If you have ever worked with or even seen a builder, you know the importance of a plan. The written plan is the point of communication between all parties regarding what results are expected. The plan is a roadmap. The plan lends focus when life begins to unravel. Finally, the plan can be used as the basis for future plans. Whether the plan is to build a house, a bridge, or a homeschool environment, the intention of the plan is still the same. Given my own love for planners and planning (compare it to the same affection that some women have for shoes), I have a few ideas regarding what constitutes a solid plan.
The start of any good plan takes into account the raw materials available. For the home educator, this includes all curriculum, schedules for extra-curricular activities and co-ops, and other items needed to plan your day. These tools would give you a workable plan/ schedule by which to organize your homeschool days. But, for your plan to live and breathe, you also need to incorporate the following:
Your children’s needs. This might seem insultingly obvious, but “needs” can encompass an entire range of considerations beyond the academic subjects that will compose your plan. Learning styles factor into your plan because Bouncy Billy, the kinesthetic learner, will need a stand-and-stretch break that might not be a necessity for everyone else. Do you have some who flourish in the morning, and others who come alive later in the day? The workload and complexity of assignments should serve to echo your children’s strengths and minimize frustrations. Try to schedule your quiet time (reading, etc.) when baby is napping. Finally, do not forget to put the books down periodically and use real-life learning experiences to educate your children. Meal planning and grocery shopping are an integral portion of any home economics study. Sorting DVDs or organizing bookshelves can teach alphabetical order as well, if not better, than a workbook.
Your children’s wants (within reason). As I mentioned previously, a plan is a place of agreement for all parties—including your children. As your children grow, they might have their own ideas about what and how they want to study, and even which curriculum is a better fit for them. As personal examples, our son decided this past year that he wanted to study Swahili. I will fully admit that our results came up short of the goal, but he bought into the plan and gave it 200% effort because he was able to give input. Similarly, our daughter decided that she wants to start earlier so that she has more of her afternoon free. I suspect that this, too, might change after a few weeks, but we will operate with grace and give one another freedom to experiment with change.
The ebb and flow of your home. When a new baby enters the home, chances are great that you will not have a full school day. When relatives come for a visit, you might not school at all. Moreover, bear in mind that though these events occur infrequently, there are numerous and potentially disruptive routines that will have to be taken into account—Scouting trips, sports events and practices, dance lessons, and even grocery shopping. Also, there might be times in the day that are better for you to get in a solid few hours without the pressure of meal preparation or preparation for that part-time job. Rather than work against the natural flow of your family, study that flow and constantly seek God to determine how you can work within whatever is your flow to educate your children and minister to your family.
Your home’s realities. I have friends who spend the majority of their homeschool hours in a doctor’s office. Their plans must accommodate those visits; to do less would mean death to their homeschool plans. Personally, I work part-time, my husband travels extensively (read often needs rides to the airport), and I have a child who will need transportation to and from our local community college. It would be futile to attempt certain activities when I am distracted. One of the many blessings of homeschool is its flexibility. Whether you are caring for a sick child or relative, or whether you school on the road, take advantage of this flexibility and set your school up for success. Most states require a certain number of days for school, but few, if any, dictate when those days have to be.
Your budget. If truth be told, each of us has an ideal school day in mind. Chances are that your perfect homeschool includes any number of shadowing opportunities, field trips, co-ops, play dates, etc. There is only one problem: gasoline as of this writing hovers between $3-5. Even that curriculum that guarantees a whole scale change to your school environment might be financially out of reach. Yet, where God has called, He has already provided. Our task as educators is to stay before Him long enough to allow Him to send us the right resources—people, websites, and yes, money—that will train our children in the way they should go. Though our ideal might never materialize, His plans will always be so much better.
If you have not taken a moment to develop your plans for this academic year, think about pulling in more—more tools, more knowledge, more people—and see if your time is not spent even more effectively. If you already have a plan that is working, or if your academic year has begun, now is an excellent time to review and revamp. The younger people who help execute the plan may have more to offer than you think.