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Friday, August 24, 2012

When “Do the Next Thing” Flops: Getting Back to the Big Picture

My 6th year of homeschooling and I finally figured out what I’ve been doing wrong.

048Did you know that “doing the next thing” is one way of “scheduling” your homeschool studies?

Rather than going through a planner and writing out all your assignments by day or even by week, each day (or week, whatever works), you do the next thing.  Read the next chapter.  Start the next read aloud.  Solve the next problem set.  Finish one textbook and start the next one.  And so on.

This has been my general modus operandi for 2 simple reasons: 

  1. I’m anti-schedule (I know, I know, how can a homeschooler be anti-schedule?).
  2. It allows time for mastery and real understanding rather than sticking to an arbitrary time-frame.

The fact is, I can’t possibly know how fast a child is going to go through their math book, for instance, in August.  Maybe it will all be easy peasy and she’ll get through the whole dang thing by January (it has happened).  Or maybe she’ll hit some rough patches the require supplementing with another program. 

And, of course, I don’t want to end up writing and re-writing schedules, because it doesn’t matter how much I plan, my schedule and what actually happens rarely actually resemble each other.

Sometimes they don’t even look like distant cousins (getting an idea why I don’t like schedules?).

But there’s a problem with always just doing the next thing…there’s always a next thing.  Speaking for myself---I tend to get trapped in this moment, this next thing, this little point on the overall curve of the whole thing, and I forget where I’m at. 


I lose sight of the big picture.  I can’t see the end of the tunnel. 

That’s a big problem.  The simple fact is that when it comes to educating your kiddos, it doesn’t matter that you completed this particular worksheet or that particular science lab or read that particular book. 

What matters is their overall education.  And if I get stuck in the minutiae of the daily grind of getting this or that done, some not so good things happen around here:

  • We lose our sense of accomplishment.
  • We lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish in the first place.

Let me explain that a bit.  Understandably, when we start a new curriculum, I do look it over and try to get a feel for how much can be accomplished in a day or week or whatever and then aim for doing a lesson a week or a few pages a day, whatever is appropriate for that particular curriculum. 

I know there are many homeschoolers out there who then plug that info into planning software or pages or whatever.  I don’t.  I just write out in overall plans that in order to complete X by the end of the year, we would need to do Y number of pages each week---it’s a mental guide I keep in the back of my mind while I’m planning the next thing.  I just pencil in what I “plan” to do the night before as a guide.

There’s a lot of freedom in this method of doing things, but it’s still limiting in a very specific way:  it can obscure the overall shape of the year.  And keep us from recognizing (and acknowledging) milestones.  Everything is bit by bit and I just have a hard time seeing how all the bits fit together in my mind.

So, this year I did something a little different.  I started with an idea of what I want the year to look like.  I looked at overall goals and got an idea of what I could use to achieve those goals, but I didn’t limit my choices to just curricula.  I took a close look at how I could structure our studies so we can mark milestones and see where we’re at.

We are still doing the next thing, that much hasn’t changed

We have specific beginning and ending times (we started this Monday and we’ll end in May---ok, I admit I haven’t nailed it down to the exact day, yet, there are still some impending decisions to be made), whereas before we would go until we were done (that can become endless, we have gone into the next year because we didn’t finish what we wanted to accomplish and that can bog you down completely after a while).

I have set particular days off for the year (including holidays and holy days that we observe, plus the birthdays of our immediate family).

Every 4 to 6 weeks, we’ll have a switch week.  The amount of time is contingent upon fitting things between our set days off.  For instance, there are 13 weeks from this week to the week before Thanksgiving, so we will have a 6 week term, a switch week, then another 6 week term.  Between the week of Thanksgiving and the week of Christmas, there are only 4 week, so that will be a 4 week term.  I can do that, because I homeschool.

What’s a switch week?  Ever heard of the idea of a Sabbath week, where people work for 6 weeks and then take off a week as a Sabbath week? 

This is a little different.  The idea is that if we have too many weeks off (we’ll take off Thanksgiving week and Christmas week already), we get lazy and unmotivated, but days off here and there are good and we do need to shake things up.  Switch week will be a time to put aside some of our regularly planned curricula and liven things up a bit with things like unit studies, field trips, baking marathons, whatever we come up with.  A learning vacation?

What do you do to stay on track and not lose sight of the big picture?


  1. I've always done a general year plan and a general quarterly plan, but, like you, I didn't plan out my weeks/days. I just journal our work every day to record what we did. But, at the end of last school year, I made a list to see what we needed to finish before we could say we were through, and I discovered that I really like being able to SEE what we are finishing. So, this year I did my year plan, and for my quarterly plan, I listed everything from every book out in days but didn't say what day. Just, "We need 45 days of history this quarter, so here is what we should do each day to make that work." And so on. Now, I just check off as we do it. I can still adjust easily. If we are ahead, I can check off more than one day. If we are behind, it doesn't matter because we can just catch that day somewhere along the way. I still journal each day's actual work. I'm loving it. It only took me nine years to figure this out. :-)
    I like your idea of a switch week, too!

  2. Sometimes you just have to try things to see what works best for you. It's good that you're willing to change how you organize a bit in order to get things moving more smoothly. I don't know HOW teachers do it in classrooms, sticking to a preset schedule. My husband teaches at the college level (has been for 10 years) and he finds it challenging to stick exactly to his syllabus---because real learning just doesn't stick exactly to a schedule no matter how hard you try.

  3. I loooovvvveeee the idea of switch week. I am going to do this during those weeks when we only have 1-2 days avail for i can plan whole days for art,cooking,video learning. Thanks, this is just the tweek i needed.

  4. I'm glad you like the idea. ;0)
    I've found that if we "go at it" for too long, we get into a funk and really need a change to get out of it, so I'm hoping this will be a good change for us.


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