Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Planning the New School Year Part 2

  • Marcia Washburn
  • 2004 18 Aug
Planning the New School Year Part 2

There are several things to remember as you are planning for the year's academics. We have the joy and the privilege as homeschoolers of truly individualizing our children's education. No child works at the same grade level in every subject. It is all right to use a second grade speller, a fifth grade reader, and an eighth grade math book for your sixth grader if that's what he needs.

It is not necessary to use textbooks with every child in every subject. In fact, you may not use any textbooks at all! Textbooks are merely a summary of information on a subject and are seldom as interesting as reading biographies about the people the texts describe. I often used the texts as an outline, but used the library for the actual materials. This meant lots of summer reading to keep ahead of my class. By deciding what general topics we needed to cover the next year, I could shop wisely at the state homeschool conference, as well.

To plan out the year, I would check the table of contents in the textbook. I divided the number of chapters by eight, even though we used a nine month school year. This way, I could plan how much information to cover in a month and allow two catch up weeks each semester. It really helped when Christmas or a new baby came around. We didn't always cover everything, but it gave us a goal to work toward. I didn't teach all of the information in the textbook, but picked out the central themes and went into more depth on those. The textbook acted as a guideline for selecting library resources about each topic. Remember—it is better to cover a limited amount of material thoroughly than to skim over the top of lots of information.

When the boys were young, we often integrated the subjects to teach a character trait such as attentiveness through several different subject areas. They worked on sequential subjects such as math, beginning reading, and spelling individually. We did history, science, music, art, and others together, with each child doing assignments appropriate for his skill level. This saved me from preparing eight subjects for five children each day. It also saved my sanity. J
As the boys grew older, we chose to rotate through subjects like science and history. For example, one year we would study American history, the next geography, and the next world history. Then we would repeat the sequence. During the American history year, the younger boys learned about the best known presidents such as Washington and Lincoln and about our home state of Colorado. The older children learned about all of the presidents as we got to their times in history and they learned all of the states, capitals, etc. By the time we returned to American history again three years later, the younger ones had a basic speaking acquaintance with much of the material and the older ones were ready for a more in-depth study of both American history and government.

Since much of the teaching was done as a group, I read aloud many of the books. I found that my boys would listen to me read much longer if I allowed them to do something with their hands such as assembling puzzle maps of the United States or building a fort with LegosAE. As Ruth Beechick is fond of saying, "We need to work with the wiggle." Periodic questions insured that they were continuing to follow what I said.

In science we would study health and the human body every few years. One year we rolled out butcher paper on the floor and traced around each child's body. The older students labeled their body parts with the various bones we had been studying. I did the labeling for the younger children, allowing them to dictate to me. Most of them just labeled the arm, leg, mouth, eyes, etc. But our seven-year-old, John, insisted on putting the liver on his paper—no heart, stomach, or other internal organs—just the liver. I was surprised he even knew he had a liver. This is the same child that recently took his exams to get into medical school. You just never know.

It is not necessary to do every subject every day, or even every week. You will want to spend time daily on Bible, math, reading and spelling. But you may very well choose to do history one semester and science the other. Or perhaps do history on Monday and Tuesday and science on Thursday and Friday, leaving Wednesday for music lessons or to participate in activity days with your homeschooling support group or co-op.

Decide where you will store your school materials. Will you have a separate room for school time, or will you need to put everything away each day? Consider using a plastic bin for each child's school and library books, supplies, etc. It is easy to tote the bin from room to room and it can be put away on a shelf or in a closet when he has finished with his formal schooling for the day. A filing cabinet is a great investment for your teaching supplies.

Parents are generally allowed to use any calendar for their homeschool. Some follow the traditional September through May school year, while others teach for eight weeks and then take off two weeks year-round. Each state has slightly different requirements for homeschoolers. Contact your state organization to be sure that you know what your state law says concerning the required number of days of instruction, record-keeping, etc. Home School Legal Defense at is a good resource for checking on local requirements.

A great online resource for both beginners and seasoned homeschoolers is the website for Christian Home Educators of Colorado, found at There is a wealth of insight and information for beginners in Beginners/Basic Steps. Homeschool vets will find many useful archived articles under Resources/Free Magazine/Articles.

Plan on spending some time and thought this summer preparing for the upcoming school year. Refining your discipline techniques, tweaking household routines, and planning your academics will smooth the way for a successful year. Blessings!

© 2004 Marcia K. Washburn. Portions of this article were originally published in the CHEC Update Magazine and are used by permission. "Mama" Washburn writes from her nineteen years of experience as a homeschooling mom in rural eastern Colorado. She is a workshop speaker and is working on her second book. She can be contacted at

This article was published in the Jul/Aug '04 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, please visit