Eternally Optimistic Slacker

Will we get our act together and start tomorrow? Or will I turn out to be a total slacker for yet another week? Place your bets, folks!

I’ve been saying “we’re starting schoolwork next week!” for approximately four months now. As you might have guessed, we have not started. Motivation has been running pretty low around here these days, but the children have been getting along and keeping themselves busy, so my usual criteria of “we are starting schoolwork if you’re going to be jerks to each other” hasn’t really come into play. Still, we haven’t taken a summer off since the year my oldest forgot how to add when fall rolled around, so I’m a little nervous about our prospects.

Most years, we take a little vacation during Labor Day week, which usually includes my oldest’s birthday. Some years we go away, some years we stay home and do all the fun stuff that’s completely dead because kids have gone back to school (hello, beach to ourselves!). We were supposed to go to Disney in November so hadn’t really planned to take that time off in September, but, well, global pandemic . . . so with the Disney trip canceled and our backup plans up in the air, we decided to take “Birthday Week” off as well to hopefully fit in some fun family outings. Of course, that means if we don’t get our act together and start schoolwork soon, nothing will get done until after that week off, which puts us at mid-September. If I want to maintain our streak of finishing the school year in April or May like we usually do, I need to summon the strength to get a move on!

Shelf

Behold my beautiful new Tardis blue shelf, which I had to commandeer for my own purposes to prevent the children from fighting over it, as yet uncluttered by the random crap that somehow always ends up shoved among the workbooks, bins of the few new supplies we actually needed for the year, and a planner ready for action. Yes, that is in fact a Home Depot moving box from when we bought this house 4 years ago, and no, it has not been unpacked. But our school supplies look heckin’ lovely so just ignore it okay?

And so . . . here I sit, surrounded by curriculum and thinking about my late-sleeping tweens and quiet morning coffee time, blogging instead of actually figuring out who is doing what come Monday morning. This is our 8th year of official homeschooling and it just wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t constantly second-guessing every curriculum choice we made for the year (indeed I am), frantically selling off stuff I’ve held on to for far too long (yup), and wondering if maybe this will be the year that we buckle down and stay committed to following what the books tell us to do (insert maniacal laughter here). Still, somehow, it feels like it might just be a really good year for us. Unless anyone forgot how to add over the summer because then I will lose my ever-loving mind.

Making Plans

I’ve probably said it before, but I love, LOVE planning. I love color-coded spreadsheets and schedules and checklists and planners. And then . . . I like to let it all go. I ignore the pretty colors and fall back on my trusty planner, where I write in everything day by day so I can keep track of what we’ve done. After years of stressing about how much to complete each quarter, I plan no more than a week in advance, usually on Sunday night or Monday morning. By then, I generally know what we have on tap for the coming week and can work around any days we may need to take off for field trips, classes, or playdates.

There are any number of things a homeschool parent might want from a planner, but my priorities are:

  • Blank subject columns for each day of the week
  • Enough space to write in multiple activities for each subject
  • Room for tracking work for multiple children
  • Enough columns to break apart our “separate subjects” (math and English) and to list our “together subjects” after (social studies, science, art/music, “other” and “activities” are my usual headings)–OR to list core subjects separately, depending on the year
  • Monthly calendars to write in important dates
  • July of the current year to the end of June of the next

I can’t handle predetermined subject headings, cramped boxes, or wasted space! After a couple initial years of using whatever I could grab from the dollar aisle at Target, I found The One. The only planner I’ve been able to get my hands on that has all of my requirements and runs around $20. I only need one for my two kids and honestly, I think I could comfortably track at least a couple more if needed. Bigger families might need to get creative or use more than one of these, but it fits our needs perfectly.

Here’s the planner I use year after year: Blue Sky 2020-2021 Academic Year Teachers Weekly & Monthly Lesson Planner, CYO Cover, 8.5″ x 11″, Dots

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This is my current layout, where we separate out math and English but combine the other subjects (if they are working on different things in those subjects, I just put their names or initials on separate lines with what they worked on). The far right column used to be for evening dance classes, so I’m still debating what label to use there. I use the colored daily boxes on the left to write in anything that doesn’t fall into a subject heading–days off, playdates, appointments, etc.PlannerIMG_2507

This is from two years ago, to show some completed pages and an older format where I separated the core subjects for both of them. I don’t write a ton of detail–just lesson or page numbers, generally. If one child is working from different books or programs in the same subject, I add initials to distinguish between them. Here in NY, we have to submit quarterly reports listing material/topics covered in the required subjects, so I refer back to the lesson/page/chapter numbers at quarterly time and flip through each curriculum to pull the topics from. I’d rather keep it simple in my planner and do a tiny bit more work at quarterly time, but I know others include more detail about lesson topics and there’s a decent amount of space in each box for that, too!

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Here’s the monthly calendar page, just for reference.

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I’m not generally a big believer in any particular “must-haves” for homeschoolers because every family is different, but the one thing I definitely must have each year is this planner. I’ve even tried creating my own printable version and it’s just not the same. I do enjoy all my color-coded spreadsheets, but at the end of the day, my planner is where I keep track of everything we actually get done, which makes reporting a breeze.

What one homeschool item can you not live without??

The Best Laid Plans

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As I’ve mentioned before, I looooove planning. I love spreadsheets and checklists and charts and color-coded schedules . . . and I love ignoring them after they’re made. I was once called “the least type A type A person ever” and thought that was a pretty accurate description. What can I say–I like to convince myself I have my life in order, especially when it comes to homeschooling! Except, of course, that I really prefer to wing it most of the time. My firstborn and I spent a great deal of time butting heads during our early homeschooling years, largely because I made the mistake of creating detailed lesson plans and setting goals of what we needed to have done during each week (or month, or quarter). Learning to let go of my own unrealistic expectations and embrace what actually works for us was probably the most vital lesson in our homeschool journey. Even if I love planning, we are all better off if those plans stay loosey-goosey so that when something comes up, I can shift things around without stressing.

This is particularly apt right now, when I’m mapping out lesson numbers for the coming weeks. They look so pretty in a table on Google Docs, all evenly spaced and labeled and nicely organized. We go on vacation the first week of September most years so I wanted to jot down lesson numbers for the week after the trip, to keep myself from having to figure it all out at the last minute after a week away. Then yesterday my children asked if they could each pick one subject to skip during schoolwork. I agreed because look, I need as many un-ironic “Mom of the Year” moments as I can get, okay? They’ve finally realized other kids get ACTUAL summer break and if letting them each skip one tiny chunk of schoolwork makes them feel like I’m a benevolent ruler instead of an evil hag, I’m going with it.

What it led to, however, was a discussion about whether they should have weekly goals with the freedom to choose which subjects they wanted each day, as long as it all got done by the end of the week. I’m not positive this will work for us–I can definitely see my 6th grader deciding to save all of her math lessons for Friday, because those take her the longest, and then we’d be all burnt out at the end of the week while she has 75 hours’ worth of math problems to do. So it will need SOME guidelines (especially as far as math goes), like maybe certain subjects will require a certain number of days per week instead of just getting through the specific lessons whenever they want . . . but hey, it gave me the opportunity to create YET ANOTHER weekly checklist to fill in!

I’m starting to wonder if my children know me so well that they actually orchestrated this because they thought I’d be in a good mood if I had new checklists to work on. Am I being played? Hmm. It’s entirely possible, but since I have such a pretty new table to work on, I don’t really care!