Homeschool Planning Basics: Playful Learning in the Early Years

homeschool planning Jul 20, 2022

If you’re taking the leap into homeschooling your little one this year, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed with all the moving parts. 

Supplies. Schedules. Curriculum. Socialization. Homeschool laws. 

In particular, you’re probably wondering about how to plan your days and months for learning - how much, how little - and what a typical day will look like.

Breathe, mama. You got this.

Today’s post is about giving you a checklist and roadmap to make planning a breeze, to lighten your load, and to reassure you that homeschooling in the Early Years can be light, playful and fun {for ALL of you!}, vs. stressful, overwhelming and burdensome.

Once you’ve chosen your curriculum, you’re ready to start planning your days.

In considering curriculum, look for a balanced approach - one that blends structure and important academics WITH playful learning and creative exploration. Artful Teaching. Joyful Learning.® Is a true hybrid curriculum that has just the right amount of academics, balanced with a creative and playful approach to learning.

1. Bird’s Eye View of Your Year: Big Learning Goals

It’s important to have a general sense for what your child will be learning this year, and the progression for what lies ahead. This helps you to identify where your child is at on their learning journey (also known as a learning continuum), and the direction they’re going. “If we don’t have a destination in mind, how will we know where we’re going, and how will we know once we arrive?”

Here are the main learning goals for a typical K-1 School Year:

2. Map out your day - Rhythms and Routines that work for your family

Some folks like a loose, flexible day with minimal structure, and others like to plan their day in structured time slots. What works for one family may not work so well for yours. That’s the beauty of homeschooling. 

Children do best when there is a sense of predictability and some structure to their days, so having a loose “flow” for your days at the very least, is recommended. 

Keep in mind your family’s schedule (nap times, work schedules, lessons, co-ops etc.), and plan your days around the non-negotiables.

Use picture cues and a visual schedule to set your child up for success.

In  a typical ATJL homeschool day, we carve out time for morning message (a message written to your child that focuses on a particular reading strategy), Table Time invitations {these are hands-on or art activities that reinforce learning in reading, writing, science and math); as well as more focussed literacy and numeracy time (Math Moments and Word Work). 

Additionally, you’ll want to ensure you carve out blocks to do chores, errands, baking/cooking/meal prep and of course play time - both indoor and outdoor!

Here is a sample day plan for a Kindergarten or First Grade school day. You can see that structured teaching time is one hour or less per day!

In terms of weekly planning, you’ll want to ensure you have a balanced week of learning - literacy and numeracy are the two big areas of focus in the early years, and so devoting a big chunk of your week to these activities is important. Typical weighting for subject areas in the Early Years (K-4) looks like this:

For literacy instruction, be sure you have a mix of listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing and representing; and for Mathematics - math games (those involving dice and cards, in addition to board games); time to work with concrete manipulatives for problem solving, as well as some worksheets.

You’ll want to plan out your week around outings, play dates and appointments.

With ATJL, your weeks are mapped out for you: everything from the recommended read-alouds, new poems and songs, as well as all learning materials and supplies needed. 

3. Materials, supplies resources

Once you have an idea for your day, you’ll want to take stock of the supplies and resources you’ll need. It’s a great idea to get in front of it all, by purchasing the “must-have” supplies and materials for your year. Many of these can be purchased at the Dollar Store.

Depending on the curriculum you’ve chosen, this may be as simple as “the basics” (a stash of pencils, crayons, pencil crayons and markers), or a little more specialized, with some extra art supplies and hands-on learning materials such as loose parts (also available at the Dollar Store).

Ensure you have these organized with both overstock (keep stashed away to replenish throughout the year), and easy-access day to day use. We like to use moveable supply caddies, baskets and jars for our supply storage.


Print, Sort and Collate

Print out any worksheets - blackline masters, flashcards, games and all printables in advance. Sort them in binders and label for easy access. Having master binders for Literacy, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies keeps materials organized and available when you need them. I have an entire blog post dedicated to Homeschool Organization

Create your Booklist

Read-alouds and quality storybooks are integral to your early learning program, and it’s a great idea to gather up your books ahead of time at your local library. Place holds on these books at least a month in advance to increase your chances of securing them (especially around holidays and celebrations and seasonal themes). Secure a collection of levelled readers as well to practice independent reading. We love the Scholastic Little Readers because they are inexpensive, and encourage children to use many reading strategies - not just phonics, like in the Bob series.

ATJL offers monthly at-a-glance booklists - themed books that pair with the daily activity to make it easy.

Create Systems for School Work 

Create systems for work storage and learning materials.

For children’s daily Literacy and Numeracy work, I like to use expandable duotangs so that printables can be added as you go through lessons. We also use Idea Books in our program - black hardcover sketchbooks - as “living portfolios” of children’s work. Here, children share their artwork, questions, discoveries and more meaningful child-led projects, and this becomes a source for documenting and assessing children’s learning throughout the year.

For themed books and levelled readers, we use two separate baskets. One is a dedicated basket for read-alouds and storybooks, and the other designed for easy-access to independent readers the kids are practicing.

4. Set up your Space

Whether you’re setting up an entire stand-alone schoolroom, or simply setting up baskets or a homeschool cart around your dining table, the thoughtfulness with which you organize and curate this space will have a direct correlation to your sanity as a homeschool parent, and will greatly enhance your child’s experience.

Labels are key! Be sure to label baskets for ease of organization, as well as visual cues to help your child take ownership of clean-up too.

Ensure supplies are displayed in a clutter-free and inviting way, and that you have a space to display your child’s unique artwork, which sends a message that they are an artist, and their work is honored here.

Opt for child-made alphabet charts and number lines over commercial style posters, displayed at their eye level.

These projects serve a dual-purpose: not only will your child haven a learning experience from creating these pieces, and also honor your child as a creator and a key participant in the learning process.

And go!

Now you are ready to take the leap into homeschooling your little one this fall! 

Remember, you are in charge - not the curriculum and not the plan! If what you’re doing isn’t working, simply reset and readjust. A worthwhile home education - just like anything important in life - takes time to establish and to iron out wrinkles. In time, you and your children will get into a groove that works for your family. I hope you fall in love with learning together!

If you enjoyed this post, you'll want to grab our FREE Playful Homeschool Planner - designed for parents of K-1 kids who value play, art and wonder in their children's learning.


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