Ask Caitilin: How Do You Plan Your Year?



How do you plan out a year when you are pulling it together yourself?


I can’t tell you how YOU will do it, but I can tell you how I have done it. It’s actually not very daunting at all, and a lot of fun, once you get over your initial feelings of insecurity about not doing right by your children. So bearing that in mind, here’s what I do.

First, I decide what subjects we will be covering this year. In any given year, the following are all included in some form.

*Math–math is a non-negotiable necessity for us every year. There are multitudes of math programs to choose from; we have variously used Saxon Math, Singapore Math, and Art of Problem Solving in our homeschool to date.


*Spelling–I have some natural spellers and some not-so-natural spellers, so this remains in our lineup until eighth grade. Our program of choice is a public school text series called Everyday Spelling, but there are many on the market. If your child is born to spell, you may easily dispense with this subject. On the other hand, if your child has serious struggles such as dyslexia or another learning disability, you may need a more serious phonics and spelling program.

*English–I tend to lump together under this heading things that some like to separate out. But however you like to think of it, whether as “English” or “language arts,” in this subject I include grammar, writing, literature, phonics, and reading aloud. I have a background in English and literature, so am comfortable choosing and mixing/matching materials for this area. In the early years, phonics and reading aloud are obviously the focal points of our English studies. Once reading is firmly established, we move on, giving grammar, literature, and writing more attention. I do like, though, to have my children continue to practice reading aloud to me at least a couple of times a week through the elementary school years to maintain fluency and a pleasant reading style and speed.


*History–We study some aspect of history each year, beginning in first grade. I try to follow a mostly chronological, cyclical approach to history, beginning in earliest times and moving up to the present day. In some years I have assembled my own materials and written my own program; however in most years I have used materials marketed to homeschoolers such as Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World. In middle school, I have tended to focus more on American history, but in high school we return once more to the cycle of history. History often includes geography studies, or in some years geography may have a subject slot of its own. In either case, it has been very helpful for my students to have a strong grasp of the physical and political layout of the world.


*Science–I have gone back and forth in my own mind over the years as to what is the best way to approach science in the elementary years. I have concluded that for us, the most beneficial approach is simply to take a large scale topic, such as life science, space, or geology, and check out books from the library in various aspects of that large topic, read them, and do written narrations of the material. This is not because there’s a dearth of material written as more “official” science curricula–indeed, there’s a ton!–but because the longer I am at this home education project, the more strongly I feel that many of these programs rely on busywork, both in their experiments and in their evaluatory materials. I don’t have the time, patience, or inclination for busywork of any type, and still less in an area which is so inherently interesting that it ought to pique the students’ interest. But as we move into middle school, the materials we use have become more official; in high school, I am outsourcing science, as I cannot provide the level of instruction and lab experiences I want for my children.


I also plan out our religious instruction. However this is an area I feel is best left to the parents’ discretion, and is basically none of my business. ;)

Now that I have gotten all of the subjects worked out, I need to choose materials for those subjects. The first thing I look at is, “What has worked well for us this year?” I am a big believer in refraining from jumping on a curriculum bandwagon just because it’s new, beautiful, and shiny, so if a program is working well for us, I’m unlikely to drop it to try something else. Conversely, if something just didn’t get done, or didn’t work as I had hoped, I go looking for its replacement. What materials are available and why I have chosen the ones I have is a different post for another day.

Having settled on materials, I now need a plan and yearly schedule. The yearly schedule helps to dictate the plan like this: I decide how many chunks I will break the year into (this is the schedule)–the last several it’s been six–then I look at each book, or set of books, and work out how much each chunk should cover (this is the plan). I have chosen six chunks because it allows us to school for six weeks, take a week off, and start over. Having fewer but smaller breaks has been good for our homeschool: we forget less, and we can power through some tough weeks on the strength of the upcoming break. However, there are other good ways to divvy up the year, such as by quarters and semesters, or even schooling all year long, taking breaks as they are needed. I like the six six-week periods because an average public school year is about 36 weeks long, so by planning on that number of weeks, I can be fairly sure we are doing a reasonable amount of work each year.

The final thing to consider when planning the year is whether Mom has her own mental and emotional “house in order” for the new school year. For some of us, this is the year’s supply of chocolate; for others, it is planned outings with a friend or homeschooling group; for still others, it’s a daily designated time for prayer, mediation, or exercise. The common thread here is that these are the elements required for Mom to maintain her sanity. Make sure you have these, whatever they are for you, lined up and available before you begin. Homeschooling can be isolating and difficult. Provide yourself with the resources to strengthen you and keep you up to the task.

With your subjects chosen, your materials picked out, your plan and schedule in place, and your support system laid down, you are ready to begin the new adventure of a new school year. Each homeschool year is a bit like Star Trek: we all have to “boldly go where no one has gone before!”


Caitcaitlin_fionailin Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom she has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.

A New Feature at StS: Ask A Veteran Homeschooler!


Caitilin Fiona is an experienced homeschooling mother of six. In the coming year she will take time out of her busy schedule to answer your questions about classical home education. All topics are welcome! If Caitilin Fiona doesn’t know the answer, she’ll find it. Please submit your  “Ask Caitilin Fiona” questions on our Facebook page, Sandbox to Socrates.

Question: Do we NEED to do Latin? I can’t even get spelling done!

Answer: Well, yes and no. Of course your child can get along in the world just fine, as you yourself have likely done, with nary a word of Latin. But should he have to do so? That is a different question. There are many reasons given for studying Latin; I’m not going to re-enumerate them all here, but I will give you some things to think over.

To begin with, that spelling you’re not getting done? It will almost certainly improve with your child’s study of Latin. As he becomes more familiar with Latin vocabulary and its English derivatives, he will begin remembering that certain English words share patterns with simpler but related Latin words, and improve his spelling fluency and accuracy. He should have the opportunity to study Latin while he’s still forming his grasp on English spelling in order to give him the tool for breaking down words into their base components.

A different but related benefit will be that his spoken vocabulary will be enriched by increasing familiarity with Latin words. As we are constantly reminded, English draws a large proportion of its vocabulary, especially its higher-powered, more academic words, from Latin. By developing greater vocabulary, or as German has it, “Wortschatz” or “word treasure,” his capacity for nuanced expression will grow in proportion to the treasure he’s accumulated. Having the capacity for both nuanced understanding and competent use of words will give the student a significant advantage when he is required to write substantial academic essays–a deeper vocabulary will permit him to formulate more thoughtful ideas as he moves into the high school years and beyond.

The last thing I’d say about the value of studying Latin is this: it prepares the mind and lays groundwork for logical thought. In learning Latin, the student learns how to perceive and sort patterns into intelligible chunks, then to create from those patterns a new one of his own making. This is a skill that will become more and more useful as the student progresses though his education: algebra, geometry, formal logic, academic writing, computer programming, higher mathematics–all of these use the same kind of thought processes that a good Latin program teaches. Preparing your student’s mind for advanced academics is no small feat, but it is one which Latin makes easier.