Thursday, July 4, 2013

A New School Year, Part 2 - Schedules

Back to School Mini Series
     Part 1: Organization
     Part 2: Schedules
     Part 3: Pre-First Day of School

This is the second of three posts in our little "Back to School Mini Series".  You can read the first post here, where I shared how we are organizing our school materials this year.

As much as I love organization, I also love schedules.  There's nothing like a nicely blocked out schedule on a clean sheet of paper.  And then, of course, there is the reality of that schedule being lived out...but that's material for a different post.  :)

By means of introductions, I will mention two books that I've read which has helped me fine tune how we piece together a workable schedule.  Many of you have probably already heard of these, but here you are: "Managers of Their Homes" and "Managers of Their Schools" by Steve and Teri Maxwell is definitely worth looking into if you're struggling with the motivation or tools necessary to create and keep a good schedule.  My usual scheduling method is similar to the one laid out in this book, but it gave me a few extra ideas on how to juggle the needs of our growing family.

Today's post will map out the schedules we are using this school year.
     -School Calendar
     -Master Daily Schedule
     -Kids' Individual School Schedules
     -Keeping the Littles Occupied

As I said in our previous post, the kids' weekly school assignments have been mapped out for the entire school year.  This idea was not my own, but came from several sources which are linked in that post.  It does sound a bit lofty, but I did something very similar for the last 3 months of our last school year.  Having the daily/weekly assignments ready to go each Monday morning really helped us to stay on track.
So, here's how I figured out our school calendar.

First, I decided how many weeks I wanted us to be in school this year.  I read that a typical school year would be around 36 weeks, so I worked with that.  I grouped together daily lessons from each subject into weeks, then tweaked it a bit so that everything was done within 36 weeks.  Most subjects will be completed before the end of our school year.

We also use something called Sabbath Schooling which is outlined in this article.  It sounds a little bit too "holy" for my liking and I'm pretty sure that the Bible is not explicit about how homeschooling families should plan their academic years.  That aside, I liked the idea of having a break every few weeks and I also liked the idea of keeping up with school year-round so that we don't lose momentum.  We started doing this in the early spring with great success.

Our year is organized into six 6-week sessions.  Naturally these are flexible, and already we are starting a week "ahead of schedule" so we have adjustments to be made to the calendar before we even start.  This kind of schedule works well for us in part because we get to maintain a doable pace throughout the year, and because we have reasons for longer breaks in the fall (namely the eagerly anticipated birth of our fifth child).

If you're trying to figure out when to start school, when to finish, and when to take breaks, just look at a calendar with a couple of things in mind:
     -When would I like to finish school this year?
     -How many weeks would I like to school this year?
     -Are there any times during the year when I know that we need to have time off from school?

Now, mark your calendar from the end of your school year, block out necessary breaks, and count back the number of weeks you are planning.  You should have a start date that you can work with, and a basic schedule to tweak.  Easy!
 Once I knew what the big picture for our school year looked like, I wanted to figure out our daily schedule.  We have a general routine which we always use, so fitting in the appropriate amount of school time wasn't too much of a challenge.  But it did stretch my scheduling abilities a bit more than usual since we're adding more kiddos to the mix.

For now I've made a schedule to follow through October, at which time we will go back to our bare bones routine and re-evaluate our needs with a newborn.  We use this Monday through Thursday with a modified schedule on Fridays to include Art and a trip to the park.
I also printed out a copy of each child's individual school schedule which I included in their weekly assignment folders.  The older two are the only ones who really need this, but Abigail (2 1/2 years old) likes to do whatever the others are doing so I made her a schedule as well.  Even if she can't read it or tell time, she quickly learns what we do each day and she always knows what she can look forward to next.

Here is a sample of our Kindergartener's schedule.  Everything in italics is after school time and is always the same whether we are on break or in school.
     8:00am - Morning Chores (get ready, personal care); Kitchen Chores
     8:30am - Breakfast
     9:00am - Violin and Piano Practice
     9:30am - School with Mom: Spelling and Math
     10:00am - Handwriting and Math
     10:30am - Snack
     11:00am - Greek; Finish Handwriting and Math (as needed)
     11:30am - Play Outside and/or Ride Bikes
     12:30pm - Lunch
     1:00pm - School with Mom: MW - History; TTh - Science
     1:30pm - Rest Time
     3:00pm - Snack and Free Time
     5:00pm - "Foursies" Clean Up; Bath
     6:00pm - Dinner and Family Kitchen Clean Up
     7:00pm - Bible Time
     8:00pm - Bed

Even though she will only be five this fall, Hannah does have work that she is expected to complete on her own every day.  We spent most of last year aiming toward this independent work, so she and Joshua know what to expect.  I always review their work and go over any problem spots with them.  And, of course, if they run into trouble during an assignment I am available to help them.

In addition to independent work, all three of the older kids have individual "School with Mom" time.  I start with Abigail, since she has a harder time waiting, and then move on to Hannah and finally to Joshua.  Joshua gets two "School with Mom" sessions since he has two extra subjects this year.  He and Hannah share part of their time with me in a math lesson which we will do altogether to save time.

Finally, I desperately needed a plan for Abigail (2 1/2 years old) and Jeremiah (11 months old).  In the spring I started writing down activities on a sticky note for Abby, choosing several for the morning, and setting timers as she worked through each one.  We will be doing this again in addition to her preschool time with me.  This teaches Abby to work on her own and to stay focused on a task, and it also gives me the ability to focus on the older kids' school.

Jeremiah is usually busy exploring cupboards and things.  I try to make an effort to switch up his play location and offer him specific toys/activities to use.  Often I will encourage Abby to include him in whatever she is doing.  She is almost always happy to oblige since Jeremiah is one of her favorite people.  :)

Not everything is done exactly as planned, but having a big picture for our school year, using a master daily schedule, and giving the kids the tools they need to stay on track each day helps us to get more accomplished than we would otherwise.  If nothing else, it gives all of us a clear idea of what's expected of us each day and that eliminates all kinds of stress!

How do you plan your school year and daily schedule so that everything gets done?

This post is linked up at Mom Tested Homeschool Blog Hop.  Hop on over to find more ideas and insights from other homeschool moms.

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