Monday, January 30, 2017

My Weekly Planning + Pre-Reading Session


In this fall's scheduling post I mentioned our Weekly Meeting and my Weekly Planning Session. These are the two cornerstones toward my goal of keeping our homeschool humming along, the parts of my schedule that keep me on track, prepared, and checked in with my students.  I've given some sneak peeks over on Instagram but here will be a detailed look at how I organize things for my Year 5 kids and my Form I students.  What I share here isn't specific to any particular year, though -- it's just some principles for how to order your homeschool week that could be applied to any situation.

I'm going to start with my Weekly Planning Session, and I'll cover the Weekly Meeting in my next post.  Get ready for a bunch of nitty-gritty homeschool talk!

First, let's look again at that sheet I print out weekly for my planning:


I'm going to focus on the top section there: my list of tasks for the Weekly Planning Session.

You could easily keep these kinds of lists in Evernote or another digital form and access with your computer or tablet -- it certainly doesn't have to be printed.  I like manually checking off and writing my notes in pen, but I fully acknowledge it's not the most efficient tool.  It's just most efficient for me because I like it best, which means it actually gets done. (Know thyself and all that!)

The point is to have a list of things you need to do during your weekly planning session.  For me, that's pre-reading and some legwork for our more hands-on activities.  This list will vary depending on how many students you have, how independent they are, how you teach your other subjects, and how much you like to plan day-to-day.  I don't like to play day-to-day at all -- my life on the daily level is far more unpredictable, so if things don't get done during this session, chances are they won't get done at all that week.  So I make it a priority to be consistent.

When I have handle my weekly planning also doesn't matter, though I prefer some time during the weekend: usually late Saturday mornings, but sometimes Friday nights if we have plans all day Saturday. I sit down with this list, my agenda and school folder, a favorite beverage, and my laptop in the dining room next to our school bookshelves.  I spend about 1.5-2 hours (with lots of interruptions from small people, though my husband runs interference too!) checking off the items on this list.

This list dictates how I spend those hours.  Here's is a step-by-step of my process:


:: The bulk of  my time is spent reading through all the independent reading my Year 5 kids will do that week.  I started pre-reading consistently a couple years ago, and it has made all the difference in how I feel about my role as a teacher.  I go into each week feeling prepared and ready, and I am able to engage with my students much more effectively.  I also am getting so much personally out of the books -- I definitely count it as part of refreshing Mother Culture.

I know not everyone has the time to pre-read, but even if you can just manage it for a book or two, it's worth the effort!  Perhaps you could pick the hardest book, or the book you're least familiar with...or the book you most want to read! ;)  Also, if you're having trouble fitting it in, a week-by-week approach might not be best for you.  As students get older, their reading load increases, and it's not possible to read it all in a couple hours on a Saturday -- the mom of a teen student might want to pre-read a couple books daily, in a morning quiet time or before bed.  Perhaps summertime works best for you, and you keep your notes by book rather than by week.  Maybe you choose a couple books to read and a couple to listen to on audio and skip the note-taking, just aiming for listening and narrating to yourself as you go along.  You can homeschool without pre-reading, but I think you'll find that every little bit bears fruit.  Consider brainstorming how to make it happen in your home.  I guarantee you'll be glad you did!


I read with a place to take notes next to me -- I keep my notes on the back of my Weekly Planning sheet so that I have all my notes handy during our Weekly Meeting (more on that another time).


I have a note-taking code to myself: I star items I want to look up or add to my own keeping (commonplace, century chart, maps) -- things like dates, favorite quotes, names, facts I'd like to check on.  I put a Q next to discussion questions I might like to pose to my kids either after their narration or during our Weekly Meeting.  At the end of the year, my plan is to scan these notes and pop them onto Evernote in my Year 5 notebook for the next time around.  This also allows them to be searchable for future reference.

:: Afterward, I  take a few minutes to look up the AO study guides for the books we're reading and my own notes about supplemental activities.  That includes both books I'll be reading aloud and ones they're working on independently, as well as assignments for my Form I students.  For Year 5, I check a list of some experiments we're doing alongside Christian Liberty Nature Reader (I'd pull the required materials), the Madam How Lady Why study guide (I highlight in Evernote any discussion points I want to raise), any photos I want to view for the Book of Marvels, and so on.  I also put a post-it on the illustrations I want to use alongside The Burgess Book of Animals for my Form I kids and check whethere Long's Home Geography has us doing any hands-on work this week.


:: Next I take a quick look at my term charts to see if there's anything of note this week so I can amend the weekly checklist. Often there are weeks in which a particular book isn't scheduled, and I like to update my weekly checklist to reflect that. (For example, here I crossed out Our Island Story for my Year 2 student and added D'Aulaires' Abraham Lincoln, which we'll be reading over the next few weeks.)


:: I also add any changing bits to my weekly checklist: art study, music study, nature journaling challenge, nature study plans.  As I add those, I check if there's anything that needs to be prepared: is the art print ready to go?  Are the mp3s I need on my phone or do I have a CD handy?  Do I need to read a section from the Handbook of Nature Study for our Friday get-together?  Is my audio recording for Shakespeare loaded onto my computer?  Did I need to request a book from the library?  And so on.  This is a great time to look over whether the items I need for weekly hands-on subjects are prepared so I'm not left scrambling during the school week.

:: I take a few moments to prepare our Italian materials for the week too.  Over the summer, I sorted my Italian bin into some fabulous colored poly folders so that I can access our new and review activities more easily.  Each week, I work from a review folder and our current folder.  As items get mastered, they move from the current folder into one my my review folders.  I cycle through my review folders by changing to a new one each week.  My current folder requires some weekly organizing: I look over the materials I have in there and decide what activities to plan for the week ahead.  Sometimes I make a checklist of goals for the week and sometimes I just pull a few things from the folder, but at least everything is there at my fingertips.  I also choose the week's Italian dictation and written assignment for my Year 5 kids.

:: Then: remember all those starred items in my notes?  Now is the time to handle those!  I do my own Year 5 keeping, adding entries to my Century Chart, commonplace book (I have one dedicated to "school readings"), and maps.

:: Then: the Q notes?  I choose a few of the not-to-miss questions I've pondered and write those on the front of my planning sheet so they're all ready to go for our Weekly Meeting.  I also note in the same box any to-dos of particular importance that I want make sure to cover then as well.  The notes in that box along with the list above it determine how I spend our Weekly Meeting time.


:: Last is some personal prep work: I do some weekly-review-style brainstorming and troubleshoot any problem areas in attitudes, schedule, or assignments.  I look through my calendar for the week and create my menu plan.  I make sure my tablet is charged for school readings and go through the week's paperwork in my folder and tray.  (More on those "landing spots" during my Weekly Meeting post too.)

Then I put everything away and go about the rest of my weekend, ready to start fresh on Monday!

I referred to our Weekly Meeting several times, and that will be coming up next time.  So if you have questions about that process, save them until I get a chance to flesh that out a bit more.  But if there was anything unclear about what I have written here, feel free to let me know in the comments and I'll try to elaborate. :)

And others have been chatting about Weekly Planning lately too!  Dawn shared snapshots of her planning sheet, which includes both a comprehensive list of to-dos and a focused note-taking page.  And Jen Mackintosh has some gorgeous free printables to get you planning in style as well.  I so appreciate these ladies sharing tips and tricks and am happy to add my own process to the conversation too.

Happy Planning! :)

29 comments:

  1. Yes, even a bit of pre-reading helps! I have three kids in three different AO years (plus two little guys), and we did not start AO until my oldest was in 7th grade, so I can't keep up with all the books. But it doesn't have to be all or nothing! I am inspired by your notes and preparation - something I would like to be better at. Thanks for sharing! :)

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    1. Yes, absolutely, Anna! It is much easier to start out with AO and continue pre-reading year by year than it is to jump in to multiple years and pre-read it all! I'm so glad you have found a hybrid system that works! :)

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  2. I haven't read your whole post yet, but am chuckling as I read "I know not everyone has the time to pre-read, but even if you can just manage it for a book or two, it's worth the effort!"
    I stayed ahead of my Y4 today by ten minutes and kept sending her away to practice her splits some more so I could finish pre-reading George Washington's World! I was nesting all weekend, cleaning out closets and declutter 9 years worth of artwork and I "forgot" to get to the pre-reading! But we were able to have a fun conversation comparing Louis XV to Frederick the Great that we wouldn't have had if I hadn't pre-read. It's always better when I get a chance to pre-read.
    I love these nitty gritty posts because they help me - even if I deviate from the particulars of how you do things, your ways are a starting point that without I wouldn't even have a clue how to begin! Thank you for taking the time to write them all out!

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    1. I did the same thing a few weeks ago when I missed my pre-reading session thanks to pregnancy fatigue...stayed ten minutes ahead throughout Monday and caught up that night! ;) I *still* appreciated reading ahead that little bit and being able to engage in a way I couldn't have otherwise. But it also made me thankful that I *do* pre-read a week ahead and not ten minutes ahead all the time! LOL

      PS I love that nesting energy! :)

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  3. Thank you for this post, I've already read it once and I plan to go over it again taking notes. Its so helpful to see how you stay on top of everything. Typically how long would a planning /pre-reading session take? How do you fit it into your week? Do you have a dedicated time and do you have someone else to care for the kids at that time?

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    1. Hi Christina! It takes me about two hours to get through this work -- I'm a very fast reader. ;) I do it on Saturdays usually: either in the morning if the kids are playing outside, or at naptime if not. My husband runs interference for me, but if he's busy, I just manage it with interruptions when needed. Usually the kids stay pretty busy playing on Saturdays because the Big Kids (my Year 5 kids) are free on the weekends, so they all play together. If we have an outing that will take us all Saturday, I plan it for Friday night, even though I'm usually tired from the week and prefer not to do that if I can avoid it. :) Hope that helps!

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  4. Thanks for the pictures of your Weekly Planning Session. I'm realizing that I need a checklist to make sure I'm not forgetting something. I need to make up a master list like your I think!

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    1. Unfortunately, my brain is like a sieve -- if it isn't written down, I will likely forget it! LOL The checklist lets me relax into my tasks and go through them peacefully and thoughtfully. :)

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  5. Yes, so helpful, Celeste!
    I especially love your notes from pre-reading--hints at that grand conversation, yes? Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Exactly, MamaBear! I am so enjoying dipping our feet into those meaty conversations with big ideas! :)

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  6. This is so helpful! You have such great printing. Right now my oldest is 7. I'm doing my planning on Sunday evening and I think I definitely need to move it back to Friday or Saturday. I'm pretty insecure about the grand conversation thing, I feel like I never will come up with the "awesome questions" or prompts that get that going. Maybe my kids will lol?

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    1. I try to keep Sundays free from school planning when I can because I need that break before the new school week -- it keeps me feeling refreshed. I do often pre-read our religion books for the week on Sunday because it seems fitting. :) But other than that, earlier in the weekend is better.

      Don't let the Grand Conversation scare you! The best advice I have read was Wendi Capehart's list of favorite questions that apply to any book. I especially like "What does this remind you of?" and "Should the character/historical figure have acted differently?" You can have some great conversations based on those couple questions applied to all kinds of situations you'll read about. :)

      And I know you were joking about your KIDS bringing those deep questions to the table, but you'd be surprised at what they come up with! I'll talk about this during my Weekly Meeting post, but I encourage my kids to write down any questions they have during their readings to bring to Weekly Meeting just like I do. They have mentioned some amazing connections and considerations! As they get older, they are doing rich, meaty, idea-filled reading on a variety of topics and in a variety of historical periods, and they are capable of exciting observations! When your oldest is a few years older, you will rest into your role as facilitator and they will step up to the plate on that eventually too! :)

      Thanks for stopping by to chat, Karen! :)

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    2. Hey! Can you link to those questions? I tried doing a google search and couldn't find anything. Thank you Celeste! Also- have you been pleased with TCOO?

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    3. Hi Katie! Brandy mentions it here, as well as some other good prompts: http://afterthoughtsblog.net/2012/08/how-to-have-grand-conversation.html

      Yes, I have been pleased with TCOO. There is one chapter that is hard to read as a Catholic, though the history doesn't seem completely incorrect -- more here: http://materamabilis.org/ma/teachers-notes-2/this-country-of-ours-by-h-e-marshall/ But yes, we have come away with a very nuanced and detailed understanding of American History from this text. :)

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  7. Thanks for the peek into your brain, Celeste. =) I do something similar on the weekends with pre reading and checklist updating, etc. Although I often sneak in some pre reading during an evening in the week as well. Sunday is for reading that is just for me. I find that pre reading on Sunday does not give me enough time to ponder before the new school week. And as always, I love how streamlined your checklists are. You have a gift, my friend. ;)

    Just out of curiosity, you have "prep music and music activity" on your list. I get prep music, but what activities are y'all doing to go along with? We tend to read a Wheeler bio OR listen to a bio with pieces of the composer's music from Intro to the Classics or Classical Kids. And of course we listen carefully to the composer's pieces I have selected for that term. But I'd love to hear how your crew does this.

    And Cate had a b day. She's 8 already?! A very happy birthday to you, Cate. 8 is great, that's what Caroline is always telling me. =)

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    1. Yes, Cate is eight! Very hard to imagine for me! But it IS pretty great -- Caroline is right. :)

      I have a couple books I check for activity ideas on my shelf. They each have a blend of activities for various composers, so there's usually only 1-2 for a given term's composer. That means we're not doing something "extra" every week -- just a few times a term. I also will sometimes play a Classics for Kids episode if there is one. And a friend just recommended "The Story of " CDs to me, so I bought the Dvorak one for this coming term. I'm looking forward to trying it out! :)

      I hesitate to share the actual titles on here because they are listed as WAY more than they're worth. LOL But here they are anyway:
      http://amzn.to/2kRVy5i
      http://amzn.to/2jSn7Om

      I particularly like listening activities that are centered on the piece itself and not on the composer more generally. Those are hard to find but more effective for music comprehension/appreciation in my experience. I wish there was something more extensive that worked in that way!

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    2. Thanks, Celeste. I always wonder why anyone ever bothers listing books for over 100 dollars. At least books that are not first edition, leather bound, rare, collector books. Even then, those are for a small percentage of people. But books like this, or the Squanto title from AO, etc, really, who buys those?! But thanks for the recommendations. You never know what you'll run across at thrift stores or garage sales. I've had some lovely book surprises that way.

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    3. It's true that if you keep your eyes open, these sometimes pop up -- I got this one on a homeschool swap list years ago. I'm sure the lady didn't know it was OOP because I didn't either. :) If you come across it, it's a good one! I'm still waiting on Squanto though... ;)

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    4. I actually emailed Emmanuel Books about that title that is listed for over $100 and they let me know they are planning to release an ebook version this year. Yay!

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    5. Really? That's awesome, Sarah! Thanks for letting me know because now I won't feel guilty recommending it to others. :)

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  8. Love reading how you do everything, Celeste. :)

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  9. A friend from our CM discussion group called the gentleman who holds the copyright to Squanto. Apparently, he is trying to get it republished! He said it was due out the next summer, but that was more than a year ago.
    I ordered it on interlibrary loan, which is a bit of a hassle, but it was totally worth it! Great book, and really helpful to provide a balancing perspective to the AO readings for that era.

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    1. I am sure it's wonderful -- I have only heard glowing reviews -- and really wish I could read it! I would love love love to see it come back in print. Thanks for letting me know!

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  10. Celeste,
    Thank you for posting! I have 7 kids 12 and under and I am encouraged to read more about how your day to day works! I am in a little slump this month and feel I need some time to refresh, tweek plans, and have some time to think. I look forward to searching your sight and getting some ideas and little bits of wisdom that might help me! I have read and studied classical/Charlotte Mason philosophy for many years, but this is my first year to use AO as our spine. I put my oldest in Year5 (strong student but I didn't want him to miss out on yr 5 books), one in year2 (4th grade boy that struggled with reading up until this past year), and 2 boys in year1 (2nd grade & K). Thanks again! Emily

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    1. You are welcome, Emily! Welcome to AO. :)

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  11. I'm very inspired by your post! What a blessing it was I find your beautiful blog over a year ago! I have only one student in YR 1 and even though I've been doing better with pre-reading books, I don't have a good master planning list, I have about 3 or 4! And that's driving me crazy! I love the idea of taking notes on the back of your list and I'm going to try that! Thanks again for sharing your wisdom!

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    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Mariana!

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  12. This is great! I'm trying to decide how to record my y8 work and I love the idea of doing a fun notebook for myself. I've tried Evernote before but found it confusing for that certain task but I need to give it another go for the more pre-reading type of info I want to save. I like paper notes but I KNOW that if I leave them paper, they will be lost or destroyed by the time Lucy gets to y8.

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