For the past couple of weeks, I have been in crazy homeschool planning mode. Maybe you too?
I love planning, really, but sometimes it can feel a little hard to pin all the variables down. Will we do History every day? What should we do during our morning meeting?
Where did we leave off yesterday?
Where am I?
So I was so glad to recently discover Pam Barnhill’s book Plan Your Year. It has helped me to feel really organized and together, and I love how approachable she is within the pages. It feels like an experienced friend sharing her secrets over tea. And maybe cupcakes.
I was thrilled to get to chat with Pam a bit about her book, and ask her some questions about how she plans her own homeschool year. Pam was even nice enough to offer a FREE copy of her book to one reader, and 20 percent off to everyone else!! (See the details at the end!)
Q&C: I love the way you break down planning. You talk about an elevator pitch and testing everything against it as you plan. I think that’s so smart because as a homeschooling mom, I can often get distracted by fun ideas other people are pursuing or a fancy, new curriculum. How did you come up with the elevator pitch idea and why is it important, do you think?
Pam: I’ve been blogging for about seven years, but last winter I got serious about blogging and started reading about how to blog professionally. One of the techniques professional bloggers use is to have an “elevator pitch,” or one-minute statement about their blog in case someone asks what they do or what their blog is about. It seemed like a perfect thing for homeschooling.
I hate the way I stammer and fumble for an answer when someone asks why we homeschool. I love having this bite-sized statement of purpose that I can share.
Then as an extension of that, I turned it into the wall for my spaghetti. All of those hundreds of possible distractions, shiny new curricula, and latest greatest schemes — now I throw them up against the wall of my elevator pitch. If they don’t stick with my purpose then I throw them out.
That small concise statement keeps me focused in my planning and on what is important to our family.
Q&C: You wrote that as you plan that you focus on behaviors not outcomes – what does that look like in your family?
Pam: When it comes right down to it I really have very little control over the timetable of when my kids master reading or addition facts or any other learning. I can’t force a kid to eat, sleep, or learn. What I can control, though, are the practices we do.
This means when I set a goal for a specific child I don’t say that he is going to have his addition facts memorized by a certain date and time. What I say instead is that we will practice addition facts for X-number of minutes, X-number of days each week. That I can control (though my hardest job as the teacher is to motivate and keep it fresh and interesting).
There is a very good chance that consistently doing those behaviors will result in the desired outcome, but now neither of us have undue pressure because I have set a goal that I really can’t control. Less pressure equals happier people.
Q&C: I loved this quote from you:
“The best homeschool curriculum is the one that will get done.”
Absolutely!! What other ways can homeschooling families set themselves up for success?
Pam: I think I could write a book about this topic alone (hmmmm… now you have me thinking). The most important thing I think homeschool families can do to set themselves up for success is perhaps the hardest.
Homeschool families need to realize that the way they have always done education (speaking mostly to those who went to public school here) is onlyone method of educating humans from a vast array of methods used throughout human history.
I know as a former public school student and teacher my biggest hurdle to get over was the mindset that the way I was taught was THE ONLY way to educate and be educated. It’s not. It’s not even close to the only way.
There are hundreds of methods, techniques, schedules, and principles of education. Many of which are being used in other areas of the world today and others that were used throughout history. The public school model of education is really only about two hundred years old and even that has undergone vast changes regularly.
People ask me if Common Core upsets me, and I think they are surprised by my negative answer. But I have lived through look/say reading, half-day kindergarten, open concept classrooms, new math, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and a hundred other educational concoctions. They have all gone the way of eight track tapes and bell-bottom pants. Some are gone for good. Some cycle back around. But none stick long-term.
What does that mean to the homeschooler? Don’t be afraid to break out of the box — and then burn it. Do what works for you and your kid. Find what helps you to be successful and let everyone else (including your mother-in-law) worry about herself.
Q&C: I know that like me, you are a big fan of reading to your kids, even older kids. Do you schedule read-aloud time? How do you make sure it’s part of the plan?
Pam: I have an *ahem* rather Type-A personality. If I want to be sure something gets done, then I have to schedule it. I will be honest, there are times when it has been hard. The year my husband was deployed there were more days it didn’t get done that it did. Of course the rambunctious three-year-old didn’t help there.
Now he is getting older, so we try to read each evening before bed. Most days my husband reads to them then. I read to them during school time — history, science, and picture books. I am also a big fan of audio books.
We have an app called Tales to Go that has a large selection of audio books for a monthly subscription. We listen in the van and the boys listen while they play Legos and wait for their sister to get done with school.
My daughter also usually listens to a couple of hours at night before bed — though she has finally started reading more to herself during those times. I thought we would never break the chapter-book barrier, but learned not to worry much as she listened to so many books well above her reading level via audio book.
Q&C: I loved your forms that you include in your book, but I had a question about how you organize them. Are you a “binder girl,” or do you prefer another method?
Pam: Yep, I am a binder girl! I like the flexibility of being able to move things around or replace a page. Coil binding gives me hives — much too permanent.
I use tabs and organize them in a way that is logical to me. It has to be pretty, and I made the forms editable on the computer because I hate my own handwriting. This means I also keep a copy on my computer and can “save as” and create updates. Good for my lazy side.
To be honest there are quite a few of those forms I DON’T use. People are always asking me for matching forms for some purpose or another. I am happy to make someone a form and add it to my collection, because it adds value to the set and would be helpful to them, but I don’t necessarily adopt it for myself. I keep mine pretty simple and streamlined.
I’ve made three new forms for others just this week. Look for them as freebies on the blog soon.
Q&C: Finally, if you could share just one piece of advice for families planning for the year ahead, what would it be?
Pam: Begin with the end in mind. Think about where you want your student to be at the end of the school year, write down the what actions are needed to get him there, and then don’t be distracted from that path. All progress basically boils down to those three simple steps.
Pam has generously agreed to give away one copy of her book Plan Your Year to a Quill and Camera reader. Just leave a comment below! Comments close at 5 p.m. CST Tuesday and a winner will be announced!
You can also get her book for 20 percent off until Sept. 10 by using the code QUILL20.