featuring: the Erin Condren Teacher Planner
I enjoy reviewing some of my favorite planner systems around this time of year! But I feel like reviewing a fresh new planner, while hopefully inspiring, can’t show you all of the potential and the usefulness I’ve found in its pages. And in showing you, it is NOT my hope that you’ll feel as if you must emulate or imitate (although if you find a workable idea here – take it, translate it through your season of life, and run with it!). It is my hope that in sharing how I prepare for and plan for a thing, you may see something in a different way, or see a possibility, or even that you might recognize that this style/iteration of planning isn’t a good fit for you and you can scratch these planner ideas off your list as a possibility! The idea here is to inspire with possibility and share my experience(s) with you!
In the past, I’ve always shared a video walk-thru of my teacher planner set up that leans into mostly specifics in how I plan in home education, but always shares some general planning ideas, too. But this year, I wanted to take advantage of the organizational tools here on my website – I can consider carefully what I share so that (hopefully) it’s organized and clear, I can link you to resources and specific examples so you can look at things and consider them, and I can still share pictures of my specifics along the way! I still hope to share a video soon, but this post serves as a beginning in the “how to plan in home education” conversation. We can see where it goes from here.
A quick word about overwhelm…and the internet.
In sharing on this topic, we may flirt with this. It’s not my intention to do so, but it’s a possibility. And the reality of that overwhelm is entirely up to you. Only you know when to click away before overwhelm steals your peace, and if you need permission to do that, you’ve got it. My stars! There is JUST.SO.MUCH information out there – how to plan in homeschool, why to plan, what to plan, how much to plan, the right way to plan, the wrong way to plan, use someone else’s plans. I’m just going to say this:
There is no perfect plan! So instead of spinning your wheels and endless energy chasing after perfect, build a workable plan. You need something that fits in the “good enough” column. Build something that will act as a rudder for your days – a guide. It can be simple or super structured depending on your own personality and temperament needs. It can be lovely and color coordinated or pencil scratch in a 39 cent spiral Mead notebook. You can type it or write it. Whatever you do, don’t marry it. And by that I mean, build yourself something out of modeling clay, not chiseled marble. You want whatever you build to be workable and malleable, because however hard you work on these plans, they need to flex. And you don’t want to be so in love with them, or have them so overdone, that when you recognize that need to flex you find yourself in a puddle of tears because you’re about to rip out…or erase…or undo…all of the work you’re so proud of.
And since we’re on the general topic of building lesson plans, I’ll just throw it out here now and tell you that I build my own lesson plans from scratch…from the ground up. My own booklists, my own pacing (with some good guides to help me), and my own daily detailed planning. I don’t buy into the idea that I have to use a vetted set of plans to convey a worthy education, although I leave room for that possibility if it’s ever a good fit for you or me. Prewritten plans have their place, and they have a value, especially if, for your own sense of peace, you need a little hand holding or your season of life requires it! There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with pre-written lesson plans! It’s just that – I have always enjoyed the freedom of writing our own story from child to child and year to year, to answer specific challenges and meet specific needs, and if you enjoy the scope of that idea as well, I’d like to walk you through my process. I’m going to show you some general ideas, and some specific tools. The specifics are for your consideration only! Ok? Ok. The general ideas are not mine to claim at all, so run with them! Translate them through your family lens, your season of life, and build!
Before any real planning can happen, invest some time in this process and CONSIDER:
- The big picture of a year
- The structure within your year (classes, activities)
- The personalities under your care
- The weaknesses that need gentle but firm molding and
- The strengths that need loving guidance
- The things that worked well for you last year
- The things that didn’t
- And the self discipline habits (both yours and the kids) that need attention (limit yourself to 1 or 2)
- Your/My own limitations (I work wholeheartedly, but I’m not superwoman. I need time to rest, recharge, and cooperate with grace.
All of those considerations allow me to focus the lens of my mind and imagination and plan from big picture down to daily detail with an eye toward reality and virtue. It sets a year up for success and is a worthy time investment. Invest now, roll with God’s grace, flex when needed, and yield the fruit of reasonably smooth (not perfect…just reasonably smooth) days later.
A super quick word to the mom with littles…and only littles – kids from 8 years old on down, and especially the mom with her hands and heart full, trying to homeschool and mom into all the little corners of a day. Yes, you should still invest the time to plan, but your plan (much more than mine), must flex generously! Build some basic structure for your day because children thrive on routine and order. Within that structure, and those limits, expect to dispense freedom generously. Your plans should be heavy on big picture and routine, and very light on specifics and rigorous structure. Freedom within limits is your mantra! (Pro tip: When kids are little, I find so much generosity and freedom in the idea of working in blocks of time in my day. A reading block, a tidying block, a lunch block, a resting block. Maybe that’s a starting point for you, young mom? It’s a habit that helped me so much that I still use time blocks for our days!)
The starting point
For the past four years, I’ve used the Erin Condren Teacher Planner in home education. I mentioned in my review post of the Erin Condren Teacher Planner that I am embarking on our 19th year of homeschooling, and just saying that number out loud seems…well…like I’ve been doing this for a long time. And I guess I have. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve gained (mostly through hard won lessons and failures!), the confidence I have in joyfully living out my season of life, and for the ability to unapologetically cut myself slack when needed. And I’m grateful for the fresh new challenge of each changing school year, and they are each very, very different! Though I’ve been doing this for a number of years, I still delight in seeing the world, my children, our circumstances and spaces with fresh eyes full of wonder and gratitude!
If you’re languishing or feeling burnt out in home education, may I suggest you embark on a journey toward home? I don’t mean to oversimplify, but I also don’t want to overcomplicate these possibilities. Claim your season of life with joy! Cut yourself slack when needed (and that means quit trying to measure up to a perceived standard that is impossible! Rest well, eat well, claim all the little moments of joy that are a part of your day!)! Start again to see life and the world around you with the eyes of a child – full of wonder! You did this once – very naturally – when you were a child. Look again with fresh eyes!
So, 19 years of homeschooling; 5 kids (age 22 – 6 at the time of this writing); homeschooling from preschool through high school, with 2 homeschool graduates – both doing well and able to function socially in the world-at-large. I’m only sort of laughing at that statement! The one thing EVERYONE asks me first when they find out we homeschool is the goofiest question (to me): in very somber and concerned tones I hear, “what about socialization?” And I understand that askers of that question are just repeating the same old worn out idea they’ve heard, but let’s put that one to rest, shall we? Homeschool provides numerous opportunities to expand a young person’s mind, imagination, and understanding in the areas of culture and society, and through that, there are very many opportunities to communicate socially with a diverse spectrum of ages, cultures, and types of people, including young people of their own age! Of ALL the possible pitfalls of homeschooling, backward socialization is the LEAST likely to occur!!
—ahem— Alrighty!! I digress. 🙂
A level of organization and planning is necessary in homeschooling. You can argue that if you’d like, but anytime you’re juggling children, education, ideas, books, and assessing the transfer of ideas from mind to mind – some kind of preparation equal to the task is needed and it follows that some kind of planning that guides the task is necessary. How you prepare, and how your planning looks may be very different from mine (and that’s absolutely ok!!!), but since we’re in my little digital corner of the world, I’ll show you how I prepare and plan for homeschooling!
For this post, I’m going to show you the current 2019/2020 Erin Condren Teacher Planner and a few of the accessories that I use with it because that’s what I normally plan in. But you can translate many of these same ideas into whatever planning tool you use! I use the Erin Condren Teacher Planner because of the quality and thoughtfulness in the design! It’s large, the paper is the most excellent quality (no bleeding through to the other side and is able to take all I dish out with writing, color coding, flipping back and forth, checking off, noting, and flipping more!!!). The layout fits how I naturally “think” when I plan, and it is so versatile – the layout isn’t pegged to a classroom situation! Perfect for my needs!
One of the first things I enjoy doing when I set up my Teacher Planner is laying out my planning for the year. I love using the inside of the Erin Condren Teacher Planner cover for this! Every cover interior (front and back) contains a wet erase surface and I love using the variety of colors in the wet erase markers to note my plans. It’s just enough room to lay out my basic outline for planning!
For each child/student I complete the following (in order) and these are the basic steps of planning in home education, for any level – start at big picture, and slowly walk your plans forward into the level of detail you’re comfortable with.
General Planning Guidelines
- Build a booklist for the year
- Divide your year into “chunks”
- 2 semesters
- 3 terms
- 4 quarters
- Spread your books out across the year.
- Take one “chunk” of the year at a time and mathematically map out page numbers to be read in that chunk of the year (example: number of pages divided by the number of weeks in your “chunk” will tell you how many pages you need to read in a week)
- Lay out a basic outline of books and pages for each “chunk” of the year.
- During the year, consider monthly seasonal themes that will be a part of the fabric of your days.
- Weekly, using your “chunk” outline of books and pages, set out specific assignments for each day of the week – do so in a way that your children (4th grade and older) can follow your lesson plans and self direct.
Specific planning ideas
- Generate a booklist. At this point, I’ve been through every grade level (multiple times), so I’ve got booklists that are already built! You’re welcome to check them out! Every single booklist I have built, I’ve uploaded to my printables section – click printables –> home education –> yearly & general booklists and you can find booklists from K – 12th grade. Here’s an example of a booklist and the term lesson plans I’m going to discuss in the points below – 5th grade.
- Next, I gather the books on my booklist and bring them to our school shelves. At this point, you can probably imagine our home library is generous (something else I’m so grateful for after years of investing!). I organize my home library so that the books I use are organized by the year/grade they’re used. It makes planning so easy for me – no endless searching for that one book I know I have…somewhere! So, for my 6th grader, I’ll just go to my 6th grade shelf, pick up all the books, bring them to the learning room, and shelve them all. Each child has his/her own shelf in the learning room (pictured below).
- Now I divide up the year into workable “chunks.” These chunks help me spread out the feast of reading and work for the year. In the past, I’ve almost always used the *3 term division* (36 weeks, 3 terms of 12 weeks each), but I am very seriously considering going to a *2 semester* year (36 weeks, 2 semesters of 18 weeks each). I learned in graduating my latest high schooler that whether I use 2 semesters or not, my state uses semesters in high school, and transcripts do as well – so I can either translate my year into their 2 semester system, or I can just build it in 2 semesters from the get-go. I’m a firm believer that in high school it needs to walk like a duck and quack like a duck – especially for the young person looking to move from high school to college. My 3rd child starts high school this fall, and thus his high school transcript starts this fall. Sooo…I’m leaning toward 2 semesters. Regardless!!! Divide your year into workable chunks that work for you and parcel out your books – some books will be read in one of your “chunks,” some books will stretch the whole year, and other books may stretch across several years. You decide, but generally the meatier the book, the longer I pace it (less reading at a given time)! The goal is slow and careful reading so that there is time to engage with ideas; I don’t want my kids to fly through! To review, you can divide your year into:
- 2 semesters
- 3 terms
- 4 quarters
- Now that I’ve divided my books into the “chunks” of my year, I sit down and build a big table/grid on my laptop. You can use excel, but I use a word processing program (Pages for Mac) and insert a table into a document. Across the top of the grid, I designate the weeks of the term or semester, and down the side of the grid on the far left, I list the subjects and books we’ll cover. Start at the top, pick up a book, and start pacing it out. This is mathematical – number of pages (or chapters) divided by the number of weeks the book is to be read. List it out in the grid. (This is a guide I built for pacing and scheduling books and pages) – it’s a guide, NOT a rubric or a straight-jacket! But sometimes having a guide helps you to know if you’re in the ballpark.)
- At that point, I’ve got a pretty workable plan in place. I can get a little more specific now by plotting out how many days a week a book will be read, and get even more specific mathematically – pages to be read in a given day. List it on the grid.
- Once I’ve done that, my plans are ready for my teacher planner! I print and tuck the grid I created in the back pocket of my Teacher Planner, and pull it out each week when I layer in all the details on the weekly layout of my Teacher Planner.
The rubber meets the road in your planner
In almost every single Teacher Lesson Planner, there are prep pages. Some prep pages are very useful and workable for the homeschooler. In fact, some of the best prep pages I’ve ever found are in the brand new Simplified Teacher Planner which I reviewed here. (I’m still trying to decide what I will use next year – between the Erin Condren Teacher Planner (pictured in this post) and the Simplified Teacher Planner – I’ve got two amazing planners to try to choose from, and I plan to do a video to compare and contrast the EC and the Simplified Teacher Planners. #teamundecided #theyarebothfantasticplanners) Regarding the prep pages, I simply repurpose anything that is more suited for a school classroom setting – simple stickers to the rescue! Don’t trip on these prep pages if they’re not a fit for you! Ignore them or repurpose! No planner is perfect – make it work for you!
I don’t need a list of classroom volunteers, but I do often keep up with field trips. I used the triangle overlay washi to cover the original text and repurposed with a simple sticker. In the past, I generated my own text on my laptop and printed on sticker paper. Both are very workable options!
Communication logs (which are extremely helpful for educators in a classroom setting) are easy to turn into book logs for home educators! I love having a list of books my kids read independently each year and these two pages make it easy to log them! Get creative in re-labeling headings that don’t fit your needs. I cut a standard sticker (from the Erin Condren cool for school sticker book) down to size and now I can repurpose the far right column on the page to have a place to record notes for each book.
The 2019/2020 calendar section is always one of my favorite sections! I always – always – plan from the big picture inward! On these two pages I map out our start dates, planned break weeks, any known days off, and our projected end date. I refer to this page over and over again during the year and as other events present themselves, I add new dots. By the way, these adorable transparent dots are also in the new Classroom edition *Cool for School* sticker book!
This year plan section is another favorite of mine for listing significant monthly events. I list start and end days, field trips, days off, and when our new semester/term/quarters might start. I’ll continue building this as I get into planning the specifics of our 2019/2020 year a little more, and as I decide whether we’ll use terms or semesters to break up our year. This page gives our year good definition and guidance and is a big help as I start to funnel my plans toward more detail.
Also, if you read my review post, you might remember that this page was originally printed with January in the upper left corner and followed a calendar year progression. I prefer my blocks to follow an academic year, so I used this sticker sheet from Erin Condren to relabel the months and change the order. Easy-peasy.
There are four graph pages and 2 lined pages in the front of the Erin Condren Teacher Planner, and these are some of my favorite pages for brainstorming time management! I’ve started listing some of our daily time blocks to brainstorm here. As I build our blocks, I’ll lay out a grid of an average day that layers each child’s work on top of my own (finite) time. It’s so useful for the kids to see that my time must be used wisely during the day, and that they have work they must do independently at times!
The monthly prep pages are some of my favorite pages! I track and plan for our monthly seasonal themes and read aloud books here, on this page! I like to set up monthly themes in advance and I use simple sticky notes for that (the Thanksgiving Picture Book is actually a sticky note!). In using sticky notes, I’ve left some paper bread crumbs, but nothing is permanent if I want to move plans around!
The monthly pages are where the rubber really starts to meet the road. I lay out any breaks and days off, I add special events and field trips, drivers education classes (heaven help us…again!), testing dates (like the ACT or SAT), and I love using the notes column to have a gritty heart-to-heart conversation with myself. I reflect on the past month and consider changes I need to exercise! I list self-discipline habits I need to implement, challenges I’m having or that a particular child is having, other habits I need to adopt or fine-tune in order to assist smoother days.
The weekly spread is where the rubber actually does meet the road – it’s the nitty gritty daily detail that moves a plan forward. (click on the picture to enlarge and view detail) Let me say this clearly: I only plan one week at a time! Do NOT sit down with a planner, any planner, and map out the details for an entire year! Because….LIFE!!!!
Pictured above is a “mock week” that I pulled from an actual week last year. It’s a very real picture of what a day and a week might look like here with an early elementary student, a middle schooler, and a high schooler. I take my term grid out of the back pocket of my planner (remember, the one that has assignments broken down through the entire term by week), and translate the details to this page with specifics – page numbers, chapters, and regular daily work.
I started designating one column for each of my children last year, rather than assigning skills & subjects to the columns, and it made our days so much smoother. The kids could easily see their work and know what was expected. This year, I have the luxury of giving 2 columns to my older children because I only have 3 kids at home now. I love how this allows me to spread out their daily work from their bookwork.
Not every week goes according to plan. We’re not robots. But having a plan means that when we get off track, I know right where to pick up our work again!
Also, stickers are NOT a necessary component in planning! Neither is the Erin Condren Teacher Planner for that matter! But I find both elevate my planning and accent some items that I want to stand out.
Guidelines to add flex to your lesson plans
- Build for one week less than the number of weeks in your “yearly chunk”
- plan for 11 weeks of work in a 12 week term
- plan for 17 weeks of work in an 18 week semester
- plan for 8 weeks of work in a 9 week quarter
- Consider mapping out 4 day weeks instead of 5, and give yourself the 5th day to accomplish all those things you always push to the back burner, and have time to catch up on any work that may have gotten behind during the week.
- Teacher days – plan to take one week (or at least a few days) off between each of your “yearly chunks.” This allows everyone mini-breaks to refresh…including you!!
I have learned (the hard way!) to build my grid plans with flex! If I am building term plans – 3 terms of 12 weeks each – I try to only plan work for 11 weeks instead of planning out every single corner of all 12 weeks! Why? Because kids get sick. Opportunities come up and an unexpected trip to Yellowstone understandably hits pause on the lesson plans. A parent may need extra help or care and plans need to take a backseat to attend to the people you love.
In addition to flex weeks, I build plans for 4 day academic weeks. We use Fridays to make up work and focus on the Fine Arts. Beauty is integral. Period. I make room for it on Friday and call them our “Fine Arts Fridays,” and if I need to claim a little extra time on that Friday to catch a child up on some academic work, I have the time without stressing everyone out. Flex weeks allow for FLEX!! And knowing flex is built into your plans diminishes stress and the compulsive need to check every box. Homeschooling is a marathon that requires considerate pacing of effort across quite a span of time. Don’t sprint the year and think that there won’t be consequences for you AND your children! Set a reasonable pace and take necessary refreshment breaks…and you’ll make it to the finish line with your sanity intact!
Be thoughtful and reasonable in your planning and build in flex!!!
And, in case you’re wondering if you can academically accomplish the pegs needed to meet an adequate education by the end of high school by flexing your days and weeks in your planning – yes, you absolutely can! I’m going to offer this not as a brag-moment, but simply as a point of evidence – living a rich curriculum of living books and ideas and following this strategy has resulted in graduating two children, both of whom tested very well. One child chose college as the post-high-school path and received an academic scholarship. So, yes, it works.
Here is another tool I happen to love in my planning – colorful writing tools for color coding! I love the dual tip markers from Erin Condren. I used the fine tip to write out the plans you see pictured! I tend to use the medium point when I’m illustrating something or extending a line on a page or drawing a grid on a monthly themed page.
Some plans flex more than others, and our Morning Basket of reading is one of those things. For plans that flex regularly, having a wet erase surface to brainstorm with pen-in-hand is handy! This is a new dashboard that snaps in and out of the coils of the Erin Condren Teacher Planner and can live wherever you want it to live in your Erin Condren Planner! I’ll keep mine on my current month’s view, but you can move yours to your weekly view, or keep it at the front of your planner! So versatile!
I love how I can designate our common read aloud and daily enrichment (poetry, Shakespeare, art/picture study, geography lesson, composer study) on this dashboard. I use these wet erase markers – they stay put once you’ve written, have a nice fine point, and wipe off with well kept wipes or alcohol wipes.
Prepping the day and wrapping up the day are important components to consider! They are the bookends of a day, and just like bookends, if they’re not present and sturdy, the books fall over just as your day will. And here’s the thing – as kids grow and change and mature, and as your season changes and your ability to tend to various things changes – this list may grow and shrink. Let it set you up for success and hem your day, but let it be gentle enough to meet you where you are, hardworking mom!
I hope this post has done three things: (1) shared how one homeschool mom prepares and plans for homeschooling, (2) shows you the potential in using an excellent Teacher Lesson Planner such as the Erin Condren Teacher Planner or the Simplified Teacher Planner, and (3) given you some ideas to translate and filter through your season of life to use in a practical way in your homeschool! I’d love to tackle any questions you have in the comment box!