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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  1. This entire post was so relevant for me! Love that you share your thought process, including fails as well as successes. Thanks for the motivation!

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