I thought I'd do a series of posts about how I plan out our school year. This is part 1, and will focus on choosing materials.
Choosing our materials is a long process that I work on all year long. I have the basic ideas of what I want to focus on each year planned out for several years (as in through high). I even have some idea of the materials I want to use. However, material choices can change.
I spend the current year choosing materials for the next year. Some subjects are pretty easy. As long as Easy Grammar keeps working for us, we'll keep using it. As long as we keep using it, planning Grammar is as simple as deciding how many levels of Easy Grammar we should get for the next year. The same goes for Jay's Writing & Spelling. We're good with Latin until Jay finishes LFC Primer C, but I'm already looking for what he'll use then.
Other subjects, though, aren't as easy as 'just use the next level.' For some subjects, like Science & History, I have many more materials to find. I have to decide exactly what topics will be covered each year. For History, this is fairly easy, as I mostly go in chronological order, through 5th or 6th grade anyway. After that, we spend 2 years on wars, then move on to their high school History courses. This is the plan we followed for Dea, and it is the plan we're following for Jay. Once they hit high school History, planning becomes a little harder, as they choose the exact time periods studied each year. Science, on the other hand, does not have a set path that both kids follow. I planned out a path for each child, that took them up to high school level. However, we are flexible on the order of the topics. Topic placement in the original path is not set in stone. We finalize choice of topics to be covered just before planning the year. Many things go into determining which topics are covered each year, including (but not limited to) the interest level of the child, the materials available, and the likely career path of the child. For high school, there are certain Science courses that are required, but they choose the rest. We decide together on the order.
So, once the list of courses is finalized, I start the search for materials. As I've stated, some materials are easy, just get the next level (or two). Those are already in my wish list at Rainbow Resource. They are also the first ones I write in my plan ( I always do this part on paper), for obvious reasons. Then, I start looking for materials for the other courses.
I pull out my lists of ideas & possible materials. I start by choosing a spine, or main material, since that will determine how many and what kind of materials I will need. Then, I work on finding the supplemental materials I need/want. Of course, some of our courses done't have a spine. Those require a bit more research to plan. I add all my ideas for each subject to the lists. Then, I read more reviews about them all. When possible, I visit the publisher website. There, I read about the material I'm considering, as well as other materials they publish. I read any articles at the site, especially ones that explain the philosophy behind the materials or the qualifications/experience of the creators. I look at any available samples of the materials I'm considering. I also show the samples to the child I'm planning for, if it stays in the running. If there is a free trial, we try it out, with both the child & myself using it. I see how many of them overlap and how much. I then reduce the list to the fewest materials that will cover everything I want to cover.
Next, I look at each of the semi-finalists, again. I re-read descriptions. I re-read some of the reviews, both good & bad. I may read blog posts by people who use the materials, to see what they think of them & how they use them. I may even ask about them on forums. This is also when I get opinions from the child who would be using the materials, for any materials I have yet to get their opinion on. By the end of this process, I have the finalists.
I then attempt to see how I might combine the finalists to work together. With any luck, this produces the final round of cuts. Hopefully, at the end of this part, I have enough materials for what I want to achieve and cover. If not, I have to go back to searching for the missing pieces. Once materials are definite, they are put in my wish list. This process is done for each subject.
My wish list at Rainbow Resource is organized by grade & child (i.e. Jay 5th or Dea 9th). This makes it easy to make changes to planned materials whenever needed. It also allows me to be years ahead in planning, when possible, and still keep it all straight.
A week or two before purchasing, I again run through the lists (both subjects & materials) with each child. This is to make sure we're still certain about our choices. Then, if any changes need be made, I have a little time to do so.
So, that is the long, arduous, somewhat convoluted process that leads to the final choice of materials. Part 2 will contain the process of planning the year, once materials have been decided upon.