How to Find Some Flexibility in a Pre-Scheduled Curriculum
Do you use a homeschool curriculum that’s neatly scheduled out for you over four or five days? It’s awesome, isn’t it? I love opening up my lesson book and seeing exactly what I need to accomplish over the day. Bible, Math, Language Arts, Science, History, Art, Composer Study, Geography — even activities for my preschooler! — it’s all laid out beautifully over a two-page spread.
It’s awesome on the first day, I mean. I can’t even make it through a week without getting behind. You know how it goes — the geography novel is still on hold at the library so by Saturday I’m four chapters behind. Oh, and I blow off Friday to hit the museum with my kids, now that we have it to ourselves again. I figure I can catch up next week — except for the “Not Back to School” party with the homeschool group on Monday, and our afternoon park date on Tuesday, and on and on and on.
Within a couple weeks, my “daily plan” is spread out over a half dozen pages. I have to flip back in the lesson book to find what we’re supposed to be doing for geography, and then flip up a few pages to find the next science lesson. History is four pages back and literature is two pages up and wait — composer study? Um… we’ll catch up on Monteverdi next year.
You get the idea.
There’s no doubt that pre-planned schedules can be a blessing for an overwhelmed mom. No thinking required — just open the book and do what it says.They take away so much of the stress of homeschooling, especially for parents that are new to homeschooling, or perhaps adding in a younger kid or two (*waves*).
Schedules can also be one of the most stressful parts of homeschooling. You start panicking because you’re behind. You start canceling park dates. You think about dropping the coop you just joined. You find yourself reciting the times tables out loud to your sick child in your most loving, soothing voice just so you can tick math off the day’s list. Well, you do. I stick my sick kids in front of the TV.
In the routine vs schedule section of Jot it Down, Julie Bogart mentions homeschoolers that never took any school holidays off because the mom didn’t want to fall behind. That seems crazy, right? But actually … it doesn’t. Staying on schedule is a pretty powerful motivator. And I don’t want our homeschool to be structured that way. I want to be able to run out on a whim and not worry about how it affects the schedule. I want to be able to go out for a hike when the weather is beautiful. We are homeschooling so that we can enjoy life as fully as we can, and I don’t want Week 7 Day 4’s scheduled science lesson to hold us back.
That being said, I’m not ready to toss our curriculum out completely. I like that our curriculum gives me a day-to-day structure as well as a long-term plan. It frees me from coming up with lessons on the fly, and it gives my kids a general consistency to their days. And besides, I like the lessons; I don’t want to abandon them.
Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? How do you add flexibility to a pre-scheduled homeschool curriculum? You keep the overall routine but let the detailed schedule plan go.
It’s not as confusing as it sounds, I promise. This is the simple way that I make it work.
1/ Put all the lesson readings and activities in a master list, based on subject.
Wayfarers is our curriculum of choice again this year. I went through the lesson book page by page and created a master list of the readings and activities scheduled for each of the complex subjects.
Complex? Hmmm… that’s probably not the right word. Composite, maybe? I’m referring to subjects that have multiple readings and activities scheduled across multiple books throughout the week. You know, not something like math where we simply do the next lesson in the textbook each day — I don’t need a master list to tell me how to proceed in those subjects. I hope.
I’m thinking more of subjects like geography. In Wayfarers, geography is scheduled across all five days but the lessons themselves are varied. Each day has a chapter in a novel to read, but some days might also have a mapping exercise, or a reading about a specific country, or a reading about geography in general, or a cooking lesson or art project based on the current region of study. (To be honest, we’ve never been able to keep up. When I made my master list for each subject, I wrote out all the assignments and readings in my master list, I cut it back some. A lot. Don’t tell.)
This is part of my master list for geography — you can download the free Wayfarers sample pack to see how it looks in the original form.
2/ Look at how many times each subject is scheduled during the week.
Once I had all the individual lessons written out (and it really didn’t take that long), I went back through my lesson book and noted how many times each subject is taught during the week. This gives me an overall sense of how much I need to teach the subjects if I want to stay “on schedule”.
3/ In your planner, note how many times you want to teach a subject — but don’t worry about assigning specific days. Let that part be flexible in your week.
For the most part, I am comfortable with the Wayfarers’ scheduling. Math, Bible, and Language Arts are every day — that’s fine with me. Geography is scheduled every day too, but I cut it down to three times a week. Science is scheduled twice, but I bumped it up to 3 or 4 times because my daughter loves science.
Once I decided on the frequency of our lessons, I copied each subject into my homeschooling planner and put a number in brackets beside it. This reminds me how many times I hope to teach each subject during the week without assigning specific days.
When I’m done these steps, I put my time stickler of a lesson book away. It’s given me what I need, and I can take it from here.
4/ Throughout the week, as you teach each subject, consult your master list for the next lesson.
When it’s time to teach a subject like geography, I flip to the master list that I keep at the front of my planner and quickly look up the next 1-3 readings and activities — however much I feel like doing that day, really. I don’t worry about how many readings and activities were actually planned for the day in the Wayfarers lesson book. I only care that we do some geography.
The same goes for history. On some days, the Wayfarers schedule has us read from a spine, and other days we add in some supplemental readings. I put all the lessons onto a master list, and now when we do a history lesson, I just check my list and do the next reading or two — or I scrap it and do our own activity to complement what we’re learning. I don’t worry about staying on schedule. I just care about doing some history three or four times a week.
5/ When you’ve finished teaching the lesson, note down what you did in your planner.
I can’t stress this enough: don’t fill out your daily planner until after you’re finished teaching the lesson. It’s so satisfying to look back on the day and write down everything that you’ve accomplished — much better than looking at a lesson plan made years in advance by someone else and feeling guilty for not getting through all the readings.
Falling Behind in the Schedule
I know what you’re thinking: won’t we will fall behind?
Yes. Yes, we will definitely fall “behind”.
Maybe for history, we’ll get so caught up in the Egyptians that we don’t make it to the Romans by the end of the year. That’s okay. My daughter will have time to learn about the Romans when we do Ancient History again in high school. Or maybe she’ll enjoy ancient history so much that she’ll be inspired to read about the Romans over the summer. Or maybe she never, ever learns about Ancient Rome, because we end up learning the history of other places instead and she still grows up to be a functional adult.
Nobody can learn all the things. Curriculum creators do their best to give children an overview or a subject, but for every country or time period they focus on, they’re ignoring something else. And guess what? As parents, we have the freedom to do the same thing.
Here’s the thing — curriculum gets created in a vacuum. It doesn’t account for actual life. The curriculum can’t know that you’ll spend two weeks deeply immersed in the culture of Brazil as you get ready for a geography fair. The curriculum can’t predict that you’ll regularly blow off Thursday lessons in favour of a museum that has the super cool artifacts described in your history readings. Those activities count every bit as much as an assigned reading! It’s okay to do your own lessons instead of the scheduled ones. That’s when homeschooling is the best!
In English Lessons Through Literature (which I love), Kathy Jo Devore says, “My homeschooling motto has long been: Use the curriculum; don’t let the curriculum use you. I recommend the motto more highly than I recommend any of the literature selections in this book.”
It’s taken me a few years, but I’m finally beginning to use my curriculum as a book of suggestions rather than a book of requirements.
So how do you know when to teach a subject if it’s not scheduled on a certain day? Well, our days follow more or less the same routine: I start off with a circle time with my two youngest children — we read stories, sing songs, practice our memory work, and maybe do a bit of math. After that, at 10, my nine-year-old starts her morning lessons which normally consist of Bible, math, Latin, French, Violin practice, and either English Lessons Through Literature (ELTL) or spelling and a writing activity.
ELTL is marked with a (3) on my planner, so we typically do it Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning — though the lesson can be moved to another morning or skipped entirely without much consequence. If we miss a lesson one week, we just do it the next week and keep going from there. I don’t have to panic.
Only Latin kind of gets messed up if we don’t do it each day, but then again, even our Latin book offers a possible schedule for 4 days a week instead of 5, allowing us to skip a morning here and there. And if we miss two mornings in a row? Then we’ll just stretch the chapter’s lesson out for another week. What’s the worst that can happen — it takes us more than one year to finish our Latin book? And Latin gets even older in the mean time?
Our afternoons are even more flexible because we do tend to have other activities come up after lunch. None of the afternoon subjects (geography, history, science) are scheduled more than three times, and some (health, hands-on social science projects) are marked with a (0-1), making them optional from week to week. This gives me a guaranteed 1-2 afternoons of empty time to use — or more, if needed.
When Term One is finished, I’ll reevaluate how we are doing. Are there gaps that I need to close up before moving to Term Two — keeping in mind of course, that no student can learn everything about a subject so gaps are inevitable? Maybe the better question would be: am I satisfied with the pace that we’re learning at?
Am I happy with the depth of learning?
Are we spending too much time books?
Are we spending too much time digging in the sand? Or, more likely, not enough?
Do we have balance?
Of course, when Term One is finished, Christmas will begin and I’ll lose all sense of balance anyway. I wonder if I can schedule that in…