Planning your School Year:: Some Ideas and Tips

Planning your school year


I have been seeing the school supplies at the store and the parents scrambling to stock up on back packs and small bags of chips, and bright yellow pencils.  Oh, how I love the back to school time.  The newness of the year stretching out in front of me and the kids.  The new supplies. I love school supplies- bright folders, happy spirals, fresh pens and reams and reams of notebook paper.  I have also been thinking about some tips for planning for the school year.  Although I homeschooled and did private school, I think these tips are for us all, whatever schooling you choose for your kids.  So check out the ideas below and be encouraged.

One Year At a Time

Yep.  One year, gal.  Plan for one year and let the Lord help you see what will happen after.  You don’t have to plan all the way to the end photo op with Grad caps and diplomas.  It is much easier to gear up when you tell yourself, I can do it this year. You and your hubby can decide later, like next spring, how it is working out for your family.  But for today, you are Homeschooling This Year.  A good mantra. A nice answer when the family member or neighbor asks with that LOOK, “How long are you going to Homeschool?” You confidently respond, “This year.”  Done.

Every Mom is a Homeschool Mom

Yep.  We are all homeschool moms, whether you do it all day at home or you do it when they hit the door at 3:00 pm.  Trust me.  We all homeschool. We are all given the care of our kids’ education whether you do it full time or when they come home in the afternoon.  You matter, mom.

Which leads me to my next point.

Have a verse for the school year

Ask the Lord for a verse.  Discuss with your husband and decide on one.  Write it out on your planner.  On your wall. Memorize with your family.  This will be a guide for you this whole year.  This verse will be an encouragement to you when the days are long.  It will be a framework for you when you lose heart because you probably will lose heart; we all do.  God’s word is a strong hand rail to hold onto when the going gets tough.

Decide Your Family Values

Decide with your husband what you value as a family. It won’t look like anyone else’s family. Be strong and stick to your values.  Not what you think should matter, but what matters to y’all.   For us, one of our family values was music.  We already valued that.  We listened to music all the time. Loved all kinds of music. So when I planned the year, I included musical events and  field trips that involved music and we listened to all kinds of music in the car and at home. Our most important investment of our homeschool was years of piano lessons.  Deciding on your values will color your school and family time.  You don’t have to be a homeschooler to discuss your values.   We should all have goals for when the kids launch.  A target to aim shoot our arrows toward. Bam.

August Planning Time is Super Importanto

Every August I had a planning session at my dining room table.  I would write down on big sheets of art paper everything I wanted to accomplish that year in school.  Then I circled like ideas or drew arrows connecting the similar ideas.  This will give you a visual of what is going on in your brain.  This brainstorming is so good for us and helps us see relationships that we might not see.  It also helps unload our little brain and give it a place to think, instead of trying to hold onto all the information, schedules, and plans.

This brainstorming also helps when you are teaching mulit-levels of kids.  You can see like ideas themes and categories that you could teach together.  This simplifies your day when you can teach all the kids together multiple subjects.

Field trips

Think through all the field trips you want to take in the fall and spring during your brainstorming time.  It helps to list them all and then start loading them into the calendar year.

Vary the Schedule: Six weeks on—One week off and other patterns

Scheduling is important.  Make it work for you family, your goals.  I liked having the discipline of six weeks of teaching and one week off to refresh me and the kids.

I often took the whole month of December off so that we could do A Christmas Around the World Unit or just do Christmas stuff.  I knew there was a lot of adventure and fun to be had in December, and I wanted to be foot loose and fancy free to grab hold of it.  I would still do a few core subjects- you decide what those are, and I always did my read aloud because we all loved that and reading was one of our core family values.

I also did Four days on, Fridays off and I would use the Friday for field trips or catch-up.

Join up with some other families to plan

Make your plans and then join up with some other families to create some weeks when your kids do a Unit Study together.  Or start a Mini Co-op where each mom teaches a subject in her own strength.  Sometimes I did this with one other mom,  on one day a week.  She would teach  a unit to the kids, and I would have the day off.  Then the next unit I would teach all the kids at my house and she would have a break.  The kids loved it and friend and I did, too.

Once I started a small co-op with several families and we each taught what we were passionate about and had lunch together up at our church.  It was a no cost way to get some excellent teachers and community learning for the kids.  A caveat: I didn’t do this co-op until my oldest son was in upper elementary. You just don’t need to be running around when your kids are in Pre-K and 1st grade.  Enjoy those quiet years at home and switch babysitting with a friends and do some fun field trips to get out.

Block out your week

Spend some time blocking out your weeks from the Brainstorming Sheet you made.  Once you have your brain dump down on the paper and you have organized like ideas that fit into your family values, start putting things down on days of the week.  Start with the non-negotiable.  I also looked at the fall and tried to block out when the field trips and special events like the State Fair or a Fall Break vacation occurred.  I wrote out the week days and started stacking the subjects according to our family values and my curriculum needs.  Each day was a column and I would write in how many days each week we would spend on Math or Writing according to my values.

I would try to not have all the hard subjects all stacked on one day.  The brainstorming was very important as I dumped things into days because I knew that writing was important to me and I would have it 3 days a week.  Science wasn’t my strength so I tried to have one day that we did that.  And I didn’t worry about that, knowing that science would come through some other form.  I always checked out loads of sciencey books and bought funky tapes to listen to and did experiments with the boys.

I didn’t sweat science knowing that they would catch up in that area later because I was raising Learners.  And they did catch up.

Buy a calendar or a planner and put your final ideas in it

My last step was to fill in a planner that I bought at a school supply store.  All the field trips, breaks, units were all written in pencil on the monthly calendar pages.  Big broad brush strokes, with my detailed daily calendar fleshing out the daily week calendars.

Tweaking of the calendar and schedule was allowed after 2 weeks of school and more tweaking occurred in January as I saw what was working and was realistic.

I hope this helps as you plan out your school year. Remember this is just one way and this is what worked for us.  No matter if you are a homeschooler, university model family, private school parent or public school mom,  I hope this has encouraged you.  I still try to use these principles as an Empty Nester as I plan out my fall.

If you know a homeschooler or a mom who needs a little encouragement in this area, could you pass this on to them?  Do you have any tips for how you plan out your fall?  Do tell in the comments.  We can all use the encouragement.




Homeschooling Ideas That Work :: What We Listened to in the Car and at Home

Learning while you drive around

Whether you homeschool or not, I think you will be encouraged by this post.  I am going to share some of the stories/series/ tapes/CDs etc that we listened to over the years.  Whether or not you homeschool, I know you spend a bunch of time driving and sometimes it is nice to have stuff to listen to in the car.  It is a great time for learning.  I also used these during the day when the boys needed a break or I needed a break.

It is also been shown in research that reading comprehension goes up when a child learns to listen to a story and hears the structure of a story as they are told or read aloud.

Even when it is just Craig and I, we will listen to books on tape or podcasts.  So, read on for some Sursees and don’t forget, if you know a mom with children who might be encouraged by this information, would you please pass it on to them?  They will appreciate the Sursee.

 Jim Weiss is a wonderful storyteller.

What we listened to in the car with our kids

These audio cds are wonderful.  Weiss is a story teller and listening to him will transport you to another time and place.   We listened to these a bunch and the kids really enjoyed his style.  Using just his voice to tell the story, the adventure sprang to life.  He tells all kinds of historical stories, stories from the classics and mythology, and biblical stories believing,

“a story well told would ignite a love of learning in a listener.”

Love that!  I also loved his goal:

“Our goal then, as now, was to instill in children the lifelong love of great literature by telling the stories on a child’s level without altering the authors’ intent.”

Listening together as a family also gives your family a common vocabulary and fun shared experience, as well as, a literacy in the great books and classics.  You will also give your kids a desire and curiosity to read the whole book someday.

I used these as Sursees in the kids’ Easter baskets or in their stockings or for a birthday gift.  I would also  wrap one up before we went on a long car trip.  Here is the link to Greathall Productions.

Use the Library as a resource.

Before we went on a long car trip, I would make  a trip to the public library and check out some books on tape or CDs.  When the boys were little, the book came along with the cassette tape,  so they could read along and turn the page when the reader did.  I also made a few of these for the boys that they could listen to during their rest time.  These recordings would be a neat thing to ask grandparents or older siblings to do for younger children.

The library would also have unabridged versions of the classics  to listen to on a looong road trip for when the kids got older. We have fond memories of listening to The Lord Of the Rings or a Lemony Snicket book on our trips.  Now there is Audible where you can download a book through the service and listen.  Awesome!

The church library is also a valuable resource.  Ours was always well-stocked with tapes and later CDs.  Make friends with the librarian and ask them to order things that you have found online.  They like to hear about new ideas for the library.

We also found the Focus on the Family radio dramas were very well done.

One of osur favorite was The Chronicles of Narnia series.   Craig and I also liked the Father Gilbert series and the CS Lewis at War series found at the same place.

Sing and Learn is a great resource for all kinds of fun.

I love this website- Sing and Learn.  They were a resource that I found when I was homeschooling, but all of you are going to want to go over and peruse this site.  I especially love this series about the life of great composers .

.What I listened to in the car with the kids

They come as CDs to listen to and also DVDs to watch.  Great stuff.
One of our favorite sections of the website was the science section;  we would listen to these from Lyrical Life and Earth Science for fun, but learning was happening.  They also come with a coloring book.  We played these when the boys were a little older elementary age.What I listened to in the car

Diana Waring sang historical songs and had a series that let you listen to history.

What I listened to in the car

I had one or two of these with historical songs when we were studying different time periods.

These would be nice if you were studying this time period in history or your child was interested in this time period.  I am all for letting kids explore something they think is cool or interesting.

We also listened to GT and the Halo Express for scripture memory.

what we listened to in the car with the kids 2
I am so happy to say these cds  are still out there.  When the boys were little they were just in cassette tape form.  They are delightful stories with scripture tied to catchy tunes; these songs  are still floating around in my head.  So happy that they are still available for my someday grandkids.  I still have scripture memorized from these.

Just William is another hands down favorite of ours.

1 What I listened to in the car with the kids
These CDS are maybe for a little older…2nd grade and up.   You will so love these and their British humor.  William will become a favorite of your family.
Ok, that was long. I hope this encourages you to use that driving around time or that long vacation by car time to learn and listen.  Remember you can share your resources with other families which is what I did.  You can buy one and have a friend buy another and then trade
 Why don’t you share in the comments a book or series or audio that you love listening to with your family.  You will give everyone a little Sursee when you share.

Summer Homeschooling :: Time to Get Ready for Fall

I realized that I have a tab on my blog home page about Homeschooling, but I never write about it!  So I am going to start adding in a few blurbs here and there.   I was thinking a good place to start would be the Summer planning I did.  Maybe if you know someone who home schools,  you could pass this onto them? 

August HomeschoolWhen the calendar flipped to August, I started thinking through what I was going to do with my homeschool year starting in September.  First thing I did was buy a teacher’s planning calendar like this.

I liked it because it had a week at a glance and then a page with the whole month where you could map out a month visually.  Planning calendars are helpful because you can pace yourself and add in field trips or doctor’s visits or vacations. They keep all your lesson plans in one place and are a good way to check your progress.

I usually wrote out all the goals I had for our homeschool on a large sheet of paper first and then started popping specifics into dates on the planner.  I wrote everything down first.  Broadbrush ideas of what I wanted that year in our school day.  This way I could see if I had bitten off more than I could handle.

Next I would start plugging in specifics for each day.  In pencil.  Again I could see visually that first week if I had been overly ambitious.  I had room to write the schedule for each boy and that helped, too.

Another thing I did was to schedule days off.  Sometimes I did two weeks on– one week off.  Sometimes it was every Friday off. Definitely took time off in December. You decide, but you can always change your mind.

I also eased into school.   I started with the  Readers, Read Alouds and Math the first week.  The next week I would add in two more things, then more until we had our full schedule.  This worked beautifully for the kids and me!  I wanted to ease into the schedule, too.

Writing down the big picture and then filling in the details helped me to stay focused and true to what we wanted to accomplish.  A little planning led to a more restful start.  It also helped me to see what I still needed to purchase or find around my house instead of waiting till the night before.  Oh wait, I did a little of that, too.  Ugh.

Hope this helps some of you readers who are homeschoolers.  We can always chat more about this over coffee if you need to.  Or chat in the comments. Ha!




Sursee Gal’s Tips for Homeschooling :: You Have to Be Home to Homeschool.

You know  I love mantras.  This is one of my favs for you if you are thinking of homeschooling, but it also applies to being a mom with no regrets.

You Have to Be Home To Homeschool.

It sounds ridiculous I am sure, but it was one of those mantras I used to repeat to myself as I looked at my schedule.

I really do have to be home and  I can’t:

Run errands.

Meet for coffee.


Fill in the blank __________________________.

There are seasons to life and homeschooling.  As my kids got bigger, I was able to get out and do more.  But in the beginning, it was better for me to be home and homeschool.  Reading.  Sitting outside with the boys.  Slowing down.  Not worrying about what everyone else was doing. Joining. Signing up for.

I think this also applies to you moms who don’t homeschool.  We can get ourselves so busy, but now looking back, I am so thankful that I slowed down.  Spent time at home.  Enjoyed my boys by really being with them.

The time goes by so fast even though it doesn’t seem like it to you right now as you are juggling babies, toddlers, homework, errands, cooking, cleaning, maybe even some of you working outside the home! Yikes!

So today,  Sursee Gal says enjoy the SURSEE of staying home all day.  Woo-Hoo!  Let me know how it goes…

Spring beauty


Stop While It Is Still Fun :: A Homeschooling Tip That Works for All of Us

finish while it is still fun 2

Stop while it is still fun.

What do I mean by that?  I will start with a homeschool example, but since all moms homeschool, this advice is for all of us.

One morning  you are teaching away.   If  you get to a point in your day when the tears start or the attitude comes out, stop.  Take a break.  Go outside.   Everyone, you included.

Then start back on the math-writing-spelling lesson, whatever it is, the next day.  It is amazing what a little break will do.

I learned that if I stopped a learning activity or teaching time while it was still fun, things went a whole lot better the rest of the day.  I also learned that when we hit that wall, all of my threatening, cajoling and yelling wasn’t going to help get over that wall.  It just did not. 

 But, if I started fresh the next day, woo-hoo, we were all ready to go.  And usually, whatever the  impossible task was on the day before, today it was totally done in five minutes. No kidding.

 This works in all areas of our everyday lives.

Stop the birthday party while it is still fun.  Stop the field trip earlier rather than later.   Stop The Work/Chore time.   The errand running.  The Driving Lesson when they are teens.  The shopping trip for clothes.   The Whatever.  End while it is still fun.

And isn’t that also true of us personally?

We need to stop when we are having a frustrating time with our sewing machine or a recipe or a relationship. And we need to start afresh the next day or an hour later.

Going to bed on time is a great act of faith.  Believing tomorrow is a new day for us to finish whatever is an act of faith.

I know, I know.  Sometimes we have to push through adversity.  Push through hard times.  Finish what we start. I am not saying you QUIT and never finish.  I am saying that there are days when we need to put the activity aside and stop.  And start something new.  And the next day start it again.finish while it is still fun

So your SURSEE for today is a permission slip to stop while it is still fun.  Look your child in the eye and say we are going to finish this tomorrow. And then hug them and move on.  Or maybe, you need to go to bed early tonite as an act of faith.  Try this and let me know how it goes.

Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.

 Anne of Green Gables



You Can Raise Great Boys: Use your Big Muscles

You can raise great boys


When the boys were little one of my mantras was:

Go Outside and Use Your Big Muscles.

I don’t remember where I got that, but it worked for me.   I think lots of times I used an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence!

When things got a little hectic inside, I sent them outside.

When I got a little hectic on the inside, I sent them outside.

When homeschool time was breaking down all around me, I sent them outside.

Use Your Big Muscles!

It was never too cold.

Or Too hot.  Or Too wet, that theycould not go outside.  Rain Play is awesome- as long as there is no lightning.

Cold snowy play- the best.

Use your big muscles when it is cold

Fun in the sun on a hot day- bring the hose.

Use your big musclesSometimes I would go outside  with them, too.  I would bring my handwork or a magazine and be out there with them.  Or sometimes, I brought nothing but my rattled brain and just sat.

And sat.

The kids liked it when I was out there because they could show me things they found in the backyard.  Or I could praise their basketball prowess or jumping or bike riding.  It settled the air.  Helped all of us to see things in a new way.  God’s creation has a way of doing that.

I also think this mantra is  great advice for you, Mom.

Use Your Big Muscles.

What have you done today, to use your big muscles? One friend I have says she is going to move every day.  She inspires me to  Do Something Everyday.  Like a walk around the block.  Some stretching on the floor.  A quick run.  A yoga DVD.

We need it.  Our kids need it.

A little side note.  I wanted to make sure and say I believe this is true for raising girls.  They need the outdoors and the Big Muscle Time, too.  I just didn’t have any of those around here, but my friends did and would second this advice.

So the next time the melt downs start in your house, use the great outdoors and get them outside and using those big muscles.  They will thank you for it.  It is a little SURSEE I learned along the way of raising boys.



As Time Goes By

I saw something the other day in my house that made me smile.

“Kevin is cool”

He had carved into my hutch in the kitchen, years ago, when the hutch was still pretty new.

Did he think I wasn’t going to see it? Or that I wouldn’t know who did it?

I vaguely remember this making me upset.

I can’t remember what consequence I gave him.

I think I was really irked at him.   Now, it makes me smile and remember days gone by.

Doesn’t time always give us a little perspective? I need that perspective now with four older boys.

What is happening today that tomorrow, will make me smile and remember?

What thing is really freaking me out that will soon be put in perspective?

What is making me mad and, with a little time gone by, I will see it more clearly?

It won’t be such a big deal.

Lord, give me Your eyes to see You working all around me.  All the time.  I want to see the Sursees of the good and the bad.  Teach me how to thank in all things and wait to see things the way You see them.