Dissecting The Big Paper

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

**See the first part of this planning post here.**

1. Fold your paper into 12 squares and label the squares, starting with the month you begin school and ending with the month you finish. For us that is 11 months (August through June.) We only do school 4 days a week, and don’t really do much of anything in December.

2. Print out a calendar that will show you how many days there are per month and where the important holidays fall. Here is a resource for this from Jean Miller www.calendarlabs.com. Go through every month and color in the squares on your calendar printout when you know you will not be doing school. This could be holidays, vacations, birthdays, weekends, whatever. I make sure to note these days (holidays, birthdays) in several places.

3. Okay, this next step could be the BEST planning tip I ever received. And it comes from  . . . you guessed it . . . Jean Miller. (She really is a genius. Have you been to her website yet?) OK ready? Count the days you have available for main lesson per month. Remember to take into account any co-op days or regularly occurring off-days that you don’t do school. This was a game changer for me, because it helped me to see the actual amount of time I had per block. We don’t do school on Fridays, so I am only counting 4 days per week, not including holidays, birthdays, etc. There is anywhere from 8 days (August, December, June) to 20 days (October is a whopper this year!) to an average of 15-16 days per block/month (September, November, January, February, March, April, May). Put this number somewhere prominent as it will guide and determine your weekly and daily plans.

4. Before I get into planning on a weekly or daily basis, I need to get the order of my blocks solid. This is slightly intuitive and consequently, hard to explain. First I determine the “big” blocks that need to come later in the year. (For grade 6, this will be Physics and Medieval History. For grade 2, this will be Saints and Heroes and the novel The King of Ireland’s Son.) Then I try to put blocks that require field trips in months with nicer weather (grade 6: geology/October). We do math in January simply because it does not require a lot of preparation and that is what I need trying to get back to school after our extended break in December. In addition to these factors, I try to alternate math, history/language arts and science blocks. Anne Cleveland pointed this out in her excellent planning talk on The Waldorf Homeschool Expo this year. I don’t know if I paid attention to this before, but it is something I am taking into account this year.

5. Once I have done the four steps above, I feel like I have given myself a solid foundation to work with. Knowing how many days I have per block helps me rein in the number of resources I think I need. If I only have 16 days to teach a certain block and I read a new story every other day, that means I need 8 stories. If I need only 8 stories, I don’t need to beg, borrow, steal and purchase 101 books! Once I narrow down my resources, the number of days also helps me to divide how I am going to teach the block. Usually, I like to have my blocks fall into the confines of a month, however, some blocks in the upper grades need more than a month. Last year, Greece needed 6 weeks and this will happen with Rome this year. I know I am using Charles Kovacs’ book Ancient Rome which is divided into 3 sections. If I have 6 weeks to teach the block, that gives me 2 weeks per section. (For another take on this, see this post from last year. For a reality check, see this post.)

Below you will find a revised block schedule for next year. Things I’ve scrapped are in red; things I’ve added are in green. It is ongoing and ever-changing. I feel like our first semester (August through December) is pretty tight. The rest will be adjusted in December/January.


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Bird Study/Form Drawing/Math Review (2 weeks)
  • Jude (grade 2) – Bird Study/Form Drawing/Math Review (2 weeks)


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Rome (4 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Decimals Book 1
  • Jude (grade 2) – Animal Legends (4 weeks)


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Rome Con’t (2 weeks) / Geology (3 weeks) / Biography Study (2 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Percent Book 1
  • Jude (grade 2) – Math (4 weeks) / Nature (1 week)


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Business Math (3 weeks)
  • Vincent Grammar/Math Focus – Grammar/Punctuation Practice/Geometric Drawing
  • Jude (grade 2) – Uncle Remus Tales (3 weeks) Celtic Legends (3 weeks)


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Ancient China (2 weeks) European Geography (2 weeks)
  • Vincent Grammar/Math Focus – Grammar/Punctuation Practice/Geometric Drawing
  • Jude (grade 2) – Festival of Stones, Reg Down


  • Vincent (grade 6) –Geometry (4 weeks) Geometric Drawing (4 weeks)
  • Vincent Grammar Focus: Grammar/Punctuation Practice
  • Jude (grade 2) – Math (3 weeks) / Nature (1 week)

February: Room of Requirement

  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Decimals Book 2


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Physics (4 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Percent Book 2
  • Jude (grade 2) – Saints and Heroes (4 weeks)


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Medieval History (4 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Decimals Book 3
  • Jude (grade 2) – Math (3 weeks) / Nature (1 week)


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Arthurian Legends / Time Line / A Little History of the World, EH Gombrich (4 – 5 weeks)
  • Vincent Math Focus – Arithmetic Review/Practice; Key to Percent Book 3
  • Jude (grade 2) – King of Ireland’s Son, Padraic Colum (4 weeks)


  • Vincent (grade 6) – Wrap Up / Review (2 weeks)
  • Jude (grade 2) – Wrap Up / Review (2 weeks)

24 thoughts on “Dissecting The Big Paper

  1. Sheila, you are a genius as well as clairvoyant! I have gotten my blocks in order and had just been saying to myself, “hmmm, I wonder when Sheila is going to do her detailed planning post?” because I need all sorts of guidance about the weekly/daily nitty-gritty, and…here it is! Good stuff. Love the idea about counting the available main lesson days…that is really going to help me narrow this down.

    Looks like a great year for you guys! Hope all is well.

    • That’s funny!! I’m telling you, counting the days is the key. It makes everything easier.

      Hey did you get any response to your query about Live Ed grade 2? I have really been enjoying reading through it. Lots of good stuff in there. I think the Christopherus guides are more detailed as far as “scheduling” things out, but I am loving the different voice of Live Ed.

      Are you teaching 2 grades next year? I can’t remember.

      • Yes, two grades…1st and a combo 2nd/3rd. No replies yet for the Live Ed. I sold my 2nd grade Oak Meadow so I am just cobbling together a plan with a few resources. Thought I’d see if I could get a used one but no luck yet. I have a Christopherus 1st and 3rd. I wanted to try the Live Ed to see which I preferred.

        Oh, if money were no object!

  2. I always love your nitty-gritty planning posts Sheila! You are several years ahead of me (we’re starting first grade this fall!) so it’s really fun to look ahead. :)

  3. Wow, Sheila. Great plan and I just love the post-it notes. Step 3, count the days you will have for your main lesson – that was a real game-changer for me, so I’m glad it’s helping others. And for those of us who love to peruse and accumulate the 101 books for each block, this helps right-size the whole process for sure.

    Thanks for the shout out! And I’ll see you at Taproot next week!!!!!

  4. I haven’t been by for awhile…because I’ve been knee deep in planning our year. Ha. We are, obviously, cosmically connected.

    I’m considering something you wrote here and something I think you wrote somewhere else (or was that someone else…please, clarify for my gauzy brain) —

    You: determine how many weeks you’re working on a block and then fill the time.
    I: determine what we want to study and how long all that I want to do is going to take.

    You (I’m nearly certain): talked about a subject that you guys studied and then Ended It — you had X weeks planned and that was that and it was good that you just said “enough, we’re done.” I Know this was you — I know you’ll remember. A link would be helpful (; because I remember thinking at that time — “Hmmm….maybe that’s a better way than the boundless method I use.

    Our history this year would benefit from me figuring out whether I should plan by boundary or not. Seems, upon thinking, that a lot of what we’re doing this year has some kind of intrinsic boundary because it ends — like the Ann Voskamp geology book. But I think I should figure out history….

    You’re always making me think (:

    Have a Wondrous time at Taproot


    • Yes, I saw your plans yesterday. ‘Tis the season.

      I first mentioned it briefly somewhere that is eluding me right now, however I expanded on the idea in this post, aptly titled “Endings” https://sureastheworld.com/2013/06/17/endings/

      I have a post coming out Monday about how creating boundaries for blocks is hard, but also so beneficial for me. That post also talks about an idea I have come up with to pacify and placate myself to do something with all those good ideas that arise but are deemed non-essential.

      I think it is a dance. I also think the proof is in how your overall schooling feels to you. If you (and Dinah and Grace) are fine with open-ended studies, than it is working. However, if school feels like guests that have overstayed their welcome – and you just wish they would leave already, but you don’t know how to ask, and the visit just goes on and on and on . . . . well, I would say it’s not working, LOL.

      Hmmm . . . so much more to say about this, as I think this is the work of homeschooling – finding that sweet spot between whetting their appetite and stuffing them into a stupor. And, not so ironically, my personal inner work as well . . . As my mother would say, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

    • I was still thinking about this and realized how a little bit of structure gives me the push I need to get things done. (I’m a “J” on Myers-Briggs; don’t know if that is Greek to you, but it is a personality profile.) Anyway, I was just thinking about how I blog Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This works for me, bc it tempers the flow of information. It is not indicative of all how I write – AT ALL – bc I write everyday. But some weeks, the writing is more productive than others. But giving myself the framework of M, W, F I can regulate my writing. Some weeks this pushes me to write and some weeks it gives me a cushion bc I have a few posts waiting in the wings.

      I’m taking a break from blogging in August, but I will still keep to my schedule. I have a printout of the month and just filled in how I want the posts to flow. This is exactly what I do with my blocks and counting the days. Again, it helps me. It may not help you.

      Just some thoughts.

      The boys are listening to car talk . . . need to get back to planning while they are all entertained.


      • This is such a balance isn’t it? I need the structure of a framework as much as I need the freedom & flexibility to adapt as the moment unfolds with my daughters…

        As a “P” on the MBTI, I have to work harder on the structure and I greatly appreciate the inspiration from your blog and others such as Mama.

        • I find all that personality information I have studied to be so helpful in homeschooling (MB, enneagream, temperaments).

          We are all different and all need balancing in different ways.

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  6. Hello Sheila, this is my first time on your blog. Wow am I glad I found you :) My little ones are still small (4.5 & 2) but I’ve learning and living the Waldorf inspired way for over 3 years now. So much to learn and so much fun! I am most inspired by such organized and dedicated mothers like you and I look to them for strength and guidance to raise our sweet boys the best I can. I do not know anyone or any family that homeschools and I certainly did not encounter any growing up as well. Thank goodness for the interent!

    This is a whole new world for both my husband and me. Thank you for sharing your experiences and this post is so great – it really helps me get a glimpse of what it is like to homeschool and how it comes together. I so look forward to reading more about your journey. Have a great August break! – Sincerely, Grace

    • Hey Grace,
      I’m so glad you’re here. There is so much to learn, however listening to that small still voice inside you is really all you need to know! Take your time with yourself and your littles. Enjoy this beginning time. Even though it feels so overwhelming, I look back now and see how I was guided by so much goodness. I’m happy to be on this path and any help I can offer, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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  10. I just love it! Although I never meant to, I would probably describe my style as unschooling. This is more to do with my inability to plan an entire year, rather than any philosophical underpinnings. I feel so inspired now. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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