Category Archives: Planning

How do I plan for a new school year?

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And more specifically….how do I plan for a new school year that I will be using Experience-Based Learning (aka “EBL”)??

Excellent question….I’m still actually figuring this out myself. Every year…no joke…my planning and prepping changes. Someday maybe I’ll get a system that works well enough to not have to tweak regularly…but I’m not there yet.

At least I’m at the point finally where I’m no longer having to do an entire revamp of my whole system every year!   *Pat pat* (patting self on back)  We’ve finally landed on a system that works, EBL.

But back to the “How to”…..

Aw hell, I’m figuring this out as I write this….

My Planning Process (For a New Homeschool Year)

1.  Get the space ready.
I feel like this is an easy place to start…and starting easy is good. I always tell my kids when faced with a big job to start with the easy stuff first. That way you get momentum going and you have a place to go back to look at and feel proud of and draw energy from. 

So I start with getting the environment ready. For me that is our “Big Room”…our garage conversion. Which is divided into an art/school area and a play area (also a separate room in it that is my husband’s office).  I have been posting lately about getting this room in shape for the new school year and it’s coming along nicely.

I went from a total wreck to this, fairly tidy environment that I’m not embarrassed to share:

  • General clean up–This is how I start off because it is always seriously trashed to begin with…(see previous posts here and here to see pics of what I was working with this year.)   Start with easy stuff: Pick up trash, put things that have a home in the room back on shelves/in drawers, get things out of the room that don’t belong there, sweep floor, wipe surfaces, that sort of thing….general, easy tidy up. No brainer stuff. Put some rockin music on and just start working.
  • Declutter/purging Once I get things a little more workable (I can actually MOVE in the space again and things are at least surface tidy), I start going methodically through everything drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf (I do this as part of my “Great Summer Purge and Clean“) and declutter/purge the heck outta the room. I go through everything and think about whether we actually use or will use it…if the kids have outgrown it’s purpose….if it’s just not something we’ll ever get to….that sort of thing. I have been trying really hard to be ruthless about getting rid of stuff lately. No use having it if we’ll never use it. Make space for things we’ll actually USE.This is also a great time to find things I forgot we had and remind myself to use them. Otherwise, if I never went through all our stuff, I’d keep forgetting we had them!
    –I do this EVERY SUMMER. It’s become a fantastic way to stay on top of things and to get a jump on the following school year. (And get rid of all the crap that piles up!)
  • Reorganizing–At the same time I’m purging away, I am also looking for ways to reorganize the stuff I’m going through. (As needed.) I don’t usually do this as a whole separate step, it usually overlaps. And sometimes it gets redone multiple times as I find new inspiration in different areas of the room. So I may move something around and find a new way to configure it but then later on I might find something else that would actually work better and then figure out that all that stuff I just put over there might actually work better over HERE…so I’ll shuffle things around a couple times sometimes. Just keeping an open mind and thinking thinking thinking as I go….And sometimes I just can’t find a good solution to something so I just let it sit where it is and someday I know I’ll find a better place for it.  Until then, there’s always a miscellaneous drawer for random things, LOL.I do think that organizing your school stuff and in particular your art and project supplies is key to having a high quality learning environment so I like to take a fair bit of time thinking through how things will be organized….especially keeping in mind the kids’ accessibility to things, and how it will used during a homeschool day. Of course, not everything has to be reorganized every summer…but I do like to at least look at how things have worked in the previous year and think about how it worked and if there might be room for improvement.

This year, in our space….I’ve mostly finished reorganizing but I still have things to purchase to make the barren walls above the kids’ work tables useable (I want cork boards, white boards, shelves, that sort of thing….just no money yet to do that)…and I will most likely tweak the layout and useage of the things on the art dresser (below the bulletin board) as time goes on and I figure out a better way to arrange things….but for now, it’s doable and I’m pretty pleased with it.

And now that I’ve completed the steps above…. I now have space to PUT things, as I create the stations for the year. There are empty shelves and a basket in the “Read” area, waiting for me to pull books from my shelves and to order books from the library….and a crate I’ve brought in to replace our former “Play” area (moved the shelves to my son’s room) that I will now use for games that will become our new “Play Something” station….The “Write” station is still hanging where it always was, by the back door (the red hanging pockets on the left side of the tall metal shelves in the back of the art area)…“Create” drawers are empty and waiting to be filled with supplies for new projects (probably can’t see in the pics…they are on the back step by the laundry room door at the end of the art dresser).

For the math station,  I just put their work in a magazine box on the art dresser, so no prep needed for that area….and I already have my son’s math packets in his box ready to go, since he didn’t get to finish last year’s. Still determining what to do for my daughter for high school…that is going to have to wait until we take a trip to our homeschool charter’s library and she can peruse the library shelves and pick out an algebra curriculum. I’m letting her make all the decisions on high school. Her education, her choice.

That leaves the 2 virtual stations….“Watch” and “Listen” both of which are on devices….usually the tv/laptop and iPhone. Those I still have to work on, but they aren’t part of this physical room, so not part of this step.

Now, I’m thinking of adding an additional station this year….”Investigate” or “Explore”….but I’ve not yet finished my thinking process on that, so I’m probably going to wait on that until I get further in my planning so I don’t hold up the planning process. Maybe add it to our repertoire once we are already into our year. I don’t want to stop the momentum I’ve got going here.

And one more thing I’m adding this year….a learning project, a la Lori Pickert’s Project-Based Homeschooling book. But since I’m not done reading the book (about halfway through as of today), that’ll have to keep until later too.

Once I’ve got my environment cleaned, decluttered and reorganized (for the most part), I’m ready for the next step….

2. Sit down with kids and have a brainstorming session about what they’d like to learn about in the new year…take lots of notes (or have them write their own lists, if they prefer), and have kids pick what historical time period (or event) they’d like to start with in the new year.

This summer we are listening to the Story of the World (“SOTW”), all 4 audiobooks, one each week, during the 4 weeks leading up to our first week of school….More on why I’m doing this run-through of SOTW in another post.  

Had I planned properly and done this early enough, I would have waited to talk to them about their choice of time period AFTER going through all 4 books…so all of time was fresh on their minds….but this late in the game, that would just delay all my planning, so I’m not going to do that this year.


ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: If this ends up being a popular way to do things, (SOTW run-through of all 4 books over the summer) I may just do this every summer.

Another option is using the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History as a jumping off point to pick a time frame to start with. I used this in previous years, as the kids can thumb through it and get ideas easily since it has great pics and very short synopsis of events and time periods, making it easy to quickly skim.

This year is going to be a little tricky for us because my daughter is starting high school and has certain requirements to enable her to work towards getting her diploma (the path she’s decided to follow). Still sorting out how that is going to affect what happens with my son and our group work and EBL.

But back to the brainstorming session…

Grab a notebook and pencil to take some serious notes…I want to show the kids I take their answers seriously. NOTE TO SELF: Keep that notebook safe and make sure to follow through on these ideas!

Questions to ask the kiddos:

And I like to also add my own topics of interest to the list….of things that I would like to share with them….of things that I feel it’s important for them to know, or things I really want to learn about with them. (But make a note in my notes that these ideas are coming from me. I think it’s important to not confuse with the things that come directly from the kids.)

I enjoy learning WITH my kids…and this year in particular I would really like to work harder at making my own learning a priority as well! Set a good example and focus on continuing to grow my own education!

 3. Take the kids’ interests and start building stations…
Now that I know what time period they want to start history with and some other topics they are interested in, I can start gathering resources to fill their stations.

I am not looking to find enough resources to fill the entire year…because that would be a LOT of work….No, this can be an ongoing process throughout the year…I am more looking to fill the first month or so and then I will build time into my weekends to work regularly on updating our stations…replenishing art supplies as well as rotating library books and looking for new videos and websites to check out and projects to do together.

I cannot plan for the entire year, also, because I do not know how their interests will go throughout the whole year. They may be interested in these things they’ve shared with me now….but 6 months from now they may have developed an entirely different passion. It’s not really something you can predict.

But the list from this beginning of the year brainstorming is good to fall back on when none of us can think of something that interests us…we can go back and remember what had once interested them and see if they would like to now visit those things…or see if it sparks a new idea.

Now…To build stations depends on the station….here’s the process I use for my stations….

PLEASE NOTE: The following info is just a list of ideas for jumping off points. Not a comprehensive list to check off!

Note: The reference to the Red (someday list)/Amber (work in progress)/Green (all ready to go) Lists comes from this free ebook, Planned Spontaneity. I highly recommend this book! It’s fabulous! And free!

“Watch Something”:

  • Check YouTube, Netflix and Amazon for good videos on the subject (I also have an account on Discovery Education through our homeschool charter and will check there as well.)
  • For short videos, create a playlist on YouTube (can be private, though I often allow mine to be public)
  • Bookmark the playlists and other videos on Symbaloo, for the kids to access during school time. On Symbaloo, you don’t have to make special graphics for the bookmarks, but I usually do so it’s more visually appealing. For videos I just grab like a dvd graphic from the video off Google.


“Read Something”:

  • Check our bookshelves for books we already own on the subject.
  • Check my spreadsheet for books on the subject. (I have a huge spreadsheet I keep of books I’ve discovered, sorted by time period/subject…I eventually plan to sell booklists from all I’ve gathered from my research.)
  • Scour social media and the net looking for good books as needed.
  • Search Amazon, Goodreads, Pinterest, and the library website for new books on our current topics.
  • Order books from the public library and our charter homeschool libraries.
  • Only put out a small amount of the books at a time, so as to not overwhelm…hold back the rest to rotate weekly to draw attention to the new books regularly.


“Listen to Something”:

  • Find podcasts and audio recordings via Google that are on the topic. Bookmark on Symbaloo.
  • Find audiobooks via the library on topics that are relevant.
  • Find books and articles (library and the web) that would be good to read aloud to them (or them to read to each other.)
  • Find music (Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, and just Google search) from a time period or country that might be relevant to the topic.
  • Set up boombox or old iPhone for them to listen.


“Create Something”:

  • Check books, Pinterest, social media and the web for cool creative ideas for projects for the kids.
  • Pin the ideas to appropriate Pinterest “Red List” board. (My “someday” list.)
  • Have the kids look at the “Red List” board and pick out projects that they’d like to do, and move them to the “Amber List” board (in progress).
  • Pick a mix of art and science projects from the Amber List board (pre-approved activities, ready to get working on)…Gather all needed supplies and fill the plastic drawers with each project’s supplies and instructions. (When all ready to go, move to the “Green List” board on Pinterest.)


“Play Something”:

  • Go through our game closet first to find games that are educational, fun and relevant  (geography games, math games, etc)…put them in the designated games crate in the big room.
  • Find games at ERCLC to check out that are fun and appropriate to our current topics (when able to), check them out and put in game crate.
  • Regularly rotate the games to keep the options interesting.
  • Find games to check out from Crazy Squirrel (local game shop) and to borrow from friends.


“Write Something”:

  • Find writing activity ideas on Pinterest, in books I own, and books I check out from the library.
  • Copy the instructions (separately labeled if they are for younger or older) and place all needed materials into a folder and put in the red hanging pockets.


IMPORTANT NOTE:  I think that this sounds kinda overwhelming…and it can feel that way, because I’m doing it all myself. But I just realized one thing that I think I did wrong last year. And that if I change this one thing, I think this plan will be much more doable….Last year, I gathered TOO MUCH resources at once.

Just like how having too many toys in a child’s room can cause a child to not play with any of them….having too many books on a shelf or games in a games station or craft projects in a create station can cause a child to do nothing, I think. I think I have learned from last year that I stopped refilling things because I felt like I put so much work into filling all these wonderful stations, then my kids didn’t do as many of the things as I had hoped and it just got to feeling like it was too much work for not enough benefits.

But now I’m realizing that I think one of the problems (certainly not the only problem, but a very significant part) was that I went too far in prepping so much and putting so much out. It was too much work for me and too much for them to choose from.

SO….learn from me….don’t do so much at once. I’m going to try this year to try spacing things out more.  If I do feel like doing a burst of research….I’m going to let myself do that only so much as I feel I want to (not like I feel I NEED to), and I’m going to hold back the stuff I find to trickle out over the course of weeks and months instead of putting it all out at once.

And better yet….I’m going to try to not go completely crazy finding a zillion things and just find a few things in every area and then only what I need to offer a fair amount of offerings initially….5 or 6 books instead of 20 or 30!!!  (Maybe we’ll actually READ them all finally!)

And THEN, do the research each week so that I keep that interest alive in me and keep researching weekly instead of getting out of the zone and losing steam after a couple months. That may just be the ticket!

Also going to see if I can pull the kiddos in to help with the research. Time to make this a family affair, planning out their education. Weekends can become…what are we going to learn next week? Let’s get ready!

Well, we’ll see how it goes!! Let me know what you think about my whole “Planning for a new homeschool year” process, as detailed above…in the comments below. I’d love to know if anything here helps you. And if you have any other ideas, let me know that too!

Now I must get off my computer before I have a complete mutiny as my children have been waiting to use my computer to play a computer game with their dad all morning. Ah, gamers.

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My (Fantasy) Homeschool Planning Steps

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This was a post that I created last school year, shortly after the year got underway…(had to have been October 2014 since I make mention that my daughter wasn’t yet 14) and I was all gung-ho still and things were going spiffy with my new Experience-Based Learning system. I wrote it in anticipation of how I was going to be doing my planning….and never published it because it never actually happened this way, LOL!

BUT…I think there’s some value in the info below…I’m now going to take this fantasy plan, tweak it to the new year and TRY TRY AGAIN!!!

What do you think? Is there something here that might be useful to you? Might you find some idea that you could use in the upcoming new school year to help with your own planning? Have at it!! I wish you well! And leave me a comment below if you do make good on YOUR plan! You’ll be one step ahead of me!!

Now, on to the fantasy…….  *cue sparkly harp music*

P.S. See notes in red italics for the updates.


I saw a discussion on Facebook recently asking fellow homeschoolers how they do their homeschool planning, and it occurred to me that writing out my steps might be helpful to other homeschoolers looking for guidance.

IMG_3256.JPGSo, here it is, my planning routine! Mind you, I am not organized enough to do this every single weekend…and often I just do the most crucial and get to the rest when I get to them…and luckily most of my stations don’t require rebooting every single weekend. Some can actually last weeks! But for the weekends that I do need to do a bit of everything needed, I try to follow this routine:

  1. Correct all math work from the week and go over with kids. (Hopefully I’ve not fallen behind on this during the week…but knowing myself all too well, I realize I’m often behind on correcting math. So I just plan it into my weekend to catch up.) Nope, never happened regularly, though I did do this often. Go, me! What ended up working was just doing my son’s as he completed his work, and giving my daughter the answer key to correct her own. Pre-algebra! Better that she saw her mistakes immediately and figured them out as she went then wait for unreliable mom to get around to checking her work.
  2. Check kids’ journals and checklists from the week, and correct any mistakes.  AsIMG_3264.JPG part of our homeschooling, each of my children has a notebook that I ask them to write all that they are doing for their stations, enrichment classes, and field trips, etc.  Anything we’d consider “school” related. Just a short description. So at this time I check that the items they checked off as done in their checklists correspond to a IMG_3266.JPGjournal entry. My younger (9yr old), I am ok with just a line…my nearly 14yr old, I ask for more details. She often will do a paragraph or 2, unless she’s having a bad day.Sometimes one or both of my kids forget to journal about what they did for a particular day, so I try to get them to fill in the missing info over the weekend, as possible. Also: Sometimes I feel like an activity needs more info from my younger, so I’ll have him write the first part (The date, what he did) and then dictate to me more info and I’ll write that in his journal for him.  After Dec my son switched to blogging instead of journaling (an option I gave him since he prefers typing over writing)…and it was a constant struggle to get him to even do that…my daughter actually did a bang up job of journaling all year and filled her entire journal with very little prompting from me! SCORE!  I did pitch the checklists mid-year though….they ended up being a waste of paper.
  3. IMG_3259.JPGGet math packets and stations checklists rebooted and ready for the new week. I have their Math Mammoth worktext pages in packets of 5 pages, one for each day of the week. They don’t always get them finished each week, though. If they finished a packet, they need a fresh one on their math clipboard. And every week they need a new, fresh, checklist ready for the new week. This was actually not a problem. I just did as needed, and ditched the checklists.
  4. Find any new artwork and hang. I try to hang as I go, but often neglect to do so…so I added this into my weekend plan so that I make sure to gather those things up and display. We have a huge bulletin board for smaller things, and a fishing line all along the ceiling for hanging their art work for display. Yeah, never did this.
  5. Go through “create” station drawers, reboot, replace as necessary, taking out and putting away any unused materials. Check our shelves for books with activities that we could use in the new week, as well as Pinterest. Print/copy instructions as needed. Make sure there’s at least 5 drawers that are totally ready to go for creative projects for the upcoming week. Also add all needed supplies to a shopping list.
    This “create” station is probably my biggest job. I want to keep all 10 drawers I have allotted for this station full of potential projects and their materials…rarely do I have all 10 filled, but that’s still my goal!  My kids tend to have plenty of their own projects going on so I just rarely needed to do this…but I really do want to work harder at this and pull stuff out of our supplies that they never get to.
  6. Check art supplies, add needed supplies to shopping list. Once I’ve started a shopping list for the “create” station, I want to check our staple art supplies (glue, colored pencils, tape, paper, etc) and make sure to add anything that is low and vital to the shopping list (or order online next chance I get). Nope, never did this either. 
  7. Reboot “read” station bookshelves/baskets…pull all books already read or that they have no interest in, put in library bags to return (or reshelve our own books). This is my chance to refresh the “read” station, to keep it interesting to the kiddos. A lot of these books I find through just skimming library shelves, but often times I’ll do research via Amazon and Goodreads to find more good book options that fit nicely with whatever topic we are currently tackling. Now this I actually did do all the time! Usually all library books. Yay, me!
  8. Check our shelves for books to put out in the new week.  I have so many good books that I just forget about once they are on the shelf. Forcing myself to go through them all periodically to look for ones that would fit with our current topics allows me to finally bring those books out for use! This is something I almost never got to and still REALLY want to work on this year.
  9. Head to library to return books and find new ones. I need to make sure to get those books back to the library regularly as I have a habit of overdue books that has cost me quite a lot! Also allows me to find more good books to keep the kids interested in whatever topics we are covering. Still paying on library fines from last year. Sigh.
  10. Reboot “play” station…check for unused games, rotate games as necessary. We have a fair amount of games to keep us stocked in this area…but I still try to find new games to rotate in from time to time, to keep things fresh and interesting. Nope, didn’t do this either….I think I had far too many games at this station, though…this year I took out the bookshelf that I used for this station and moved the furniture around so I’m having to use something different for this so I’m going to try something different and just have a couple games and rotate more often with just a couple. See if that helps.
  11. Reboot the “write” station…check word prompts, rotate/replace as necessary. I IMG_3260.JPGget these through Pinterest as well as writing lesson books. When I find something I think is good, I photocopy or print it and place in our hanging pockets. This keeps the choices fresh and interesting. After a few weeks or sometimes about a month, I take the things that were never chosen and file them away to bring out another time, replacing with new choices. I try to find writing prompts and ideas that I think will appeal to my children and make writing the least painful. Sigh, I suck at rebooting this station…it’s at the back of the room and I just forget about it. On my list of things to do.
  12. Reboot “listen” station recordings, rotate/replace as necessary. I have the most difficult time with the recordings. I haven’t found enough high quality, interesting podcasts for my kids to listen to, and my kids usually reject audiobooks. Usually this station ends up being me reading to them…and that’s fine, as all of us enjoy that best…I just like to have other options, including options that they don’t have to wait for me to accomplish. I’m still working on expanding my repertoire for this station. My kids just don’t like listening to audiobooks or podcasts much at all, so I just don’t put much work into finding things for this…but I keep hoping that will change! I’ll keep trying…but I don’t put a lot of work into this because of that.
  13. Reboot “watch” station videos, rotate/replace as necessary. Depending on the topic, this is pretty easy. There’s a zillion good videos on PBS alone. But for this station I take whatever topics we are currently covering and do a search of PBS, Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube, and then bookmark videos onto my Symbaloo account.Lately I have been tweaking this system, as my kids usually want to watch videos on our tv, not on a computer…So I check Netflix and Amazon first and add appropriate videos to those watchlists. I actually have the primary profile on Netflix as our “Educational videos” profile, and our just those videos on there…deleting/replacing as we change subjects…But Amazon isn’t as simple, since it doesn’t have profiles. (So allll our watchlist videos, recreational and parent pics too, are on there) so I have to remind them to check with me before picking a video to watch. Usually they are very good about this. I don’t even remember what we ended up doing by the end of the year for the “Watch” station…probably just our standard Nature, NOVA, PBS documentaries and such. Time to get back to work digging new and exciting stuff up! And I’d like to make use of Symbaloo again…totally got offtrack using that…it’s a great tool!

So that’s it! That’s my plan for planning! So far I’ve not been able to find time to do the whole thing start to finish, but I do it in pieces as needed.

And I’ve added these steps to my HomeRoutines app on my phone so I can check things off as I go and have reminders pop up.  Yeah, I’m not really using that app a lot either….need to get back to that too. I go back and forth with that thing!! It’s really a fantastic app! I love that when I get offtrack that my routines are still safely stored in there, ready for me when I come back to it…and when I use it, it really helps a lot. 

I’m finding that, like all things in my life, I get off track with planning all the time…and so having a system in place to refer to when I’ve lost my way has made things much more doable for this ever-distracted ADD mom.

I’d love to hear from you about how you do your planning, and how you keep from getting off track! Especially love to hear of tools used for these purposes! Leave a comment below and let me know what you have to share, and if anything I’ve shared is helpful to you!

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