I start by gathering every book, lapbook, kit, workbook, etc. all together in one place. This makes for a mass of horrific chaos that overwhelms me and sends me back to bed. After an hour in the fetal position, I tackle it again.
I cover the table, the chairs, the piano bench, the shelves around the table, and even the floor with stacks of books that want to be used this year. They will not all make the cut. Some will make it to a Donation box. Some will make it to the Save for Next Year box. Too many will make it onto the shelf for the school year but not be used because there aren't enough hours in the day.
It was 11:00 before I made enough progress to see a corner of the table. That's 11:00 P.M. I started at 11:00 A.M. It's ridiculous, I'm tellin' ya.
In that time, I also made a few lists to help me focus on what we really need. The best book I've found for helping you mentally prepare for a school year (and career) is Simply Charlotte Mason's $12 ebook. It is full of excellent advice and is a beautiful simple process of setting up what fits your family's needs, incorporating enough, but not too much for each school year. It comes with blank forms that help you narrow down your subjects, choose your curriculum, and work out how many lessons per week.
My favorite bit of advice from this book is to stop and identify what your end goal with each child really is before beginning any plans for their education so that you can know what to work toward. This really changed my outlook on education in general. My end goal for each child is just a bit different, based on their personalities and God-given passions. But, in general, my goal for each child is for them to be dedicated to God, to be sensitive to His voice, and to be curious. My lesson plans are geared to my kids with this end-goal in mind. The can be surgeons or fry cooks, it doesn't matter. If they can reach this end goal, I'll know they are following where God leads them.
Before I choose curriculum, I have to separate my stacks of material into like-minded piles. One pile for math options, one pile for grammar options. That tall pile on the right up there? That's all of our bible study options. It is so hard to narrow those down! But we'll do one bible reading together as a family and then each child also has their own independent devotion time.
Once everything is decided, I'll scratch out a general outline on this form from Donnayoung.org: 36-Week Semester Planner. Scroll down the link to find it. It is available as a PDF or as a Word document that you can type in. I prefer to print out a PDF for each subject for my high school student. It gives 36 weeks with 5 days listed across the top. It's basically for entering the next page or lesson #, but it gives us a good picture of where we should be mid-semester.
For my daily lesson plans, I'm using my Schoolhouse Teacher's Planner this year. In fact, I'm giving each of the kids a copy of their own planner as well. This is all made possible through the use of the Schoolhouse Teacher's new website, which I will introduce in the next post.
I begin the year with an outline of where we should be in a 36 week schedule, where I know I want to take weeks off, and a pairing of our literature books with their proper history lesson according to year and event. But once that outline is in place, I only fill in 4 weeks at a time (at the most, sometimes just 1 week) in my daily Teacher's Planner. Too much happens. I hate having my plans destroyed, so I've learned to be flexible and not make too many plans in advance. My 36-week outline is a guide. It keeps me from fitting too much in and shows me where I can add more. Our actual school-year is at least 40 weeks long, and that doesn't include the weeks we take off in December.
One last bit of planning:
There aren't 36 folders in there because I ran out and I'm cheap. I turn them around at semester and then we have 36 weeks covered. At the beginning of each week, I take out the folder that corresponds to the week we're working in and I add the pages in it to the kids' workboxes.
Something important that I'm not explaining very well, is the fact that the school "week" doesn't necessarily match the number of weeks that we've been in school. For instance, we could be in our 10th week of school, but be working on scheduled week #6. We have 36 weeks of lessons, but we can take as many or as few weeks as we like to finish them. Perhaps it would make more sense to call them something other than weeks. We have 36 units, rotations, bananas, rounds...whatever, and we pull out a new one each week, more or less.
I think that's the gist of it. There's probably plenty more to share, and I'm sure I will be as we continue to dig for the kitchen table. Until then, I'd love to explain it better if you have any questions. Also, even though I've found a system that works for me, I've learned through the years that there are lots of ideas out there and some can make my life even easier, so please share if you've found something that works for you!