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    Home Education

    What My School Prep Looks Like

    February 10, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou all have been asking me about this for years, and I’ve been putting it off. This is mainly because I think that there is nothing profound or special about what I do or the process I use each week to prepare for the upcoming week of homeschooling. But maybe that is precisely the point? Maybe we need to be reminded that nothing profound or special is needed? That we can just prepare in the usual sense, and that’s enough?

    No magic spells or Olympic feats required.

    The time required for school prep has gone up with each passing year, of course. We can’t expect it to be as easy to prepare for a week of eighth grade as it was for first grade, nor can we expect it to be as easy to prepare for four students as it was for one. This is life: while some things definitely get easier {I miss having toddlers, but one hasn’t wrecked my living room for years}, homeschooling isn’t one of those things. Prep time increases with the age and number of our students.

    How I get ready for a week of homeschool lessons.

    My weekly prep has three parts, and I generally do them in this order:

    1. Spreadsheets
    2. Clipboards
    3. Reading

    Let’s walk through it.

     

    Spreadsheets

    I run our homeschool on spreadsheets. I’m pretty sure we should have shirts saying “Powered by Excel” or something. When I only had one student, I didn’t need this level of organization, but this is, frankly, how I keep my head attached to my shoulders these days.

    I put the rough drafts of these weekly spreadsheets together in the summer. But I don’t print them until the week of. This is so I can make adjustments as we go along. Planning extensively in the summer saves me time, but I don’t print because I would find nothing more annoying that to see our printed plans get further and further behind or “off” as we went along. This way, we’re always right on time. It’s totally a mental game, but it works for me.

    My first step is to adjust the spreadsheet to accurately reflect the coming week. It mainly involves moving a few things around, adding any notes about appointments or plans, etc. It doesn’t take long at all.

    When everything looks good, I press that print button.

     

    Clipboards

    Each of my children has his own clipboard that I load over the weekend as part of my prep time. This is super simple, too. I add to it anything the child needs to do the work listed on their spreadsheet, and top it with the spreadsheet. For my first grader, this means he needs his copywork worksheets {for practicing letter formation}. For my girls, it’s blank copywork sheets plus cursive worksheets. A couple children have poetry that is printed rather than found in a book. One might have a blank map for map drills. It changes as the weeks and years go by — the key is to always check the spreadsheet and make sure everything is ready to go.

    Sometimes, I put this off. Usually, it’s because I’ve run out of ink and I’m putting off refilling the printer cartridge. And then I forget. And then suddenly it’s Monday morning and only my oldest has a spreadsheet ready to go. This is a Mistake. Nothing good ever comes of it. So, I try to discipline myself to always have the clipboards ready.

     

    Reading

    This is what people usually think of in regard to school prep, and that’s probably because this is what takes a good chunk of time. Everything else can be done fairly quickly, but reading requires hours, there is just no way around that.

    I have made a commitment to pre-reading. I often feel bad saying this because I know it takes time and I know finding the time is incredibly difficult. I don’t know what else to say — I think the vast majority of books have to be read by us if we’re going to be able to teach them. How can I hold a child accountable for a narration? How I can answer his questions? How can I know if the chapter is appropriate? How can I have a discussion? I really can’t do any of those things if I’m not familiar with the books.

    One thing I’ve loved about using the same curriculum for all of these years is that we use the same books over and over. This allows me to only pre-read for my oldest child. With everyone else, I tend to remember well enough because, in addition to the reading I did myself, it was followed up by listening to a narration and answering questions and having a discussion, all of which solidified a lot of the book into my mind. My recall is far from perfect, of course, but having read for my oldest I find is enough — I can just glance over the chapter to reorient myself before listening to a narration from one of the younger children.

    I try to make the pre-reading beneficial for me, personally. I want to continue to learn and grow, too, but the truth is that after I pre-read, there isn’t much personal reading time left over. A number of years ago I decided that I could approach pre-reading one of two ways: I could either carry it like an inconvenient burden, or I could make my oldest child’s reading list my reading list. I chose the latter. So, when I pre-read, I have my commonplace book with me. Sometimes, I also have my Book of Centuries or nature notebook, but my commonplace is the most essential. I don’t have the luxury of reading very slowly because there is a lot to read, but I still take the time to stop and copy out passages that strike me.

    In a few places, I will underline passages for possible discussion. I used to make notes elsewhere. I find it distracting to read a book with someone else’s underlining, and wanted to be courteous to my children because of that. But, more often than not, I would forget about or lose my notes. So now I just underline the passage. I don’t really have to worry about definitions anymore, but when my oldest was younger I also made notes of definitions at the beginnings of chapters, a little trick I learned from Kathy Livingston.

    Lately, I’ve taken to a coffee shop for a couple of hours. I find I get it all done faster when I can focus and my children cannot find me and interrupt me by asking me a thousand questions they could have asked their father instead. Also, it makes it a bit more fun — another way of trying to use it as personal enrichment instead of personal burden. I have to do my job; why not learn to enjoy it? This can be my weekly retreat, if I allow it.

    I try to read everything over the weekend. Sometimes, this is not possible. Those weeks, I read in the evenings. That is not as easy for me — it puts some pressure on the week. But, it’s a better option than skipping it, and it makes it possible to have a busy weekend without too much consequence.

    Over the past two weeks, I was very sick. I mean in-my-bed sick. I got behind on pre-reading. Translation: I did none of it. One thing this did was reaffirm to me the importance of pre-reading. I didn’t really feel like I was educating my oldest at that point — I said “I don’t know” countless times when he asked me questions about this or that. I’m sure part of it was due to having a fever, but the rest was lack of preparation. I am doubling up this week so as to catch up and be ready, also, for next week.

     

    How Do You Prepare?

    Let’s talk in the comments! Maybe some of you prefer reading throughout the week instead of all at once over the weekend? It’s not like there is one right way to do it…

     

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    60 Comments

  • Reply Brittany L May 25, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Is this what you’re still doing for pre-reading? I’m curious about different methods of pre-reading since I want to do it for my oldest next year with Yr 3 and be able to keep that up so when my other kids go through I’ll have already read everything. Mystie mentioned last night (and Heather did as well) that you keep notes to look over for the future? If so how do you do that? I think I’m going to attempt the once a week pre read. If I try to stay a day ahead I’ll never keep up and I know I would end up forgetting it after a month.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 29, 2017 at 8:59 am

      Yes, it’s still the same! 🙂 And my once-per-week is exactly because of what you are saying — if I do it too early, I forget (unless I spent the time narrating every single thing, but that really increases the prep time), but if I have to do it daily, I invariably get behind and can’t catch up.

      I have done differently things for notes over the years. For a long time, I kept a notebook where I wrote down possible discussion questions or things I wanted to make sure my students didn’t miss. Later, I kept those things in my commonplace book (because I try to commonplace from this reading as part of the process — not every reading, but just the best stuff that jumps out, which means some weeks nothing). These days, I actually write a question mark in the margin and then hope I remember my question when we get to it. So far, I’ve only forgotten a couple times, so it’s worked out fine. 😉

  • Reply Nicole February 15, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Hi Brandy! I haven’t commented before but have been reading your blog for months now and absolutely love it, and you. You have helped me in so many ways 🙂

    Question: when do you have your children narrate to you and how much time do you allot? I never scheduled time for it but am finding it takes a decent chunk of time and throws off my schedule. Also, does each child come narrate to you right after they’ve read each book, or do they save it up for a set time and then narrate them all at once? I find I’m frequently getting interrupted in working with a child by another child coming to narrate to me because they just finished a reading. But if I have them narrate all their readings later i find they’ve forgotten some of it and they’re in a hurry because they want to eat lunch or play. I have five children I’m schooling, plus a preschooler and a baby! How are people doing these narrations?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 16, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      *Ideally* our children would always narrate to use directly following their readings. While I try to make that happen as much as possible, the reality is that they often finish readings at the same time. When that happens, our rule is that the younger one goes first, unless there is some extraordinary reason for doing otherwise.

      I will say that when I set aside a time slot for something — let’s say a history reading — I do mean for the slot to include the time spent narrating. This is difficult with long-winded narrators {which I’m posting about tomorrow}, but generally a good plan. I believe it to be how CM herself planned — set aside a time and have that time include narration.

  • Reply Lisa February 15, 2016 at 1:12 am

    Thank you, Brandy 🙂 How do you protect that weekend reading time or prepare for it?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 16, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      First, I try to be very stubborn. 😉 Honestly, it has been a habit for so many years now, that it is just a standing part of the weekend, and if we choose to do something during my normal time, we all know I have to move it to a different time…

      • Reply Lisa February 23, 2016 at 1:16 am

        I tried pre-reading last weekend. It will make such a difference. I think I need a treadmill desk though!!

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 26, 2016 at 4:19 pm

          Ha! I have read books while walking on my treadmill before — I had to walk very slowly, but it DID work. 🙂

  • Reply Melissa February 12, 2016 at 7:17 am

    Great post Brandy! I actually plan in 12 week terms as far as checklists and assigned reading. Then each child has a daily checklist and I have a handwritten planner. My handwritten planner, I prepare roughly at the beginning of each week. Then I add, change, delete daily when reality takes over. 🙂

    I’ve been tweaking planning off and on since beginning homeschooling eight years ago and still haven’t found my absolute love, LOL. I prefer paper for my day to day ‘record’ because the one year I decided to go completely digital, our computer died and I felt very crippled without being able to access my plan. Now, I have big picture plans as Word documents, but I also have my day to day in written form. I’m fortunate not to have to keep formal records in my state, but I do for personal reasons and as reference for myself.

    I’ve been thinking a ton about this pre-reading issue. Up to this point, I’ve read mostly everything aloud because I have one child with dyslexia. However, over the past couple of years, I’ve been assigning our older child reads on her own based on AO recommendations, of which I have not been pre-reading because the bulk of our study is combined between her and her brother, to which I’m reading everything aloud for him. She’s very good about narrating orally and in writing as well as adding a great deal in making connections to our group reading.

    On the other hand, she’s totally ready to fly on her own as a rising 7th grader in the fall. I’m feeling overwhelmed at the compelling thought of pre-reading her books as well as reading to our rising 6th grader in addition to managing our rising 4 year old. Do you read so called spines as well as biographies, literature, etc. for every subject? I’m trying to figure out how to balance each individual learners needs. More than likely, my two older kids won’t be using some of the same books based on their ability and learning style. This, in addition to teacher training and mother culture, may put me in the funny farm ;P I love what you said about pre-reading for your student becoming your education and reading. That’s perspective 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 16, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      Oh my goodness. I think having a computer die like that would be a traumatic experience for me. I am definitely dependent. For good or ill — possibly ill, I know!

      So…yes…I’m pretty much reading all the books for all the subjects. I say “pretty much” because there are a couple I know I can skip a chapter in if I need to. History of English Lit for Boys and Girls comes to mind. The chapters stand alone so if I miss one, I can just pick back up, and I’m generally okay. The nature study book is another — right now we’re doing A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm. I’ve read most of it, but not every single chapter because I skipped a couple when I was sick and it was okay.

      I suppose there are some books that are truly more important to read than others — ones that a child would be more likely to discuss or ask questions about or what have you. I will say that I usually use the exact same books for all the children, so this is an advantage. I did change a book out this year for my 5th grader — my oldest had read the biography of Lilias Trotter assigned by AO, and I knew it’d be too much for her. I found a different bio of the same person, and assigned that. I didn’t read it. I flipped through it and found it to be a condensed version of what I’d already read, and I’m able to listen to narrations after briefly skimming the chapter without a problem. I don’t know if that is helpful for you to hear, but I thought I’d throw it in.

  • Reply Catie February 11, 2016 at 11:54 am

    The thought of putting *my* reading list on hold makes me hyperventilate! I read about a book a week for fun these days!

    But after reading this (and other moms’ advice on pre-reading) I feel a little convicted. 😉 And, honestly, I only have 1 child in Year 2 right now… Middlest starts Year 1 next year. It would be really good for me to get into the habit of pre-reading NOW, when it isn’t too much, so by the time all my kids are in school, I (hopefully) won’t have to give it a second thought. Hopefully.

    I’m glad you took the time to share this post, Brandy!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 11, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      A BOOK A WEEK??? Girl, you amaze me!

      • Reply Catie February 15, 2016 at 9:05 am

        Well, they’re not all the DEEP, HEAVY ones like you read! 😀 It’s sounds way better than it is. 😉

  • Reply Amber February 11, 2016 at 8:12 am

    Your list looks a lot like mine!

    With pre-reading, I can’t do it all in one chunk. I find my ability to enjoy the books diminishes rapidly after the 4th or 5th book and it starts to feel like a slog. I realized the other day that we talk in CM circles about “spreading the feast”, and I feel like I’m gorging at the table if I try to read too many books in one sitting. I only read books that the kids read independently, but that is still a lot of books – 5 for Y4 and 16-18 for Y8 each week. I read 3-4 books each night before I go to bed, which takes me 30-60 minutes (and even this sometimes feels like gorging, since I can’t take the time to do much more than a quick silent narration and note a few dates to add to my BoC the next day. My commonplacing has been almost non-existent this year unfortunately).

    But the pre-reading is well worth it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To goad myself along when I’m feeling sluggish, I ask myself, “would I send my child to a school where the teacher hadn’t read the books she was assigning? Would I have my child work with a tutor who had not read the books?” It might be a little incendiary, but I find it motivating. 🙂

    Since I’ve adopted my children’s reading as my reading list (and really, they are such great books, how could I not enjoy this!!) I’ve been pretty content. I would like to find more time for reading teacher education sort of things though during the school year – CM’s volumes, and the wonderful CM/Classical books that have been coming out recently. I sometimes am able to work that in by waking a little earlier, but that has been a struggle as of late. I can get up early enough for morning prayer and my Bible/spiritual reading, but not early enough to read my teacher training reading. I try to at least listen to podcasts that in that vein, and that helps… but I really would like to be spending more time with books too.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 11, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      Amber, one of the things I admire about you is that you are reading for multiple years — good for you! I know that is a hard task. I think you are right about gorging, and while I DO read all the books in one sitting {or, at least, I often do that}, I think what you are doing is the better way.

      • Reply Amber February 11, 2016 at 7:55 pm

        Thanks, Brandy. I am rather glad that my Y2 student is not reading independently and my Y4 student isn’t reading all his own books… I’m not sure I could handle any more! I can see how pre-reading the read alouds would be a good thing, but I’m pretty good at quickly figuring out mapwork and dealing with things that come up as we go along. I’m looking forward to when my Y4 student is in Y7 – then I’ll finally just have one student to read for!

    • Reply Hillary February 11, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      I also would like to know about how to fit in the teacher-training reading once our kids’ school reading becomes the bulk of our personal reading. Like Amber, I’m mostly using podcasts-while-otherwise-occupied for this right now but feel they aren’t always the best medium for things I need to learn.

      • Reply Brandy Vencel February 11, 2016 at 7:52 pm

        During the school year, I use a lot of podcasts {helllooooo, CiRCE!} and really small doses of other books. For example, next week our local CM group is meeting, and in preparation I have to read half of Part 2 of Home Education. With the leadership team, I have to read 1 chapter from Parents and Children. It is highly likely this is all the teacher reading I will do in books for this month. I will say that I am willing to live off of a page or two. I take what I can get, no matter how small or meager. 🙂

        For me, I try and do a lot of heavy teacher-training type reading during summer break, especially in the month before I really start my planning. I find it helps get me ready for planning and such. I wonder what others are doing. Anyone else want to share how you fit in any teacher training?

  • Reply Stacy February 10, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    I love this type of practical post! Thanks for sharing!

    Each of my (older) kids has their own lesson plan for math and readings for the year. On Sundays I work on their clipboards for the week. And I try very hard to pre-read, too. When I haven’t pre-read, I will often assign them a written or drawn narration. 🙂 But it helps TREMENDOUSLY if I’ve read what they’re reading. When I pre-read, I also try to come up with narration questions for their readings and jot them down on my clipboard for the week (this saves so much time with my very, very thorough I’m-telling-you-every-single-detail-I-read readers. :))

    ~Stacy

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 11, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      Oh, the detailed narrators! I have had a couple of those…they are a difficult breed. 😉

  • Reply Becky February 10, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    I love the clipboard idea, and I’m convicted that I should do a little more pre-reading!

    • Reply Katrina February 10, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      I liked the clipboard idea too. So much so that I put some together today and showed my girls how to use them for tomorrow.

  • Reply Amanda February 10, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    I absolutely *LOVE* this post because it makes me feel more normal! 😉 I spend a lot of time prepping each week because I’d rather put in the time on my own to make the days run more smoothly. Admittedly, I do get grumpy about it sometimes. Your perspective is beautiful and one that really touched me: to choose to look at it as a burden or something that will help my own growth. This is my vocation, so why not give it my all? Thank you, as always, for such lovely posts!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      Have I told you lately that I love the word vocation? I want to spend some time thinking about the word in the future…it’s been on my mind.

  • Reply Angela February 10, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Have you pre-read your oldest’s books from year one? My oldest is in year one now and I haven’t been the best about pre-reading. Right now I feel like I’m able to get away with skimming the reading right before I read it to her, taking note of any locations to look up on a map, or terms that she may not understand, etc. I’m wondering, since I am reading her books to her and probably will for a few years, when would you say that the formal practice of pre-reading is really necessary? When she begins reading her school books on her own, or is there a year of AO that you felt, as the teacher, that you needed more prep for?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      Good question, Angela! I did *not* pre-read books that I was going to read aloud, as a general rule. A few books proved to me that a bit of preparation would help, but for the most part, that wasn’t on my radar in the early years — in fact, I think I hadn’t even heard of pre-reading when we first started!

      Hayley finds pre-reading very valuable in the early years, but I will admit that I have only ever pre-read books that my children were reading on their own.

  • Reply Katrina February 10, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    I also use an excel-like program since you posted your planning videos. It makes everything so much more streamlined and easier to update.
    We just finished doing Term 1 exams and I am afraid it has revealed huge holes in our narration/recall skills and in our map work. Can you suggest some resources for where you find your maps for map drills?
    I also love the idea of making your child’s reading list into your own reading list. I have been feeling quite overwhelmed as I try to keep up with school and also with trying to work on “teacher training”. I think I will slow way down on my personal list as I think it would be more beneficial for me and my child if I read from her list instead. Maybe I can use the summer to kick up my reading a notch…

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      I usually find my maps in the AO Forum. Each Form has its own area, and at the top there are threads involving maps and other resources.

      • Reply Katrina February 10, 2016 at 4:30 pm

        Oh, that’s fantastic. I just recently started using the forum. Last week actually… I was looking for more guidance regarding exams. It’s a great place to find information on the nitty-gritty of CM schooling.

  • Reply Virginia Lee February 10, 2016 at 11:19 am

    This is similar to how I plan. Except I do not use Excel. That program scares me. Shudder. You are a superwoman!! I use tables that I just put into Pages (we’re Mac users).

    I update checklists on Sunday nights, cough, often Monday mornings. Then my younger kiddos use 3 ring binders because they loose things on clipboards. My Y4 student uses a clipboard because he does not care for 3 ring binders. I wish he would change his mind because I like 3 ring binders better.

    I also pre read for my oldest. But I keep a notebook that I write a written narration for each chapter I read from each book. I also write notes at the end of things that I might want mapped, brought to light in discussion, written narration ideas, etc. I do this so that hopefully as my other children hit that year this notebook can be my mind. If I find that having listened to narrations, reading written narrations, and discussing with my oldest was enough to hold everything in my mind for later years, I may drop this. It is time consuming and often the reason why I fall behind when I do. Next year will be the first year I have a younger child hit a year that my oldest was an independent reader already. So we will see.

    I almost always enjoy the reading ahead portion of planning once I’m actually doing it. But I have to make myself do it instead of doing something else. The something else list always seems very long. But oh how school soars when I’ve read ahead! I’m always disappointed in the results and myself if I have not. And my oldest is always let down too. Discussion is his favorite part of his schooling time with me.

    It was surely *easier* when all I had were snugglers/narrators as I read aloud. But the discussions with my oldest, and how much I learn from his books alongside him, are some of the most rewarding parts of our schooling day. So I shake my head at the fact that I have to *make* myself read ahead.

    I’m glad you step out there and recommend people do this. It makes all the difference. Thanks for being brave!! =)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      I am *not* Superwoman for using Excel. In my former life, I worked at a University and was required to use Excel almost daily. Old habits die hard, as they say. 😉 I really admire your written narrations, VL! I have always wanted to do that — meant to do that! — but in the end, it wasn’t something I could maintain. I can definitely see why you’d get behind! And yet, I do think that is oh so valuable. So if you *can* do it…I think it is SO good.

    • Reply Tania February 13, 2016 at 3:58 am

      Virginia, I also tried writing out my own narrations for each book I pre-read, to help me remember the books for my younger children when they get up to it. I have an awful memory so this will be vital for teaching my younger students. I too found myself falling very behind. It doesn’t help that I am a slow reader. I have started in the last couple of months to record my narrations instead on my voice memo app on my phone, and then emailing it to myself and saving it in a folder on my computer. This has been a time saver and I never miss a chapter now. And it is stored safely away until I need to look it up again. It has also been extremely rewarding for me personally.

      • Reply Brandy Vencel February 13, 2016 at 9:06 am

        Tania! Using the voice memo app is BRILLIANT! What a good idea! ♥

      • Reply Virginia Lee February 15, 2016 at 3:31 pm

        This is a great idea. I never even thought of doing oral narrations. I can be pretty pen and paper oriented. Thanks!

    • Reply Leslie June 22, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      I would love to hear (read) some examples of discussion or written narration ideas that were inspired by your pre-reading! I’m trying to transition a 7th grader from merely “telling back” toward including his own thoughts/connections, so I’d love some ideas of guiding these types of discussions!

  • Reply Sharron February 10, 2016 at 11:15 am

    This is helpful and encouraging. How far ahead do you usually read your oldest child’s books?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      I am always reading over the weekend for the coming week, so at most that makes me a week ahead. If I don’t get it all done, I am usually a mere 24 hours ahead. 🙂

  • Reply Dawn February 10, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Your planning series post over the summer helped me tremendously! Before that series I was using planners, and each of us had our own. That’s 4 planners to keep up with! After doing that for a couple of years, I was so tired of writing everything by hand. Along came your series on planning with a spreadsheet, and my life has been so much easier ever since! Thank you, thank you!

    Now, I pretty much plan the same way you do: put everything into the spreadsheet in large chunks (I did it by semester because I ran out of time in the summer), then print it out weekly, adjusting the schedule when needed, and put it on the clipboard.

    Pre-reading is one area I need to improve. I love your comment about either it being a burden, or beneficial. That is so true, and it’s a choice I can make. To be a better teacher for my kids, I need to embrace the oldest’s reading list as “my” own reading list. This is our first year of being “all in” with AO, so pre-reading for 3 has seemed very overwhelming, but now I’m so encouraged. Thanks again!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 4:03 pm

      Pre-reading for multiple students would be completely daunting, it’s true! I think that, if you can’t do it all, it is always good to read for the oldest because all the other children will benefit, too.

      And God bless you for writing everything out by hand — I have a hand cramp just thinking about it! {{{ hugs }}}

      • Reply Dawn February 11, 2016 at 4:36 am

        Yes, pre-reading for the oldest child sounds much more doable. My youngest is year 1, so I don’t stress too much over pre-reading for her anymore.

        Hand cramp, yes! Actually, I got to where I was abbreviating everything. It’s amazing my kids could decipher the code! 😉

  • Reply Jennifer Seawright February 10, 2016 at 8:48 am

    So inspiring! Question: So if you have never pre-read your oldest child’s books, how would you suggest I start since we are in the middle of a school year? Should I wait until New books are started or just jump right in? I couldn’t possibly go back to the beginning since we are so far into it but I have always wanted to do this and after reading this post, you give me hope that it’s possible! Thank you!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm

      Jennifer, if I were you, I’d just start exactly where you are. This week. I say this for two reasons. First, you are totally right: at this point in the year, going back to the beginning is highly unlikely to happen. But second: because, for me, if I waited for new books to start, I’d lose the motivation I have right now, and it might not happen. I think the best time to form a new habit is right when you’ve decided you want it. That will carry you through the birth pains of the habit. 🙂

      • Reply Jennifer February 11, 2016 at 4:59 am

        Such wisdom!! Thank you so much!!

      • Reply Patty February 11, 2016 at 9:30 am

        I am going to take this advice for myself as well. Thank you for the inspiration.

  • Reply Lisa V in BC February 10, 2016 at 7:54 am

    As always, you inspire me to keep on trying to do better.

    My oldest is definitely coasting right now as I struggle to do everything with my three youngest including reading everything aloud.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Lisa, I think I have said this to you before, but I always think you are in THE hardest place right now. Having to read aloud to multiple students makes lessons so time consuming and exhausting. Hang in there. The more literate your children get the easier the road. I seriously can’t believe this year, where I’m reading so much less aloud than previous years — the difference is amazing!

      • Reply Lisa V in BC February 11, 2016 at 6:07 pm

        Thank you, Brandi.

        This week has been good, but very hard as I’ve finally gotten our circle time binders set up ala your last post and we’ve been able to actually get circle time and all our schooling, plus music practice done – but I’ve got one child in full revolt at the idea he should actually have to do everything on the list, rather than me letting things slide once again. Oh, to have been able to get all these good habits in place when they were younger… oh well, c’est la vie.

        Anyway, I needed this post as I’m so tempted to just let things slide as it’s so much easier (in the short run!)

        And then I remind myself of the beautiful sound of 4 of my children singing “grandfather’s clock” with me (while the fifth sulked, quietly 🙂 and once again I love AO and it feels good to know that we accomplished so many good things despite the hard moments.

        I’ll get to this pre-reading and weekly prep stuff one day!!! One step at a time.

        Love you, Brandi and so appreciate that you’re just a tiny bit ahead of me on this journey 😀

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 11, 2016 at 7:47 pm

          Yes. One step at a time!

          It is hard to persevere when the children are balking. Good habits are money in the bank, though, so don’t give up, sister! You can do this. 🙂 ♥

  • Reply Tanya Stone February 10, 2016 at 7:24 am

    The first step is the same for me, thanks to your series on prepping over the summer. I was frustrated with being behind too, and thought it would be better to do as I went along. But I took your advice and planned long term, while adjusting each week. Saves me loads!! I also use Numbers, the Mac version of Excel, but before that I used the free Open Office–works great and easy to figure out, if any mammas want to try it.
    We don’t use clipboards, we use folders. Works the same way. The spreadsheet goes on the right hand side, and on any given day I tell the older two to check it for what books they need that day and to get them out and ready. No more scrambling for 15 minutes because they can’t “find” their history book! The left side holds anything they need–copywork, maps, phonics pages, Latin worksheets, etc. For my younger one it’s all there, I just look at it with her. I have a Family Planning sheet that used to have only what we did as a family, in another folder for me. Then I found myself always going, “Wait, WHAT am I doing with the older two for math while the younger one is typing?” So now I include on it what I’m doing one-on-one that day. Works great.
    I’m still bad at pre-reading. 🙁 I’m going to make an extra effort the rest of this year. As you said, after a while it will get easier since we’ll be using the same books over and over. It also helps because I can make narration cards. I did this for half of last year and it really helped my struggling narrator with key words.

    Thanks again for the inspiration and encouragement, Brandy!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      Hey the folders are a really good idea! I like that! And I also love your narration cards ideas. And it seems like you could leave those in the books so that future children can use them, too! ♥

      • Reply Hillary February 10, 2016 at 7:46 pm

        When I pre-read, sometimes a passage really jumps out as a perfect fit for a written narration (by my son) that week or one that I know I want him to illustrate in his nature/science notebook. I make a note of this on a sticky note, usually, and stick it to the AO bookmark that lists the schedule for each book. In my file cabinet, I have a “reference” folder for each year, and when the term is done, these bookmarks and any sticky notes go in there to help us the next time we do that AO year.

        I also keep in that folder any extra maps we needed or interesting articles I printed from online, such as when there’s a news article that relates to that year’s history lessons. A parent could do that online of course, but I prefer paper files when possible. I come back to these reference files when I do my massive summer preparation/planning for the year.

        Weekly planning here is also helped by the AO chart schedules that I customize during the summer, down to spelling out which lesson from the handwork or music curriculum we are doing which week. Then weekly prep is a rundown of my chart schedule for the week (as well as prepping handwork, and pre-reading… but I fretted about that on the Forum recently so will not rehash here).

        I also put my kids’ books for the week into their IKEA bins, Y2 has one general bin while Y4 has a bin each for copywork/dictation, history, science, literature and foreign languages. Books we aren’t using in a given week stay on the kids’ this-term school bookshelves. Other this-year-but-not-this-term books live on their own sorted-by-AO-year shelves in another room. Physical organization has helped my mental organization.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 11, 2016 at 7:55 pm

          Prepping handwork. See, this is why I am a repeated failure at handwork — I never prep it!! I need to add that to my list.

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 10, 2016 at 6:49 am

    This is almost exactly how I prepare each week. I’d add only one step. I keep our “official” records on an Excel spreadsheet, so I spend a few minutes going over everything we did the week before and entering that into the spreadsheet. It happens almost concurrently with preparing the spreadsheet for the upcoming week, so I don’t think it adds much time.

    I also have my own spreadsheet which contains any work the children do with me. (We call them “you and me lessons.”) For my first grader, it’s almost everything. For my third and sixth graders, it’s very little. My prekindergartener doesn’t have a spreadsheet – everything he does (and it’s almost nothing) is with me. I’ll probably do the same next year when he’s in kindergarten.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 10, 2016 at 4:11 pm

      Ah, record keeping. Good idea. I keep my spreadsheets as my “records” because we don’t have anything really required of us, but I’ll have to add that next year when I’m doing high school and have to begin keeping transcripts…

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