Each state has its own requirements for homeschooling accountability, so please check out your state’s legal requirements and be sure you comply with them. That said, let me share a few tips from my own homeschooling career that may help to make your homeschool planning a little more Guilt-Free and easier to handle.
My “lesson plans” consisted of a check-off sheet for each subject, with numbered blanks for each of our 150 days of school. The minimum requirement in our state (Iowa) is 148 days; 150 is a nice round number. If we exceeded that number — it was not a problem; we did not have to feel compelled to keep schooling until we knew we had reached 180 or 200 days. As I have stated before, every day is a learning day, not just the days spent with noses in books, so I knew my children were getting a well-rounded education, regardless of the time occupied in tedious lessons.
My uncomplicated system for planning lessons consisted of dividing the number of pages in each book by the number of days of school we did. The resulting number was how many pages were to be done per day. Often it resulted in a fraction (such as 2.8 or 3.2), which I just rounded to the nearest whole number, rationalizing that extra pages would get done some days and some pages (such as full-page illustrations) could be skipped. It did not matter if we ran out of work before the year was up — either the students moved on to their next book or they got to relax and rejoice in free time.
Once I had divided each subject into daily segments, I penciled in the corresponding page numbers for each specific day on those 150 blanks of the check-off sheet. I had also numbered school days on a blank calendar, planning time off for holidays and birthdays, so that we knew which day of school we were on. We crossed off lessons as they were done and crossed off day numbers separately as they passed. Sometimes lessons were done ahead of schedule and sometimes we fell behind, but with this system, we always knew where we stood in every subject. An assigned number of pages to do each day does not mean the child should not be allowed to do more if he is motivated to get ahead. Getting ahead in any subject is only a bad thing when the child does not want to do his other schooling as well. When that happened, I required them to do today’s assignments in all subjects first, then they could work ahead in the desired subjects as well.
Begin your school year after Labor Day if you need extra time for a family vacation or to settle into your routine. Start the Christmas break early enough to allow time for housecleaning, holiday baking, even the shopping that may never get done otherwise. My planned schedule would end in early May, meaning that we had “wiggle-room” for illnesses, spontaneous vacation days, and the odd family emergency that was bound to arise every year. Field trips did not have to be organized to be effective. Many of our fondest memories are from taking a day off with Dad and doing something just as a family: visiting the state Capitol and the State Historical Museum, going fishing and taking a nature walk, finding a blacksmith shop or a museum open on our way home from somewhere else. Antique shops can be just as educational as museums, especially if the attendant sees well-behaved children and gets talkative. (Many small towns have museums open during the day with no one else stopping in but your family.)
Yes, I did actually make separate lesson plans for each child. My students were far enough apart (3 years in age, 4 grades in school) that very little applied to both at once, the only exception being books I read aloud to them while they did simple seatwork. My state-required “Plan of Instruction” looked similar for each child (except for time allowances), but my actual lesson plans varied. I was able to write up the Plan of Instruction with a daily, weekly, or yearly schedule, depending on what time segments worked best for the ages of the students.
The Plan of Instruction was a yearly form listing what subjects I would be teaching each child, the books used, time spent on each subject, etc. Guided by suggestions from Home School Legal Defense Association and other homeschoolers before me, I became increasingly vague in my reporting. (The whole concept of “precedent” is very helpful here — what has been accepted in the past sets a precedent for those who follow.) I only listed academic subjects, not Bible or extra-curricular activities, and merely checked boxes indicating that we would participate in sports, music, etc., rationalizing that things like children and sport-activity usually go together like butter and toast — homeschool activities do not have to be formally structured to be educational and/or beneficial. The few years that my children spent in government school clearly showed that those institutions obviously did not take great pains to inform me of everything they were teaching my children, so they had already set the precedent for me — I do not have to tell them everything I am teaching my children either.
I had begun homeschooling by giving too much information on the legal forms (a common mistake made by eager-to-please-with-nothing-to-hide types). Then I found myself caught in a back-order nightmare one year and was not sure which books we would even be able to get. The deadline for filing reports came and I did not have all the books yet, so I cautiously filled out my form with “weasel words” — “This subject will be taught from a variety of sources.” I was sure I would get a phone call from someone checking the forms who would reject my vague “plan,” but the call never came. My plan was accepted. The next year, I bravely expanded my fuzzy wording to cover more subjects, a technique I found extremely helpful in broad areas, such as history or language arts, that can encompass wide-reaching scopes. Math was much simpler to define: this book, this number of lessons.
This is your family, this is your school, and this is your schedule. Make it work to your advantage. Use the schedule as your tool, do not become its slave. Reflect on your reasons for keeping extensive records and simplify if you can. Your time will be much more valuable as a teacher for your children than as a recording scribe, making endless notes that will never be read.
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Visit the Guilt-Free Homeschooling Products Page to check out our GFHS UNplanner (PDFs on CD-ROM) — versitile planning forms that can be used in a variety of ways to fit your style of record-keeping, with several Bonus forms and encouraging articles. It’s homeschool lesson planning made simple and Guilt-Free!