Every mom who home schools eventually experiences the nagging suspicion that she is not “covering everything”! I found myself trying to cram every subject into each school year for fear of leaving something out. When I thought about Health and realized how important it is to teach our children proper nutrition, then I put that into the schedule along with Math and English. Then I considered Logic—oh, that was very necessary too! Reading a “National Geographic” article was enough to start a guilt trip that I’d forgotten to teach them about the Renaissance! And on it goes. Aarrgh!!
If you think about high school or college and how they offer specific areas of academic subjects, you’ll find a good pattern for homeschool too. The elementary grades offer a hodge-podge of subjects in a science book, for example, but the high school level has clearly defined areas of study that are repeated in college. You don’t take Social Studies in high school but World Civilizations or American Government. You don’t take Science, but instead Botany or Zoology. Following this patten of specific subjects makes homeschool planning much easier!
High school science is generally divided into these topics: Biology, Human Body, Earth Science, Physical Science (Physics), Chemistry and Botany. History can be sorted out like this: Ancient History, Middle Ages, Modern World History, American History and American Government (Civics). You can simplify your homeschool by choosing a history and science topic for each school year and cycling through them again in 4-5 years.
There are some definite advantages when teaching homeschool with a year-by-year plan. All the children in the family can be studying the same subject at the same time. This is much, much simpler than having each child on a different topic. The cycle provides a framework for teaching children “everything” in your homeschool in the course of 4 or 5 years, and then beginning all over again for the children who have grown up in the meantime!
Knowing what areas you will be studying also means knowing what you will not be covering for a particular year. This helps a great deal in purchasing materials. It is easy to be overwhelmed by all that is on the market and to feel that you need it all. Having a focused topic—and knowing that you will get to it the other topics next year or the next—helps tremendously. You’ll have a plan to cover it all, which is more than many of us have been able to count on!
Children like being able to put the bits and pieces of knowledge they acquired into one big whole. A random curriculum makes it difficult for them to see the reason for education, or the wholeness and great purposes in God’s creations. It also leaves mother worried about whether she is doing enough. Having a rotating plan, you will find that it is finally enough!
Question and Answer:
Will you encounter any problems?
For one thing, it is easy to spend a month studying the rise of Communism if you happen to be a teenager. If you are 6 years old, a little goes a long way. Although a younger child may glean some knowledge from sitting in on discussions, they can feel restless and frustrated. This can be solved by focusing on the country where the history took place. While the older ones discuss Marxism, young ones can learn where Russia is on the map, see Russian dress, hear Russian music, etc. Telling the story of the czar’s life would be interesting to them. The whole family would benefit from seeing a TV special on Russia, talking to a Russian, or eating Russian food. There are interesting ways you can involve and interest the young ones, though. I find it much easier than having all the kids in different topics! It’s much more fun to all be “on the same page”!
Does repeating your rotation plan every few years cause boredom?
Not really. Each child matures enough during the years in between that they are ready to approach the same area of study with a new outlook and different interests. And as a teacher, I am ready to delve even deeper. I’ve collected things over the intervening years, and am excited and ready for it! For example, Earth Science might be studied when my daughter is 6 years old, then again when she is 10-11 years old, and again at 16 years. Obviously, this is not too often. My children speak longingly of the year we did Ancient History and the mini pyramids we built and are thrilled to see it come up again!
How can a four year rotation do justice to the important subject of American History and Government?
Well, if you spend two years on American History, one for the period up to the Civil War, and the next year on the period of reconstruction after the Civil War to the present time in history, your children will get a firm foundation in American History. Ancient History, the Middle Ages and Modern World History are also important and often overlooked in our zeal for teaching American studies. They help us see where America came from, what it is like in comparison to other countries and how it fits into the world. It is necessary to know as much about the past as possible: our nation’s future depends upon it. “Those who fail to study history are destined to repeat it.”
How do I rotate English and Math?
English and math do not lend themselves to a rotation. Phonics, grammar, spelling, multiplication facts, etc. require ongoing attention each year. However, reading and writing lend themselves wonderfully well to history topics and often science does too. Each year, we make up a reading list that relates to the year’s chosen history and science studies. For example, during the year we studied the French Revolution, we watched the old black and white movie version of A Tale of Two Cities and also read The Scarlet Pimpernel. It really makes the history come alive if you can fit in good reading that is set in the time period of history you are studying. Writing assignments can be based on your History studies also. So even though you still have to learn English in the sense of doing grammar, spelling, vocabulary, it can be done by the means of writing and reading that focuses on the books set in the period of history you are studying.
What about the fine arts?
Art and music have proven to be excellent for jazzing up the study of history. We actually made paper when we studied China and learned about their early use of paper. The study of American history was made fascinating by making our own candles, cooking up some Indian pudding and doing many other colonial crafts. During the history year which included the Renaissance, we totally enjoyed viewing art in museums, listening to classical music and learning about the great master artists and composers of that era. Geography is also a natural fit if you use maps when you teach.
How do I get started?
Get a calendar with lots of space for writing. It will become your “school brain”. It will be the outline for your homeschool for the entire school year!
Start with the subject of History. Select a really good textbook or reference book as a basic framework for your History studies. Choose either Ancient History, so you can work through history in order chronologically, or choose American History, as that is a beloved topic with countless resources, library books, movies and reading books to enhance it, making it easy for your first year.
Don’t worry, you will cover ALL of history, that is the beauty of this plan, so starting with American History doesn’t mean you will neglect Ancient History or the Middle Ages. You are going to do it all within 4-5 years. Here are a few books I recommend for your basic textbook for American History:
For young ones, ages 4-7 years. Comes with music CD.
For ages 6-11 years, but can use for K-6. Written from a Christian perspective.
For ages 12-18, super interesting and color illustrated. Use books 1-5 the first year, Books 6-10 the second year. Highly recommended!
Now, simply take the table of contents from the history book you choose and divide it by the number of weeks in your school year and put each week’s topic on the calendar. Often textbooks are arranged to fit into a school year, so it is generally easy. If there are too many chapters to fit into your school year, put two on one week.
Week of Sept 21: American Indians (chapter 2)
Week of Sept 28: Colombus (chapter 3)
Week of October 5: Roanoke Colony and James Towne (chapter 4 and 5) . . .
(and so forth… just follow the table of contents in your book)
Just having a focus feels so wonderful to me! I know I have a plan, and that over the course of 4 or 5 years, we will cover the study of history, all of it, and that it will be fun and interesting.
And for Science?
Once you have your history studies outlined for the year, choose a science topic and do the same. You can match your History and Science studies up if you like, such as put the study of Earth Science and Astronomy with Ancient History . . . since the formation of the earth and the heavens belongs at the beginning of time. With young ones, I like to begin with Biology for Science, because it is easy to understand and children love animals. You can visit a museum or an aquarium and actually see what you are studying!
I recommend the Apologia Science books for grade K-6. You can teach all ages from the same textbook…yay! And science projects are included right in the book. If you have a 7th or 8th grader, there is enough information that you can stretch it to include them also. Any of the science books in the Apologia K-6 series will work fine for your first year—you don’t have to start with Astronomy, although we loved it. Botany is very interesting and so are all the study of animals.
Here is an example of a 4 year school plan:
First Year: Ancient History + Astronomy
Second Year: Middle Ages + Zoology 1 (Flying Creatures)
Third Year: American History to Civil War, plus American Government + Botany
Fourth Year: American History Civil War to Modern Day + Human Body
Why do you say 4 or 5 years to complete one cycle of study?
Well, there are a couple of ways to divide history. You can either do it this way, in four years:
- Ancient History
- Middle Ages
- American History to Civil War + American Government
- American History from Civil War to Modern Day
Then there is an optional year for older students:
5. Current Events and Modern World History
Science has enough different fields that you could go on for several years without repeating:
- Earth Science
- Human Body
- Zoology (Flying Creatures)
- Zoology (Swimming Creatures)
- Zoology (Land Animals)
If you have a child with a special interest (many boys are fully intrigued with space!), then you already have enthusiasm going and your topic is obvious! There are 7 books in the Apologia Science K-6 texbook series that I love, so that means first rotation we can do 4 of those books, and in the second cycle, we can do 3 more plus repeat one of the first books four years later. Another way to manage so many science topics is to consolidate. Astronomy and Earth Science go together, so do Chemistry and Physics. So you can see, Science can easily be fit into a 5 year rotation if you are including Current Events/Modern World History to make a five year cycle.
Once I have the outline of History and Science in my calendar, what next?
Now, you can start to flesh out your plan! You’ll do doing reading from your textbook, and enriching it with any library books, games, books, projects, crafts, songs, or movies your can find. So, when you discover something, just jot in the titles on the appropriate topic week in your calendar. If you find a great book that you know will fit into your plan in a few months, turn to that week on the calendar and write it down so you don’t forget it. Isn’t this fun and liberating?! When you see a good project idea, a movie, book, or a craft or song, or a game….turn to the right place in your school year calendar, where it fits with your topic of study, and put it in (and stash the pattern or poem into the right spot into a folder or box with a tab for each month, if you can).
If you would like to set up a “scope and sequence” (the big picture) for the entire four or five years of rotation, you can really get a secure feeling! And as you find books and projects you can tuck them away for the future, making homeschooling easier year by year. By the time you cycle back to the beginning in 4 years, homeschooling is a breeze!
Knowing what period of history you are studying for the coming year gives you a theme! Birthday and Christmas gifts, Halloween or Harvest Festival costumes, Christmas ornaments and even family vacations can build on this theme! When we studied American History, we ended up planning a trip to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail. What a thrill is was to follow in the footsteps of our history!
From my own experience, having a nice tight plan keeps me on track. Knowing where I am going keeps me very focused. Once the year’s schedule is written up and posted, I can go on “cruise control”. Our course is set and we can enjoy the journey!
Another plus of having the year’s study topic planned out is that a crisis doesn’t take its toll like it used to. Sickness doesn’t put us behind a week—we just do the best we can and forge ahead sticking to the schedule. If it gets short changed, we will hit it again in the next rotation! When life is going especially well, I can take the time to pull in exciting “extras” such as art projects, videos, field trips, pictures, songs, and experiments that would relate and add interest to our subject of study.
The whole plan takes some mastermind work (which is a good summer project) but once in place, you’ll find it so much easier to navigate through your homeschool years. If you are feeling muddled with trying to cover everything, try the rotation plan. One thing it does deliver is peace of mind!
May I recommend: