How do I plan school for the upcoming year? Well, I play to my strengths: I let my husband do it.
It sounds like a punchline, but it’s true. Darren is better at planning, and I’m better at implementing. When I mention our division of labor in homeschooling circles, it surprises people for a couple of different reasons. First, early homeschoolers considered homeschooling primarily—if not exclusively—the mom’s job since the dad was usually the full-time breadwinner. Second, not everyone is in a situation to divide the homeschooling labor with a spouse. My fellow bloggers Rachelle and Jessica are the primary planners and educators in their families, and their posts are very helpful.
However, if you and your spouse are able to share the homeschooling labor, then I’m here to say that you should give it a try. Here’s a general idea of what it looks like for us.
(Note: I did actually interview Darren for this blog post.)
Darren can take a whole mass of information and streamline it into a manageable form, but he’s not the one who oversees most of the day-to-day schooling. So planning for us is a two-step process. Darren lays out all his ideas in a spreadsheet, and then I go over it to see what I’m actually able to implement.
Darren is better at starting projects than finishing them; so to keep his mental focus on the current year, he puts off next year’s planning until the current year is almost done. Once he’s ready to put serious thought into the new school year, though, he tackles it with enthusiasm . . . and a spreadsheet.
He types each child’s name and grade level across the top. Down the left of the page, he lists all of the subjects we need to cover for all of the kids.
“Then I go child by child,” he explained to me, showing me last year’s spreadsheet. “I look at what they did last year, what grade level they are, what they will need for next year.”
Once he’s got the basic information settled, he goes in search of curriculum. He browses catalogues, looks up online curriculum reviews, and asks Google for suggestions. In previous years, he liked attending at least one conference where he could physically pick up the books and thumb through them. “That let me branch out into new ideas without being overwhelmed.” This year, with everything still in post-2020 flux, the search was a little more labor-intensive and less interactive.
I asked him how he makes sure the kids will “get” the classes they’ll need for graduation. He replied that uses a combination of materials from HSLDA’s high school consultants and our state’s public school graduation requirements. He also administers the standardized tests each year, so we use those results as a (very general) indication of areas we need to focus on.
Once his spreadsheet is filled out, Darren moves to Step Two: asking me out for chocolate martinis so we can discuss the coming year.
Darren’s teaching style is very traditional, while I have a hefty serving of unschooling in my makeup. We blend the two to stay as flexible as possible. We use a lot of textbooks, workbooks, and online classes. At the same time, I make sure there’s enough room for creativity, which doesn’t operate on a schedule. I also add in my “running days,” when I’ll be driving kids to classes or co-ops. In the past, when we had four students and everything was in full swing, we sometimes had to cut back on the course load so I could keep my balance throughout the year. This year looks different, but I’ll still be able to adjust the plan to fit whatever comes our way.
As much as possible, we take the kids’ interests into account. They often ask us to implement certain ideas (“Could you make it part of school for me to read this book?”). Darren presented Sparkler with a few different options for biology courses and let her decide which one sounded best to her.
As he and I discuss the plans, we ask each other over and over, “Will this great idea actually work?” Some ideas do, some don’t. (Ask us about the really great science textbooks that both of us loved . . . but our kids did not.)
Having graduated our two older kids, we’re planning for only two this year: a middle-schooler and a high-schooler. Darren has bought books and updated his spreadsheet, and I’m carefully building the upcoming schedule to give us enough breathing room. Throughout the years and all the changes they bring, this two-step process—Darren the planner, Sara the implementer—has served us well.