When I first started homeschooling, I was as excited about the planning as I was the actual schooling. I was the kid who loved school (and who would happily be a career student now if only it would pay the bills), especially worksheets and workbooks, and planning is pretty much all of the best parts of school without any pop quizzes!
In those early years, I viewed planning as a basic job requirement. Setting aside hours to plan at the beginning of the school year and another hour or two each week is simply what you do, right?
I thought so, and despite the time commitment, I rocked it.
The only problem? It turns out that I’m terrible at execution. I don’t like being put in a box. I don’t always want to stop at one chapter read or read just a little bit from 12 different books. And I don’t want to be told what to do (even when it’s my own plan doing the telling!).
I want the flexibility to skip math on some days and double up on others. I like being able to change course on a whim. And I need to be able to declare “snow days” any time during the year when I’m snowed under with work.
It turns out that most plans don’t allow for the kind of flexibility I’m looking for, and I end up discouraged and behind pretty much out of the gate.
A couple of years ago, I stopped planning altogether. I choose our curriculum at the beginning of the year, and we just…do it. No planning out how much we’ll do every day. No scheduling units or lessons. No planning for extra projects or enrichment activities like Barbie mummies or veggie skeletons.
The only planning I do is adding to our book collection and selecting titles from our home library that fit with our current studies.
How exactly does that work? Something like this:
- Choose a subject area to study.
- Consult booklists & Amazon and buy as many books as we can afford.
- Select our curriculum in other subject areas.
- Start every day with two simple goals: Do the next thing on our list. Follow the rabbit trails.
1. Choose a subject area to study.
As I’ve shared, our family decided to study Africa this summer. All of our history, geography, social studies, and science is based around the African continent. I haven’t set an end date, although we are breaking for the Olympics next week.
Because Africa is a huge, diverse continent, we are picking one country to study at a time—first Kenya (where I could have parked for even longer than we did!) and now South Africa. We’ll keep going until we run out of books or, more likely, lose our enthusiasm, and then we’ll choose a new topic area!
2. Consult booklists & Amazon and buy as many books as we can afford.
(My handbook for this study: Give Your Child the World)
Once we decided on the part of the world we wanted to explore, I got a ton of books recommended in Jamie C. Martin’s Give Your Child the World and added a few more from our own collection. Then I filled our downstairs shelves with them so that they’re easy to grab during school time or just when the kids are looking for something to read.
3. Select our curriculum in other subject areas.
(Notably: math, language arts, Latin)
Although I lean heavily toward an unschooling approach in these early years, we do still use a set curriculum for math, language arts, and Latin. But I still don’t plan them. Instead…
4a. Do the next thing.
Rather than planning out what we’ll get done when, we simply do the next thing. We pick a new book from the shelf. We turn to the next lesson in the math book. We read the next chapter.
I never feel “behind” because we’re always making forward progress, and there’s no arbitrary scheduling telling me that I should be further along. We can take breaks when life gets busy or when one of my kids is struggling in a subject area, and then we come back to it a few weeks later.
4b. Follow the rabbit trails.
And finally, not planning allows us to follow rabbit trails as they pop up. We can use a study of Nelson Mandela to talk about our own government and election process. We can compare the painted houses of South Africa with different houses around the world. We can write our own stories about talking animals after reading Doctor Doolittle. When we’re done following the rabbit trail we circle back around and do the next thing on the list.
And that’s it! I don’t worry about getting all of the books read. I don’t calculate how many days are left in the school year and whether we’ll complete the curriculum by then. I don’t stress out when everybody is out of sorts and we need to go spend some time in nature instead. I should probably do better about writing down what we do accomplish, but I’m not even very good at that.
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