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    Preliminary Groundwork (A Planning Post)

    July 1, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    My other two planning posts were sort of random β€” just answering some questions that have come up. This post is a real planning post, and this year, unlike previous years, I’m going to try and give some detail on general and preliminary planning β€” basically the how rather than just sharing the what at the end. Please note that this does not mean that my way of planning is the only way of planning. I’m giving these details because we all need a place from which to start, and I think that when moms share details with each other, it’s like we get to collect all these ideas that we can then adapt to our own situations.

    In order to easily plan and schedule our homeschool days and weeks, there are things that need to be done. Here's my list.

    Honestly, if I hadn’t had the other two posts already published, I’d have done this as a four part series, with this being the first. This first stage is what I call Preliminary Groundwork; another name for it might be pre-scheduling. What I do in this stage is universal for all homeschools, while some of my later stages will be very particular to Charlotte Mason and AmblesideOnline homeschools.

    Make Curricular Decisions

    An example of this can be found in my post on Latin Planning for Multiple Students. Before we can schedule, we have to order books, and before we can order books, we have to decide which books we’re buying. I know this seems obvious, but I’ve been tempted to do these things out of order before, and maybe you have, too. I use AO almost entirely as written, but still there are decisions I have to make — what math curriculum, what Latin curriculum, what grammar curriculum, etc.

    So now is the time. Make a call, and write your decisions down.

    Order the Books

    AmblesideOnline has example weekly schedules, so I don’t really have to start from scratch when scheduling, but still I need to see the books in order to make decisions about them. Also, ordering them early means you have time to resolve mistakes. I have three mistakes this year so far, and this week I’m asking for refunds {a book not in the condition listed by the seller, a paperback I received when I ordered a hardback, and a copy not listed as annotated when I was shopping for a full version}.

    Track Deliveries, Return and Reorder Mistakes

    Book Order Tracking

    I know I already mentioned this, but I do consider this separate from ordering my books, plus I want to encourage you to think of this as an important step. I have had books not come, and when you have a tight budget, that is a big deal if you don’t notice until term 3 {because it’s a term 3 book} and now it is too late to ask for a refund.

    To the right is my simple spreadsheet that I use for tracking. I simply note the book I ordered, where I ordered it, and if it arrived. I used to record when I ordered it, but that is easy for me to look up, so I don’t do that anymore. Sometimes, in another column, I’ll note anything important {like a date that I requested a refund if something when wrong with the order}.

    Remove Last Year’s Books from the Shelves

    Um, you ordered new books and you need a place to put them, see? So now is a good time to make room. If you’re like me, you don’t actually have room for all of your books. I store AO books that we aren’t currently using in my bedroom closet in boxes. Each child gets a school shelf {well, the two youngest are going to share this year}, which means I have to clear an additional shelf — last year we only needed two shelves for everything, whereas this year we definitely need three.

    Start a Shopping List

    By this, I mean supplies you are going to need. You don’t have to buy anything right now, but as you are planning, you’re going to think about how you need new erasers or something, so decide where you’re going to keep that list and always keep it in the same place. This is hard for me because I am a notorious list-loser, so I type it into another tab in the same document where I am tracking my book orders deliveries.

    If you want a list on paper, and you want it to be cute, Pam has a Resource Planning List, a Resource Shopping List, and a Wishlist — and they all coordinate. You won’t need all three, I don’t think, but the three format options are handy. The Resource Shopping List has slots for price comparison, which is good if you are in the market for expensive items, such as a microscope or computer. I even use these forms for Christmas ideas! Once I had them, I started using them for all sorts of stuff.

    Map the Year

    Map the Calendar

    I use the one-page calendar from Plan Your Year, which I love.

    Mapping out the year does not mean that you can’t change it later. I find it helpful to have a plan, even if I have to revise it later due to unforeseen circumstances. My general pattern is six weeks of school, followed by one week of “Sabbath rest.” This year, though, I can’t follow that pattern precisely due to speaking engagements. This is good to know in advance β€” I want my weeks off to match up with these commitments as much as possible so that I’m not trying and failing at school because I’m gone or have prep work I need to do. This way, the week before I speak, I can simply prepare and enjoy my family without getting stressed out. At least, I hope I don’t get stressed out. πŸ™‚

    You might have vacations or other travel plans that you want to work around.

    I start not by highlighting the weeks we will do school, but the weeks I know we won’t. I aim for 175 days minimum in my school year, so once I have my weeks off mapped out, I start to highlight the weeks on until I have enough to fulfill our goals.

    And that’s all for today. πŸ™‚

    Next time, we’ll talk about creating blank scheduling templates in order to make scheduling a lot easier.

    In the meantime: what did I forget? What do you do that you consider “preliminary groundwork” for your scheduling process?

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  • Reply K anderson June 25, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Could you please share what books you got for your oldest? I love reading your curriculum lists.

    Thank you!

  • Reply Molly June 21, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Do you use the Plan Your Year book to do your planning or only the free printable? I was thinking about if I should buy it.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 21, 2016 at 12:32 pm

      I use the book — parts of it anyhow — and it’s been hugely helpful to me, especially as I think through how to make things actually happen as I’ve added more students.

  • Reply Diana June 20, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    You know what’s great? Getting to plan AO Year 1 this year having lived through it a couple years ago. I feel like such a guru as I’m laying out my second son’s school calendar. I guess this is what my oldest son’s Year 3 could be like if I do a great job pre-reading this summer. It’s got me encouraged to do so!

  • Reply Elizabeth August 4, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Ok, this is JUST what I needed right now! And since this is what came up, and evidently wasn’t the first in the series, well, it is perfect for me NOW! I love and use Pam’s sheets, I wish I could do that cute all on my own! Sometimes the simple step by step is so stinking elusive! THANKS for this post!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 4, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      You are oh so welcome, my friend. πŸ™‚ β™₯

  • Reply Keli Alvarez July 6, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    This proved to be a true blessing for me! It’s helped me on my journey with God to become more organized! I’m also schooling with a sabbath week rest this year, with modifications as needed or prescheduled events. We are actually starting in two weeks because we prefer finishing at the end of May. Thank you so much for shining some light on the homeschool adventure:-).

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 6, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      I am so glad it helped! And you’re welcome. πŸ™‚ Smart to start early. I often wish we started early because it is usually so hot this time of year that I don’t want to go outside anyhow, but still, we continue… πŸ˜‰

  • Reply Mandy July 3, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    What an interesting way to think about it. In our family it would probably be art and science. Now I have something to mull over and think on…

  • Reply Diane Lockman July 2, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Thanks, Brandy…great tips! I especially like your practice of working six weeks then taking a sabbath rest week. My kids are now grown, but when I have grandbabies, I’ll recommend your very Biblical idea. πŸ™‚

    Might I also suggest some “core values” reflection before making the curricular decisions? What important themes run in your family story? Should you be pursuing those themes in curricular and extracurricular activities in the event your kids also end up living out your generational themes? Think about how Aaron’s family all participated in priestly duties…your family may have a generational story to tell, too, through community service, a profession, or as thought-leaders.

    For example, my husband and I are really passionate about justice, and since we know the Lord put these particular kids with us for a reason, when they reached 13 yo, we began exposing them to academic (and extracurric) content just in case the Lord also called them to justice as adults. So that meant learning how to argue, how to debate, serving in a local juvenile justice court, attending a summer camp on the legal profession, and taking high school classes in constitutional law.

    As prep for these specialized learning adventures, when they were younger we focused on teaching them how to read, think, write, and speak so that those fundamental skills were eventually mastered and prepared the way for the core values track.

    As it turns out, the Lord DID intend that my kids would have a passion for justice…after they left home for college, they continued going down the justice path. My daughter competed in collegiate debate and ethics bowl; she earned a B.A. in political science and is on her way to the London School of Economics for a M.Sc. in Political Theory. My son serves on the judicial Conduct Board of his university, has seriously studied the U.S. founding docs, and plans to go to law school after he gets his M.S. in Accounting.

    All that just to illustrate and encourage your readers to be alert to the clues in your family’s story for potential curricular and extracurricular adventures in your kid’s future.

    Bless you and your fine work, Brandy!

    ((hugs!)) Diane

  • Reply Cassie July 1, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    This question is only slightly related to the post and probably just silly, but the AO weekly schedule is 36 weeks. I typically do 33 weeks with a week between each term for catching up and end of term exams. (We typically continue math that week unless we are behind and if we aren’t behind we would of course move ahead in all subjects.) The obvious is just to adjust the schedule to make it work but since this is the first time we have used AO I’m struggling with this a little. Any suggestions?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 4:03 pm

      In the early years, I was able to do AO in 33 weeks — I made each 12-week term into 11, and then I added exams. Once my children were older, I couldn’t make it work. So some of this depends upon how old your children are. Another option in the older years is to be irregular on exams {something I have done on occasion, and I’m not really proud of it, but I couldn’t figure out what else to do really}, or to cut a book or two in order to make everything fit. I guess a third option is to be okay with not finishing some of the books… πŸ™‚

      • Reply Hillary July 1, 2015 at 6:10 pm


        Do you remember around which AO year you could no longer condense, based on doing the full AO schedule? I’ve condensed Term 3 from 12 into 9 or 10 weeks the past few years and wonder how much longer that might be feasible. (We do 3 additional exam weeks outside the 36 AO “weeks”.)

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 7:11 pm

          I’m pretty sure I stopped in Y4. It is just a lot more than Y3, what with adding in real Shakespeare, Plutarch, Latin, and grammar!

          • Hillary July 2, 2015 at 5:08 am

            Thanks. That makes sense.

  • Reply Jacque July 1, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Thank you, Brandy. I am looking forward to the upcoming posts.

    I started some planning yesterday for Year 3. It is overwhelming.

    I have to do research for every step: Find out how to plan, figure out how to make weekly schedules, which books are better for hard copy or Kindle, how to do Geography, decide which Marco Polo book to use, how to do watercolor for Nature Journals, learn how to best print the Artist prints, and the list goes on.

    That said I love AO and cannot now imagine doing anything else for our boys’ education.

    I am so thankful for all the ladies who take the time to show others the ropes!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      I know what you mean! It is totally overwhelming at first! I’m hopeful that this series might help. In my next post, I’m including some videos that try and detail how I do the work on my computer…because I wish someone had shown me years ago. πŸ™‚

    • Reply Jenny July 6, 2015 at 3:51 pm

      oh my gosh, YES!!! This is exactly it.

      SO looking forward to the rest of your posts in the series, Brandy!

  • Reply Virginia Lee July 1, 2015 at 7:40 am

    I also schedule in kid free times during this phase. Times that I’m going to actually do the planning phase in. Some planning can be done during naps, but I’ve found it’s better to just pick a couple of days and leave the house to get uninterrupted planning time. For those of us with littles it’s good to put these days on the schedule as part of the groundwork. That way hubby and I are on the same page. Someone’s got to be home with the littles. =)

    And of course a big glass of sweet tea is an important part of the groundwork phase and the planning days. But you don’t eat sugar. That’s truly a shame. Hurts just to think about it. πŸ˜‰

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 9:14 am

      Did you know I had never heard of sweet tea before until I went on a trip when I was in college. I had visited the South once before that, but didn’t notice the tea — possibly I was too young? That’s probably it. Anyhow, I ordered iced tea, and in California iced tea is unsweetened as a general rule — oh my goodness! That was shocking!

      I do drink a lot of iced oolong tea. If you came here, I would let you add sugar. πŸ˜‰

      ps. Good idea on scheduling your planning time! Or is it planning your scheduling your planning time??? πŸ˜‰

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