It's that time of year again. Time to start planning, organizing, and making schedules. It's time to feel fantastic about what the new school year holds. It's that time of year I love. I enjoy the crisp new paper smells, the sound of a book opening for the first time, and the sight of an open planner with a year's worth of schedules. I love planning our homeschool. This year I'm taking it a step further. This year I'm putting my homeschool on autopilot, and I'm taking you along for the ride!
What is Putting Your Homeschool on Autopilot?
Ok. First things first. What on earth do I mean by "putting my homeschool on autopilot?"
I mean that I want my homeschool to run smoothly. I spend days and weeks planning all these great things we are going to do, and then a little hiccup can throw things off and put me in a tailspin. I want to have a smooth routine that rolls with the punches but also keeps us on on task. I want to put my homeschool on autopilot, so we don't lose momentum and we have a successful year.
How I'm Putting My Homeschool on Autopilot
So, I know what I want, and I know what I need, but how do I even begin?
I'm starting with the Plan Your Year course. Yeah, that's right. I need help. I'm not afraid to admit that I didn't invent the wheel when it comes to homeschool planning. I will gladly defer to the experts. In this case, one of the experts is Pam Barnhill. Her Plan Your Year book has been a lifesaver for me (ok, maybe that's a bit extreme, but it has definitely made my days easier). So, when she launched the Plan Your Year course, I thought maybe, just maybe, this would solve my problems with keeping all that lovely planning going throughout the year.
But, I'm going to be honest. I am notorious for buying courses and then never using them. I mean never. They sit in a file on my laptop, and I get overwhelmed just looking at the titles. So, I made myself a promise. I would go through at least one module. Just one. I could handle that, right?
Well, you'll be happy to know (or maybe not, I'm not sure how invested in my course-taking you are) that not only did I finish that first module, but I finished them all! And, it didn't suck up half my life! In fact, I spent less than an hour on each module. It was easy and I feel like this year will go a little smoother.
How to Put Your Homeschool on Autopilot
So, I'm not the kind of gal who tells you how awesome something is and then just leaves you hanging. I'm the kind of gal who gets really excited about something and tells you in enormous detail how you can be just as enthusiastic about it as me. Just ask my husband. He's learned to smile and nod until he can turn his football game back on.
But, in this case, I'm going to give you a few, short, real-life examples of how you can put your homeschool on autopilot. So, get your cup of coffee (or tea) and settle in for a few minutes.
The 10 Module Course: Plan Your Year
Pam's course is set up in ten modules. I did two a week to spread them out between all my other summer fun, but you can do them all at once or over a more extended period. So, let's jump in and get ourselves on the right foot this school year!
UPDATE: Each year I update this article to reflect anything new that's been added to the course and what worked for us. You can find these under the UPDATE sections below.
Module 1: Vision
The first module starts with Homeschool Vision.
I am going to be honest here. I have never made a Vision Statement for our homeschool. I really didn't think it was necessary, but wow, was I wrong. I needed this. I needed to see the big picture of what I wanted long-term for our homeschool.
I started off with my Outlook Inventory that is included in the course. Here are some of the things I came up with:
This started driving me toward the vision of what my homeschool should be. I filled out the other parts of the inventory and things started coming together.
Here's the Vision statement I came up with:
I'm sure I will need to refer to this often. I need to remember this when the day isn't going well, or I feel like I'm getting behind. This session was cathartic. It feels good to have my thoughts and ideas on paper.
UPDATE: This was a great reminder of why I homeschool. We had a particularly difficult year and this kept my focus and from losing my mind. In fact, I made no changes to the Vision for the coming year.
Module 2: Goals
It's goal-setting time!
I thought this module would be easier than it was. I generally love to set goals. But, I realized I usually set very specific goals, and then I get upset when we don't meet them. Taking Pam's advice I tried to come up with goals that weren't as specific in detail, but specific in nature. I also realized that many of my goals were very similar for each of my kids.
I appreciated the advice to record what worked for each child this past year. I have a tendency to get distracted by sparkly new curriculum and then regret it when the kids ask why we stopped the curriculum they loved. So, I'm choosing to stay the course on everything that made us happy this year.
I am also taking Pam's advice to ask my kids to help set the goals. I think this will help them take ownership of their education this year. Although, I'm not sure that the youngest's goal for more field trips is realistic (we took 29 field trips last year!).
Favorite Quote for this Module:
"We are educating persons, not merely students."
UPDATE: So, taking the advice of my children, we changed up our homeschool. They told me what they felt worked and what didn't and helped me set goals for next year. They are taking control of parts of their education even though I am still nudging them in the general direction ("No, you can not completely quit school and live with me forever").
Module 3: Subjects and Resources
This module focuses on the best resources for your child and what subjects to focus on for the school year.
As I was listening to Pam discuss the reality of choosing resources I thought of an instance a few years back. I bought a math program that looked amazing. In fact, it had fabulous reviews from many friends. What I didn't consider was how much teacher involvement was required. A few weeks into this program and I was worn out. If my daughter had loved it, I might have tried to struggle through it. But, since she only found it "ok," I decided we would put it on the shelf. I learned a valuable lesson; the program has to work for mom as well as the kids.
Now, when I'm working on my kids' course of study, I take myself into consideration. Am I willing to teach Biology? If not, what are our options? Co-op? Online class? Dad? These are equally as important as if my child likes the program.
Favorite Quote for this Module:
"The best resource is the one that got done."
One of my favorite parts of this course is all the fabulous Plan Your Year worksheets that are included. I'm a worksheet gal. I like to see my year on paper. It helps me to visualize the year. In this module, we used the course of study worksheet. I really enjoyed putting that together for each of my kids. It helped me see any gaps and some overload.
Here is my Course of Study Example:
This is the Course of Study I prepared for my youngest. It's still a work-in-progress, but it is giving me an outline from which to work. It gives me peace to see it all start to come together. The older child is a bit harder as we are working with high school requirements and classes taken at our local umbrella school, but again it is a great starting point.
Module 4: Annual Schedules
There are three types of schedules: Traditional, Term, and Magic Number. I use a traditional in that we start in July and finish in June. But, as far as annual planning goes, I use the magic number schedule.
I start with the 180 days per year that is mandated by our state and then divide by 11 months. We school year round, but most of July and December are packed with events. That gives me just over 16 days per month that must be school days. Keep in mind that some of these days will be used for field trips. We love to fieldschool!
Now, I get out the 2019-2020 calendar that Pam provides in the Plan Your Year Course (FYI, yes this changes each year!). At the top, I write 180 days and then my 16 days per month. Next, I mark out the days we will not be homeschooling. These might be holidays, vacations, birthdays or other things that I have planned.
Here's what my calendar looks like after this step:
After I have all the days I am not going to be homeschooling recorded, I can see what days I have left that are available for school. It turns out that I have 189 days.
Because I know that I have so much flexibility in my calendar, I can start throwing in an occasional Friday Fun-day. Our Fun-days aren't always on Friday. Sometimes we need a break at the beginning of the week due to a busy weekend, or maybe we need a break in the middle of the week because of an outing. With an extra 9 days, we have the flexibility to schedule in a day or two of "sanity breaks" as well.
Module 5: Weekly and Daily Schedules
Now we're getting to the "nitty gritty" of scheduling - the Weekly and Daily Schedules.
We start off with the weekly plan. I have to admit that the weekly plan makes me a little anxious. I don't particularly appreciate looking at those time slots, but I have to remember what Pam suggests - use it to show areas where you have a mandatory schedule already in place. This helps me to calm down a bit and to realize the time we have available in a given week.
Using the Weekly Plan worksheet, this is what our weekly schedule looks like on an average week. These are items that are going to be in our schedule whether we are schooling or not.
Once I see what my week looks like, I can begin to schedule a typical daily schedule. I like to combine block scheduling and looping into my daily plan.
Now that I have a plan for what we will do in a typical week, I have a better feel for how our year will run. I print this Daily Plan out for my kids, so they also can know what to expect in a given week.
Of course, there will always be exceptions. Every so often we will go on a field trip with our friends. As long as I don't force us to stick to the plan when it isn't practical and give ourselves a little grace, our homeschool will stay on autopilot.
UPDATE: This general plan helped me to relax this year. Because I could see the big picture, I was able to let go of some of the worries of "getting it all in."
Module 6: Procedure List
This module is all about making things "Open and Go.". Really, what better way is there to put your homeschool on autopilot, than with an "Open and Go" plan?
Pam talks about setting up procedures for certain subjects. After listening to her talk, I thought of areas where a procedure plan might be helpful. I started with Free Writing. This is the Procedure list I came up with:
Another area where I thought I would like a Procedure List, is with Nature Study. I use several resources for this, and I thought a general procedure would be helpful. Here's what mine looks like:
You can use a procedure list for so many different areas. I can even see applications in our daily home life.
UPDATE: These procedures lists work like a charm. They work so well, that they are staying in place this year and I might add a few more.
Module 7: The Lesson Plan List
In this module, we get to make lesson plan lists.
Here I use Pam's plan, but I add in the lesson planning through Homeschool Tracker. So what does that look like for us?
To start, if I have an "Open & Go" plan like Math U See, I will make a Procedures list. Then I will put it in my lesson plan for Homeschool Tracker like this:
This is really pretty easy with Homeschool Tracker's "Add Multiple" option. I'm basically just copying everything.
Other subjects I create from many different sources. Often I'll work them out on a spreadsheet first and then add them to Homeschool Tracker. American History is one of the subjects I use with this method. You can see how I do this below:
And in Homeschool Tracker, that looks like:
I like to combine Pam's methods with Homeschool Tracker. Homeschool Tracker keeps a record of everything I do without me having to write it all down. I like it all in one place. This is one of the reasons I like Plan Your Year so much -- it's flexible enough to work with other programs with ease.
UPDATE: Still using both plans and they are working great together. Even better, I'm able to start reusing the older kids' plans with the younger without having to recreate everything from scratch. Woo Hoo!
Module 8: Organizing Materials
Now we are to the organizing part of the course. I love to organize! It makes me feel peaceful and ready to take on the school year. So let's start with talking about Mom Organization.
First, I completely agree with Pam that if you don't keep your Homeschool Binder near you, you will forget all the wonderful things you've planned. I keep my binder in our library with our Morning Meetup Binder. This way it's where I need it the most and is easily accessible.
Keeping all your teacher's materials close by is essential. I keep mine in a locker next to my desk in our school room. Each door on the locker is labeled with the subject and is easy to get to when I need some resources in that subject.
For student materials, we use cubbies for the kids which are just drawers with labels on them. I love this one because it has different depths of drawers and I can put each kid's work in a different side.
The Communication Tool
I like Pam (and Sarah McKenzie's) spiral notebook plan. However, because I use Homeschool Tracker, I simply print out our Daily Task Sheet. Or, if your children have a computer available to them, you can allow them to sign in and they can click off the items they have completed for the day. If something happens and we don't get all our assignments completed, it's easy to move it on the calendar.
UPDATE: My kids are now logging in to Homeschool Tracker each day to see their assignments so I don't have to print out the Daily Task List. Saving trees!
When I grade papers, I don't just give a grade and move on. My kids have to correct any errors before they can go to the next lesson. In theory, a child shouldn't move on until they have mastered the topic, so grades are not as important as them understanding the topic.
UPDATE: I took Pam's advice and let my children (who are over 10) grade their own papers. I was a little skeptical, but it worked beautifully. First, it took the pressure off of me to grade each paper and, more importantly, it gave them more ownership in their education. They could easily see where they had erred, there was no feeling of "Did I disappoint Mom?" and they were able to correct their mistakes and move on. We would discuss the correction and almost every time they understood and were able to move on. So, win-win in my book!
Favorite Quote for this Module:
"Remember, issuing a grade is about improving skills and knowledge, not catching someone in what they don’t know. Let them be part of the process."
I store all my kids' paperwork in a file folder box - one box per year. These are easy to store in a filing cabinet in the garage. I know I don't have to save everything from every year, but I keep it anyway. In this way, if I need to find something, it's easy.
Module 9: Visualization and Implementation Tips
In this module, we are going to visualize our homeschool day. Find your quiet place (even if that's the closet with some chocolate!). Start by creating a mental image of what you want your school day to look like.
Walk through the school day in your head. Did you ask yourself if you have everything you need? Is everything easily accessible? What is Child A doing, while you're working with Child B (and where is Child C)?
Work in chunks of time. My chunks are 1. Morning Meetup, 2. Family Work, and 3. Individual Work. Don't over-schedule yourself within those chunks.
Remember that we are keeping a ROUTINE, not a schedule. Follow a general routine allowing yourself grace when things don't go as you thought. Be flexible to adjust for anything that may come up. We are tidal school homeschoolers. That means that we have high tide days (very detailed and complete many tasks) and low tide days (less scheduled and more interest-led times).
Start your school year relaxed. I like to start with a fun unit study before we jump into the full school year. This helps us ease into the school year with less dramatics.
Favorite Quote for this Module:
"Homeschooling is beautiful because we don't all have to move lockstep towards
the finish line — even with ourselves. Embrace it!"
Module 10: Periodic Review and Maintenance
Now we get to jump into the future!
Ok. Just kidding. But, this module is about scheduling a homeschool review. Make sure to do this on a day when you aren't planning to do school. Do this once a quarter and record them on your calendar, so you don't forget.
Print out your Review Checklist (provided in the module) and put it in your Homeschool Binder (one for each Review Day). Print out your Goals Worksheets for your children and put those with your Review Checklists. You will use these to review your children's goals and determine if you can cross anything off or if you need to add a new goal.
Don't change curriculum until you have a Review Day. Review your teacher instruction manuals to remind yourself of the best way to teach the curriculum. Then determine if changes need to be made.
Spend each Review Day reviewing your schedule, updating your lesson plans and worksheets.
UPDATE: I'll be honest. I didn't do a review day each quarter. I simply forgot (did I mention it was a rough year family-wise?). However, I have been doing a review at year-end and it has been very helpful. As my children grow more mature, I am having to adjust our homeschool to match their independence. It's been a struggle for me to let go, but being able to step back and really see things for what they are has helped.
Favorite Quote for this Module:
"In order to keep our auto-pilot plan running smoothly we must do regular
maintenance. That is what will keep us soaring along through the entire school
Bonus Module: Innovative Looping
If you purchased the Autopilot Course before June 10th, 2019, you received the Bonus Innovative Looping Module.
I've found looping to be very helpful for those topics that we don't have time to get to every day or even every week. In this module, Pam gives you many different ways to loop. And, even though I felt I completely had the looping thing down, I discovered a new way to loop that sounded perfect for us this year.
This year we will try looping our histories and geography, plus the fine arts appreciation loop we were already looping. It's a loop schedule for each term. I'm hoping this will help with the large amount of reading that the history subjects require.
After completing all 10 modules (plus the bonus module), we have done everything we can to put our homeschool on Autopilot.
Now let's put it to work and have a fabulous year!!
Hi, I’m Dachelle. I’m a homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. I love chocolate and have been known to hide it from my children. I can often be found reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. I blog, here, at HideTheChocolate.com when I’m not creating book clubs and making lists…lots and lots of lists (it’s an addiction). Learn more…