(Last Updated on November 24, 2020)
Whether you’re a Planning Patty or a Spontaneous Sally, everyone can benefit from a big-picture look at the school year ahead.
When my kids were younger, I mainly just mapped out holidays and unit studies on a quick spreadsheet so I’d have some idea of what to do each week. (Sorry if the phrase “quick spreadsheet” sounds laughable to some of my non-Excel-loving friends out there – this is about as “Spontaneous Sally” as I get):
Once I had the overall plan and themes in place I could just pull together resources for each topic. And if plans changed (which they did often), I felt comfortable knowing that most of our goals and ideas were still being covered.
But as my kids have gotten older, I’ve noticed a few changes:
Coordinating with the local school schedule is more important…
… for two opposite reasons. First, my kids want more chances to play with their public/private schooled friends on local no-school days. But, on the other hand, we also love intentionally planning some breaks and field trips for when schools are in session – no crowds, off-hour deals, and more time to explore in depth!
The kids are more aware of our schedule.
They want to know ahead of time when they will have days off or vacation weeks to look forward to.
Outside activities require advanced planning anyway.
When the kids were young, a lot of their classes were drop-in events or didn’t require much of a commitment on our part. As they got older and joined more extracurricular activities – sports, music lessons, band, co-ops – it has helped to have an idea of our school calendar for the year to see how all of the
chauffeuring classes will fit into the big picture.
School work gets more time consuming.
It seems obvious now but for some reason this caught me off guard. School takes up more time as the kids get older. Homeschooling is still #1 in flexibility when compared to any other education method. But fitting in your goals, ideas and curricula for the year is much easier with an overall calendar in place as a guide.
All these reasons together pushed me to create a school calendar to use as a framework each school year.
Every Spring I take some time to sit down and look at the following school year. I know it seems kind of early, but I’ve found it helps me to look at the entire summer and school year ahead to work out our vacation weeks and start/end days (this is especially true now that we take week-long breaks every 6 or 7 weeks).
This method is definitely not the only way to do this. And it’s sooo NOT fancy. But I’m hoping a step-by-step look at how I plan out a year might help give you some ideas for your own homeschool planning.
How to Plan Your Homeschool Calendar
A Step-By-Step Guide
Step 1: Print Out A Calendar
Check out CalendarLabs.com or other free calendar sites. I used their custom calendar feature to make a single sheet, yearly calendar for the 2019-2020 school year in just a couple of minutes. I usually include more than 12 months (I did 16 mo. this time) so I can see how the end of this school year and summer will flow into the school schedule for next year.
Step 2: Add What You Know
This is how I do it:
- I already know our last school day for this year will be May 31st, 2019 with a break week after that, so I start there. (We usually do a very light schedule during the summer with some daily, fun learning activities. So I make the first and last weeks of summer 100% breaks).
- Next I highlight major holidays that affect our school schedule (these are days we take off completely). For now, I just circle minor holidays in pencil (like Columbus Day or Valentine’s Day – no offense meant to Christopher or St. Valentine, of course).
- Also in pencil, I put a line through days that our local school district will be taking off just so I’m aware of them (not because we’ll be matching up with them exactly).
- At this point, I add in any family-specific dates that will affect our big-picture school schedule (like vacations we already have planned). Some people take a day off of school for birthdays or anniversaries. And if you already have schedules for other groups you’re a part of (like a co-op or other classes) you can note that info on your calendar, too.
Step 3: Work Out The Details
Now that you have the overall picture on paper, it’s time to work out the final details. In Illinois, homeschoolers have no specific number of school days required, but I still aim for around 180 days which is 36 weeks of school (5 days/week). This helps us keep a good pace and I’ve found most curricula are made with a traditional length school-year in mind.
I’ve also found that breaks every 6 weeks or so help us all maintain our sanity but breaks longer than one week seem to backfire.
So, my next step is to work out the 36 school weeks and break weeks using the information now on my calendar.
Definitely use pencil since you’ll need to move things around a bit to get them to work. Sometimes it’s just a matter of picking a date to start and seeing how things land. Most often, we end up starting the last week of August and finishing up the last week of May.
This time, I started by highlighting our Christmas break week and then numbering weeks starting from the week of Aug. 26th onward (I don’t number the break weeks). This year, it should work well to do 7 weeks and then a break, another 5 weeks and a short Thanksgiving break, then 3 more weeks before our week-long Christmas break.
The second semester is generally trickier to figure out since Easter moves around but this year it looks like it will line up well with our Spring Break. We’ll have 6 weeks of school after Christmas break, a week off in February (when it’s so desperately needed), 7 weeks on, Spring/Easter Break week off, and a final 7 week sprint to the end.
So this puts our start date on August 26th and our end date on May 29th with a total of 176 “official” days of school (which just so happens to be the amount the schools here aim for, too).
Don’t forget to make a key so you’ll understand your chicken scratches when you look back at it two months from now!
All that’s left now is to add the start/end days, days off and break weeks on the main calendar my family uses for our day-to-day. So this paper copy becomes a record for future reference and our school files.
Side Note: Keep in mind the whole notion of numbering “days of school” is a formality needed for the traditional school system. Kids are learning all the time! A Saturday spent at a museum “counts” just as much as doing a worksheet on a Tuesday or taking an art class at your Friday co-op. Often my kids end up learning just as much or more on our “break weeks” as we do on our “official” school days! As Albert Einstein once said, “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” So don’t let required school day numbers get you worried! IT ALL COUNTS!
So there you have it. In about a half an hour you can lay out a big picture plan for your entire school year! If you do this, you’ll be sure that holidays and breaks won’t get lost in the shuffle and that 36 weeks of school (or however many days you need/want) can be accounted for – both for your own peace of mind and for whatever paperwork you might need to file.
One more important thing…
Don’t be a slave to your calendar – even if YOU planned it! It’s a guide and a tool! If you need to make a change later (and you will), do it!
I hope this peek into my big-picture calendar planning process has helped you with your own! Happy Planning!
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