Thoughts on Lesson Planning

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I think the hardest part of homeschooling is lesson planning.

It’s really easy to over-plan and it’s really easy to plan too little. I’ve known some homeschool parents who have planned and scheduled every single lesson for a whole quarter, a whole semester, and even a whole year. This might seem like a good thing to do, and something that an organized person would want to do, but trust me it is not a good idea for a homeschool family to plan this way. Teachers who teach in public schools can plan like this, because they have to stick to a schedule to keep everyone in the class moving along at the same pace but the biggest perk of homeschool is that the home educating parent can move at the pace of the student.

Since students are a bit unpredictable, this means that a method to build in some flexibility is crucial.

The trick is to plan just enough.

It really is a skill and it does take practice along with some trial and error. I think of it as being much the same as learning to make bread. Some people just get it right immediately but most of us need a period of trial and error to figure out how to get something more out of the oven than a flat, heavy brick that no one wants to deal with, one that ends up either as a doorstop or in the trash. I don’t want to see you decide to use your lesson planning book for a doorstop!

I’ve tried to use those pre-printed lesson planners that you can find for sale all over the internet but that never worked out well for us. For one thing, I came to hate having to lug around a year’s worth of crossed out, erased, highlighted, and written-over lesson plans as well as months of blank ones. For another thing, the plans never exactly fit how we organized our homeschool. Some have boxes for things I don’t teach and no room to add in other things that I do teach. Some planners even have pages and pages of articles and other material we aren’t interested in and don’t need.

The only solution was to try creating something on my own.

By the way, those homeschool parents who want to plan every daily lesson for a 180 day school year nearly always end up having to scrap the entire plan when their child either learns ‘too fast’ or needs more time on a given subject.

Other homeschool parents, in trying to avoid over-planning, sometimes end up under-planning and wake up on a given school day wondering ‘what do I teach today?’ or ‘Where the heck was I going with this?’.

Lesson planning is what drives most homeschool parents to groan ‘I wish someone else would plan this entire thing out for me!” and even drives some to the internet to purchase (over-priced) curriculum plans that spell out in exhaustive detail what to do each school day. I’ve seen plans that even tell the parent what to say aloud as they explain a concept. Save your money, this isn’t that hard. I can help you. 

The first thing you need to decide is whether you want to use a paper planner or an online planner.

Are you a paper planning person or an online planning person? I was a paper planning person for years, but I really wanted to be an online planning person! I went through a lot of different types of planners!

I still don’t know whether I’m a paper planner or an online planner. This year it seems to be paper.

Currently I’m down to planning in one to two-week increments. I have a general idea of where I’m going beyond that, but life has been busy lately (when is it not?) and about all I can manage to get organized is a week or so at a time. Right now I’m using paper again. I made a plain old grid on my word processor and printed it out. You can have a peek if you like.

Sunshine Homeschool Basic Planner Page

Yeah, it’s pretty basic. Last year I was an online planner and I had all these spiffy plans made up in OneNote, with links to websites and videos and all kinds of things. It was exhausting. I might do that again next year, but this year I’m going with the basic paper planner.

How do you plan your homeschool?

Using Free Material 101

It’s always nice to find a great free curriculum that is laid out in either daily lessons or in an easily managed sequence of study. But not all free resources are that easy to use.

There are a lot of websites out there from well-respected institutions and groups that generously offer lesson plans and amazing related resources on all sorts of topics at all grade levels. But, some homeschoolers can find this type of resource difficult to use.

The biggest problem homeschoolers may have with this type of resource and others like it is that there is no clearly laid out recommended sequence of study to follow along with or no easily implemented plan of daily lessons.

Homeschool parents don’t always know in what order topics in a given subject are generally taught at the various grade levels, and often don’t feel all that confident relying on their own judgment.

What I recommend, when you have a great resource and no “roadmap” of how to use it, is to borrow a roadmap from another resource.

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An example of “borrowing” a roadmap from another resource can be using something as simple as the table of contents in a popular science textbook. You can find the table of contents from just about any science textbook on the publisher’s website. Popular curriculum companies like K12 publish lists of the topics their curriculum covers in each subject at each grade level. You can also usually read the table of contents of just about any published textbook sold by Amazon with the “look inside” feature. Curriculum companies, including homeschool curriculum companies, usually permit access to their course of study documents or their “scope and sequence” documents so potential buyers can determine if the topics they want to be taught are included in the product they are considering.

Well, we can “reverse engineer” this to use these documents to plan our own curriculum using these websites that are primarily just uncategorized groups of lessons on different topics.

I have a page here on this website that talks about scope and sequence and course of study documents in a little more detail and offers links to some popular scope and sequence documents from curriculum you may already be familiar with. If you are like a particular curriculum and wish to use a sequence of study based on that curriculum, it’s pretty easy to find either a scope and sequence for that curriculum or even just a look at the table of contents and use that as a guide to plan your own sequence of study.

Heck, some homeschool parents have gotten so good at it that they have turned their work into a business and created companies that sell their own homemade plans to other homeschoolers. Maybe someday you’ll find that your plan is being sought after by other homeschool families.

Let me walk you through an example from my own homeschool.
Let’s say that I want to plan a science curriculum for my son, who is in fourth grade next year. There are several categories of science topics typically taught in elementary school, including life science, physical science, and earth and space science.  I know that public schools typically teach a couple topics from each category over the course of the year. I know I can choose to do that, or I can follow one topic for the whole year, or one topic for half the year and a different topic for the other half of the year.

I know that a school year for public school is usually 180 days, which is 36 weeks. I know I can do school all year round if I want to, but that if I do I’ll be using different numbers, but for the purposes of this example we’ll stick with a 36 week school year.

A half a year is 18 weeks.

A quarter of a year is 9 weeks.

Next I think about how many times a week I want to do science. In my house we usually do a couple hours of science twice a week. You may decide to do it differently, but bear with me.

So, if I do science twice a week for 36 weeks that means I need 72 science lessons. That seems a bit overwhelming at the moment.

A half a year’s worth of science lessons is 36 lessons.

A quarter of a year’s worth of science lessons is 18 lessons.

I decide I’m going to plan my son’s science curriculum by the quarter, so I need to come up with 18 science lessons.

Now, I COULD get a regular old lesson planner and pencil in 18 science lessons in the correct day and correct week, but as you may have noticed if you have a traditional lesson planner, you really don’t have much room to write.

What I do is I have a special lesson planning form expressly for pulling together information from websites and other places and putting it into lesson format. Then, all I have to write in my nice lesson planner on the day of the week that I want to schedule science is “Do lesson one”.

What is this “special lesson planning form” you ask?

Basically, my special lesson planning form is just a document that I made in Microsoft Word with a table laid out the way I like it. I saved the document as a pdf file. It’s nothing special. You can see what I’m talking about here at this link and please feel free to download it if you think it would be useful to you. Sunshine Homeschool My Lesson Plans

There are six lessons on this page, so to plan lessons for one quarter of the school year I will need three of these sheets.

Not that you care at this point, but I usually keep one quarter’s worth of planning for all of the subjects I plan to teach in a file folder. so I have everything I need for that quarter in one place rather than trying to file it by subject.

Now I get to plan the lessons. I have decided to study just life science this quarter. Of course I have looked over the suggested free science curriculum in this website. I like the look of the Rader’s Biology 4 Kids site, because it’s laid out in a logical progression so I don’t have to bother with finding a scope and sequence document to use as a guide. I’ll just follow the sequence that Rader’s already has planned out, but I might tweak it a bit here and there.

This might be what I plan for the first lesson.

Under “Lesson Plan” I write:

  1. Read the Introduction page to Rader’s Biology.

2. Click on the “next stop”. Read “Reasoning in Science”

Under “Activities/Labs” I write:

Questions to answer
-What is biology?
-Everything that is alive on Earth is made up of what?

-What is the scientific method?
-What is a hypothesis?

Draw a diagram of the scientific method in your notebook

Under “Reminders” I write:

Need a new notebook for science.

Find the colored pencils.

What I did was I went to the page for Rader’s Biology and I looked over the introduction and the beginning page, which happened to be about the scientific method. My usual practice is to have each kid keep a notebook for each subject. Generally I look over the reading and assign some simple questions, definitions, or drawings based on the reading. This is fourth-grade science so the answers are pretty obvious, but if I was doing this for my seventh grader you’d better believe I’d be making sure I was adding in the answers to those questions to make sure I had them handy when I was looking over her completed work.

The lesson above is a pretty straightforward example, but sometimes you end up with something like this one:

Lesson #1  “Lesson”

Rader’s Biology: Microbes
Read “The Littlest Organisms”

Read “Tiny Creatures and Inside Your Insides”. Discuss.

Read “A Guide to the Microbes that Call You Home”. Discuss.

Watch Youtube video “How to use a microscope”

Watch Youtube video “Real Life Microbes”

Do lab with yeast.

Complete assigned questions and write in science notebook

Complete microscope worksheet.

“Activities/Labs”

-What is a microbe?

-Name three examples of microbes

-Who is Anton von Leeuwenhoek

-Complete the parts of the microscope worksheet.

-Practice using the microscope

-Look at slides under the microscope

-Complete lab “Watch yeast blow up a balloon”

“Reminders”

-Reserve the microscope for check out at the library

-Borrow microscope slides set from homeschool group.

-Reserve “Tiny Creatures:The World of Microbes” at library

-Order ” Inside Your Insides: A Guide to the Microbes That Call You Home” from Amazon

-Need balloons, yeast for lab.

In the above example, I took the basic lesson from Rader’s on microbes as a starting point. I scrounged around my local library’s website and found a book on microbes that looked interesting and made a note to check it out for that week. I also found out my library has a microscope for loan in the Children’s section, so I made a note to check it out that week also. The microscope only comes with a few slides, but I knew that my homeschool group had a box of slides to loan out. I found a book on Amazon that looked really interesting, so I just had to order it. I found some Youtube videos on microscopes and microbes that I threw in there, and a lab that uses yeast to give some hands-on stuff to do related to microbes.

I tend to over plan, so this lesson may be a bit much for one two-hour session, but my kids are pretty much used to getting caught up in this kind of thing so that’s no biggie. If we don’t get around to reading the library book or looking at all of the microscope slides, I can always turn this lesson into a double lesson by changing the lesson numbers. In fact, this um, may actually happen quite a lot in my homeschool…Another thing that happens a lot is my other homeschooled kids participating and adding in things like “Hey, remember that great documentary that had those really cool microbes? Can we watch that too? I think he’d really like that one!”.or “I have some blank microscope slides and covers from that project I did last year. Can we all go down to the pond and get some pond water and see if we can see anything in it?” Don’t forget to add this stuff into your lesson plan if you end up doing it, so that you have some kind of record of it and also so that if it turns out to be a really cool idea then you’ll have a way to remember it.

And so it goes. I write the date that lesson is completed under the lesson number, and sometimes I write two dates if the lesson ended up actually taking up two lesson times. Or three dates, or however many dates it took us. You can see why I keep my traditional planner, which I use as more of a scheduler, in pencil.

Anyway, that’s how I turn free online sites full of interesting information but no actual daily lesson plans into a planned out homeschool curriculum that works for us without making me crazy. It takes some trial and error to figure out how long a lesson with be in a given subject with a given child, so that’s where an eraser comes in handy. And let me add that some lessons may have a lot of things added in while other lessons, depending on interest or circumstances, may not. That’s okay. It all works out.

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What is a “Scope and Sequence” and why should I care?

A scope and sequence is a plan or a road map of what topics to teach and the order to teach them in. Basically, it’s a plan. When you think of math, for instance, you know that ‘math’ covers a lot of different topics. The most common question I hear when I talk about planning your own homeschool program is “What should you teach first? What comes next?”

chage-tang-226843A scope and sequence is a plan for the order in which different topics are taught in a particular subject. You could come up with your own, if you wanted to. But, I know I like to have the order of things laid out for me because I’m always worried about what I “should” teach first or about whether I’m missing something critical. A good scope and sequence from a reputable source can be a huge help.

Why do I need to know about this scope and sequence stuff?

Think of it as a roadmap or a plan of attack to help you plan a good sequential study of a subject. None of us want to be ‘that homeschool mom’ who skipped an entire chunk of something in a subject that turned out to be critical. Rather than ‘reinvent the wheel’, why not use a tried and true scope and sequence for the subjects you plan to teach?

Most established curriculum publishers offer their scope and sequence documents on the internet for free, so potential customers can tell if their program is a good fit. Well, folks like us can use those documents as a great shortcut to planning our own home education program.

Basically, you pick a scope and sequence you think would work for your child in whatever subject you want to teach. Then, you print it out and save it for reference. You use the scope and sequence as a guide to what topics to teach and in what order. You pick the free resources and materials of your choice to teach each topic. Just check off each topic as it is mastered. Not only do you have a plan, you have a record!

We have links to some scope and sequence documents that you can find on various websites. Please note that all of these sequences are planned for curriculum that are NOT FREE. You don’t need to buy the curriculum unless you want to. You can use the scope and sequence as a roadmap to create your own.

Don’t forget to check your local school district web page and your state’s department of education website because some of those might list a scope and sequence that you might find useful.

Don’t worry about grade level, look instead at the skills and go from there. Different programs teach different skills in different grade levels, so it isn’t necessarily useful to use grade levels as a way to choose what to teach. It’s better to see what skills have already been mastered and start with the first skill that isn’t!

If you are interested in what scope and sequence I find useful, I use the World Book Encyclopedia Typical Course of Study. Worldbook used to have the suggested course of study for each grade level in a handy pdf form, but that seems to have disappeared from their website. You can still view the “Typical Course of Study” on the link below. 

Typical Course of Study from Worldbook Encyclopedia

Hewitt Homeschooling, a popular homeschool publisher, has put together some “learning objectives” for kindergarten to grade eight that you might find useful. They include all of the academic subjects plus art, music, and character development. Worth a look.

More Scope and Sequence for the win!

If you are interested in looking over a few more of these “scope and sequence” documents, here is a whole list of links to the scope and sequence documents for a whole collection of popular homeschool programs
Time 4 Learning Scope and Sequence
A computer-based curriculum available by subscription. Their scope and sequence covers kindergarten to grade eight.

Singapore Math Scope and Sequence
A popular mastery based math program. This list of scope and sequence documents covers kindergarten to grade eight.

Bookshark Scope and Sequence
Literature-based curriculum with scope and sequence for language arts, science, and social studies for grades k to 8.

Saxon Math
A popular spiral math program. Scroll down to find links to scope and sequence documents for grades k to 12.

Hake Grammar and Writing
Scroll down for the link to this popular grammar and writing curriculum for grades 4 to 8.

Moving Beyond the Page
A popular, unit study based curriculum that includes language arts, science, and social studies. Click on the link, then click on ‘Read More’ for the age level you are interested in, then scroll down and click on “Summary of Skills”.

Core Knowledge Sequence 
This is a scope and sequence for preschool to grade 8.

K12 Grades K to 8
This is a link to the scope and sequence for the popular online program K12 for grades k to 8.

K12 High School
Check out the scope and sequence for high school for the online program K12.

Cambridge International School
Scope and sequence for a rigorous international school.

Ray’s Arithmetic for free

You all probably know that you can download a slew of free books. Those books include new books and vintage classic books. 

Google Play offers free books, but their collection is nowhere near as good as Amazon’s. There is only ONE THING that Google Play does that Amazon hasn’t quite gotten into yet: digitizing vintage children’s school books. 

Guess what you can find on Google Play?

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How about a complete set of Ray’s Arithmetic, for FREE?

Ray’s New Primary Arithmetic for Young Learners 
by Joseph Ray. (1877). This is the first book in the famous Ray’s Arithmetic series, which is especially known for its emphasis on mental math. Don’t pay for a copy! Find this vintage resource free on Google Play. This book begins with counting and writing numbers up through multiplication and division. There are no answers at the back of the book, but we have a link to the answer key listed below.

 Ray’s New Intellectual Arithmetic
 by Joseph Ray (1877 edition) Begins with addition (and runs through subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals) and focuses on mental arithmetic. This book does not have the answers at the back of the book and requires an answer key. (Google Play)

Ray’s New Practical Arithmetic 
by Joseph Ray (1877) This book begins with addition and goes up to fractions and decimals, but also includes problems related to finance, taxes, insurance and that sort of thing. Like the others, the answers are not in the back of the book. (Google Play)

Key to Ray’s New Arithmetics, Intellectual and Practical 
by Joseph Ray (1879). This is the answer key to the problems in those books. 

Dubb’s Arithmetical Problems 
by E. L. Dubbs Meant as a supplement to Ray’s Practical Arithmetic by adding practice problems. The answers are in the back. (Google Play)

Ray’s New Higher Arithmetic 
by Joseph Ray (1880) A more in-depth treatment of arithmetic. There are no answers in the back of the book. (Google Play)

Key to Ray’s New Higher Arithmetic 
by Joseph Ray (1881) The answers to problems in Ray’s New Higher Arithmetic. (Google Play)

Ray’s Algebra, First Book 
by Joseph Ray Fans of Dr. Ray will be happy to know that his series extends into algebra.

Ray’s Algebra, part second 
by Joeseph Ray.

Key to Ray’s Algebra 
by Joesph Ray. Contains the key to Ray’s Algebra book one and two

Free Vintage Nature Study

How about this: a free copy of the ultimate guide to nature study! 

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Handbook of Nature Study 
by Anna Botsford Comstock. (1939).

This is the definitive textbook on teaching nature study to children. You can find it for free on Google Play Books because it is out of copyright, but you will see that it is still for sale on Amazon and many other sources. It’s a huge book and has over 900 pages. If this was the only resource available to you, you’d still be able to teach nature study to your children for years with the material in this book.

Part one discusses the teaching of nature study, with information and ideas as relevant today as they were when they were written. The next parts are divided into lessons and cover animals,  plants, and earth and sky. You can go in order, or pick and choose which lessons you’d like to use. There are over two hundred lessons!

You’ll find observation guidelines, review questions, and writing assignments included within. This is an incredibly complete reference and is indispensable for anyone who is thinking of teaching nature study to children.

There is a Librivox recording of this book that you can find HERE

Some more ideas:

If you’d like to see some truly gorgeous old-fashioned children’s books, please visit Children’s Books Online: The Rossetta Project. They have scanned in some beautiful older books so you’ll get to see the original artwork in its original color. You can’t download these, but you can read them online.