Once you’re comfortable in your new role as a homeschooling parent, you’ll no doubt begin to consider other areas of homeschooling that aren’t generally covered in most ‘getting started’ guides.
In this section, we’re going to cover scheduling and lesson planning, and record keeping. We combine these topics, because one pretty much feeds into the other. When you plan your school year, you’re considering your lesson plan, and keeping records, and vice versa.
Many parents are concerned about compulsory attendance and truancy. As discussed in Homeschooling 101, home schools in Texas are considered private schools, and private schools are exempt from compulsory attendance requirements. That means that you can have as many, or as few days in your school year as you choose, though most families do tend to use the Texas compulsory school day requirement of 180 days (or 75,600 minutes of instruction) as a guideline, though this is in no way required. Most families find that they can cover a similar amount of material with a single student much faster than a teacher can with a classroom full of students.
Setting your Homeschooling Schedule
Some parents use their local ISD’s published school year calendar as a guide to plan their own school year, while others use year-round schedules (with four or six weeks of school, followed by a week-long break with one month-long break per year) or other scheduling according to their family’s needs. Feel free to use whatever method works best for you.
We generally recommended that you use some sort of calendar for planning your school year. There are many printable homeschool planners available for free, like Donna Young’s printable planners and MS Excel-based planner, or one that one of our moms created at ThisAdventureLife; or you can use a planner specifically created for homeschooling from a website like Amazon, CurrClick or TeachersPayTeachers. You can also find traditional lesson planners at school supplies stores, like School Aids. There are also homeschool apps available in the iTunes store or via Google Play Store that are designed to help with planning and record keeping.
Once you decide what days will be school days, you can plan your daily schedule. Like your school year, your daily schedule can vary depending on your family’s needs. While one family may choose to keep a very consistent day-to-day schedule, others will schedule school to accommodate extra lessons, social events, parents’ work schedules, educational outings, sports or other obligations. You have a lot of freedom and flexibility to plan your days, beginning and ending at whatever times best fit your family’s rhythms, even schooling on weekends or holidays if you choose.
Because you have complete freedom to set your child’s schedule, you can choose to focus on whatever area of study you choose, whether that’s time for each subject each day, or some other rotation, or even focusing exclusively on one subject at a time. Concepts like unit studies, lapbooking and notebooking combine multiple areas of study in one topic.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, and have faith in both yourself, and the idea that children love to learn. You can experiment with many different styles of methods and schedules and options to create a unique and personalized environment for your child that encourages study and learning.
- What about testing, and grades?
- How do I show progress?
- How do I prove what we’ve covered and what my student has accomplished?
- What about high school transcripts?
Record keeping is something that some families find important, and other families find tedious. In order to homeschool legally in Texas, you must have some sort of written curriculum. This can be as simple as a list of resources that you use, to as complicated as meticulous grading and lesson planning. Depending on your personality, your children’s ages and needs, and your preference, how you keep records may vary greatly from another family’s records, or even your own style from year to year.
If you choose to keep things simple, a calendar and notebook can be wonderfully straightforward. With days marked as ‘school days’, ‘holidays’ or unmarked, you can keep track of your school year. Keeping a journal, or list of what your children study each day can be an effective and simple way to record your school year. Your lesson planner, if you choose to use one, can also serve as your record for the year.
Some families will choose to keep track of their students’ progress on the computer. There are several record keeping programs designed specifically for homeschoolers, like Homeschool Tracker, and Homeschool Minder.
When it comes to keeping grades, it may surprise you to learn that most homeschooling families don’t keep grades. Because the point of education is mastery, and homeschooling is individually tailored to a specific child, there’s generally no need to keep grades. You will advance your student as he learns and masters each concept. Some families use tests or assessment methods to determine their student’s readiness to move on, while others establish a firm foundation and build upon it with cumulative lessons. It’s up to you as to whether or not you want to keep grades, and what grading method to use. Some homeschool tracking programs, apps and planners have grading built in, or you can use whatever other method you like.
If you’re concerned about being able to show what your child has accomplished each year without traditional report cards or grading, a portfolio of your student’s work is one option. A portfolio can be set up many different ways, but some of the most common are with either a 3-ring binder, or an accordion file.
Most portfolios will contain a daily log, a reading log, a curriculum reference sheet and a sampling of the student’s work. You may also include letters from other teachers or coaches your child has had during the course of the school year, any testing or assessments made by a third party, and/or a progress report detailing any important breakthroughs or developments your child has made during the course of the year.
You may choose to add tabs and arrange the portfolio by subject, or arrange it into semesters or months; the choice is yours. Even though, in Texas, you are not required to keep a portfolio, keeping one can become a lovely keepsake for your student as s/he grows, can quell any inquiry into your student’s progress from family or legally, and can help you establish good habits for keeping track of your student’s progress should you decide to continue homeschooling through high school.
Speaking of high school, the idea of homeschooling in high school seems daunting for many parents. If your child is approaching high school age, you don’t have to do it alone; there are many resources to help you successfully navigate this part of the journey!
While home schoolers in Texas are not required to complete any specified course plan other than what all homeschoolers are required to cover, the TEA’s Recommended High School Program may give you starting point.
The TEA Recommended High School Program has recently been updated. Students who entered high school before the 2014-2015 school year have the option to graduate under the new Foundation High School Program or the existing Minimum High School Program (MHSP), Recommended High School Program (RHSP), or Distinguished Achievement Program (DAP). Each program differs slightly, but generally consists of 26 credits which can include:
- 4 credits of English/Language Arts
- 4 credits of Mathematics, including Algebra I, II, and Geometry
- 4 credits of Science, including Biology, Chemistry, and Physics
- 4 credits of Social Studies, including World History, World Geography, U.S. History, ½ credit Government, ½ credit Economics
- 1 credit of Physical Education
- ½ credit of Speech
- 1 credit of Fine Arts
- 5 ½ credits of Electives
- 2 credits of Foreign Language Studies
For a complete list of all options, click here to download the Side by Side Graduation Program Options (beginning 2014-2015).
Keeping track of your student’s high school credits is easier than it seems. You can find printable documents online, or use pre-formatted MSExcel worksheets to keep track of your student’s credits. Here’s a list of what to include.
If the idea of keeping track of high school is too much for you, thee are several correspondence high school programs that take much of the strain off of you as a parent/teacher, but still allow your child to learn at home, including The American School of Correspondence and Keystone School. Several colleges also offer high school programs that your child can complete at home, including the University of Texas High School.
The bottom line is that how you choose to keep records (or if you chooseto keep records) is up to you!
Be sure to check out the final part of this series, Homeschooling 104: Socialization & Other FAQs.