Summer is coming! And my brain is swimming with all of the optimism and idealism of a new school year, a clean slate, only three months away! I am continually praying about what next year will look like, asking God to guide me and show me what my children need. I am pondering the things that worked and didn’t work this year and reflecting on the individual needs of each of my children (and my needs too!).
Around May I start to prepare to plan. Think of this next step as getting ready to cook a meal. I gather my recipes and my ingredients, so that when it’s time to stand at the counter and work, I have everything I need. This is the careful preparation that will guide me to make thoughtful decisions about our schooling.
For me, first this involves filling my head with all of the big picture ideas that have helped me homeschool. I read articles and books that I know will guide me towards planning decisions that are best for my family. I talk to my husband, children, and colleagues about our homeschooling journey.
Read & Chat
Every year, I read Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah McKenzie, and I usually choose at least one other homeschool philosophy book to read. My shelf has titles on Charlotte Mason, Classical Education, Unschooling, and more. I also spend some time catching up reading all of those blog posts and articles I saved throughout the year. Sometimes I read a parenting book or skim an old favorite on education.
Most importantly for my personality is to talk to others about homeschooling. I process verbally, so when I have a conversation about what I want next school year to look like, I am able to identify my priorities and make decisions. My husband and I often have a brief discussion about what he sees as priorities for our kids. He really doesn’t get involved in our homeschooling that much and leaves all decisions to me, but he is extremely supportive and will mention any of his concerns if I make the time to ask him. Since we are a team, it is so important to me to give him that opportunity to share, but I try, sometimes more successfully than others, to be mindful of not becoming defensive when he points out issues.
Usually, I have my children complete some kind of self-evaluation form that asks how their year went and what they want for next year. I have used a variety of forms for this, and I’ll be posting a printable one to my newsletter subscriber page soon. These ask what their favorite and least favorites subjects were, what their easiest and most challenging subjects were, and what they want to learn next year. Then, we plan quick, individual chats to discuss their responses. Some years, I even make time to take my teens out to a coffee shop to help me brainstorm the coming school year.
But I always, always, always talk to my Catholic homeschooling mama friends, my colleagues. Nobody understands the joys and challenges of having to direct the day to day education of our children like our fellow homeschoolers. I plan at least three one-on-one mom dates or phone conversations that will help me articulate all the things on my mind. We go to a coffee shop or grab a meal and an adult beverage or plan a play date, and I ask about their homeschooling. How did the year go? What are their hopes for next year? Hearing another mom share puts my thoughts into perspective and helps me to honestly answer those questions myself, and the Holy Spirit always throws in something to ponder that I would not have considered, thanks to the unique perspective of my friends.
I also host at least one group discussion on homeschooling. The one-on-one conversations are with trusted friends who know my personal struggles and who I can trust to guide me and challenge me to do better, but that group discussion with mamas from all seasons of homeschooling helps me to remember the big picture. When I talk with moms who are just starting out, their enthusiasm is contagious and helps me get excited about homeschooling. When I talk with moms who have graduated kids, I am reminded to take a deep breath and trust God. When I talk with moms whose families are bigger or smaller or more diverse than mine, there are always Holy Spirit moments that convict me to question my assumptions.
Supplies & Time
My final step in preparing is to gather my supplies. I sometimes buy a new binder; I almost always buy new pens. I sort through my homeschool binder from this year and pull out what I do not need for next year. I flip through the file folder of ideas that I have collected throughout the year and pull the things I would like to consider. Then I put all of these things, along with catalogs and blank paper in a bag, usually one that can also hold my laptop, because I often do the bulk of my planning in a coffee shop or at the library.
As we wrap up May and move into June, I take one more important step to prepare to plan our school year. I put planning sessions on my calendar. In different seasons, this has looked differently. Last summer, I blocked out one weekday a week when my primary purpose was to plan and when my teenagers were available to occupy the younger ones. My husband also agreed to give me two Saturday mornings a month in June and July from 7am-11am where I could leave the house to plan. I would spend 7-9am at a coffee shop and then move to the library when it opened at nine.
Other things I have done to schedule time to plan are to: hire a mother’s helper for one morning a week; plan to swap kids with a friend once or twice for a whole day (I get a whole day to plan without kids while she watches my kids and vice versa); schedule blocks of time for grandparents to take the younger kids; declare a movie afternoon for the kids once a week; drop the kids at Vacation Bible School; go to a coffee shop after the kids go to bed until midnight; and get together with a friend so the kids can play and we can mostly plan. My dream has always been to go away for a weekend somewhere to do a bunch of planning, but that hasn’t happened yet and is unlikely to happen!
I have detailed how I pray throughout my homeschool planning, how I ponder in advance of planning, and how I prepare to plan. The planning portion is my favorite part, of course, but just like putting joy on your calendar, the anticipation of planning can also be energizing! I hope that you find some time to pray, ponder, and prepare before diving into your homeschool planning and that those intentional efforts bless your next school year.
What steps do you take before you plan your next homeschool year?