)

homeschool planning | lesson planning | loop planning

Some subjects, like math and grammar, can be pretty straightforward when planning. But other subjects that are more topic or theme oriented are a little harder to schedule with traditional lesson planning. For those subjects, I’ve found that I really like loop planning.

The idea of loop planning is that you plan the order rather than the timeframe that a lesson is completed. When you finish one theme or unit study, you pull out the next one. There’s no deadline or getting behind; you finish when you are finished.

For instance, I plan my Tapestry of Grace history this way. I have file folders for each history topic we want to cover. Book lists, project templates, notebooking pages, and all other pertinent info goes into the file folder. On my folder, I mark about how long I expect this topic to take, but it’s only a guideline. Some topics take longer than I expect, and some topics finish more quickly. Because I know I have this flexibility, I don’t panic when we take a little longer on a topic; I know it will work out by the end of the year. Also, because I’ve marked approximate lengths of time on my folders. I can make quick judgement calls. (Hmm. I said two weeks for Ancient Incas but we just spent 5 weeks instead of 4 in Egypt. I bet we can cover Incas in just a week.) Whenever we finish one topic, I pull out the next folder to complete.

Simple Steps to Loop Planning Unit Studies

  1. Decide on a list of topics or themes to study.
  2. Decide on a method of organization to compile your resources for each study (file folders, Pinterest boards, Evernote, whatever you like to use).
  3. Decide on an order or arrangement of topics.

*(Optional) Decide on a rough time-frame for each unit or topic.

You can use loop planning for discipline subjects as well (math, spelling, etc.) And I will often default to loop planning whenever I can. If you want to attempt loop planning for all your subjects, here are a few suggestions.

Using Loop Planning for Traditional Subjects

  1. Decide on the number of lessons you need to complete each week.
  2. Set up a filing system for each week. (I love file folders and have a folder for each week.)
  3. File the correct number of lessons for each week inside your file folder. (5 math lessons, 3 latin exercises, 1 spelling list, etc.)

Your done! Pull out the correct folder, finish it, and move on to the next folder when you are ready!

The loop planning method also works really well for creative subjects or extra-curriculars like art, music, or nature study. You can even arrange the subjects themselves to loop. Nature study follows art which follows music, etc. Plan language arts and math everyday, then loop plan history, science, art, etc. completing one or two of these each week.

There’s no end to how you can creatively use loop planning. But the major benefit is that there is no falling behind or meeting a deadline. You are free to enjoy your topic until you’ve exhausted it. You are free to work on it whenever time allows; some weeks you may have 5 days and others you may have 2 days. Loop planning allows for maximum flexibility.

While loop planning has not worked for every subject in our homeschool, a combination of traditional lesson planning and loop planning has worked really well for us. Find a combination that works for you—your personality as well as your homeschool style.

Have more questions or want a little more help on the topic of homeschool planning? Read more about loop planning, other methods of planning, and combining different methods to find your perfect solution in my free course “Planning your Homeschool.” Plus, get free downloads to get you started. 

Click here to find out more!

Free Homeschool Planner pages | free download | free homeschool printable | weekly planning pages

5 steps to traditional lesson planning

homeschool lesson planning | homeschool planning

For most people I know, lesson planning is the part of homeschooling that they despise. But I’m a nerd; I love to lesson plan and organize our year. And I have two methods for getting my ducks in a row: traditional lesson planning for subjects like spelling and grammar and loop planning for subjects that are more topic or unit study oriented. (We’ll tackle loop planning in my next post.)

I actually do a lot of my planning during the summer to help relieve some of the time pressure that lesson planning can create, so my school year just about runs itself during the actual school months. During that process, here’s how I break down our year and create traditional lesson plans.

5 Steps to traditional lesson planning

  • Think through vacation days and breaks your family likes to take. Do you want a winter break or spring break? When do you take family vacation? Will you have relatives visiting? Plot these times in your calendar first.
  • Set start and end dates. At this point, these are just rough estimates, you can always move these forward or backward as you define your year. But roughly, when do you want to start and end?
  • Calculate the number of weeks/days in your year. The traditional U.S. school year is about 180 days or 36 weeks. As a result, a lot of your curriculums will be designed for this time frame. However, depending on your state requirements, you can do less or more. Some families school year round; others finish up when the books are completed no matter if that is week 33 or week 48.
  • Divide your year into periods or terms (6 weeks, 9 weeks, 12 weeks). This step is optional. But it can be helpful to break your year into smaller increments: (1) if you plan on having report cards and grading periods, (2) if you are planning unit studies or themes throughout the year, (3) or if you just need to “eat the elephant” a bite at a time. 
  • Divide the number of pages or lessons by the number of weeks in the school year. (The average school year is about 36 weeks.) The answer will be how much needs to be assigned each week.

homeschool planning | plan your year

From there, you can decide how you prefer to keep track of progress. You can write in the lesson numbers each day (but then, if there are sick days or spontaneous field trips, your planner is all messed up), write in lesson numbers for each week (a little more flexibility with this approach), or record how many lessons you complete each week (maximum flexibility, but you will need to double-check that you are completing enough to ensure you finish on time.)

I use a combination of weekly planning and recording. For some assignments, I chart what needs to be finished on a weekly basis. So each week, I fill this in (and never more than 2-3 weeks ahead of where we are, in case of the unexpected): “read pages 20-30” or “complete lessons 35-40.” For subjects that only need to be completed 2 to 3 times a week. I write the subject into my planner and then record the days we worked on those lessons. For instance: FFL (First Language Lessons) M W F; WWE (Writing with Ease) M W; WA (Writing Aids) F

Subjects like math, spelling, grammar, etc. lend themselves to this kind of planning best. The rigid structure of these subjects fits well with the rigid structure of traditional lesson planning. Creative subjects, especially those that are based on theme, topic, or unit study are often easier to plan using loop planning. Stay tuned for my next post for more info on this method.

Have more questions or want a little more help on the topic of homeschool planning? Read more about traditional lesson planning, other methods of planning, and combining different methods to find your perfect solution in my free course “Planning your Homeschool.” Plus, get free downloads to get you started. 

Click here to find out more!

Free Homeschool Planner pages | free download | free homeschool printable | weekly planning pages

Organizing Home and School

Last year, I used these really cool wall-adhesive charts to organize my life. But unfortunately, my WallPops did not survive the move. (They adhered to the wax paper and would not come off.) So I was left scrambling at the last minute before the beginning of school wondering how I was going to organize myself.

Thank the Lord for Target! I actually made the trip to look for toy bins for Middlest’s room and happened upon these terrific magnet dry-erase boards.

Organizing Home and School

Of course, with my aversion for putting holes in walls, I hung them with command hooks and adhesives rather than the actual mounting kit. But so far, they seem to be holding well. And I do love to feel organized.

I actually use the calendar to record our school schedule, placing the subjects in the Sunday box and filling in the rest of the days with assignments for that day. This system works really well for me because it’s up on a wall where I can quickly glance to know what to do next with each child, rather than hunting down yet another notebook or loose piece of paper.

Organizing Home and School

The larger week-in-view allows me to highlight specific events or appointments that we have during the week. I update it each week from our Google calendar so that I don’t overlook those important items. It might seem overkill for some people, but it has been a life-saver for me. While we were moving, I really felt lost without this item.

{sigh} So nice to see my life again, neatly arranged in little boxes with brightly colored markers. It helps me feel that everything is in its rightful place.

Structuring a new year: lesson plans, part 2

Part 1 of my lesson planning system for the new year was my digital planner Homeschool Helper on my Nook. Part 2 of my system is taking those plans and filing them.

Here’s my filing system, 36 hanging files (one for each week of the year).

Homeschool Organizing lesson plans


Homeschool Organizing

Inside each file is the following:

  • My printed weekly lesson reports from Homeschool Helper. I’ll be able to take these out and write them on my wall calendar at the start of each week.
  • Student pages for each child for that week. I’ve taken all the pages out of the workbooks and filed them by week. That way at the start of the week, those pages are all ready to be distributed.
  • Coloring pages and activities for Latin, science, and history. My printing, sorting, etc. is all taken care of at the start of the year. No more last minute printing while kids wait. I should have everything, for the most part, ready to go. Also, if I run across fun activities on the internet, I can easily print and have them ready within that week’s file.

Filing Lessons by week

Another aspect to my planning this year has been to make playlists for our memory work. My kids LOVE music, thus much of our memory work is to music. We’re doing Teach Them the Faith catechism songs for Bible this year, Song School Latin, and then the audio stories from Story of the World. I’ve sorted each of these into playlists for the first unit. At the start of each new unit, I’ll make more playlists to accommodate this system. But this way, I don’t have to have it all on my ipod at the same time, just what we need for that week.

What happens from here? Check back. I’ll share the next step in my process soon.

Pushing the grade level

My personal opinion on grade levels is that they are more for us grown-ups than for the kids. They help us group children; they help us organize and structure material; but they can hem in a child who may be ahead in one subject and behind in another. So, taking advantage of homeschool, we’ve definitely pushed the grade level.

But I would add one caution: a child who might be ahead in academics is still the same age at heart. Here’s what I mean, and what I’m learning in the journey. My six year loves learning, loves books, loves school. He’s pestered me nearly everyday of summer wanting to start next year’s work, and I keep putting him off. I need the break, and I know he really does, too (whether he thinks he does or not). He’s six and will be entering 2nd grade. But while he can handle the 2nd grade academic challenge just fine, he still has the stamina of a 6 year old.

For example, early this year I pulled an old A Beka reader from my stash of curriculum that fit just perfectly with our Tapestry of Grace studies. We were studying the Roman Empire during the time that Jesus lived and the reader was Growing Up Where Jesus Lived. Unfortunately, the reader was intended for the end of the 2nd grade year; but by the time my son would be at the end of 2nd grade, we’d be studying pilgrims, not the Roman Empire.

Growing Up Where Jesus Lived, A Beka


Pushing the Grade Level

The vocabulary was challenging, but not too challenging for him. So, I decided to give it a try, knowing I could always use it as a read-aloud if it proved too difficult.

The morning I introduced this book, my son pounced on it excitedly—then he opened the book and saw the pages of text. It wasn’t the actual reading that discouraged him; it was the fact that there were lines upon lines of it. The layout, not the vocabulary, discouraged him. (Remember? 6 year old stamina)

So, I had an idea. We read the book together. He read a page, and I read a page. It was the most fun we’ve had with a reading assignment that I can remember. That book was more than a great history/Bible lesson; it was a great bonding lesson. It was the experience of coming alongside him during a challenge that really made the book memorable.

But one other lesson I learned was to remember not just what he knew but old he was when I planned his lessons.

As we homeschool moms find ourselves in the throes of planning a new year, I wanted to encourage you to go ahead and push the grade level if you need to, but don’t lose the fact that your kid is just a kid. Make the adjustments to fit both his head and his heart.

Vertical Homeschool Organization

On my quest to organize my creative self, I’ve revamped how my homeschool lesson planning system works and thought I’d give you a peak.

I’ve moved my lesson plans out of a notebook and onto a wall. I’m more likely to look at my wall, and I don’t have to have a notebook open all the time. It’s been a super-duper success. Love it! Besides the fact that it’s beautiful, too, and totally appeals to my creative side.

When I purchased my Wallpops for my command center, I had one left over—the calendar. I really had no use for it as a calendar, so I tweaked it and am using it as my weekly lesson planner. Instead of the month, I write in what week we are in. I use Sunday as my spot for writing our weekly subjects; then, I write my lesson plans and notes into the other spots for the corresponding day of the week. This has been awesome!

With Christmas money, I also purchased this really chic magnet board from Etsy. On this, I keep teacher notes. My larger written plan that I write out at the beginning of each nine weeks, any material I intend to read or show the kids during the week, etc.

I’m also made use of Martha Stewart adhesive pockets (decorated with duct tape) for my teacher pocket (rather than a teacher tray) where the kids place their completed assignments and a smaller pocket for me to place memory work or, currently, or mini-books for our human body lapbook until they are actually glued into a lapbook.

The system has worked so well for me. I really do like it much better than notebooks, binders, sheet protectors, file systems, and all the other traditional organization. This is so me, which is probably why I feel such gorgeous relief every time I look at it.

What is your best method for lesson planning?