Planning the Homeschool Year

Welcome to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

Does the thought of planning the homeschool year overwhelm you? Are you worried about missing some crucial element, or simply not sure where to begin? This post can help.

First, let me assure you that planning the homeschool year is not as daunting as it sounds. Yes, it can be a lot of work, and research will be involved.

However, if you have a strong commitment to helping your students—and even minimal organizational skills—it will be easier than you think.

Note: We tend to have more of an eclectic style when it comes to organizing and planning the homeschool year. We do not follow an all-in-one curriculum, instead preferring to piece together what we need from a variety of sources. Therefore, these suggestions will be most helpful for folks who intend to follow a similar style of taking what works and leaving the rest.

Let me assure you that planning the homeschool year is not as daunting as it sounds. Click To Tweet
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Where Do I Start?

l like to first look at the big picture: What are my overall goals for my students? What basic subjects do we intend to cover? How will the rest of our calendar {i.e., travel and work plans} look during this time?

Well, that last one could be difficult to pinpoint for a while. Articulating a homeschool schedule in the middle of a global pandemic is certainly not something anyone anticipated. 

For now I assume we will mostly stay close to home {at least at the beginning} and have limited access to libraries, meetups, and field trips.

As far as topics, we generally cover the following: math, language arts, geography, science, American history, world history, mythology, world religions, health, physical education, art, and music.

Whew! If that sounds like a lot of subjects to you, don’t panic. I prefer to list them all separately to make sure I am not missing anything. 

In reality, some will likely end up being combined, or done at different times. For example, we could decide to study something that encompasses both geography and science {e.g., ecosystems} , or spend half the year each on art and music.

My high school student will likely choose few additional courses as electives, and I will probably add a critical thinking component as well.

Again, it sounds like a lot when you list it all out, but these are just brainstormed topics. You, personally, do not need to include all of them. Or you might decide to include more! Or you may separate them out even further; for instance, breaking down language arts into grammar, spelling, punctuation, and writing skills.

Another aspect you should contemplate here is additional household or personal responsibilities that might impact your schedule. 

For example, do you prefer to get groceries or run essential errands on a particular day or days and how will that affect your daily plans? Do you have outside commitments {e.g., volunteering} that will occasionally abbreviate your school day?

If you consider these “interruptions” in advance, you can compensate for them and adjust your agenda accordingly. One year we utilized a four-day week, saving Friday as a “catch up” day, and this worked out well for us at the time.

Tip: If contemplating the entire year at once is too much for you, think of it in terms of semesters {half a year} or even quarters {3 months at at time}. It’s okay to say, this is how we will organize the beginning of the year through {insert whatever time frame or date works for you} and then re-evaluate.

How Do I Know What To Teach?

Before going much farther into the details of planning the homeschool year, you may want to consider a few basic guidelines about what exactly you want your students to learn, and how you are going to teach that information.

First, if you haven’t already, definitely review your individual state requirements. 

Many states will request some combination of notifying the school district of your intention to homeschool, submitting an overview of what will be covered, and providing for some sort of assessment. 

Not all states will require all of these, and some states will ask for significantly more {looking at you, New York} so be sure to check your state specifically. An easy way to do this is to go to the department of education website for your state and search for the word “homeschool.”

Now that you have the legalities sorted, you can turn your attention to expectations and a plan of study for each grade level you will be working with. 

If you are unsure where to begin, or if you really just have no clear idea of “what kids learn and when” you can easily find assistance with that. 

This is often referred to as scope and sequence. Very basically, scope is the content you teach {the “what”} and sequence is the way you present it {the “how”}.

I have found several sources to be helpful with this process:

Core Knowledge

If you are familiar with the What Your ______ Grader Needs To Know book series, this is the same resource, but online. Here you can find detailed lists of what skills are taught in a variety of subjects by grade level. You can download the entire sequence as well as curriculum and teacher’s guides all for free.

Full disclosure, we have not used any of the curriculum, so I cannot offer any specific reviews. We primarily use this resource to get an idea of the kinds of things being learned at each grade level. 

For us it simply helps to jumpstart the planning process and gives us ideas to expand on. It includes information for up to and including grade eight.

World Book Typical Course of Study

Similar to the Core Knowledge website, this also provides detailed information about what is taught by grade level and subject. This resource, however, goes all the way through grade twelve.

It is extremely detailed, and the lists tend to be more concrete {i.e., easier to comprehend and plan to implement} than most lists of “standards” I have seen.

Common Core

Oh, man; do people have feels about common core! I highly recommend you check out this website for yourself, especially the myths vs. facts and frequently asked questions.

That said, this site provides an excellent breakdown of standards through grade twelve, and you can download all the lists for free.

Local School District

This is another tool we frequently use when planning the homeschool year. You may have to search around a bit to find exactly what you are looking for, but we are able to see course guides and handbooks for every grade. We can see how each year is planned out, what courses are required, and view specific course descriptions {including which texts are currently being used}.

Since Agent E is entering 9th grade this year, we also reviewed graduation requirements to assist with overall planning for the next four years.

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What Resources Will We Use?

Now that you have a better idea of what your overall plan will look like, and you have considered scope and sequence, it is time to choose materials.

We tend to be eclectic in our choices and use mostly a combination of books and workbooks in a self-designed “curriculum.”

However, if your style of homeschooling leans more structured, and you are interested in packaged curriculum {not necessarily an all-in-one, perhaps just pieces here and there} I highly recommend you check out the following:

The Ultimate Guide To Secular Homeschool Curriculum includes tons of suggestions for finding secular materials. Another great place to peruse and research myriad print and online secular homeschooling resources is Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. {They have a very supportive Facebook group as well.}

Keep in mind that you may crave the structure of curriculum for a particular subject, but be okay exploring another on your own.

For instance, you feel really want a geography curriculum, or a health class spine book, but feel comfortable without an organized curriculum for language arts.

It is okay to plan in whatever way works best for you and your students.

For us, however, choosing resources essentially means choosing books. We are very book-based in our approach, preferring a hard copy of an actual text to the comparable electronic version. My students do not enjoy online lessons or video explanations.

This year we even went as far as purchasing the algebra and geometry texts our local public school uses as a reference for my oldest. They lay out everything she will need to review algebra one and dive into geometry.

{Side note: AbeBooks is a fabulous resource for gently used books! We scored the two aforementioned math books for under $20 total, including tax and shipping.}

I usually start by making a list of the books I think I would like to use, and then trying to learn as much as I can about what the books specifically cover so I can narrow down said list.

My preferred method is to hit the bookstore and library and browse in person. As that is not an option this time around, we will be sticking with a few old favorites to start.

Yes; we often use the same books for more than one year. Sometimes the information is just so dense we need more than one year to get through it. Other times, we may pull from a specific section for one year, and then shelf it until we need it again.

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My advice here is do not go too crazy with purchases. You probably do not need individual texts for every subject or grade level. You may already have books on your own bookshelf that can be “repurposed” as “school” books. 

Also, we have found that many books work for a fairly large age range, and can be understood on multiple levels.

For example, you can read a biology text aimed at middle schoolers with your elementary student and your high school student. The younger one might not process all of it, but exposure over mastery is okay. Your high schooler might be sparked by a few particular topics and decide to pursue them further with additional materials.

While we do like to combine as much as possible, some things—like math and language arts—will need to be tailored specifically.

For these two subjects we tend to use grade-level appropriate workbooks just for simplicity. {You can take a look at the ones we have used for math and language arts.}

How Can I Keep Track of Everything?

We don’t put a lot of effort into attempting to designate in advance exactly what we will do each day {e.g., read chapter 1 from this book, complete these 10 math problems, write 2 paragraphs explaining xyz}.

In general I find it much more productive to simply put one foot in front of the other and progress at a comfortable pace.

Of course, I do a rough page, section, and chapter count to have a basic idea of what we can reasonably accomplish in a school year. I want to know our resource choices “make sense” for the amount of time we have available relative to our goals.

What I do not have is a daily or weekly or even monthly spreadsheet of the specifics. Because as long as we continue to move forward, it doesn’t matter if we were supposed to be on chapter 3 of our history book by September 23rd and we still need to wrap up chapter 2.

This means we typically keep track of what we have done rather than devising a strict schedule to follow from the beginning. I realize that’s a bit too into the unknown for some, but trust me when I say it becomes easier with time and experience.

If you need more information about how to translate your new plans into a workable day-to-day schedule, check out how we created a realistic daily routine for our homeschool.

How do you feel about planning the homeschool year? What stage of the process are you in right now? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments, and I encourage you to check out the other posts in the How To Homeschool series as well.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Amanda Bradley

    Given the recent global pandemic and school shutdowns, we are actually considering homeschooling next year and this was such a helpful resource! I honestly had no idea where to start but you have given amazing resources and made it seem much more manageable. We have 3 kids – our oldest will be a 4th grader, middle will be a 1st grader, and our youngest will be in pre-K. Are you able to give me an estimate of my daily homeschooling time commitment? Again, thanks so much posting this! 🙂

    1. Valerie

      I’m glad you found the post helpful, Amanda. As far as time commitment, actual structured “school time” for those ages could be less than an hour a day, not counting art, outside play, or independent reading time. This year I have two middle schoolers and one third grader, and we spend probably 2 hours a day total on “seat” work and/or working through books/subjects together. It really will take so much less time than you think, especially for the younger ones. Of course this does not include any planning time or record keeping for you. That time commitment will depend a lot on what resources you use and what your state requires for tracking. Thank you so much for stopping by. ❤

  2. Avatar

    I dread having to homeschool in the fall. (It’s just not my jam.) But I will keep these tips in mind, so that hopefully I have an easy time. I want to change my mindset about it, just in case!

    1. Valerie

      If it comes to that, you will be great at it. ❤ Plus your kids are young and it’s pretty easy to encourage learning at those ages; most of it is just doing what you’ve been doing {being an attentive parent} and following their curiosities.

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