How to Use a Bullet Journal for Your Homeschool

I have not been shy about the fact that the Bullet Journal system has saved my sanity.  I’m not a naturally organized person.  I hate wasted pages that I don’t use.  I have a weird life with my husband’s schedule changing from week to week, homeschooling, writing, and managing food allergies in our home.  There’s a lot of things going on, and this system helps me feel like my balls aren’t being juggled in the air, but rather safely tucked in my bullet journal.

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Many homeschooling friends have asked me how I use it for homeschooling.  I will say that laws vary from state to state on what you need to record for homeschooling.  In my state, I am not required to count school days, or have a portfolio review.  I do not keep grades.  Either a child has mastered a subject, or she hasn’t.  If he or she hasn’t mastered it, we will stay on it until they do.  Are they engaged, and learning every day?  Is their curiosity peaked? Are they stuck in a rut and need to branch out?  Grades don’t tell me those things.  So my uses for the bullet journal are purely for my own needs, and are not legal documents.

One of my favorite things about the bullet journal is that it changes as you change.  As your kids grow and have different needs, your bullet journal just changes with them.  As my organizational needs has evolved, so has the bullet journal.

If you want to see the details on how to do a bullet journal, you can see the basics here.  The beauty of the system is you can use any plain notebook to make it work.  I have really liked using a Leuchtturm notebook with the dotted pages.  Basically, you make up a planner in a blank journal as you go.  There are 2 types of pages.  Calendar pages (6 month spread, monthly pages, weekly pages, daily pages…I don’t use a monthly pages.  I found out I never really used them.) You write to do lists and appointments on your daily list, and things that don’t get done get migrated to an appropriate day in the future, or crossed off altogether.

Every Saturday, I set up my bullet journal for the next week.  I pull items off of the Google calendar that both my husband and I contribute to as we make plans.  Then I migrate anything left undone from the last week onto some place in the new week, or if I’m sure it’s not going to get done for awhile, I’ll migrate it to my 6-month spread. (Like I said, I don’t seem to use or make the monthly spreads.  It’s redundant in my weird brain, and I love how you don’t have to put any pages in there that you realistically won’t use, and customize it to your own weird brain.)

This summer I finished up my 2nd bullet journal, and I started my 3rd.  As I reflected on more ways I would like to grow and prepare for the next season, I added some new things to my daily pages.  First, I added water-drinking tracking and vegetable eating tracking for ME  on my daily page.  Also, I added a weather forecast for my daily pages.  The reason I did this is that my husband will often just show up when we are in the middle of things because it’s raining and he has the rest of the day off.  Or maybe we got some good snow and he declares a PE day for our homeschool and takes the kids cross country skiing.  Such is life being married to a farmer whose work is almost always weather-dominated.  It happens with little warning.  It drives me crazy.  I figured if I have a vague idea of what the weather will be like on each day, I can better predict when my husband will be interrupting making memories with our children.

Here’s another example of a bullet journal evolving as you grow with it.

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This is a basic daily page from my 1st bullet journal.

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This is a basic daily page from my 2nd bullet journal.  I added a kid chore list, as each of my school-aged kids do a family chore after every meal.  I usually just look around and see what needs to be done, but I found it saves time to write something down when I see it or think of it, so when they ask me, I have a whole list to choose from when handing out jobs.

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This is a basic daily page from my current bullet journal.  I’ve added lines to be fancy, and because I’m getting a clearer vision for what I need to see every day.  It was getting so packed that it would be too confusing or cluttered without the lines.

The other type of pages are collection pages.  For my new bullet journal, I’m putting a band of washi tape on the edge of my pages that are collection pages so they are easier to flip to and find in the bulk of the calendar pages, as I don’t use the table of contents as often as I should.  Collection pages don’t all have to be in the same spot or in any order—which I LOVE.  I can just write them in when I think of one that I’ll use.  For instance, I have a menu plan collection page that I wrote about here.  This helps me simplify meal planning.  (In my newest bullet journal, I’ve added a freezer meal inventory page, and I’ve added lunches rotations as well as snack ideas to my meal schedule page.  I also have a page with a running list of blog post ideas.  You can do budget pages, or goal setting pages too.  You can make a page for any list you want to reference, like “Menu brainstorm for Easter Supper”)

Next, it would be helpful to share how our school days look.  We have been homeschooling 7 years, and are about to start our 8th.  I started out very structured, and realized that wasn’t us.  So we went from a strict schedule to a relaxed routine.  I would have the routine of when things happened posted in the kitchen.  We also learned that we need a family quiet time every afternoon.  It’s not just that the little ones need a nap, but the older ones need some quiet too, and I certainly need to just not talk to anyone for just an hour for the sake of my vocal cords and sanity.

So for the last few years, our school day has looked like this:

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This has worked well for the most part.  It got a little trickier once we added our 3rd student to school.  Last year we added our 4th, with a preschooler and infant in the mix too.  We also joined a homeschool community known as “Classical Conversations.” So we limped along with the old routine and the new needs, but as we are on break and I’ve had time to reflect, we are making yet another change to accommodate our growing needs.

We are going back to a stricter schedule, because students #3 and #4 are getting cut out of the school day when things go awry on a consistent basis.  And things do go awry.  There is no such thing as a perfect homeschool day.  Last year I really focused my attention on getting my student #2 with ADHD and dyslexia to be able to manage more of his work independently so I could work with the younger kids more.  Keeping him on task is a challenge, and he made huge strides in this area.

But student #3 and #4 need my attention even though they are not the squeakiest wheels on this bus.  So with the cheering on of the veteran homeschooling moms I’ve consulted, I’m moving back to a timed schedule, so that these students get better prioritized, and students #1 and #2 can visually see that my time is promised to other people and they will just have to wait until it’s their turn with me to tell me their random factoid they just read.

If you want to know what I do with child #5 and #6 who are too little to “do school” I have written about that here and here.

To do this, I have made a schedule for each of the school-aged children in my home, as well as one for me.  I took out my handy-dandy laminator, and these are now ready to be used on a daily basis with dry-erase markers to cross something off when it is done.

My homeschooling mentor-moms assure me that this type of schedule will work this time because I have grown into this level of organization, when I just wasn’t there before.  More importantly, I have the faces of my kids getting skipped at the front of my mind and I’m doing this for them.  My “why” is different this time.

Stay with me.  The bullet journal is coming back into the conversation soon.

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I previously posted about our Morning Hour.  I have adjusted this a bit to include our Classical Conversations memory work review.  I use a 3-ring binder mostly for holding papers for morning hour, but I work off of my bullet journal page to stay on task.  Basically, I cover many subjects in that hour, when it would be too tedious to itemize them on a schedule.

While it’s rare for me to put homeschooling items on my daily pages, I use collection pages to manage my homeschool, as well as habit trackers, to keep track of what each child is working through in each subject.  

For instance, here is our school bookshelf page (I’m still working on filling this up during the summer, so it will be ready to go this fall):

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Each child (and myself…modeling the whole lifelong learning thing) has books on their school shelf that I’m wanting them to read this year.  We also do a read-aloud during our morning snack or “tea-time” so I have a shelf for that, to remember which books I was hoping to read to the kids while their mouths are busy chewing their snack and drinking tea.  When a book is finished, I take a colored pencil and color it in, so that I know it’s finished.

IMG_6216It’s like a pretty-picture checklist.  I always try to put more books on here than we can read so that 1) we can have options to move on if a book is really not working with a child.  There are so many good books out there that I don’t like wasting time on ones that clearly aren’t working, and 2) I can’t predict how fast we will get through a book.  There are so many interruptions in life.  We just move forward each day with what is in our hands.  As long as we are reading everyday, I’m content.

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Another collection day is a yearly calendar so I can keep track of days that we work hard, and plan in vacations.  Like I said, our state does not require this, but I have learned that I need to plan in vacation for myself, and this calendar just helps me fight the guilt in taking days off, and see how much we are actually working.

I have a homeschooling to-do page, which is basically a teacher-prep page, of seminars I’d like to watch online for training, or posters I’d like to make, field trips I’d like to do, or organizational things I’d like to set up, or pages I need to copy.  I don’t have one for each week, just a running list that I’m constantly adding to and x-ing off.  If its something little or urgent, I put it on my daily page.

Then there is habit tracking pages.  This is what I have done for one child:

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I plan to extend the habit tracker by turning it across 2 pages, and putting one child on top of the other like in this pin.  (I have a whole Pinterest board where it’s fun to store ideas and learn how to make things pretty.)

You can even make up collection pages as needed, and they don’t have to be artistic or anything.  I have a page with just a list of words that one child consistently spells incorrectly in his daily narration.  It helps me brainstorm on working on those and seeing patterns.

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I also have a spread of everyone’s schedules so that I have a quick reference of what everyone should be doing if I’m not in the kitchen.

Finally, what did I do with my oldest Challenge A student last year (going into Challenge B this year!) for her full load of schoolwork?  How do I keep track of her work for high school transcripts, and prepare her to manage college syllabuses?  (Syllabi?) Well, in Classical Conversations, the Challenge years are all about transferring ownership of the school to the student.  She got her own bullet journal partway through the year, and she LOVES IT.  Sometime this next year, I’ll have her make a post on how she uses her own bullet journal for the Challenge program, and even moving into the summer months to keep track of all of the projects and events she wants to do during her time off.

On my side of keeping track of her things, I would schedule a weekly meeting with her on the weekly spread of my bullet journal, so make sure her week is set up properly in her own journal, and that she’s keeping on top of her workload, and discuss her tests and papers.  As she has her own weaknesses, she gets a habit tracker of things that I need to supervise, or verify to keep her accountable on a daily basis.

Full Bloom

 

These harvest days are long.  Do you ever feel like parts of your to-do list gets squeezed out consistently?  I have made some very intentional decisions regarding my family in the last year or so in regard to how we homeschool, and have laid out all of my goals.  I knew going into this year that I would have to sacrifice more, and it would cut deep.  It was not thrust on me.  I made the choice.

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These harvest days, Knut is not often there to support me at home, and in addition, needs support from me more than he usually does.  (I’ve actually been horrible at supporting him this harvest.  I’ll blame it on having a little infant, but really he’s not the issue.)  This year we are doing Classical Conversations for a homeschool co-op.  It’s all day once a week, and for a few of my kids, it requires more focus and time-sensitive assignments into their education, which was sorely lacking.  It’s brought me into contact with some wonderful new mom-friends.  It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made for our kids’ education, as I feel like I have the support, inspiration, and accountability I need to really thrive in this area right now.

Last year my kids’ activities grew with such speed, that I was floundering, and this year I’ve decided to embrace this season and stop fighting it.  I’m glad I did, because the focus and attention they have demanded from me these last few months bloomed into this enormous job that at times overwhelms me.

My writing has suffered.

I have been praying many times that I would keep my writing in correct priority to all the other work God has prepared for me to do.  As writing feels like it is getting squeezed out of my daily life, I’m praying so hard that God would keep me sane.  I miss writing like a dear friend.  I miss writing so much it’s suffocating at times.  My writing life isn’t gone.  It’s just that part of the daily list that is consistently getting squeezed off.

As I’m writing this right now, I’m sitting on the floor, at the end of a hall in the YMCA, listening to an aerobics class blaring on the other side of the door.  My big kids are doing their Tae Kwon Do.  My little kids are in child watch.  I’m trying to get my brain settled since it feels like I had at least 3 kids speaking to me at all times, since I woke up this morning.  It wasn’t 3 kids fault.  They all participated in “Operation Overload Mommy.”  They took shifts.

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I’ve asked God, in my not-so-quiet-times, if I shouldn’t be writing right now, and if I need to let go of the blog, to give me a peace about that.  However, just the opposite has happened.  Every time I pray about it, ideas just keep flowing out so fast that I’ve actually gotten a notebook to quick notes to come back to and expand.  It happens whenever I dare approach the throne of grace on this issue.  Ideas keep flowing for a group Bible Study book that I’ve been attempting to write.  I have ideas for a podcast, and spend some of my time trying to learn the software for that.  Learning new technology is painfully slow for me.  I sense God’s calling on my life even stronger in this area than ever.

So I just keep living each day, and reminding myself of my priorities.  I have gotten more organized than I have in my entire life…entirely by survival necessity. I’m aiming for excellence in so many areas, and as I see this writing dream of mine get squeezed out of my days, the vision for what God wants me to do gets bigger.  I can’t quiet explain it, other than to assume that not every day will be like right now.

12 years into this mothering journey, I’ve learned one main thing: the rhythm is constantly changing.  

There are seasons of naps, seasons of no naps. I’ll have seasons of loneliness and seasons of overwhelming fullness.  There are seasons of full schedules, and seasons of lazy days around the house.  There are seasons of awe, and seasons of frustration.  Sometimes the seasons are years.  Sometimes they are days.  Sometimes they feel like mere hours.

It seems I’m not allowed to give up my dreams, even though they’re not fitting so well in my current season.  As many times as I offer them up to God, he keeps growing them.  He keeps reminding me that he has not forgotten, and it’s not time yet.

So friends, the writing is coming slow, but I still relish in hearing from each of you.  I do try to pop over on Facebook and Instagram when I can.  Waiting on God is ridiculously simple right now as I’m too busy to wonder when I’ll have time for something.  But it’s just the season.  I’m not quite sure how long this season will last, or how quickly I should expect to switch gears.  Thankfully, I don’t need to know.  All I have time to do is to try to do the season in which I find myself as well as God’s grace allows.

Don’t give up on me, friends.  Feel free to email me or touch base on social media if you need to reach out to a friend.  I’m not always able to write back, but I always say a prayer for you.

Tips for Morning Hour (and a planning printable)

Last year was the first year that we instituted the “Morning Hour” which is all the rave in homeschooling right now.  It’s sometimes called a morning basket or a morning meeting.  I have found it to be one of the most productive additions to our homeschool day.  It took awhile to work out what worked for our family.  I took awhile to grow into it. My favorite place to get inspired about Morning Hour has been this site.  (Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  Most are not.  All are honest recommendations.)

Morning Hour is the first start of your day.  It’s when you gather all the kids, regardless of age, and be inspired to learn.

Morning hour is about inspiration.  It’s not about checking things off a list.  It’s not about sitting still.  It’s not about being school-ish.  Although those things may happen during the hour, they are not the goal.

Morning hour is about setting our minds on things that are true, beautiful and good.  

It’s about setting our children’s hearts in the right direction, at the beginning of the day.

I have our morning hour broken into 5 parts, based on what I want to tackle with my kids when we are all together:

Truth

Beauty

History

Geography

Diligence

I need to figure out another word for History and Geography that fits with the rest.  We just study history and geography as a family, and it’s easiest to do it when we’re all together so that I don’t have to gather them all later.

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Truth

We read either a devotional or a chapter of the Bible.  We have gone through several devotionals that are well done, and I would recommend, I have recently been inspired by the book For the Children’s Sake in which the author says that most of children’s exposure of the Bible is through stories, or watered down children’s books.  She says we should be reading straight from the Scriptures, and exposing them to God’s actual Word from an early age.  So this year for our “Truth” section we are doing just that.  We started reading through one of the gospels (John) and are currently in Romans.  I intend to read through the epistles with them for the rest of the year, as I’ve realized since they are not story-heavy, they have not heard any of it before.  It’s really been enjoyable and encouraging for all of us.

Then we work on our Bible memory work.  This year we are working on memorizing the 3 chapters of the Sermon on the Mount.  We are adding roughly a verse a day, and I don’t know if we’ll make it to the end of the sermon by the end of the year.  I haven’t counted it out.  We just keep moving forward.  If we finish earlier, we will start memorizing something else.  If we finish later, than I guess we will just continue memorizing it next year.

Beauty

We are on a 4 day week at home, like many homeschooling families, because we spend 1 day a week at our co-op.  Each of our days at home have a theme.  We pull from a variety of poetry books.  This one is my favorite for studying poetry from a child’s perspective.

Day 1: poetry

During this portion, we work on: memorizing a poem together, and reviewing past memorized poetry.

Day 2: Music

I have found my favorite resource ever for learning about classical music.  It’s free, I don’t have to do any work, and it lasts exactly 6 minutes, which is perfect timing for our morning hour.  It’s a podcast that I’ve subscribed to called “Classics for Kids.”  It’s a 6 minute show explaining a piece of music or a composer, and giving the background story.  My kids were skeptical of this at first, but it has turned out being their favorite, as they are often bent over laughing from the stories.  The little girls often dance to this portion as we listen.

Day 3: Art appreciation

We have been using the art prints through Simply Charlotte Mason.  Basically we work on our skills of observation.  I set an art print on the table, and set a timer.  The kids have to look at the art piece together for 2 minutes without talking.  When the timer is done, they can raise their hands and tell me what they noticed about the art piece.  I’m always astounded at their observations.  They notice things in the background, reoccurring themes, or say what they like or hate about it.  The little booklet that comes with it has a paragraph or two about each piece, and I’ll usually read that after we are all done talking.  If the kids are chatty, sometimes we’ll discuss more once they know the background combined with their observations.  I don’t force this discussion if it’s not flowing.  They usually want to talk about it, though.

Day 4: Handwriting

The younger kids work on handwriting everyday because they are still learning it.  I have added this back into art for the older kids who know how to write, but have gotten sloppy.  They will write out in their best handwriting a famous quote.  I have found some great printables for this HERE.  We talk about adding beauty to all parts of our lives, and leaving each job we touch more beautiful than when we found it.  Like I said before, it’s not about demanding perfection, but about inspiring them for the rest of their day.

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History

My plan has always been to read the Story of the World on rotation during history time because it’s just so well done.  (It comes in 4 volumes, and we do one a year on rotation.  I linked to Volume 1.) The activity book has some great projects in there too which occasionally I’ll prepare for this time.  In reality, my kids prefer the audiobooks for this series, and we listen to it on our long car driving days.  Doing this, we go through the book for the year about 4 times.

So, for the history portion of morning hour, I read aloud to them from a different story book or biography.  Last year we read through the Magna Charta which talked about the history leading up to the Magna Charta, and the history directly following.  This year we have started with Poor Richard which is fun biography on Benjamin Franklin.

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Geography

Sometimes we’ll look at a map related to the history we just read.  This historical atlas is great fun for that.  Sometimes we use the maps given in the activity guide for Story of the World.  Sometimes we work on drawing a map using this series.  (We have drawn the United States, and we are currently working on drawing Europe.)

Diligence

This portion is where we work on subjects that we need to get done together, and are more technical.  Silje is excused for this portion, because she is past all these things, and is working on her own version of these topics at our co-op.  We review our Classical Conversations memory work.  This year we are also doing Sing Song Latin together.  Sometimes we work on grammar or spelling.  I have our school laptop ready for this portion as we watch a bit of the latin video, or play the memory work CD.

I used to avoid doing this type of technical work during morning hour.  I’m not inspired by the technical aspect of things.  I have since learned that some of my kids are absolutely inspired by technical things.  I’ve learned that my sons love grammar work because it’s the “building blocks” of language.  Doing something they are great at doing is a great way to start the day.  Not only that, but technical things are more concrete than “tell me what you think” about an art piece.  Adding a technical aspect has brought balance.

Starting Out

I don’t know about you, but my kids are squirrel-y.  We started off small.  Morning hour started out as no more than 20 minutes.  We started doing our Bible reading, and then either history or art.  Once we could do that well, we started doing Bible, history and art.  Then I started adding Bible memory work to Bible reading, and geography to history.  One we did those well, we added diligence to the end.  It now takes us a full hour to complete.

Feel free to add or delete whatever you like.  Last year we added some Shakespeare in place of history for awhile.  Sometimes we were wild and crazy and did Shakespeare and history, but skipped spelling and memory work.  You don’t have to study all the things everyday.  You can loop subjects like that.

Leave morning hour with everyone knowing what they have to do next.  We have our morning “tea time” at 10am.  So if it’s just 15 minutes until then, I’ll give them some free time.  If it’s a good morning, and we started on time, they may have 30 minutes to work on their instrument practice, reading, or math.  Don’t just let them scatter.  End the hour with an outline of the plan for the day, so they know what is expected of the

them what things they can do for fun when their work is done.  I don’t know why, but my kids need to review all this information everyday.  It’s like they forget they’re doing school that day otherwise.

Remember, it’s not about crossing a lot off the list (even though you cross a ton off the list during this hour).  It’s not about pushing them hard or exasperating everyone.  Morning hour is not about drudgery.

It’s about inspiring them for the day, lavishing on encouragement and pointing them in the right direction of curiosity, observation, and history, which teaches that they work not just for themselves, but that they are a part of a bigger story.

Seriously, morning hour is the best thing to hit our homeschool.

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To use the 4 day morning hour planning chart that I use, you can find it ready to print HERE.

If you prefer a 5 day morning hour planning chart, you can use this one HERE.

Protecting the White Space

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The first days of homeschooling feel empty. I remember feeling like a failure when my daughter went through our daily curriculum in less than 2 hours. I often said, “That can’t be all.” Most homeschoolers will tell you that those early elementary years have very short days, but once they get to the upper grades, they will spend more of the day on schoolwork. We ended up filling our days by taking walks, playing outside, reading lots of stories, and having tea parties. We followed our curiosities and worked on projects that sounded fun.

However, like any vacuum, activities and responsibilities soon filled up our days to overflowing. Eventually, I found myself saying, “Yes, but when will we do school? We have to fit math in here somewhere.” Right now, that same 1st grader from when we started homeschooling is in 7th grade and not only does she volunteer at the library, she is in a sport, plays 2 instruments, is part of a challenging co-op, and does church youth activities. Our days are full to the brim.

She’s not my only child either. If we’re not careful, our desire to let the kids deepen their interests and our plan to respect their individual gifts can become an overwhelming assault on our family’s downtime. Our lazy days get robbed, our moments curled up with a book just for fun, and evenings playing a family game can become a far-off dream.
The question can quickly turn from, “What can we do with all this free time?” to, “How can I prevent school going to 5pm every day, and our toddlers spending 4 hours a day in their carseats as we trek our minivan all over town all evening?”

The longer I teach, the more I see a need for white space in my kids’ lives. It’s necessary not only for our sanity, but in order to enable depth in their comprehension. When we just rush through the day, checking subjects off a list, my kids’ learning is like a rock skipped across the surface of a lake. The information never sinks deep.

I’m honored to be contributing to The Unlikely Homeschool again today.  Head on over to read the rest of the post there today.