How to Use a School Calendar to Plan Your Homeschool Year

A Heart of Dakota Life

How to Use a School Calendar to Plan Your Homeschool Year

Each year as I plan my homeschool year, I like to print a school calendar. I find it very helpful to have a one-page yearlong calendar that notes the holidays. This is so much easier than flipping through a monthly calendar or looking up dates of holidays on the Internet! Once I have printed the calendar, I look it over to mentally note the holidays. I total the number of days I am homeschooling with Heart of Dakota by multiplying the number of units in my guides by the number of days of plans each week. When my children were in younger Heart of Dakota guides, like Little Hands through Bigger Hearts, I had a total of 165-170 days. Once my children were in Preparing Hearts through U.S. II, I planned for a total of 140 days. This year my children are using Revival to Revolution and USII, so I planned for 140 days.

Start with the End in Mind

I like to start with the end in mind. Knowing when we want to be done with our homeschool year helps me determine when we need to start. We like to be done with our homeschool year in early May, and we like to take our summers off. Pulling out a notebook to make my first rough draft calendar, I make a quick list of the reasons we’d take off days from school. For us, that includes time off for hunting, fishing, traveling, holidays, and family visiting. I also like to take off Valentine’s Day and each person’s birthday. If someone’s birthday falls on a weekend, we choose a day during the homeschool week to take off instead. On birthdays, the person whose birthday it is gets to pick what to have for meals, for snacks, a movie to watch, a game to play, things to do, and even a place to go (i.e. Dairy Queen for blizzards).

Jot Down Days to Take Off and Days to Homeschool

Looking at my one-page calendar, I begin with the month we hope to start to homeschool. For us, that is September, usually after Labor Day. So, on my piece of paper, I jot down the month ‘September.’ I label the left margin “# of Days.” Then, I look at each week of September on my one-page calendar, noting days we would take off and days we’d homeschool. I write this down one week at a time. Then, I total the number of days we’d be doing school in September and put a square around it. I move on to October, and do the same. Working through the months, I continue until I reach 140 days. At the end, I add 6-7 days for make up days (i.e. sick days or days we sporadically take off). Likewise, I add a handful of days for standardized testing.

Making Adjustments 

Sometimes I do this, and after the 140 days, the 6-7 make-up days, and the 5 days for testing, I am past the end date I wanted. Then, I make some adjustments. This year, for example, I moved a trip my husband and I were taking to California one week earlier. I could then begin school earlier, which meant I would finish by early May. Sometimes I jot down several different start dates, end dates, or options of how many days to take off for something. For example, sometimes we start in August and sometimes in September. Or, sometimes we want to be done by the end of April and sometimes by mid-May. Or, sometimes we want a big break at Christmas, and other times we don’t. This is when I get everyone’s thoughts on the matter. This year I presented alternate start and end date options. Everyone picked to start after Labor Day and end by early May. Below is a picture of my rough draft calendar (and it is ‘rough’)…

Creating the Final Calendar to Be Hung for All to See

Finally, I create a final calendar to be hung for our whole family to see.  I color-code days we are homeschooling yellow. Then, I color-code the days we are taking off pink. I note on the left monthly listing side why we are taking the days off and highlight that pink too.  Then, I put a red box around the make-up days at the end. Finally, I put a green box around the testing days at the end. We all reference this calendar throughout the year many times! My husband can easily reference it as well. If we use a make-up day, I color one of the make-up days at the end (which are in the red box) yellow. This shows we used one of our free/make-up days. It is easy for everyone to see when we are taking days off. Likewise, everyone can see if we are progressing toward ending our school year on time!

In Christ,
Julie

A Practically Perfect Homeschool Life

A Heart of Dakota Life

A Perfect Homeschool Life

It’s that time of year again!  Time to start my homeschool year and to make the perfect plan that makes all my dreams come true!  I put on my rose-colored glasses and put pen to paper to plan all I hope my homeschool year will be. My year begins to unfold before my very eyes. I write lofty goals, as I envision my perfect homeschool year. In my mind, I wake up well-rested to sunshine and blue skies. I shut off my alarm before it even rings – I’m just that excited to start my day!  My Bible Quiet Time and prayer time come next, as I prepare my heart and mind for all the day may hold. Then, I wake my children cheerfully, throw open their curtains, and whip up a healthy, homemade breakfast they adore. While the breakfast is bubbling and baking away, I skip downstairs to run 4 miles on my treadmill. We all happily arrive at breakfast punctually at the same time, showered and looking just so, chores all complete, and ready to greet our day!

A Practically Perfect Homeschool Life

I love to dream of my ideal homeschool life, but there is only one problem! It’s just not practical. In fact, the perfect day is pretty rare, and lofty out-of- reach plans just leave me feeling like a failure. So, I have traded in my perfect homeschool life for a practically perfect homeschool life. And you know what? I’m a whole lot happier!  I put pen to paper with plans that are practical, yet full of most of what I really want them to be.

When I know I will be teaching the next morning, I try to get to bed on time. I pick a start time that is early but not so early I can never really start on time. My alarm must be set, or the reality is I might not wake up. I do wake my children, quickly, with a hug and a kiss, but then promptly head downstairs for a strong cup of coffee.  A quick Bible time, a 1 mile jog on the treadmill once and awhile, breakfasts that are sometimes homemade and sometimes healthy but probably not both, prayer in my shower, and all of us arriving at breakfast about the same time with most our chores done – that’s perfect for me in a practical way.

Enjoy Planning Your Practically Perfect Homeschool Life

Rather than planning your perfect homeschool life, why not enjoy planning your practically perfect homeschool life? Make goals, but try to be practical about them. Set a schedule, but be practical by including margin for unplanned interruptions. Try a routine, but be practical by adding some wiggle room in it knowing it probably won’t go just so. Include some healthy goals, like getting enough sleep, having some healthy meals, attempting to exercise, etc., but be practical!  These things probably won’t happen daily.  Do the same with your homeschool subjects and with your children. Plan practically rather than perfectly. Take 2 weeks to do 1 week of plans to give grace to both you and to your children as you figure out your new guides. Most of all, plan for God to ultimately make your plans each day – after all, His plans are best, and they ARE actually perfect! It just makes good practical sense to follow them.

In Christ,

Julie

Add Margin to Your Day to Receive New Mercy

A Heart of Dakota Life

Add Margin to Receive New Mercy 

Lamentations 3:22-24: It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him.

Does your homeschool day have margin? If something doesn’t go just right, does your routine or schedule allow for that? Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in having a plan for my homeschooling. Especially once I began homeschooling more than one child, a plan was simply a necessity.  However, my earlier homeschool schedules lacked margin. I found out the hard way, a schedule lacking margin lacks mercy. And if there is one thing we all need, it is mercy!

Add Margin to Receive New Mercy When Something Unexpected Happens

Have you ever spilled an entire cup of coffee all over your Heart of Dakota guide? Or have you ever had a contractor stop by with about a million questions about how you want to renovate your bathroom? Has your husband ever called for a model number he needs off your broken dishwasher? Have you ever had a child throw up in the middle of your homeschool day? Life is full of unexpected surprises – every day. In fact, it is the rarer thing to have a day with no surprises at all. By adding margin to your homeschool routine or schedule, you are planning for the unexpected. So when the unexpected happens, you are ready!  You have the margin to receive mercy in the event of an unexpected surprise.

Add Margin to Receive New Mercy When Correcting School Work

Do you have time planned to correct your children’s school work? When you look at Carrie’s suggested time allotments for each box of plans, do you add time to correct work? Even “I” independent boxes of plans require our attention as homeschool moms. By adding margin for correcting school work by making it a part of your overall plan for your day, you avoid having a pile up of correcting. So when your children finish their work, you are ready! You have the margin to receive mercy in the task of correcting your children’s work.

Add Margin to Receive New Mercy When You Have Appointments, Activities, or Errands

Do you have margin planned in your week for doctor appointments? How about margin for activities you plan to attend? Or how about margin for something you didn’t plan to attend but now want to? By adding margin for appointments, errands, and activities, you avoid getting behind in your schooling. So when your child has a cavity to be filled, your sister calls you for a play date with her kids, or you have to get groceries because there is nothing for dinner, you are ready!  You have the margin to receive mercy in the time it takes for appointments, errands, and activities.

So how do you plan for margin, so you can receive new mercy each day?

To plan margin when something unexpected happens, I add some cushion of time. So, for example, I might have my ‘teacher-directed’ block of time include ‘semi-independent’ work too. That way, I have extra time to walk away and deal with the unexpected. To plan margin when correcting school work, I add extra time throughout the day. By starting my teaching time by quickly correcting what’s already been completed, I plan margin for correcting. To plan margin for appointments, I set aside one afternoon each week. So, every Wed. afternoon, I know that is the day I will make appointments. Likewise, I plan for Saturdays to be my errand day. Every other Tuesday, I plan to have our children get together with my sister’s children. Finally, I plan for at least 2-3 weeks off each year for anything unplanned! Try planning for margin to receive new mercies this school year!  I think you may like it!

In Christ,
Julie

Say “No,” So You Can Say “Yes”

A Heart of Dakota Life

Say “No,” So You Can Say “Yes”

As homeschool moms, we have so many ways to use our time. With all of the activities, events, groups, field trips, and educational opportunities we have available, we can easily fill up every minute of every day. The problem with this is we really do need time to homeschool our children. When every minute is spoken for, little time is left to actually homeschool. This is why it is so important to know when to say ‘no’ to something, so you can say ‘yes’ to homeschooling.

What Was Once Good May Not Be Any Longer

As a mom of one son, I started a women’s Bible study. I dove into each weekly lesson with delight, taking long notes in my leader’s guide and carefully planning each lesson. What prop would I share? Which Christian music would I play as ladies arrived? What special homemade treat could I take? Which Little Hands to Heaven lesson would I plan for the children’s leader? I loved leading that women’s Bible study with all my heart. Beginning with 7 women, within several years, the Bible study grew to 50+ women. One class became 5 classes, and as the number of attendees and leaders grew, so did my family. Adding a baby changed things. Gone was the time to lovingly plan and prepare each lesson, and left was one exhausted mama. I woke up one day realizing that which was once a good thing, was not any longer.

Do Fewer Things, Better

I learned so much from leading that women’s Bible study! First, I learned how much I loved delving into God’s Word. Second, I learned how much I loved children learning about God with Little Hands to Heaven. Third, I learned I loved encouraging fellow Christian women. But fourth, I learned the importance of doing fewer things, better. The women’s Bible study was only one of many things I’d piled on my plate that year. I had 150+ students’ work I corrected online for a Christian curriculum company. Twice each week, my sister and I took turns watching each other’s children. Every spare minute, my husband and I worked on renovating our 100+ year old house. My son had speech therapy. My baby had reflux. Hubby took a traveling sales job. My plate wasn’t just full; it was overflowing.

If you say ‘no,’ life will go on!

What’s on your plate? Have you piled on too much? Are you exhausted and running on empty? Do you know something has to change, but worry what will happen if it does? Well, I am here to say that if you say ‘no’ and start to ‘unpile your plate,’ life will go on! How I agonized over saying I could not lead the Bible study and oversee the program anymore!!! Countless sleepless nights. When I did say ‘no,’ it was after much prayer, and it was hard – very hard. Not everything went smoothly, and there was a lot of guilt involved. But, you know what? Life went on, and so did the Bible study. Other ladies stepped up to the plate to lead, and do you know what? They dove into each weekly lesson with delight and planned each session with care. I am sure they loved leading that women’s Bible study.

The Powerful Act of ‘Unpiling Your Plate’

That year I ‘unpiled my plate.’ I took off the teaching and leading of the Bible study. Next, I took off the 150+ students whose work I was correcting online each day by quitting that job. Then, I took off the speech therapy sessions – my son was doing just fine. Last, I slowed down the renovating of our home; it could wait. I kept on my plate that which I’d learned I truly loved! Delving into God’s Word stayed on the plate; it just became something I did on my own each morning. Teaching children about the Lord with Little Hands to Heaven stayed on the plate; it just became something I did with only my own sons. Encouraging fellow Christian women stayed on the plate; it just became something I did through my work with  Heart of Dakota. Playing with the cousins stayed; it just changed to once a week.

What’s on your plate?

So, what’s on your plate? Take a moment to just imagine actually putting each thing you have chosen to do in your life on a dinner ‘plate.’ Make sure you envision portion sizes that equal the amount of time you devote to each. What does your plate look like? Do you have a manageable amount on it, or is it piled high to the point of overflowing?  Do you need a platter instead of a plate?!? That summer so many years back I learned the power of being mindful of picking carefully what I put on my plate.

Fully enjoy your homeschooling by always having a section on your ‘plate’ reserved for it!

Ever since that summer, I have always kept a part of my ‘plate’ just for homeschooling. Just like those heavy duty styrofoam dinner plates that have sections to separate your food, my ‘plate’ has a section always reserved for homeschooling. True, I’ve had to pass up on some things – maybe even some good things – on the buffet, but it has always been a more pleasing plate to me in the end. I find when I have set aside enough time in my life to teach, I truly love my homeschooling. It is not always easy to do, but it is always worthwhile. So, what’s on your plate? Choose only the best, reserve a section for homeschooling, and ‘unpile’ if you need to – what you are left with will be well worth it!

In Christ,
Julie

Four fun ways to encourage summer reading!

A Heart of Dakota Life

Four fun ways to encourage summer reading!

Summer is fast approaching, and we have found this is a wonderful time to read!  I like to encourage keeping up the habit of reading in the summer, but I also like to keep it fairly simple. Below I will share four fun ideas we have incorporated to encourage summer reading.

Tap into your Heart of Dakota personal library this summer!

One thing you will accumulate by homeschooling with Heart of Dakota is excellent literature.  Carrie has carefully chosen Charlotte Mason style living books for every subject area. Just as we like to reread favorite books as adults, I have found my children do as well. When my children were little, I only owned 3 or 4 Heart of Dakota guides and their accompanying books. So when the summer began, I set out all of the books we’d previously used. Then, I let them choose one by one any books they wanted to reread for fun. Of course, they could only read books from guides they’d already completed. We can’t spoil the next guide, can we?!? Once my children were older and I owned too many books to set out, we made a trip to our basement library shelves of HOD books.

Order from Heart of Dakota the Extension Package for the guide you just completed!

When we have just finished studying a time period together, I have found it such fun to order the Extension Package for the guide we just completed! If my children are mature enough and good enough readers to enjoy the Extension Package, I love for them to read them. I make sure not to expect any follow-up assignments to be done because it IS summer. However, I do find I still hear many impromptu oral narrations anyway! I like to put them in a basket in each child’s room. Then, they can read them at their leisure. For my children who are more sequential, I might give them a copy of the Extension Package books printed from the Internet or copied from the Heart of Dakota Catalog. Then, they can read them in the order they are listed, which is the chronological order they are planned in the guide.

Check out from the library the Emerging Reader’s Set supplemental titles!

If you have a child that just completed the Emerging Reader’s Set, why not check out from the library the supplemental titles? Carrie painstakingly chose supplemental titles of comparable reading levels and listed them by unit in your Emerging Reader’s Set schedule. These supplemental titles are a super way to keep the ball rolling for brand new readers! When we take a break from reading with newly independent readers, I find they often backtrack. This is why it is a great idea to enjoy the supplemental titles for the Emerging Reader’s Set!  Yes, the first ones will be easy, but that’s alright! Though we can read at a college level as adults, that doesn’t mean we want to read at that level for fun all the time! Our children enjoy reading at different levels other than their highest level too.

Get ahead in Drawn into the Heart of Reading by doing a few genres in the summer!

If there is one thing I love, it is that feeling of ‘getting ahead’ somehow! That is why I have often enjoyed doing 1-2 genres of Drawn into the Heart of Reading in the summer. I remember one summer in particular. Looking at the genres, I decided Adventure would be a wonderful genre for the summer!  For each of my sons, I chose a different Adventure book from their upcoming homeschool year of DITHOR books. Then, we did the kickoff up really big! I had the time!  Likewise, we did the final project up really big!  Again, why not? I had the time!  I remember actually burying pirate hats, pirate eye patches, and pirate swords in a tote in our garden. At the end of their treasure hunt, they got to dig up the tote. We even invited the cousins to be a part of it all!

I hope this gives you some ideas of how you can encourage your children to read this summer!  Give us a call at Heart of Dakota if you need help choosing a book pack to order – we love to help! We also love to think of children reading for the pure joy of it in the summer!

In Christ,

Julie