Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Creating a Schedule, Part II

Plan-It School Series

When I outlined this series, I intended to dedicate one post only to the topic of creating a schedule but realized I failed to write about an important aspect of school scheduling. Establishing your school calendar is an essential part of the process.

Michael and I decided early on to follow a year-round approach. Since he is a teacher and has two months vacation each summer, we take one full month off so we can enjoy time together as a family. That break also provides me time to gather and organize school materials. Our school year usually starts in July.

For the past three school years, I have organized our school content into six-week units followed by a two-week break following each unit. During the break, I solidify my plans for the next six weeks. However, this year we are switching to Tapestry of Grace which is comprised of four nine-week units, so we will break every nine weeks.

To determine next year's start date, I looked at December in my calendar. I decided which week would be our first week of Christmas break and I penciled in "18" on the week before. I then counted backwards labeling the preceding weeks until I reached 10. I labeled the two weeks that precede the "10" week as "off" then picked up the backwards count until I reached 1. I also labeled the week of Thanksgiving as an "off" week. I purposefully plan to take that week off to allow time for holiday preparations and to make a place for two make-up days if needed. On other holidays, like Labor Day, we complete an abbreviated school day.

Next, I looked back at December and into January and marked three weeks for Christmas break. I allow myself a little extra time then because the holidays are so busy and I know I will need a longer break in order to have time for all the celebrations and to get plans for the next unit in order. Then I marked weeks 19-27 and the next two weeks off, then weeks 28-36. I also penciled in any holidays and spring break. After week 36, I usually have 6 weeks before school must begin again.

This is the only system I have ever followed because it has worked so well for us. There are several pros. The breaks really help. It is nice to be able to take a slower pace and to get planning done in between units. These breaks also provide a buffer for the unexpected. Last year, I needed surgery and was able to schedule it during one of our breaks. This year, I needed four weeks off in the spring to prepare and clean up from the remodeling. The year-round school schedule gave me the freedom to do this without falling too far behind. (We did still fall a little behind... but not too far.) There are cons too. We do not get a full summer break. We have to do school a few weeks each year when friends are on their breaks. Conversely, several of our breaks take place while our friends are in school. In my opinion, the pros of this schedule do outweigh the cons.

However, there are many different ways to schedule your school year, and I suggest you do some research before you commit to a particular calendar. Talk to other homeschool friends and find out what they do. Read online about other's experiences. Remember that as a homeschooler you are not bound to the traditional school calendar. Just be sure to know the laws in your state governing homeschool and create a schedule that complies. Once you find a schedule that meets your needs, commit to it for one year. Know that you can change it if it doesn't work out for you.

After my calendar is marked, I prepare for keeping an attendance record. My state's laws require me to send a monthly attendance report to my local board of education at the end of each month. Since I am forgetful, I prepare in advance for this so I will be sure to send my reports in on time.

I use an attendance record available through my state's home education association's website. I print 11 copies of this form, one for each month I have school. The form has spaces at the top for personal information and a spread sheet beneath for marking the days each child completes school. I fill in all the information on the form, except for marking the days, in one sitting. I pin the form for the first month to a cork board in my classroom and put the other 10 forms in my filing cabinet. This puts the form I need daily at my fingertips and the others in a place I can find easily later.

I also address and stamp 11 envelopes and put them in my filing cabinet with the forms. At the end of the month, I remove an envelope and the next attendance form from the file and place the new attendance form on the cork board. Then I sign, photo copy and mail the completed attendance form. This keeps me from having to look for stamps, envelopes, the board of education address, etc. every month. I mark the copy "home record" and keep it in my file as a permanent record.

I have placed our 2009-2010 school calendar in my sidebar. Take a look and let me know what you think. Feel free to comment and share about the school schedule you follow, too. I look forward to hearing from you.

Return soon for Part Two: Selecting Materials
I mean it this time! :-)


argsmommy said...

Our schedule has been very similar. I need more frequent breaks, so this year we usually did four weeks of school and then took a week off. The year before it was every three weeks. I too start with Christmas to make sure we get at least 2 weeks off and then figure out what schedule (3 or 4 weeks) works best with the calendar. We still do some work over the summer, but it's much more relaxed.

I'm so glad my state doesn't require attendance records, but I love the way you prepare for that. We have to track the number of hours we homeschool and I do struggle with keeping up with it. I'm trying to come up with a new system to make it easier. If you have a similar requirement in your state, I would love to hear ideas. : )

Homeschool Dawn said...

We have to complete 4.5 hours before counting a day on our attendance form. However, I don't specifically track our hours because we always do at least that many each day.
When my boys start high school that will change b/c they will have to complete a set number of hours per course.
I have not used it but am looking into Homeschool Tracker for high school. The Tracker Plus lets you track hours, create a transcript, etc. It's $49, a one time purchase... no yearly fees. Like I said, I haven't used it, but it looks really good. Their website is www.homeschooltracker.com.

Kathleen said...

Hey, Dawn! I have enjoyed reading your posts here.
I also teach three-on/one-off year round with a month off in the summer. We've done this for 3 years, and I love it. I've found that it is a sanity saver when you have littles. One baby check-up can shoot an entire morning, and this schedule gives me one week a month to book our dr. visits or have a family trip to the zoo, or whatever. Love, love, love it. :0)

For argsmommy, here's what I do for records: I make my lesson plans on paper or the computer, and have a separate LessonPlan book that I open each time we do school. As we work, I write down under that date what we actually did, estimating the time. (History, card #7, worksheets and test, 75 minutes OR violin practice, 90 minutes) Then I can go back through when I have to post my grades/records and not have to try to remember what we did.

Homeschool Dawn said...

Hi Kathleen! Thanks for joining in the conversation and for your suggestion. That is a good idea.
I am glad you are enjoying the series. Thanks!