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We’ve just started our 12th year of homeschooling. You can imagine over that time, I’ve tried all sort of planning methods and the planners to go with them. I started out using a spiral notebook for my first grader and moved to forms for a few years before coming back to the plain spiral notebook. The original post regarding my liberation from form planners gave reasons why I was going back to the notebook and those remain true today. I’ve had several updates to the post, but today’s version is the definitive look at Homeschool Planning with a Blank Notebook.
I made a decision. A new mantra. I cannot make planning an idol…planning is not the thing. Doing is the thing. – Heather, from Planner 2010
Supplies for Planning with a Blank Notebook
The best part of planning with a spiral notebook is its simplicity and sustainability. But, there’s still room for fun. I don’t buy my notebooks anymore. I make my own which allows me to customize a little bit. Plus, I’m a paper snob and if I don’t like writing on it, I’m not going to use it. Here are my favorite notebook making supplies:
- Notebook Paper– I use 8.5×11 college ruled paper from Staples. The lots can vary, but I like the pale lined version with a really smooth surface.
- Graph Paper– This year I included some graph paper because bullet journals in graph paper are so popular I wanted to give it a try. I use 8.5×11 reinforced graph paper from Staples.
- Pens– No need to go fancy, but I like InkJoy by Papermate. Something to glide smoothly over my smooth paper.
- Pencils– Most mechanical and only when I want to be particularly flexible
- Pro Click Binder– This machine puts the holes in the paper for binding. Great investment for our homeschool. We bind work at the end of the year into one packet this way. Any books the kids make can be bound. It’s a well used tool at our house!
- Binding Spines– A box of 100 will last you the life time of your homeschool most likely.
- Outline of Your Annual Plan– New York State requires an Individualized Home Instruction Plan for each school aged student. However, you can make one too without a lot of effort. Simply list the materials you are using for each subject along with some basic goals you have for your student for the year. I put this in the front of my planner to reference it now and again throughout the year.
- Card Stock Paper– To make the covers. I do something fun for the cover, ranging in ideas from using student art work to watercoloring my own to using scrapbook paper.
- Laminator– Another fabulous tool. I use this to protect the cover of my planner. You know…among all the other things I protect throughout the school year.
Because I make my own spiral planner, I can organize it the way that it makes the most sense to me. I keep it very simple. There’s only a few sections. If this doesn’t work for you, you can add or take away as you’d like.
- Student Goals– This is just a page for each student with a list of what curriculum you are using and what your goals are for that student. It can be as detailed or outlined as you’d like. It’s basically a page that says where you are going for the year. You can add any skills they are working on and what topics you’d like to cover. Putting it in the front of your planner helps you with evaluating how your student is doing without having to find it somewhere else.
- Calendar– If you are a paper calendar person, this is a great addition to your planner. I use Google Calendar and Calengoo for my phone and I no longer keep a paper calendar. Wall calendars keep things straight for the kids for what’s happening, but I found I didn’t reference the paper calendar in my planner and I’ve dropped it out.
- Blank Pages– The rest of my planner is just blank notebook pages. I’m playing around with blank graph paper this year, but the plain page is ready for your homeschool year!
My homeschool planner only holds homeschool plans. For household and other planning I keep notes in Evernote.
The Planning Schedule
It might be helpful to understand how often I plan and how I use the notebook planner. A lot of people ask how far I plan ahead.
- The Annual Plan– Mentioned twice already, this is the overall picture of our school year with each student. This is where it starts.
- Block out a General Timeline– A basic timeline of units or sections of books and curriculum. I use this mostly for a guideline to keep track of the forest through the trees.
- Weekly Plans– My mainstay is one week at a time. Any farther than that with detailed plans and we are sure to have too many changes. I sit down over the weekend and jot down the plans for each day keeping in mind our appointments and other commitments. Planning too much into a day when you need to be out of the house is a recipe for disappointment. Keep it simple!
The strength of this method is staying flexible and working steadily and consistently. The weakness is staying in the details too much and not moving ahead as quickly as you might like.
The Daily Planning Page
So, what does a daily page in a spiral notebook look like? First of all, I only use one notebook for every kid. I use the same page for every student, everyday regardless of their grade. This is key to sustainability. Too many pages to write out and this method loses its simplicity.
- Split assignments by course/subject– basically jot the name of the subject down on the paper
- Use initials for each student under that subject heading– write that students task or tasks next to their initial
- On short days I only place their initial without breaking it down by subject- and just list out the tasks which were completed by each student next to their initial
- List morning meeting tasks– this goes at the top of the page. Morning meeting is the glue for our day. It might be the only time when all four students come together for a day.
- Books read– any books read during the day are noted whether it’s me reading aloud or kids reading on their own. Usually I put their initial and what they are reading.
- Project Work– with the books at the bottom of the page, I list any project work that happened in the day next to the student’s initial
- The younger the student, the more detail– as a general rule. No need to write a whole lesson plan under each subject. Just what is to be covered for the day and maybe a few notes on method.
- Check off what was completed– at the end of everyday. What wasn’t finished I make a note of why and then add it to the next day’s list. No need for boxes. I just put the check next to the thing. Otherwise, there’s a blank box and blank boxes are nearly the whole reason I left forms.
- Work for me– I put in the margin. If I need to look something up or prepare something, I make a note in the margin and transfer the task to my daily to do list. Which is in its own little notebook keeping things simple.
Benefits of Using a Plain Notebook
Let’s face it. Lots of us like the planning piece of homeschooling. So much so, we can fall into the trap of always planning and rarely executing those plans. The notebook frees me from the confines of paying too much attention to the planning portion. I need to save my best for the doing.
- No Blank Squares– To me there is nothing worse about premade planners than all the blank squares left behind when I don’t use them all.
- My Own Organization– I don’t want to use someone else’s organizational strategy. A notebook lets you build your own.
- Leaves me with a Journal– of all the things we did in a year. One one notebook. Without the lots of undone items that planning far in advance can create.
- Sustainable over Time– I’ve been planning this way for most of the time we’ve homeschooled. It brings great peace. It’s just as easy to maintain this practice in February as it is in August.
Other Planning Posts at Blog, She Wrote
Fostering Collaboration with Morning Meeting Time– How we use a morning meeting to learn together with multiple ages.
The Myth of Independence– What does it mean for students to work independently and how do you prepare for it.
How to Make a Four Year High School Plan– Putting together your teen’s four years of high school
Strategies for Scheduling High School– How to fit everything in for the high school years without overworking your teen
How to Plan Five in a Row– Keeping it simple with our foundation curriculum