Organizing My Non Traditional Catholic Homeschool
In the past I've written quite a bit about how I plan and organize our intentional Montessori-Charlotte Mason-Unschoolie- Catholic Homeschool. We school year round, but build in regular breaks throughout our year and I only plan 1 term (6-8 weeks) at a time. One thing I love about this approach is that we can do anything we don't enjoy or skip anything we need to for 6-8 weeks guilt free. That said I have to balance the big-picture with the term by term needs of seven kiddos.
Last year I didn't stay on top of keeping track of who was where very well and the big picture was kind of lost. As were a lot of daily details, including knowing just where anyone was on a regular basis.
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One of the reasons for the gap is that I was planning school and life and blogging in three different places (at least). I had a notebook or planner for each area but I was mostly relying on myself to keep the balance between the three. This is an improvement over when I thought I would keep an individual planning notebook for each child's studies, but it still wasn't cohesive enough.
Can I just say the number of plates I am spinning has outgrown my ability to mentally keep track? Not that I didn't have good systems, its that the systems weren't overlapping anywhere except in my brain! I kept accidentally planning big school weeks when we had long appointment weeks or book deadlines when we had lots of activities.
For years I've been making my own planners and pages and that was a good system for the season. I had a minimal budget and plenty of time (that seems to be the biggest thing lacking lately) to design and create my own. I would supplement as needed with Etsy or Teacher Pay Teacher downloads for a few splurges or to support areas I was struggling.
While I enjoyed spying on other people's planning via Instagram, I convinced myself that I didn't have time to spend on actually using a complete (pretty) paper planner. After moving into my new Erin Condren teacher planner, I'm pretty convinced I can't afford not too any longer!
Before making the jump into my teacher planner (which I'm using more as a daily/life planner that happens to have great pages for organizing school- more on that later maybe), I made the smaller (price-wise) jump to working with The Ultimate Montessori Planner by my friend Renae.
While marketed as a Montessori planner, I think this is a great resource for anyone looking at organizing their whole year at a glance in a way that can then be broken down into smaller chunks like I do with my terms. I don't usually break all the way down into daily or weekly plans, but it is certainly possible to keep going as far as one needs to fit their homeschool best. I really appreciated being able to shuffle through pages and lay them all out on my dining room table to see at the same time.
I used the Goal Setting Pages to break down goals by subject area for each kid**. Renae suggests (and gives copy permission) to print a page for each child, but I prefer to work on the same page for every child. This makes it easier for me to compare and keep things together when I can. For example, using the same types of cooking projects to meet more than one kids' practical life goals.
One area of the Montessori Planner that I haven't had a chance to dig into too deeply yet, but plan to is the special needs pages. As an experience special needs homeschooling mom, Renae developed pages for therapy notes, therapy goals (across a variety of areas), behavior logs, and more. There is some gold there to be uncovered, I just haven't had a chance to dive in yet as I'm working on including Lucie into the family-wide bigger picture right now and assessing just what her new needs are.
I originally intended to bind the Montessori planner with the pages I wanted and create my own homeschool dedicated planner as I have in past years. The monthly calendars, however, weren't big enough for that purpose and I found myself wishing I had a more broken down weekly plan that didn't require me to do quite so much copying and dating.
I started looking at other planners and I realized that what I really wanted was a complete teacher lesson planner. I wanted the academic year. I wanted the planning pages and checklists. I realized I didn't want a specifically Catholic planner because I found them fairly overwhelming. I love our liturgical celebrations, but there is a lot of instapressure to celebrate every liturgical feast with a special day and I know that our family isn't called to that right now. (instapressure= feeling guilted into doing things a certain way, like having a pretty planner, due to seeing so much of a certain thing online including Instagram)
Due to size, however, I felt most teacher planners fell short on space to also be my daily planner with space for life and blogging/business aspects. I don't like the Day Designer, because I am far more of a rhythm than a schedule planner. One of my criteria, if I was going to spend serious money, was that it had to function for everything in one place without a bunch of sections I wouldn't use. The Erin Condren I bought is huge! The calendar fits our whole family (and I finally found markers with enough colors for everyone to have their own- and although Sarah's is kind of hard to read in yellow, she also doesn't have too active of a social schedule). While the weekly layout only goes M-F, there are 7 columns including one set aside at the end that can easily function as a stand alone weekend column.
For every month I have our big family calendar and pages for notes (shown above- planning for our terms will be at the beginning of each corresponding month). That holds all of the big dates/days. Then there is room to include our school work in more detail along with specific times and other to-do's in the weekly pages. (I also added the snap in meal dashboard to the teacher planner, because why not?) In the checklist pages in the back, I am working through copying the goals I set with the Ultimate Montessori Planner into a page for each of the kids. I also have a page of checklists for regular blog tasks that I'm not always great about following through on. To me it's the extras of the "teacher" planner that make it doable as a 3:1.
I have always been a planner. When I started working on this post, I did a quick search to see what I've written on the topic previously (because believe it or not, I do try not to repeat myself). The nutshell version is that I have written a post similar, yet entirely different based on the season of my life, almost every summer for the past 10 years (almost) of blogging. Plan, execute, refine, repeat. That's a lot of planning! It's no wonder that as I'm juggling more aspects to plan, I needed to get more serious about my systems and how they worked together to keep me sane. As we don't do grades, for me organization is my record keeping. My planner pages will probably not win any awards for most beautiful or inspiring, but as long as they keep me going thats good enough for me!
Will I buy another big planner next year? If it works for me, absolutely yes- it has already cut down on my loose paper on my desk and I haven't even fully moved in yet. It's not terribly portable (like the tiny calendar on my phone) but its entirely thorough. If I don't purchase another Erin Condren, I imagine I will try another one of the bigger names.
If it doesn't work?
You can be sure I'll be back next summer to tell you what does!
If you happen to catch this post at the right time, Renae is hosting a limited-time Back to School Bundle sale that includes the Ultimate Montessori Planner and a ton of other amazing resources! Check it out through August 9, 2018.
My Erin Condren referral link. I don't know yet if Erin Condren is something I want to invest time into being an affiliate for so I'm sticking with their straight up customer referral awards for now. I limit affiliate participation to products that I am sure will be a good fit for a lot of my readers and since I haven't been using EC that long, I can't know for sure yet. Links above are not tracked affiliate or referral links, but as always I appreciate any and all click throughs. If you click on the referral link and set up an account they will send you a coupon of some variety.