When planning a new school year I find it helpful to begin by taking a birds’ eye view. I look at my whole school year and pick one major thing to focus on for the year, do my best to remember that I am teaching real people, and make sure I have a plan for when the homeschool day goes off the rails.
(Because it will.)
1. Picking One Thing
Usually there is one subject that needs more attention than others at any given time. During a recent year, for example, I realized that math was suffering. Everybody was struggling and we needed to do something about it. We got ourselves situated with new curriculum, dug in our heels, and made math the major priority for the year until we were all in a good place.
Other years, I’ve noticed that we’re lacking a bit in the writing department, or maybe something that isn’t academic at all- like character development.
When I’m brainstorming where our trouble spots are– what needs to get the most attention right now, I tell myself that there is no need to panic. We just need to be intentional and get on the right path.
Two years ago, I realized that some of my kids didn’t know basic information, like our address, phone number, and how to read an analog clock. I had one of those “What?! You don’t know that?!” panic moments and wondered if I was ruining them for life by homeschooling them.
Of course, it wasn’t the major global problem I thought it was.
The solution was to make a place in their binders that we called “Everyday Learning.” That year they spent five minutes each day working on the sheets I put there- copy work of our family’s information and clock worksheets, mostly. That was our focus area for awhile.
Before long, they had it down and I didn’t need to worry over it anymore.
Here’s the thing- I often feel overwhelmed by all the balls I’ve dropped- subjects I feel that we haven’t done as well as perhaps we should have. If I try to tackle all of them every year, it’s quite likely we won’t make much headway on any because we’ll be spread too thin.
There are always going to be balls dropping- we’re never going to feel like our kids or our homeschools are up to speed across the board. So before we can pick one thing, we first have to accept that there will be gaps in our kids’ education.
2. Gaps are Gifts
Gaps in learning are not hindrances. Gaps are the places where our child will seek out and fill in during their adulthood– if we give them the skills they need to learn whatever they need to know, and we manage not to kill their curiosity and thirst for learning when they are young.
Think of yourself- an interested, engaged adult (I’m making some assumptions here, forgive me). Do you feel stressed and panicked that you don’t know everything you want to know? Or do you seek out and learn that which intrigues you? Do you get excited when you learn something new that you didn’t know before?
When you’re touring a historical landmark, are you angry that you never learned the details or historical importance of that place, or are you enthralled and eager to learn it now?
Our role as educators is not to fill in all the gaps for our children. It is simply impossible to teach a child everything about the world before they leave home.
Our role, then, is to give them the skills and tools they’ll need to be lifelong learners- and the opportunity to be hungry enough that they’ll want to keep learning well into adulthood.
If we can accept that gaps are not hindrances, then we can shed the anxiety we feel about “getting it all in” this school year. That frees us up to pick one area that needs some extra attention, and give it what it needs.
Math perhaps. Or spelling. Writing. History. Whatever– whatever you think will benefit your family.
Consider yourself a year from now- what will you wish you had spent more time on? Make that your one thing.
When you take a bird’s eye view of your child’s education and then just choose to do what you can with today (rather than trying to tackle everything every single year), you’ll find that you make some serious headway in a few imporant areas.
Your kids will make serious progress in math, for example. Or they’ll write more than ever (and even enjoy it more than ever, too.)
A year from now, tackling that subject will be more like hiking along a well-worn path, and less like hacking your way through the bush- removing branches and clearing obstacles along the way.
Ignore that voice of resistance that tells you there’s too much to do and you either ought to give up or steamroll over everyone to tackle it all. Pick one thing. Fifteen minutes a day of focused attention on one subject will get you a long way over the course of a school year.
3. We’re teaching people, not books
No matter how old your children are or what needs to be done to satisfy your state’s requirements or the college admissions officer, one principle remains true: you must start with the person- not with a book, a lesson plan, or a curricular goal.
There is a common misconception among homeschoolers and teachers that diligence and rigor can only be achieved when we are miserably slogging through hard material.
When Jesus was teaching his disciples, he didn’t have a checklist of tasks and traits that he was pushing all 12 men through in order to prepare them for ministry. He didn’t ignore who they were- their struggles, their strengths, their utter humanity- in his attempt to make them fit for the work they were called to do. He met them where they were.
Peter was impulsive, enthusiastic, and over-confident (oh Peter, how I can relate to you!), John was loyal, stubborn and oftentimes angry. The solution was not to push harder and drive them through his curriculum of discipleship.
Instead, Jesus met them where they were, taught them and loved them, and took them one step at a time toward where He wanted them to go. He didn’t ignore their individuality in favor of getting through the list of lessons and skills he wanted them all to learn, all on the same timetable, before His life on earth ended and their public ministry went full boar.
See, it doesn’t matter where your child is “supposed” to be. It matters where your child is. You can only help him make real progress when you note that, meet reality square in the face, and then help him take the next step in the right direction. That means we need to see our children as they really are, not as projects, but as images of God we have been charged to nurture, teach, and love.
So pick one focus area, remember that gaps are gifts (not hindrances), and start with the person. Basically, I’m telling you that it’s important to get your mindset in order first. The nitty gritty part of planning comes after that.
You ready for it? Then let’s talk about planning the first things.