It's that time of year when homeschool planning really seems to crank up. It's an exciting time to pop into homeschooling social media groups and pages and see what others are using, their decision-making process, and make new discoveries. It can be also be incredibly overwhelming and I wrote a little about how I deal with that here.
But if you are looking for some inspiration, I wanted to share how I plan each year. It works well for me and maybe it will help you.
My guiding principles for planning are:
I plan for MY kids. Not the neighbor kids, not the kids in my imagination, not the kids on someone else's Instagram feed, not even for the kids that belong to my target customers. MY kids.
I plan for ME. My kids need the healthiest, happiest mom I can be. When I plan, I keep in mind that I, too, have needs. I need regular showers and haircuts. I need sleep. I need regular meals. I need walks and runs, time with friends. I need time ALONE. As much as I would love for my kids to do every single thing they are interested in, it is not possible for them to do that AND for me to be the healthiest, happiest mom I can be.
I plan for CHANGE. Inevitably, something changes. Sometimes it is a little happy change (like a grandparent visiting unexpectedly) and sometimes it is a big crummy change (Hello, coronavirus plague!). But I need a plan that has some flexibility AND I need a plan that isn't so OVER-planned that I feel like hours of my life have been wasted creating it when it needs to be tweaked, tossed, or turned upside down. My summer planning ends with a detailed roadmap for the year ahead and daily plans for the first few weeks. I try to stay a block ahead with those plans and adjust weekly as needed.
Here are my steps:
1. Create my school calendar.
2. Read curriculum choices and resources and create my block rotation.
3. Add in secondary and tertiary blocks.
4. Add in a generous dollop of "special sauce."
5. Create daily plans for the first few weeks.
Our Calendar. Ideally, our homeschool starts after Labor Day and ends before Memorial Day. We take frequent, long breaks for holidays, special family days, and this year, a visit from Gramma! The flexibility to plan what works for our family is one of the key reasons we homeschool! This year, a post-Labor Day start doesn't work well for all I'm hoping to accomplish, so we are starting (gently!) August 23. We end up with fewer days than the 180 required of public school students, but I don't follow public schools on much of anything - certainly not my calendar. (And in Texas, I am not required to.) If we don't stay on schedule and there are things we didn’t get to, I throw them into the summer or bump them into the next school year.
Our Curriculum and Block Rotation. As Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers, our spine was created by Rudolf Steiner and developed further by many bright minds over the last century. We follow it fairly closely for many subjects - history, language arts, math, and science - though we may not use a "Waldorf" resource to learn the concepts and skills for that year. I use most Waldorf-centric history and language arts, follow the Waldorf timeline for math concepts and skills, follow the Waldorf timeline closely for science through Grade 5, but as we enter middle school, I am using non-Waldorf resources almost entirely. Read more about that here.
As for our block rotations, that means the topics we will cover and when we will cover them. A Waldorf block is a bit like a unit study. Waldorf students typically dive deeply and almost exclusively into a single topic, concept, and skill set for several weeks at a time. In between blocks, students practice what they learned - or may even take a step back for a time to let it soak in. Have you ever tried studying for a test right before sleep? If you have, you may have experienced how you seem to retain that information so much better than if you studied in the middle of the day instead. This idea of allowing information to "sleep" is part of why Waldorf folks teach in blocks.
Grade 3 is all about the child leaving the land of little childhood, becoming firmly rooted in this world, and learning to make their own way in it. So, Grade 3 big blocks are typically Hebrew Bible stories, somtimes Native American lifeways, farming and gardening, building, and weather phenomena. So which do I do first? What will create the best flow from topic to topic? Fortunately, there are folks who have made it their life work and study to create tools and complete curricula for this. I have now used or had a chance to explore Waldorf Essentials, Live Education, Earthschooling, and Christopherus. There are also many free resources online like the East African Teacher's Guides. You can create your own curriculum - I'll share about that soon!
As my older child is now in the very intense middle school years and my youngest is leaving the early years behind ever-so-swiftly, I simply cannot create two complete years of tailor-made curriculum every year and also have time and energy for other things I need and want to do. (Remember - I plan for ME, too!) I joyfully and gratefully use complete curricula, stand-alone blocks, and block rotations created by others to guide my way. I really appreciate those who have already done the heavy lifting to provide a block rotation and there are many great inspirations out there. I save my energy for the blocks I really feel inspired and capable of creating - and I don't enter the school year already exhausted from a ton of planning! I need to have the energy to actually implement all of my beautiful plans!
This year, I am excited to be using Christopherus Grade 3 and Earthschooling Grade 7 as my starting points. I have never found a Waldorf curriculum I don't like - I like them all and I can confidently recommend all of the ones listed above for different reasons. The ones I've chosen this year are thorough, mostly self-contained (not a lot of extra books required), and laid out in a (mostly) easy-to-follow format with clear instructions. I was able to pick up a used copy of Christopherus Grade 3 very inexpensively and our local homeschooling friends are using Earthschooling Grade 7 and we wanted to do some blocks together. I am also using a family Gardening Guide written by a friend (soon to be available at Hearth & Gnome), parts of a block from Pepper & Pine, some non-Waldorf resources, and I am creating a few short blocks of my own.
The first step - ever and always - is to read the curriculum I've chosen (or the relevant sections in Tasks and Content) cover to cover. This is something I learned many years ago from Melisa Nielsen at Waldorf Essentials and it is more important as I go along! For example, Grade 7 begins in the Middle Ages and includes the Crusades. For us, study of this time period should include not only the European Dark Ages - but the Golden Age of Islam. And the Muslim and Jewish perspective on the Crusades should be part of what we learn. As we proceed into the Age of Exploration, it is also essential that our discussion of European explorers includes a discussion of systemic racism and the roots of institutional slavery in the Americas. How do I know if or how my chosen curriculum or resources treats these topics if I don't read it?
Once I've read through, then I can work on my block rotation. Both Christopherus and Earthschooling include a block rotation. However, I make changes to fit my family, my child, and our resources. (PS That's a very Steiner thing to do!) For this school year, I am also going back and covering some things we just did not get to in Grade 6.
For example, Christopherus begins Grade 3 with building and ends with farming. However, it is still really hot here in the fall and I do not want to work on building projects. (That is a half-truth. Really, I am scared of building and need more time to prepare for it!) We also get THREE growing seasons here and can plant a fall garden. (I am also bad at gardening, but it doesn't scare me like carpentry.) So we are starting our year with gardening and ending with building.
For another example, Grade 7 students are supposed to make dolls. There are very sound, beautiful, wonderful reasons to make dolls in Grade 7 and I agree with them all. However, my son has absolutely zero interest in making dolls of any kind, he is very adamant about this (and many other things), and doll making is just not the hill I'm going to die on.
Once I have the main lessons calendared, I can add the secondary and tertiary blocks. These are shorter, often less intensive, blocks I plan for our afternoons. I may alternate between two or three activities during that block. Again, my purchased curriculums came with these second and third lessons already chosen for me - but I always adjust. I'll keep working on this all year long, responding to my kids' interests, our family needs, etc.
BLOCK 1: August 23 - September 17 (19 Class Days)
Grade 3: Farm Life ; Form Drawing or Music; Drawing, Painting or Modeling
Grade 7: Middle Ages; Physics from Grade 6; Music
BLOCK 2: September 20 - October 15 (20 Class Days)
Grade 3: Michaelmas, Native American Lifeways; Music; Cooking or Crafts
Grade 7: Gold Age of Islam; Biology; Black and White Drawing, Typing
BLOCK 3: October 18 - November 12 (20 Class Days)
Grade 3: Martinmas, Weather, Halloween; Music; Handwork
Grade 7: Renaissance; Biology; Life and Work of Leonardo da Vinci
BLOCK 4: November 15 - 23, 29 - December 15 (20 Class Days)
Grade 3: Advent, St. Nicholas, St. Lucia; Cooking; Crafts
Grade 7: Renaissance continued; Biology; Poetry & Shakespeare
BLOCK 5: January 10 - February 4 (20 Class Days)
Grade 3: Hebrew Bible Stories; Music; Cooking and Crafts
Grade 7: Age of Chivalry (2 Weeks), Reformation (2 Weeks); Biology; Essays & Short Stories, Word Processing
BLOCK 6: February 7 - March 4 (20 Class Days)
Grade 3: Hebrew Bible Stories (2 weeks), Bees and Ants (2 weeks); Music; Handwork
Grade 7: Ancient China and the Silk Road; Biology; Crafts and Cooking
BLOCK 7: March 14 - April 8 (20 Class Days)
Grade 3: Building; Crafts and Cooking; Music
Grade 7: Ancient Africa; Biology; African Music
BLOCK 8: April 11 - May 6 (20 Class Days)
Grade 3: Native American Lifeways; Music Handwork
Grade 7: World Geography and Age of Exploration; Chemistry; Woodworking
BLOCK 9: May 9 - May 27 (15 Class Days)
Grade 3: Finish Work; Music; Choice
Grade 7: Science Biographies, Reports & Presentations; Chemistry; Choice
Once I've got all the blocks laid out, I add some special sauce - which at this stage means field trips and special events. I don't include all of our festival, birthday, or holiday plans unless those technically "school" events. We are limited with field trips because of distance (and plague), but I'm optimistic we will be able to do most of these as they are outdoors.
Visit an Islamic Center
Caddo Mounds State Historic Site
Crow Museum of Asian Art
Southern University Museum of Art
Over the next few weeks, I'll plan out the first one or two blocks and then I'll be DONE! Every Saturday during the year, I spend an hour planning a little bit more which includes making sure I have any books/supplies ordered well in advance of when I will need them. On Sunday nights, I look over my plans for the week once more and that's it.
Planning is a big job. I spend a great deal of time on it - thinking about my kids, their interests and needs, our available resources. And I know it will inevitably change. But starting the year with a good map gives me some peace of mind and keeps us creeping forward even when life throws
What is your plan for planning?
If you are a Waldorf homeschooler, what is your block rotation shaping up to be this year?
Do you have any subjects that scare you, or is it just me?
Hearth & Gnome began because many homeschooling families are scared to teach music. I can help! Check out Simply Music - an open-and-go, minutes a week curriculum to teach singing, playing flute/recorder, and reading music notation for under $15 a year.