Homeschool Planning - Why we all just need to take a DEEP breath.

Thursday, April 28, 2016





So, Spring is in the air and many of us are eager to start planning for next homeschool year.  Or maybe you're better than me and already have the plans in place.

But, I mean, honestly- I've never understood why planning season starts in April - it's just plain stressful for most Moms.  Come on!  I don't know about you, but I'm still only half-way through my 'plans' from the third revision of my original plans from LAST Spring!  *snicker*

No, really.  True story.

Trust me, I'm no expert on having it all together come Spring. (Or ever, for that matter~!) I usually revamp our homeschool at least 2-3 times every single year, so, I've learned that stressing over Spring planning is actually quite futile in many ways.  Which leads me to the point of this post -

Want to know a secret I've learned?  The reason why you (yes you, dear friend) need to take a DEEP breath right now?


Whatever you plan for your homeschool year will probably change anyways.


Breathe in, breathe out.  And realize that even if you spend hundreds of hours researching and putting together the most SPECTACULAR homeschool plan for the 2016/2017 school year - it probably won't work out the way you plan it.  That's not pessimism or discouragement, it's reality.
Please, trust me on this - after 7 years of homeschooling, never once have my 'plans' worked the way I envisioned them.  Ever.

Some years we have come close.  Others we have started an expensive curriculum after hours and hours of planning, only to drop it all a a month later for more reasons than I can list here.  Other times I have completely pledged my heart and soul to a 'method' and thought I had all the right books, all the right schedules, everything just so - and 2 weeks in to the plans we were in turmoil... no one was learning, every one was miserable, and it was back to the drawing board again.

Humbled again and again, yep, that's me.  Because my plans are only my plans and I serve a God who is SO MUCH BIGGER than what I can pencil into a notebook planner.

But guess what?  Despite all my blunders and re-vamps, and re-dos...  we've still learned a ton, had productive, memorable years of homeschool, and enjoyed our time together, growing spiritually, emotionally, and academically.  Yep - that's called grace, friends!   Alls well that ends well - but all doesn't always end the way we begin.  *wink*

Now that I have enough planning seasons under my homeschool belt to know that most things I plan for a year in advance will never actually happen - it's freeing.  *chuckle*

Honestly, it is.

Because the pressure is off a bit and I can just take a deep breath and relax.  I tend to be a bit stubborn at times, so, really I should have figured this out the first 5 times I changed plans several times a year or completely deviated from the original plan.  (Yeah, the original plan that I stressed over for 2 months and spent hundreds of dollars on...)

When it comes to homeschool planning, we all just need to take a DEEP breath and realize that plans change and we need to keep our expectations realistic.


It's not that we shouldn't plan.  I am a huge believer in planning and am currently working through Pam's Plan Your Year stuff and loving it!  (See my review right here!)  But I'm also pretty sure Pam would agree that even though its called, Plan your YEAR, there is very likely to be revisions, changes, upgrades, all kinds of things that happen to that planned out YEAR... and that's okay.  It's not only okay, it's probably a really healthy, really good thing.

Being willing to change, to tweak, to follow interests, to revise a plan is a HUGE asset as a homeschooler.  We are constantly assessing the plans, the curriculum, the books, the progress, the children's response to what we are doing in the home.  And through these assessments, often changes are needed and welcomed by all.  It's not a bad thing to shift gears - it can be a very positive thing.

So, the moral of the story is this - don't stress about planning.  


Because no matter how perfect you think your plan might be - it will probably change.  You could be CONVINCED you have the perfect plan in place only to have it change in 2 week's time. Please, trust me on this one.

For us, I've started to put loose plans in place for the year with lots of room for flexibility.  I've also started to do more specific planning only one term at a time.  This means I plan more 'detailed' things to work on (books to read, skills to master, etc.) about every 2-3 months instead of thinking I can tackle it all 12 months in advance.  (We 'school' year-round.)

I plan little by little.

I get a vision and some good goals in place to help guide us.

I choose a couple of the essential resources and books we want to use and just keep adding to it as we go or as needed.

I don't go to the curriculum fair and spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars thinking I will have 'everything we need', because it is certain that I won't.  Or what I thought we needed will change completely.

Dearest sister, hear me out - If you sit down and think you can get your homeschool plans completely and perfectly figured out for what you will accomplish every month for the next 8-12 months - you will drive yourself crazy.  Ask me how I know.

Put together a plan, sure.  But leave room for flexibility and for God to move and direct your family and your homeschool.  

And most importantly - take time to pray and reflect before you do any planning at all.

And that is just what I'll be chatting about in the next post on Homeschool Planning in a couple days...  *hugs*


Take a DEEP breath, it's going to be okay.  No plan is every perfect and it is in our imperfection that God's grace meets us and makes everything as it should be...  He has never let me down yet.  *smile*





Coming next:


The Importance of Prayer and Reflection for Homeschool Planning






A Review of the Plan Your Year Homeschool Planning Kit from Pam Barnhill

Monday, April 25, 2016





Homeschool Planning is a huge topic.  I mean, if you and I went out for tea (I'd have coffee but saying 'let's go for tea' sounds nicer) I could talk for HOURS about homeschool planning.  And if you're a homeschooler, I'm sure you could too.  Let's face it - it is FUN to plan.  It's FUN to dream.  There's something about having a whole year ahead of you with wide open space to fill with learning and adventure to share together with our children.  (Honestly, I feel so blessed to have the privilege to Homeschool my kiddos!)

But the whole planning thing is also very overwhelming at times and can seem like a next to impossible task, especially when you're just starting out in your homeschool journey.  I know - I've been there.  You open a curriculum catalog or walk into your first curriculum fair and you almost want to throw in the towel before you begin - so many options - how do you even take the first step?

Alright - so, that's where awesome resources like Plan Your Year come in.  I so wish I had of had something like this when I was first starting!  I had books and Charlotte Mason type guides but nothing that took my hand and walked me through a step-by-step process of planning not only my YEAR but my HOMESCHOOL in general.  

Honestly?  Pam has thought of everything we need to know to put together a fantastic homeschool year and put it in this extensive Plan Your Year Homeschool Planning Kit.   The kit includes the Planning Book (78 pages of step-by-step inspiration), over 40 printable planning pages to go along with the steps in the book, audio interviews with two lovely homeschool Moms and top bloggers/writers in the homeschool world.  For $24 - it is worth every penny as you can use the resources again and again.

I've been planning homeschool for seven years now and yet I'm still learning a ton and gleaning so much from the Plan Your Year Planning Book.  And as I'm reading through it and actually working through the steps (or action items, as Pam calls them), I'm realizing how great it feels to actually HAVE a well thought out plan.  A plan that is prayerfully considered.   A plan that places a priority on peace in the home and progress towards long-term visions and goals.

What I love about The Plan Your Year Planning Book/Guide:


So, the layout of the Planning Book is awesome.  SO easy to follow.  Each section covers topics like: creating a vision, setting goals, determining a course of study, scheduling options, planning a week, evaluating and purchasing resources, building a booklist, organization, records, planning your day, etc.

Within these sections there is a TON of information and encouragement for tackling each topic and the planning and evaluating tasks that go along with them.  There are also very specific "Action Items" that prompt you to actually do something.  (Oh, how I love this as it gives me the shove I need to actually PLAN and not just read books about planning...)

Yes, so - you will read through the section on Determining a Course of Study (for example) and at the end you will be prompted to use the Course of Study form (which you get for free with the purchase of the Plan Your Year Kit) to actually start putting pencil to paper and plan that course of study for your child.

This layout/format is so fantastic for busy Moms who want to work through a book and get results.  By the time you finish working through the Planning Book, if you've actually followed along and worked through the Action Items, you will have planned a FANTASTIC homeschool year.  I'm sure of it.

Let me walk you through what some of these sections looks like -

Click above to see the Kit.

Pam starts by having us create a vision for our homeschool.  


Now, this sounds basic enough but  I don't actually think it is that common for homeschoolers to even HAVE a vision.  Or to realize that they should have one at all or why.  A couple weeks ago at a local homeschool meeting we discussed the importance of vision.  I would saw the large majority of the group had never considered their homeschool vision!

A few years ago I put together my "Why Homeschool" page which is really a long version of our vision and the why behind our decision to educate at home.  (Often by asking the 'why?', you will get a good idea of your vision!).  However, beyond that post, I hadn't really penned our vision in a more concise and direct format.  So, I took several days to work through that vision when I started reading Plan Your Year and it was powerful!  Knowing where we are heading makes every difference in the world for the journey.

Knowing our vision changes the way I view our time.  It changes the big decisions like what we study, what resources we use, what books we read, what extra-curriculars we get involved in, how we view scheduling and rhythm.

Knowing our vision also affects my day-to-day decisions in so many ways.  For example, a huge part of our homeschool vision is to nurture relationships in our home.  If I see my two sons engaged in a healthy game of chess where they are both laughing and enjoying each other's company - I am not going to interrupt that moment for anything.  They are building relationship - one of my main goals.  They are enjoying each other's company in good, healthy fellowship - this relationship building trumps Math bookwork any day!  So, yes, having that vision that will affect how I act and respond in given situations.


Pam takes us through the process of not only writing a meaningful and useful vision but also helps us come up with effective and realistic goals based on that vision.  

To me, goals are a more close-up or personal spin on vision.  Now we are coming up with the 'how' for getting there.  Or at least AIMING to get there.

Honestly, I've always had 'big goals' for our homeschool.  They've always been kicking around.  But working through the printables and using the Goals Worksheets for each child was HUGE for me!  I've never done this before - actually writing down each child's strengths, things to improve, and goals for the year.  I mean to really think it through and write it down - it makes a difference in how you view 'success' and progress.


A shot of one of the Action Items sections in the Planning Guide.

Our vision as it is shaping up... (it is in progress, just like us...)




Pam also walks us through different types of scheduling (for example schooling year round vs. September to June).  She also talks about block scheduling, loop scheduling, and daily scheduling - comparing and weighing the potential pros and cons of each style.  There are various printables available in the kit for planning with all these different styles of schedules as well.

Another section discusses Curriculum and Resources.  I agree so much with what both Pam Barnhill and Sarah Mackenzie (who wrote the introduction for Plan Your Year and speaks on the included podcasts) have to say about curriculum.  It is a tool - but should never be our master.  The resources and curriculum we buy is only useful if we actually USE it.  And we will only use it if it works for us, our children, and fits into our homeschool philosophy and vision.

So again, we are encouraged to choose curriculum carefully and with our vision and goals in mind.  Here we are also prompted to use the Curriculum Resource page to pencil in some of the resources we do plan to use. and for which subjects.  This is also done in partnership with the Course of Study section and printables.  (Yep, this Planning Kit is extensive... I love it!)



The Printables

The Printables included in the Planning Kit are awesome.  When you purchase the kit, all the pdf downloads are there for you to download and use as many times as you want throughout the coming months and years.  You are able to edit the forms on the computer as well, which is incredibly helpful if you prefer to use the computer to type out your schedules, goals, etc.  

I find that having the Printables ready to go is very helpful in keeping me moving forward and on task.  Love them.

Here's a peek-





 Final Thoughts

Homeschooling is an absolutely HUGE task.  Those of us that are educating our children at home feel the weight of the responsibility in a very real way, especially when we are trying to put together a plan.  Whether the plan is for a week or a whole year - it is a pretty big deal.  This is not just about what time of day we 'do math'.  This is about putting together a plan that nurtures the heart of our vision - that sets in motion the goals we have for our children's education and discipleship.  This is about shaping young people - these precious children God has placed in our care.  So,  taking planning seriously is probably a pretty good idea.

Plan Your Year Homeschool Planner
Click here to see the full kit!
Just because you have a plan doesn't mean there is no flexibility or prayerful changes.  There certainly can be (and should be) room for listening to God's Spirit leading in different directions throughout the year and being willing to tune into how you and your children are being led.   You can use tools like Plan Your Year to specifically make room for the inevitable (and often welcome!) twists and turns of following delights and interests along the way.

If you are currently on this journey of planning your homeschool, I encourage you, from one homeschool Mom to another - to pray about the direction for your coming year.  Start there.

I have found the Plan Your Year stuff to be wonderful in inspiring me to really think about the why and how I'm planning our homeschool.  I am shaping a fresh vision for our kids - even 7 years into our homeschool journey.  And that's a gift!

As you work through the step-by-step process of piecing together a plan that makes sense for your individual family and child, you will be filled with excitement (rather than bewilderment!) for the year ahead.

I also very highly recommend getting your hands on Sarah Mackenzie's book, Teaching from Rest.




Click here to jump over to Pam Barnhill's website and take a look at the full Plan Your Year Homeschool Planning Kit.









I pray this review was helpful for you!!! Blessings.




Also from Pam Barnhill, don't forget to check out my review of the Your Morning Basket resources!  They are awesome and Morning Time can and will transform your homeschool for the better!  I'm a huge believer and advocate for family Morning Time!  















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Living Book Pinterest Boards by Subject - as requested! {Charlotte Mason Monday}

Sunday, April 17, 2016





So many of you requested that I put specific Living Book Pinterest boards.  You requested boards loaded with Living Book suggestions classified by the various subjects covered in most Classical/Charlotte Mason Homeschools.

So... *drumroll*  Here they are!  I've done my best to work hard at making these boards full of wonderful Living Book suggestions for your family.  These boards are a testimony that we do not need 'curriculum' to share in a rich, wonderful education with our children!

Just to let you know, I have not screened all the titles in every single pin.  This would be literally impossible.  I have done my best to post books I am familiar with or suggestions from sources I trust.  However, as always, use your own discernment when it comes to what is right for your family.

These boards will continue to grow!  These are in no particular order...  just the order I pasted them into this post.  If you like them and/or find them helpful be sure to follow me or the individual boards to see new pins in your Pinterest feed.


Here's a general link to all my Pinterest Boards, if you would prefer to browse that way. 





History


Follow Cassandra's board History with Living Books on Pinterest.



Hero Admiration


Follow Cassandra's board Christian Hero Admiration with Living Books on Pinterest.




Picture Study, Art, and Artist Study


Follow Cassandra's board Picture Study, Art, and Artist Study with Living Books on Pinterest.




Geography


Follow Cassandra's board Geography with Living Books on Pinterest.


Character Study and Habit Training


Follow Cassandra's board Character Study and Habit Training with Living Books on Pinterest.




Nature Study and Science


Follow Cassandra's board Nature Study and Science with Living Books on Pinterest.




Poetry, Folk Tales, Fables, and Fairy Tales


Follow Cassandra's board Poetry, Folk Tales, Fables and Fairy Tales on Pinterest.



Music, Hymns, and Composer Study


Follow Cassandra's board Music, Hymns, and Composer Study with Living Books on Pinterest.





Language Arts and Grammar


Follow Cassandra's board Language Arts and Grammar with Living Books on Pinterest.




Math


Follow Cassandra's board Math with Living Books on Pinterest.





Bible and Scripture Study


Follow Cassandra's board Bible and Scripture Study with Living Books on Pinterest.





Morning Basket and Morning Time


Follow Cassandra's board Morning Basket / Morning Time on Pinterest.




The Learning with Living Books Board


Follow Cassandra's board Learning with Living Books on Pinterest.














3 Simple Ways to Take Control of the Screens in your Home

Thursday, April 14, 2016



Here's a peak at my post for Hip Homeschool Moms this month --

Most families have multiple screens in their home - between the TV, computers, iPads, iPods, cell phones, hand-held video games... for many, it can feel like the screens are taking over.  Do not get discouraged though - there is hope and there are very practical ways you can take control.

As a family, we decided to toss our TV almost a decade ago.  It was one of the best decisions we ever made in the quest to tame the screens.  This is always my first recommendation to families struggling with unplugging - get rid of the TV!  However, TV or no TV, we live in 2016 and most families have at least one screen in their home.  So, I wanted to offer some simple and easy ways we have taken control of the screen based media in our house.  These three things are obviously not an extensive list, but rather simple starting points that can make a huge difference.

3 simple things you can do to help take control of the screens in your home:


1. Keep all screens visible and in common areas.


2. Put passwords on everything.


3. Set the timer.





To read the rest of the post and hear all the details and how-tos...

 join me over at Hip Homeschool Moms!








Thoughts on "Homeschool Planning Season" - and a peek at Plan Your Year

Tuesday, April 12, 2016









So, it's that time again - Spring is technically (according to the calendar) here and with the approaching warm weather comes the season of Homeschool Conventions, Curriculum Sales, and the  potentially all-encompassing "Homeschool Planning Season".

We are entering into our 7th official year of homeschooling.  It's hard to believe we've been on this journey for that long.

I have spent a good 5 years out of our 7 completely stressing in the Spring.  Because, you know, it's when us homeschool Moms have to figure everything for the next year out.  I've spoken to so many Moms who have walked through the same journey I have over the past several years.  Spring rolls around and everything goes crazy in the homeschool (and the home).



The rhythm of Homeschool Planning Season often goes something like this:


  • About March, I start to burn out.  (Let's face it - what homeschool Mama isn't burning out a bit in March?)
  • I make excuses why it's ok to drop the same-old same-old we've been doing for several months and start dreaming of all the better, more fun, more engaging, more challenging, more expensive ways we can do this homeschool thing.  Big boxed curriculum, here I come...?
  • I start looking at all the various curriculums and programs we just haven't tried yet.  (And we're starting to run out of ones we haven't tried... so that's good news, I guess!)
  • I start looking at all the booklists and piles of books we have yet to read and start putting every single title in my Amazon cart.
  • I get tempted by flashy promotion, packaging, and promises of all my homeschool curriculum dreams coming true with the simple click of a mouse (and a rather large charge to the credit card).
  • I go to Homeschool Curriculum Sales and spend money on piles of curriculum-type-stuff I really don't need and will end up selling for less about a month after the sale. 
  • I feel defeated because I've spent way too much and very shortly feel overwhelmed and unhappy with my choices.  (Mostly curriculum that I'm convinced will answer all our needs and work wonders in every way the publishers promise.)
  • By July, I'm back to square one before the 'official' school year has even BEGUN.  I've sold all the stuff I thought was "AMAZING" and "THE ANSWER" and I have gone back to the basic and piles of great living books.
  • Sometimes, I blog about all this, which is surely leading people all over the world to think I am absolutely crazy.  (And, believe me, at times I am - but I'm trying hard not to be!)



So, the moral of the story?

Do not do as I do.  Or have done.  It's nuts.  It will cost you way too much money and has a high potential of leaving you disappointed and overwhelmed.

Let me share with you a little truth I've learned that took me way too long to figure out:

No curriculum is going to give me the perfect homeschool.


Say it with me. 

No, honestly.  You need to tell yourself this.  No curriculum is going to give me the perfect homeschool.

It sounds like a basic statement and we can all nod our heads in agreement, right?  I mean, come on Cassandra, isn't that an obvious truth?  OF COURSE no curriculum is going to give me the perfect homeschool.  Well, yes, it's obvious.  And, no - it isn't - not at all.  Because how many of us have spent countless hours researching the 'best' curriculum for our children and then invested in 'the best' only to find it wasn't at all what we dreamed?

No homeschool curriculum is going to be the answer to all your prayers and/or dreams.  If you put that much hope and trust in one boxed resource, you are almost sure to be completely disappointed, friend.  I've been there.

Oh, I know - but the catalog is so shiny and pretty and the promises are huge and you are so tempted to get pulled right in.  And hey, maybe that big curriculum purchase might really work out for you - but my encouragement would be to just take a deep breath and be sure (really sure) before you jump two feet in.

It has taken me many years of homeschooling primary, elementary, and now upper elementary aged children to realize that this homeschool thing really doesn't need to be so complicated.  


No, I definitely do not need a boxed curriculum (even one that is labelled as Classical, Charlotte Mason, or the like).  No, I do not need pretty subject-based curriculums for every single subject known to man.  (IE: a program for Science, Geography, History, etc.)

No, I do not need to spend tons of money to offer my children a wonderful feast of beautiful ideas that will inspire them to grow spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.  And, in fact - I'll probably do a better job at my intended goals apart from much 'curriculum' at all.

It's not that I scoff at those who do use such curriculums - it's just that, I've realized that for SO many families- the expensive programs are completely unnecessary.


Don't stress just because it's April and every other Homeschooler is stressing about planning.  Don't get restless and fidgety and start thinking everything you're already doing isn't good enough and something more expensive and more flashy will be the bees knees for your kids.  


It probably won't be - or bee - at all.  I mean, it might be... but a lot of times it is just a lot of buzz.  (Ok, I'll stop...)

I think the way I kicked my curriculum addiction and restlessness is by actually acknowledging that I had a problem.  (HAHA-  Hello, my name is Cassandra and I am addicted to buying curriculum and continuously changing my homeschool plans half-way through the year when the curriculum does not work for us in the idyllic way I dreamt it would.)

I had to acknowledge that my restlessness was more than me 'searching for the best' for my kids. It was about me not really having a clear enough vision for what I wanted and what each individual child needed.  It was about me thinking that a purchase, a click of a mouse, could solve all my frustrations or be the answer all my Homeschooling dreams.

But instead, I was lost in a circle of discontentment, constantly changing what we were doing, putting HOURS into planning and implementing the next best thing to just toss it all out the window in a few months.  Don't do this, please.   It's hard on you.  It's hard on your kids.  It's hard on your budget. 

My eyes have really been opened lately to the value of keeping things simple.  I no longer make big, expensive 'curriculum' purchases.  (Not that they are always wrong for every family, I've just realized they are almost always wrong for us.)

We use a huge number of wonderful Living Books to learn.  We follow a general timeline resource (Simply Charlotte Mason) and we work through our learning using History as our spine together as a family.  We dive into what we find interesting a little further and for this, we use the library.  We Notebook about what we are learning.  We implement the largely FREE Charlotte Mason philosophy into our home and school.   It's as simple as that.

Simple.  And not simple.  Because I know so many of you out there will say, well that sounds just great, but how on earth do I do that?!  (I did put together a post right here that explains how I piece together our stuff, if that helps...)

It has taken a few years to find our sweet spot (um... 7 years?).   We use resources - but no boxed curriculums.  For example, we will use "Dictation Day by Day" for Dictation or Delightful Reading and All About Reading for reading instruction, or SQUILT for composer study, but those are stand alones.  It's not a catastrophe or a huge change in course if they don't work out.  But usually, things DO work out now-a-days because I've taken the time to really understand what will and won't work for our kids and for myself.

For all things family (History, Geography, Science, Nature Study, Foreign Languages, Literature, Poetry, etc.) we use Living Books and Charlotte Mason's methods.  It costs me next to nothing beyond the cost of some Living Books we choose to purchase.

We embrace Morning Time and learn wonderful things together using inexpensive resources that make learning come to life and give us freedom to pick and choose what moves us.

So, it is my hope to inspire you to embrace the truth that YOU CAN HOMESCHOOL for less.  Less stress and less money and less chaos.  You can keep it simple and still have a rich education for your children.  You can homeschool more effectively for your own family's style and needs without locking into big, fancy curriculums.

And I'm hoping to walk through this process a little with you over the next several weeks.





I wanted to share with you the resources I am using to help me "Plan my Year" this year.  I have only started this book (and printed a bunch of the planning pages) but I still thought it was important I share because it is a GREAT place to start if you are planning your homeschool year.


Plan Your Year is another great resource from Pam Barnhill (I talk about the Your Morning Basket resource here).  I LOVE her stuff.  I actually didn't realize at first that all the printable planning resources came with a detailed book explaining full of inspiration and information about how to actually implement the planning.  (On of my friends pointed it out to me, thank you, Kayla!)

I love so much of what Pam shares - it is great advice to help you solidify your 'why',  stay on track, plan for a successful and restful year, and (hopefully) find your sweet spot in homeschooling. (And also- avoid the chaos I've described above!)

I will be doing a full review of Plan Your Year in a few weeks, but here is the link if you want to check it out and get started!  You will not be disappointed.



Plan Your Year Homeschool Planner






I'll be back in a few days with updates about how to create a Homeschool Vision and set realistic goals to help you plan well for an enjoyable and peaceful year.  :)

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