Many homeschooling mothers begin the school year in September with high expectations. By March, however, we discover that we are behind schedule, and it's evident that our students will not complete their courses by the end of May. At that time, most of us react in one of two ways, both of which are equally unsatisfactory. Either we become so discouraged that we do not even try to rectify the situation, and just before Memorial Day we promote our students to the next grade, or we embark on an impossible program of ten-to-twelve-hour school days in an attempt to regain lost ground.
I think the major reason that we homeschooling mothers have problems completing the school year is that most of us are products of the public school system. When we were in school, if we were ill, we stayed home. When we returned to school, we took a note from our mothers asking the school to excuse our absences, and that was pretty much the end of it. The rest of the class had moved on without us, and no one seemed to worry that we might have missed vital information that would prevent us from being able to solve math problems for the rest of the year. Since our individual absences had no bearing on the duration of the school year, they were "no big deal."
Homeschoolers are unique in that each of our students comprises a class of one. If our students are absent, school stops until they return, and those days must be made up. While this arrangement does not allow our students to be "left behind," it does create another problem: for every day our students are not in school, the school year becomes one day longer. Thus we sometimes find ourselves with the dilemma of having a lot of unfinished lessons at what should be the end of the school year. Yet, this situation can easily be avoided by planning ahead.
Set Up a Calendar
The first step in planning the school year is to set up a calendar. To do this you will need two inexpensive appointment calendars - one for the current school year and one for the year beginning in January of your school year. With your calendars in front of you, decide when you want to begin your school year and when you want your school year to end. If you want your school year to run concurrent with the public school year, plan to begin about September 1 and end about May 31.
Go through your calendar, beginning with September, and draw a line through every Saturday and Sunday. Then go back and write the word "holiday" on every day that you plan to take a holiday during the school year. Remember, if you plan to take off a week at Christmas or Easter, block off those additional days as holidays. Next, count the number of unmarked days on your calendar; this is the actual number of teaching days. From the actual number of teaching days, subtract ten to allow a margin for sick days and emergencies. This is the adjusted number of teaching days.
Set Up Student Schedules
Next, make up a separate schedule for each student with his name at the top and a list of subjects that he will be studying during the year down the left-hand margin. For each subject, divide the number of pages of text by the adjusted number of teaching days to determine how many pages the student must complete in each subject each day. Write those numbers next to their corresponding subjects on the schedule. Keep your students' schedules in the classroom so that you will know exactly how much material each student needs to cover each day.
When You Fall Behind
Even though you have allowed ten sick days for the school year, you may begin to fall behind. It is important, therefore, that you write "unschooled holiday" on your calendar on any day you take off that is not marked as a holiday. At the end of each month, check your calendar to make certain that you are not taking more than one unschooled holiday per month. If you are, adjust your calendar to extend your school year by a few days to make up for the lost days. Then inform your children that the school year is going to run a little longer than you had anticipated so that they will know what to expect.
School First, Field Trips Second
Remember, no schedule will work if it is not followed. Therefore, if you want to have a successful school year, you must be willing to put your school first. Save field trips, visits to museums, etc., for Saturdays. These activities may be educational, but they are no substitute for a day spent working at the books. Only when you are able to separate all other activities from class time and adhere to a schedule that concentrates on structured study, will your students make genuine progress. Then you will be able to maintain control, and you will meet your goals.
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