It’s summertime and the planning’s good

Okay am I the only one who is geeked about planning for next year? Oh my but I love everything about it! Every year is a fresh start, full of possibility. New school supplies and clothes (we get these things), fresh teacher planners and juicy new dry wipe markers are all signaling school’s about to start!

I know you may wonder why I am chatting about this now. It’s early July, you think. I have plenty of time, you think. I’ll do that later, you think. I wouldn’t if I were you…

Planning for the year is important. You know the saying, “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.” It happens every time I think I can “wing it.” I like to think I’m a free spirit but I really need more structure than I want to admit sometimes. For me, writing it all down helps keep me on track and [mostly] productive.

Here is my planner for this school year. I have linked below to all the wonderful blogs whose free printables I used in this planner. Isn’t the cover beautiful? I cobbled the contents together from several sites to fit my needs. I laminated the covers and comb bound it (I happen to have tools to do both). Super cheap and just what I needed!

Here is a tour of my planner on YouTube. To me its easier than a bunch of pictures.


Here are the links to the printables I used.

Homeschool Plans for 2012-2013

I am really really really looking forward to this new year! So much change and so much to make me smile. I have been on sabbatical from home educating my children but God has brought things together for me to be able to joyfully teach my children again. I have missed it so much!

My two older daughter are starting junior high and high school this year at our church’s Christian school. The boys (8 and 4) will homeschool with me. So here are my basic plans for this new school year (third grade and preschool):

  • Bible: Judah Bible Curriculum
  • Math: Ray’s Arithmetic
  • History/geography and science: Noah Plan
  • Language arts: McGuffey readers and Harvey’s English grammar
  • Literature: on our own, not much structure, one basic book study per semester (lots of reading aloud)

My 4 year old wants to be just like his big brother so I have “school” things for him to do as well. Soon I’ll see if he’s ready to learn to read. I have had the privilege of giving each of my other children the Golden Ticket and I can’t wait to work with my last one.

This is just the skeleton. I am starting to put these bones together and then I’ll flesh them out with weekly plans and dress this guy up in some field trips and special projects.

I’m trying a new-to-me organizing system that I’ll share with you soon. I really like it so far! I’ll show you how I adapt it to fit my needs.

Plans for this school year 2011-2012

So we are counting down the days until we get back into the school swing. My two oldest attend our church’s private school and I am teaching the younger two at home. I have a preschooler and a 2nd grader. Here’s what the big picture looks like for this school year.

  • Bible/reading: NP 2nd grade lessons Bible as Reader
  • History: MWOG
  • Literature, geography, science: NP 2nd grade lessons
  • English: Rod and Staff
  • Art: NPCG Art, with supplemental materials
  • Math: Making Math Meaningful

Almost everything here is planned for me. Because I work full time and attend school myself, I can’t get into a lot of lesson planning from scratch. This is a very workable plan for us. It keeps us in the BPA but not overwhelmed with creating my own plans.In the near future I will go into a bit more detail about what we are going to do.

My boys and I can hardly wait for the new school year! I know God has good things in store for us.

Of lanterns and lighthouses

I love to plan. Seriously, I LOVE it. Home educating quenches that desire in me because I have to plan on a regular basis. Score.

Even though I really enjoy it, sometimes I think I can get by without planning. For some moms, loose plans or [gasp!] no plans aren’t a big deal. I am not one of those moms.

Lesson plans are the way the big picture gets done. They are a map to get you to your destination. Mrs. Smith says that goals are the lighthouse and lesson plans are the lantern. I love that! They are what enables you to move along the path without getting distracted and without losing sight of the big picture.  They keep you moving along toward your destination.

This summer I am trying to be more diligent about evaluating (more details to come) and planning for the year. I sleep better at night knowing not just where we are headed, but how we are going to get there.

I look to my lighthouse and get my bearings. Then I take my children by the hand. The lantern helps us avoid the rocks and other obstacles on our particular home educating path. I can’t see very far ahead but I don’t need to. I trust the Keeper of the Lighthouse has it all under control.

Learning plans 2009-2010

Last year was challenging (but when is homeschooling not challenging really) because I have always struggled with doing things the “right” way using the Biblical Principle Approach. Actually the BPA is beautifully simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple. Adding a 5yo to my 6th and 3rd graders had me a bit stressed. I wrestled with the idea of individual subjects, of textbooks, of private school. Some health issues have added to my struggle and I wasn’t sure what I could do, much less if I could do what I wanted to do. Then in a conversation with my husband it all fell beautifully into place.

So here are our plans for this year.

Bible: Judah Bible Curriculum (my favorite) and trying to work in some study of the Days of Awe. We are in grade 4.10 of the rotation.

Integrated studies for history, literature, English and geography. I am using a history backbone and we are learning through literature. Lots of great books. I am using Genevieve Foster’s book Abraham Lincoln’s World as a basis for our history and it’s working out great. The time period this year is mainly the 1800′s and we will finish the year with a study of our state’s history. Our overarching Principle for this year is America’s Heritage of Christian Character.

Math: Ray’s and other resources I have to add variety, along with studying a few mathematicians.

Science: tons of experiments from Janice VanCleave’s books. Earth science, oceanography, astronomy, and cytology.

Music: it’s always happening here. Two children take lessons at a local music school and my husband is a musician. We do some extra music games and then we try to have family praise & worship.

Foreign language: the girls want to learn Spanish so we are using The Easy Spanish. It really is easy (gentle lessons).

What will make what we do Biblical Principle Approach? Ask Renae.

Here’s what our weekly schedule looks like:

  • daily: Bible, math and integrated study
  • science, Spanish and art 3 days a week
  • oldest daughter is starting homemaker lessons that she is working on independently
  • I also work with my 5yo on phonics and a few simple things separately

Not complicated, not too much. Mainly reading great literature and learning from books (which is what literature means). I am finally getting to see my dream fulfilled and I am so thankful. (If you note the date on that post you will see how long this process has taken me!) I will try to post more often about how our year is progressing, like I did in my journal’s early years here (feel free to peruse the archives).

If you have written about your home educating plans, please feel free to leave a comment & link to it.

Creating unit studies using the Biblical Principle Approach

Unit studies (which I prefer to call integrated studies) are wonderful. Teaching all the kids all together, planning one stream of lessons for the whole bunch is smart and interesting, and you actually retain more information as you see how it is all connected. However, the thing that always has concerned me is the tendency to focus on facts. It is easy to get caught up in the activities and the topic and lose sight of the beautiful principles that hold it all together. How do you create a unit study that keeps the focus on the principles? Some things to remember:

The overarching principle is the focus of the unit. This is the umbrella for all your lessons.

The leading ideas point to the Principles. They guide your lessons.

Lesson plans come from the leading ideas, which come from the principles.

The facts of the lesson illustrate the principle, much like an illustrated sermon.

So this is it in a nutshell: principle—->leading idea—->lesson

For example, your study on WWII may discuss the Holocaust. Your study may have the overarching principle “God’s Principle of Individuality.” Your lessons could include the leading ideas like, “All men are created in God’s image,” “We are all responsible for our own relationship with God” and “Man has intrinsic value.” Your lessons would be guided from these leading ideas that reinforce the Principle. So your lesson might include studying a concentration camp story, reading up on the third Reich and their ideas that are contrary to the principle or calculating how many people lost their lives.

You could show that even as the prisoners lost their freedom they went to great lengths to maintain their individuality–sharing stories of their heritage, smuggling out personal items,writing stories during and after the horrific events. (It is interesting that the Third Reich went to so much trouble to document the Jews as individuals, taking photos, issuing numbers, keeping meticulous records.) Also there are many inspiring stories like Corrie TenBoom’s biography that are inspiring stories of individuals making a difference in the lives of other individuals during the war. And you can do scripture documentation, key sheets and word studies to complete your study. This is just scratching the surface of course, but I hope it gives you an idea of how an integrated study can work well using Biblical principles.

Do you see how the lessons come alive as you discuss the material in light of Biblical principles? Writing, reading, history, literature and sometimes math and science can be intertwined into a cohesive study that makes sense to all of your students. Have them study some things on their own and then share what they learn with one another. (They learn even more and you didn’t have to teach it yourself!) You will be amazed at what the Holy Spirit can prompt in your children.

It is almost like planning a traditional BPA lesson plan, only you have several subjects together instead of separate. Providential HisStory flows naturally between the subjects because everything has happened at some point in history.

I think the label “integrated studies” makes more sense for BPA families because the subjects are integrated under a principle and not a topic. If you think of them as integrated subjects that can keep you out of the “facts only” unit study ditch.

While this isn’t the only way to create an integrated BPA study, it’s the way that makes sense to me and I hope I’ve done a good job of explaining myself. Thoughts? Ideas? Please leave a comment.

Spirit-led lessons

My most exciting times as a home educator have come under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Without the help of the Holy Spirit my lessons become dry and frankly pretty boring. I thought I would share some thoughts concerning this.

If you are a Christian teaching your children at home, you probably already have experienced spirit-led lessons, even if you didn’t know it or call it that.

When you are teaching multiple grades together you can relax. Just as happens in a church full of individuals, the Holy Spirit has a wonderful way of tailoring the lesson to fit the needs of the hearer. I never cease to be amazed that a room full of people can hear the same sermon, the same words and scripture, and get something intimately personal from it. Only God’s living Word can do that.

The Holy Spirit is here for, among other things, education.  John 14:26 Jesus says that when He left the Holy Spirit would come and “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” “All things” there means in the Greek just that–all things. So rejoice that the Holy Spirit is there to teach you, to teach your kids, and to teach you to teach your kids all things.

If you are struggling in an area such as math or history or even how to schedule your day or deal with a difficult character issue, help is a prayer away. God gives wisdom liberally if we will only ask (James 1:5). And when we don’t even know what we need the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26) and Jesus (Rom. 8:34) both are praying God’s will on our behalf. Praise God! If you are weak in an area let God show Himself strong. I can tell you from experience those are the most exciting lessons of all because I cannot do that in my own ability. (2 Cor 12:9)

I encourage you to be careful not to put your lessons in a box and think there will be amazing revelations every day in every subject. That won’t happen. Many days will be pretty average. But that’s what makes the special times so special. And God’s grace is in the every day, speaking in quiet whispers through His Word in every subject.

With the Biblical Principle Approach that places God’s Word at the center of every subject, you can’t help but have Holy Spirit inspired lessons each time you pick up your Bible and read His life-giving words to your family. It’s rhema.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.   

Hebrews 4:12

HisStory lesson planning

I know I’ve already addressed planning lessons and all sorts of other things for HisStory, so please check the topic in the sidebar for all that good stuff. What I want to discuss is what your lesson should contain.

I like parameters, boundaries, limits. I like to know expectations and standards (which is another post coming soon!) so when I plan lessons I like to know what it is I’m supposed to do. I want to be a more spontaneous educator, but right now I have to work with the personality God gave me, which seems really boring at times. I love A Guide to American Christian Education for many many reasons, but one of them is all the suggestions and lists and helpful lesson planning stuff that’s in that great book. One thing is the handy list that Mrs. Ruth Smith put together regarding HisStory lesson plans.

If you plan your HisStory lessons (and it works with any subject really), then you will have structure and hopefully the results you are after. The lesson should include 5 things:

  1. Goal(s): (see GACE p. 204)
  2. Content: what the lesson is to be about
  3. Principles: one or more of the seven principles of America’s Christian History and Government
  4. Methodology: sources, notes to be taken, etc (recording)
  5. Assignments

When I use the goals, together with this simple list, my planning is simple and focused and my lessons get results. Planning your own lessons is not a mysterious or overwhelming process. It is simply a matter of taking things one step at a time.

Individuality of subjects

The first Biblical principle we study, and the overarching principle as well, is “God’s Principle of Individuality.” This principle can be seen everywhere, and we focus on seeing it in the subjects.

If God cares about individuality, then if we study the subjects individually we are enjoying the distinctiveness of each subject. There is a rich history, diverse vocabulary and important principles that each subject contains. A goal of learning with the Biblical Principle Approach is not fact mastery but subject mastery (through principles).

We are not discussing facts but principles, so multiple grades are able to learn together. There is no need for complicated lesson plans for each child. A little modification and all your children can learn at the same time.

How can we understand the unique vocabulary and rudiments of a subject if they are all lumped together? Each subject has its own language and foundation. It is important for children to learn these in order to master the subject.

When you understand the rudiments of a subject, along with its vocabulary, you are able to see how the subjects naturally overlap and fit together. There are common principles that bring the subjects in harmony and bring a richer appreciation of all the subjects.

For more reading on the subject, these two PDF handouts are available for download.

Selected Quotes Concerning the Individuality of Subjects

My personal notes concerning unit studies vs. individuality of subjects

I have nothing against unit studies per se, I just prefer a distinct subject methodology with natural subject integration. What I mean is I do not rally around a topic but around the principle of a subject. I may pick a certain topic that several subjects will naturally fit into but I do not try to contrive lessons to fit a topic.

Once or twice a year I will do a study on a subject and the subjects will naturally integrate, such as a study on Bach (which we are starting this week). HisStory, geography, literature, English and music are all naturally covered as we read through the book, adding to our enjoyment and understanding of the life and times (and character) of Bach. The subjects add to our understanding of cause and effect, of the things that made Bach who he was. They are not disjointed facts but parts of the whole under the principle of individuality. We see how, where, with whom and when he lived contributed to his character. Along with this study we continue our math, Bible and science separately.

The subjects are beautiful and unique. I don’t want my children to miss out on the treasures that each subject contains. 

I hope this post will spark some conversation regarding the topic.  I will begin over the next several weeks to go over each of the individual subjects, beginning with history. Our Thursday chat will also correspond to the weekly subject.

Paring down and gearing up

As we prepare to get back to our lessons next week, I’ve been prayerfully considering what to do and what to avoid this year. These are some things

Sun Flowers

I’ve realized:

  • less is more. I don’t have to teach a lot to teach a lot.
  • it depends a lot on my preparation as a teacher. I am not confident when I just open a book and try to teach. I must internalize what I am teaching.
  • My kids need things in small bites, and our schedule reflects that.
  • I don’t need lots of stuff (like teaching aids and such). It clutters and actually distracts us from learning.
  • I must be sold out. I can’t be half-hearted in educating my kids.
  • I need to plan things. I’m not good with a vague idea of how the year will go. If it’s not written down, I probably will not do it.
  • I have to be careful not to overplan (see #1)

I am seeing what I can keep, what I can do differently and what I can simply let go of. That process really charges me up for the next year. I feel things are fresh again and I’m ready to take on another year.