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What to Teach
The Big Picture – Planning the School Year Part 1

Once I had my six blocks of six weeks planned, it was time to map my curriculum to the six blocks. No matter what curriculum you desire to finish by the end of the school year, it all can be divided into sixths, one sixth for each block.

Now before I get into the specifics of planning for each block, let me just encourage you about meeting your planned goals. Did you know that public school teachers plan to finish a certain text or a certain curriculum by the year’s end, and a lot of the time, they fall a little bit short and just have to call what they were able to accomplish, good? It’s true. We have this picture in our heads of public school as a place where every plan is always executed perfectly, and that is just not the reality LOL.

Of course, we should start with the best plan we can, but there are always unforeseen circumstances that arise which will make it necessary to adjust the plan. The first case would be when a child just is not ready or cannot grasp the next concept in the plan. You do not want to rush through the concept and sacrifice your child’s understanding, simply because you are treating your plan like a taskmaster instead of like a tool. Do not let your plan be a slave driver to either you or your child! Slow down and work the concept until your child gets it and is ready to move on. Do not recriminate yourself or your child! If you end up woefully behind where you wish you were, just move on to the next thing, and rework your plan for the remaining blocks at your next week off. Keep it simple!

The next case which would require reworking, is that you have planned too much (or occasionally, too little) that can be reasonably accomplished by your child, your combination of children, and your unique life situation. This is common, actually, but trying to cram too much into your day, your week, or your block will not help your child become proficient in the tools of learning! So don’t be afraid to trim. As a matter of fact, it was common for me to go into the school year with a pristine plan, and then have it completely reworked by the end of the first or second block, once I could see from real world experience what was working and what wasn’t. Don’t be afraid to go there!

Now we are ready to start mapping curriculum. First things first: we are going to make a big picture plan for each block.

Let’s say we have a math text of 23 chapters. If the chapters are each nearly the same in length, with a similar number of concepts introduced for each, and a similar number of practice problems for each concept, then it is easy.

  • Round up to the nearest number divisible by six. For 23 chapters, it would be 24, which would be four chapters per block. Your final block of the year would have three chapters instead of four. Save your lighter load for the final block when mapping out your curriculum. You are creating much needed margin in your schedule!
  • For those four chapters, you have five days per week times six weeks to finish them, so 30 working days. Go through the chapters and note how many concepts with practice pages there are to complete across all four chapters. We’ll assume 17 for the sake of example. Ideally it would be 15, which would leave one day to present the concept, and one day to work the problems; 15 concepts x 2 days = 30 days total. Rarely is real life that neat, LOL. Furthermore, for math, I liked doing the desk work Monday through Thursday, saving Friday for math games and drilling bees. That would leave 24 working days to complete the 17 concepts. The best way to plan for an uneven number like this, would be to again round up your concepts to the nearest number divisible by six. In our example, it would be 18 divided by six = three, so plan to complete three concept lessons in each week. This will leave you a little wiggle room in your plan which is perfect. Margin, margin, margin!

With a text with short chapters here and long chapters there, then it is best to look at the number of concepts across the entire text, rather than trying to break it down by chapters. Let’s assume this is the case with our imaginary math text, and we count up the concepts, for a grand total of 49. However, we note that the first five concepts have a lot of review in them, with the remaining 44 mostly new material, and the final eight looking difficult. This is what I would do:

  • The closest number of concepts divisible by six would be 48, leaving one left over with our scenario of 49. Then you would plan to cover eight concepts per block, planning for nine concepts in your first block as presumably the review will take less time. 9 (1st block) + 40 (8 x 5 remaining blocks) = 49 concepts.
  • But, the final eight concepts look difficult. So, I would allow for more time for the final eight concepts by adjusting everything one over. Therefore I would plan to cover 11 concepts in the first block, then 10 concepts each in the 2nd through 4th blocks. That would mean by the end of the 4th block, we would have ideally finished 41 out of the 49 concepts. The final eight concepts will map in the final two blocks, allowing for 4 difficult concepts per block.

Now, what if our curriculum isn’t a neatly packaged text, but rather a list of living books for literature and reading practice, for example? This is actually easier to plan. If you are working from a suggested list of 20 books:

  • I would not just divide the list of books into sixths, and assign ~ 4 books per block. Some of the books may be easier reading and some hard; some may be 100 pages long and some 300 pages long. I would look the books over (library trip) and try to plan for the same amount of reading for each block tentatively. No need to be anal about it though. Plan to complete books by the end of each block, rather than planning to stop for the week off in the middle of a book.
  • As an example, let’s say you have planned 4 books for a particular block. You have six weeks. You would allow for a week, more or less, for reading each book, with a few days, a half a week, for discussion, or copywork or dictation from the book, or a map or art project, or field trip, inspired by the book, or a book report, or note taking, or a paper, before moving on to the next book. And of course, shorten up your allowed reading time for smaller books and stretch it out for larger books.

If you are more comfortable having your book list mapped out like this, by all means do so. But what I did most of the time, was keep my book list in my planner, and when I was ready to start a new block, I would note where we were in the list, and start there for the block. During that block, we would work through whatever we could by the end of the block, just by reading the next book in front of us, and moving on when it was completed. My planner became, then, a record of what we had accomplished in each block, rather than an alarm clock of what we had to accomplish by x date.

The only time you might consider setting more of an alarm clock tone for your reading list, was if you had a reluctant reader who does not finish books on their own. (That is another post!)

This is an example of what a big picture plan for one block would look like in my planner.

Big Picture Curriculum Planning |

Once you have the big picture of your six blocks planned out for your curriculum, then it is time to fill in the details for the first block. Stay tuned …


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