Homeschooling with Excellence No. 3

Better Ways to Use Your Instructor's Guide

Your Instructor's Guides are just that... guides. They are meant to provide a framework for your school days, not to be slave masters you dread. In this article we have compiled some of our clients' best suggestions for personalizing your Guides and making them work for you! Keep what works for you, and discard the rest.

As Debbie wrote to a new Sonlighter: "It takes several weeks to find your rhythm. You may need to experiment to find out what works best for you when organizing your IGs and related pages." And that's the point: what works best for you probably won't work best for your friend down the street.

So how might you want to organize your work?

  • Some people intersperse the schedule pages and notes for all subjects behind the appropriate week-numbered tabs and leave it there. They treat all the study guide pages as if they were separate books — just as if they had purchased a course instructor's guide and separate study guides and student workbooks. People who follow this method find the appropriate study guide pages and activity sheets as they need them, on a daily basis.

    This kind of organization requires very little work on your part up-front; but it can take a bit more time on a daily basis than if you follow the next hint.
  • A bit more time-consuming up front but exceptionally helpful on a day-to-day basis: You may want to pull out the appropriate Study Guide pages and Student Activity Worksheets and file them behind their correlated schedule pages. Remember: you will find the Read-Aloud, Reader and History guide pages organized alphabetically by book title.
  • Some further suggestions:

    Rather than keeping ALL your pages for all subjects in one binder, you might wish to
    • Create a separate "working" binder (or clipboard, folder, etc.) divided by subject, using tab dividers for History / Bible / Literature, Language Arts, Science, Math, etc. Place anywhere from just one week's worth of work all the way up to six or eight weeks worth of work in this working binder.
    • Place all subjects together, but split the pages into two binders: one for Weeks 1-18, one for Weeks 19-36. Or,
    • Put all schedule sheets together in one binder and the worksheets and study guides in another.
    • Use 3 binders. The first binder is the "to be done" binder, the second is the "work in process" binder, and the third is the "finished work" binder. The woman who suggested this organization method said, "In the 'to be done' binder, I have my Instructor's Guides grouped by subject, not week. I pull all of the Read-Aloud guides and put them behind the first week that a book is listed. For instance, if Understood Betsy is scheduled to begin on week 14, I put the notes behind the Week 14 schedule page. I do the same thing for the History guides. The Language Arts activity sheet pages I put behind the appropriate week also. However, with Science, I keep the activity sheets together in order and they are in my 'work in process' binder."

      She goes on: "Okay, so in the 'work in process' binder I also have tabbed sections for subjects: History / Bible / Literature, Language Arts, Science and Supplemental Material. My son, seeing that mommy has a binder, wanted one so he keeps his Math worksheets in his binder — he pulls out two a day to work on. I have anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks worth of 'work in process' pages in this binder.

      "Okay. 'Completed work' binder. I use the tabs that Sonlight provides. I file everything behind the appropriate week that it was scheduled, regardless of when we actually did the work. I put the History guides and Read-Aloud guides in this binder as well as a field trip sheet I keep and stuff like that."

Here are some other ideas we've heard:

The first thing I do is put the History / Bible / Literature IG in one binder, then Language Arts in another and science in another. Next I put every page into a plastic page protector. Finally, in the largest binder I assemble each week. The first page is the History / Bible / Literature IG, followed by the related notes and Read-Aloud comments, then Language Arts and the corresponding notes and any necessary worksheets and copies and then finally Science IG pages. Once all 36 weeks are in one place, I put 4 weeks in a smaller binder. That is my working binder and as we complete a week I return the pages to their original locations.

— Vikki

I have two large binders, one with History / Bible / Literature D+E for my twins with Language Arts and Science E, and one with History / Bible / Lit G for my oldest with Language Arts G. However, I find these cumbersome to use on a daily basis, so I buy a smaller 2-inch binder and put 9 weeks at a time in it to use on a daily basis and keep the other 27 weeks on the shelf.

— Robin

At the beginning of the year I use the tab pages with the week numbers and collate the weeks for all the subjects. For each week, I have a set of pages and I put them in the order in which we "do" that subject each day. I also collate with the IG the student worksheets so they are handy for me to pull out as we come to them. All this doesn't fit in one binder so I have to replace it a third at a time. Right now, my binder has weeks 25-36 in it. But for me, I have one big binder with all the IGs for all we are doing, arranged by week. If in one subject we are behind, well I just have to flip back a couple of pages.

— Kim

I put all schedule pages for one child in one binder, week by week (so that I've got, say, week 1 History / Bible / Literature, Week 1 Language Arts, Week 1 science, followed by Week 2...). One year I had 3 binders: 1 for one History / Bible / Literature and its matching Language Arts, 1 for the other History / Bible / Literature and its matching Language Arts, and 1 for both levels of science. That worked fine, too.

I make liberal use of sticky notes to keep track of where we are in each subject, since after day one it's never the same in all subjects.

— Laura

How to Manage a Changing Schedule

Some of our customers find themselves getting "ahead" of our schedule in some subjects, and getting "behind" in others. It's not uncommon to hear a customer say she is in one week for Science, another for Language Arts, and another for History! It can sometimes be a struggle to know when to keep pushing to catch up with the schedule and when to stop and slow down. If this is you, here are a few suggestions you might find helpful:

Sometimes, if I get too far ahead in read-alouds, I'll stop reading those until we "catch up" in other areas. I might read something else to my boys or maybe we'll concentrate on the areas where we are "behind".

If you want to spend a little extra time on the Bible readings, try breaking it up and doing it several times during the day for short periods each time.

You might want to get a clipboard or a small binder and pull each schedule page that you are using (no matter what week it is) and put them together. Then, just check off things as you complete them and pull the next schedule page when you need it. As you finish a page, just put it back into your big binder.

I put my science worksheets in a separate folder and just work from there. If you want to record their answers, you can get out the separate folder, find the appropriate page and write the answers. For my 4-year-old and first grader, we just use the information in the IG and don't even bother with the worksheets. That way, everything I need is on my schedule page.

— Debbie

I consider us "in the week of" whatever Bible verse we're working on. Other than that, I use the IG pretty much as a read-in-this-order guide rather than "if you do these pages in the Bible you have to read this poem on the same day," etc. We usually finish read-alouds before they're scheduled to be finished, so we read other things while waiting for everything else to "catch up". My daughter knows nothing of this schedule or which books of the many we read would be considered "school books". When the topics are a little more complicated or my daughter just isn't in the mood, I might not read everything scheduled for one sitting, but then might read 8 or 10 times in a week and suddenly realize that we're "ahead" again.

I found dealing with my big Sonlight binder to be very cumbersome. So I bought a smaller 2-inch binder. I take out nine weeks at a time and put them in this binder. I add the Language Arts schedule behind the History / Bible / Literature schedule. Then I take out whatever notes I need and put them behind that week. I check things off as we do them. If we get ahead in an area I might hold off on that till we catch up in others.

— Robin

Record Keeping

You can also use your IG to keep track of records and grades for authorities and personal portfolios. If you don't know your state's homeschooling laws for record keeping, check Homeschool Legal Defense Association for them. For more practical help, we hope you find these ideas useful.

Kelly, one of our SCCs, added, "I usually provide recommendations for clients to use the IG schedule pages as their record books for each school year. By extending the vertical gridlines down into the Other Notes section and adding horizontal lines, clients can write in schedules for other subjects to cover the need for lesson plans as well as records. I know that the IGs suggest checking off each assignment as it is completed, but it may be helpful to also suggest that clients can use a colored highlighter to mark off completed assignments. The highlighter can serve multiple purposes... identification of individual students (different color for each child), stands out on the page, does not obliterate the written assignment."

Kathy wrote, "I keep a weekly planner with each day's lesson plan. When my kids finish any written work, I grade it, and then write the grade under each day's lesson. For example, if they need to read pages 133-137 in reading, I put a check mark showing that it was done. If they have done pages 1 and 2, when corrected, I just put 100% by page 1 and an 86% by page 2 in my lesson plan book. Then I file the papers according to subject. Every 3 months I take a tally of their grades from my lesson plan book, to come up with a grade average."

Planning Ahead

KC wrote that at the beginning of the school year she "maps out" the year for science and history on a computer-generated page that has 36 horizontal lines and 6 columns.

In the "first column I write the Sonlight Week number; in the second I write the name of the book; in the third, the pages covered; in the fourth (a broader column) I write descriptive info on topics covered; and the fifth column is 'supplemental info' where I can add that fabulous game, hands-on project, kit from Costco, etc."

This last column, she says, is "'other' for me... You could include ideas for field trips here. At a glance, I can see in two weeks what we are studying and plan a corresponding trip.

"You know, you find a fabulous book in October that you want to add to your 'rocks' studies later in spring. If I didn't have a place to write it down, it would sit on the shelf and I'd sadly recall it during the summer as I'm rearranging school materials! This way, when I buy something ahead, I can plot it down during the right 'weeks' on the 'mapping out the year' and then see it ahead during my weekly planning."

Many of our customers decide they want to cover material that we have scheduled for a single year in a year-and-a-half or two years. And part of the reason for stretching things out is — on the one hand — to slow the pace down, overall, and — on the other — to permit supplementation with outside activities, related field trips, additional books, and so on.

If you think this is something you would like to do, make sure you plan ahead, and ask other experienced homeschoolers how they pulled it off over on Sonlight Connections. You will also find many more ideas about how to organize your IG and keep records there.