This is part 2 in my series of posts about how we plan our school year. If you missed part 1, you can find it here. This post will focus on the planning process once the material choices have been made.
Once I know what materials I plan to use, it's time to start planning how they will be used. I always start with any materials that we already own. Next, I plan out any that are free online. Finally, once the purchased materials get here, I plan those. Since I decide on activities/labs/projects when choosing materials (so I can make sure to get the materials needed for them), there really isn't much to do at this point.
This part of the process consists mainly of determining how many chapters/lessons are in each book and how long each chapter/lesson should take. Again, some parts of this are incredibly easy. Easy Grammar has 180 lessons. At one lesson per day, that is 36 weeks. Other things take longer & more work to plan out. How many books should I assign for English this year? How long should I allow for each each novel? Should I require Historical Fiction to go with the History studies, or leave them optional? How often should he do Life of Fred when combined with other Math work? Should I assign all the problems in each exercise or just half? These are the types of questions that I ask & answer each year.
In order to truly decide how a subject should be planned for the year, I need to look at all the materials we plan to use, except library books & DVDs. I need to see how they will fit together. I need to decide if they should be used simultaneously, alternating, or in series. I need to determine where the activities/labs/projects fit in and how long they should take.
This is also when I search the library catalog and Netlfix. When planning what materials, I do check the library catalog, but that is really just to see how many resources are available on each topic. Now, I'm looking for specific ones we might want to use. I make a list of the DVDs I hope to get. I make a list of the historical fiction, about the time periods we're studying, that I think the child might enjoy. I search the titles available for Instant Streaming on Netflix. I find all those that we might want to watch with our studies & put them in our queue. I organize the queue so that all titles related to the current school year are at the beginning. It's so much easier if they are all together & I know exactly where to find them. During the last week of the school year, or over a break between years, I move all the titles for the next year to the beginning. After searching instant titles, I search the DVD titles, adding those to our DVD queue. The current school year's titles are, of course, at the top. I put all titles related to the coming school year just below those for this school year.
What I end up with is essentially just a large To Do list, ready to have all items checked off. I keep the plans for the school year in either a notebook or binder. I start with one subject. I list all the required materials for that subject, with their assignments. So, for Language Arts, it will have the Grammar program with assignments listed next to the title, then the Writing program & assignments, then Spelling, etc. The assignments are written out as the chapter/unit/lesson/day/however it is organized in the material. So, it doesn't say Easy Grammar - 180 days. It says Easy Grammar - day1, 2, 3,........179, 180. That way, we can mark off each lesson as it is completed.
History (always) & Science (until high school level) are planned out slightly differently. We don't use a text or really any other kind of spine for these (once we hit high school level, we use a text for Science, but never for History). For those subjects, I list the topics we plan to cover and the areas within in each topic. I also list all the activities/labs/projects I plan to do for each topic. I make a list of all the books we own that might be useful in the study, as well as a list of DVDs (both library & Netflix) I want to use. I then leave room to list all the resources we actually use (this part is more recent, as I didn't bother tracking what we used in the beginning).
I may write down a few library books I hope to use, but not a full list. I can never be certain when something will be available. Plus, our library doesn't tell you the level of a book, beyond Kids, YA, Adult, Picture Book. So, I have to look at the book to see if it will work for us. I have to flip through it to see if it's too easy. I have to skim it to see if it has any information that will actually be new to the child. I have to scan it to make sure it's appropriate. So, I see it as rather pointless to make a long list of all the books we might possibly borrow from the library, when I would still have to search every week to see what is available at the branch we go to & what needs to be put on hold, as well as looking over all the books before checking out.
Once I have my checklist for each subject, the planning for the whole year is done. All that's left is the weekly planning. I don't plan out every single week or day ahead of time, because we would never stick to it. That's why I like the checklist system I use. I can see everything that still needs to be done and everything that has been done, all without 'getting off track' or 'falling behind schedule' or having to re-write the schedule every week.