How To Organize & Plan Your School Year: Angelena Stowell
Explore homeschool organization and planning ideas for newbies and veterans alike!
Appears in this episode
Shanxi: Hello, this is Shanxi Omoniyi, host of MPE’s “Homeschool Hints” podcast to encourage you wherever you may be on your homeschool journey.
So today's theme is preparing for the school year, which I'm sure a lot of us are doing. We might be ranging from very excited to extremely nervous and overwhelmed. I'm here with Angelena Stowell, and she's going to tell us a little bit more about how she prepares for the school year. Angelena, you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Angelena: Yes, thank you. I started homeschooling unexpectedly. I really didn't plan on homeschooling as a mom. My children were in public school - my two daughters were in public school - and they went to public school. My oldest daughter, Lily, she went through school all the way up until almost our senior year and then her senior year we had moved to Washington, DC.
And during that time they were going to do virtual, and this was during the time of Covid as well, so it was weirdness. And in the community they were still doing virtual, and so we decided okay, so the older two girls would do virtual school and the younger two that we have would be doing just homeschool anyways.
But we ended up pulling the older girls because the homeschool - or sorry, the virtual schooling - was just not working out. And it wasn't a very effective planning. It was widely known to be kind of not doing well. My oldest daughter, who I’d never homeschooled - I started homeschooling in her senior year - and I hesitate to even say it was homeschooling because I mean she's basically, you know, just reading literature. And she doesn't need much of instruction. So she had a piece of cake for her homeschool.
I do, however, wish that I had homeschooled her at some point. If I could go back and redo it, I think I would have redone that just to have that connection. She always did well. She always thrived and coped very well through public school.
My second daughter who's now a senior, I started homeschooling her whenever she was in sixth grade and that's whenever our homeschool journey began. And I've been homeschooling for seven years now, homeschooling the younger two. The younger two are 7 years old, about. She'll be turning 8 in September. She's going into second grade. And then my son, who's 11, and he's going into the sixth grade with my second-to-oldest daughter.
Our homeschool journey started with her. She had complications in public school, just with, you know, some of your nightmare situations like bullying and really personal story things, you know, that we don't have to touch on at the moment.
But it was just the best decision, and at the time, I reflect on it now and I think back about how amazing - and I've reflected on so much, honestly, not just at this moment - but it’s seeing how God just prepared our home and our hearts to be able to homeschool her and do what is best for her. And it's just incredible because all of my friends at the time and continue to be my friends but they were all homeschooled.
And it was just one of those things that I acknowledged was like I respected them for and it was magnificent that they did it. But I never believed myself to be fit to be able to do it. So I completely understand whenever I have a mom, or a friend or somebody that I cross paths with, that is like, “I just don't think I could do that.”
Even though I shared in that very moment at one point in my life, I will tell women, “Oh no no no, I know you can, I know you can.” I guess that's where my confidence comes from, is because I know I've been on the other side of that fence thinking, yeah. Because you're thinking in a public way. You're thinking in this worldly view that you have to be able to provide for them what the public school system needs to provide for them. It has to look like this by-the-book type situation and there are good things there and there are things that are just untrue.
The lie, though, is that believing that you can't because you completely can. It's hard for me to imagine not being able to homeschool them or to have not done it. It just seems like that was never a thought, although I know it was a reality at some point, you know. And my personal conflictions and those things, and we did - my husband and I, we came to the agreement that we would homeschool through a lot of prayer.
We were sitting in church and it was during worship and we had prayed so much. And it was just whenever you have those moments before the Lord where it's very, very heavy on you, you know? You can feel his presence. It's not a scary thing, it's this wonderful, just, conviction that you're like, “Okay, this is where I surrender.”
Leading up to those moments, I was constantly researching and finding resources, asking friends, going over to friends, homes and saying, “Hey, just show me how you do school. Like what does this look like, you know?”
I remember one time before we actually jumped full-fledged into it. I was given the idea to do like one of those lap books about the Revolutionary War - well, that's what we had landed on because it sounded really cool - and it was during, like, I think it was during fall break, and we did that. It was fantastic.
Of course, it went really well because it was fun and it's something that, like, just planning school and doing school things and being involved in this, is something that I find a lot of joy in. And it was something that I always found joy in. I would see those details and just other areas of my life whenever I would be involved with my kids.
Meaning, I think, that there's points there to a relationship - a mom's relationship with her children - that she doesn't realize that she is this teacher and that she's giving them these skills, right? Although she might be sending them to public school at the time, she's still the main teacher of them.
Shanxi: Did you have any overall tips for organizing and planning the school year that you learned, you know, either from your friends or along the way across your seven years?
Angelena: Yeah, absolutely. I want God to get all the glory all the time. I would always say pray first. Ask for his guidance and his discernment and for him to give you wisdom and patience and a kind heart and grace for yourself as you dive into planning.
I don't care if you're a seasoned homeschooler or if like you're completely brand new at this, just give God all the glory that you get to do what you get to do before you begin.
I like to clean out and organize our classroom so declutter, get rid of old school supplies, clean out your stuff. so clean it out. Get yourself organized so you feel better about that and it feels so good whenever you can clean your space out.
Clean your car out. We clean our cars out before we hit the road or go on a road trip. And mine is always, I don't know what happened. I don't know how it gets to be the way that it does. How do you get like, you know, a fry to be that hard? <laughs> How do you get things in your car like that?
And then return your library books, all those overdue library books, return those. Also do a meal plan. You don't have to do it immediately, but I do believe meal planning and simple meals for your school year, just to kind of come up with something that's simple and budget friendly for yourself. Tacos, you know, at least once a week, maybe twice.
You just get to know your kids and you spend some quality time with them in an intentional way. Like, take notes on the things that they like. What grade will they be in? What are the key benchmarks of that grade, and what are you going to be working towards?
Ask your children questions, like what are they like? What do they want to learn about? You're discovering their character and then you can build off of that, because that will help you to be able to decide on maybe a curriculum. Whether you go full on, you know, Classical Conversations or you unschool and you're just a hot, wonderful mess. Which is probably where I stay <laughs> but we're learning.
That you research and that you reach out to other homeschool families and so, yes, research curriculum. And I think it really depends on what kind of learner your child is or how they like to learn, right? Because if your child is a very multi-sensory learner versus the textbook visual learner, then obviously the curriculum that you can choose. But yeah, absolutely.
So we have a multi-family like age going on here. So, with our oldest daughter, she sort of does her own thing. A lot of her stuff is literature based, it's heavily literature based this year. It's totally different because she's a senior so it's like, she's kind of like an adult and we're just about to kick her out of the nest, right? So it's like okay, read Pride and Prejudice, goodbye!
I mean, she has very solid plans we're very excited for, but it does get a little bit like, you feel pretty good about the progress that you've made, you know. When you get up to that point with the younger ones, my youngest one, she's still learning to read, but she's very involved in the process that I do with her brother, almost sixth grader. So a lot of that is we're teaching the same subject, you know, we're learning from the same book so she has her own stuff and he has his own stuff. And then we pull from all different kinds of things.
I guess my style - as far as my style of, like, homeschooling - would be a holistic approach to it. I want it to be a home lifestyle, like it's a culture that we have. We want to love on the child and do what's best for them and be encouraged and inspired by whatever curriculum you're using, right? And pulling that into it.
I would say, after you get your curriculum - which is so fun whenever you do finally decide what you're going to do - I love that part and then organizing it all. It's just very satisfying and then you're seeing it, you know, you're touching it and all that.
Whenever I do get our curriculum, which is such a happy day - I'm watching that package so close. Like, with all of it because I just like it and I love books too, like every woman in homeschool, I think, does is we have a infinite love for hard-back books and, you know, an actual book. But I take like, all the stuff and I take all the curriculum out of the box and I organize it by subject matter.
So laying it all out just to keep it concise and and less, like, wordy is I use a file system. You can get files that are portable, you know, they have several spaces in them and then they'll use, they have, like, the wire inside of them. I've found mine at Target: plastic ones that have a lid that go over them, stuff like that. Just things that you, even, handles on the side so they're not huge but it's basically a document file folder thing.
And then inside of it, you put the bracket like the hanging files, right? So I have the hanging files in there and then in each hanging file I put five days, Monday through Friday, labeled in there. Day one, you know. And then you put everything in there.
In addition to that, at times I have even made myself or my child, like a plan for the day so like their agenda sheet. Maybe it would have a space there for scripture and it's just something I've done like, on a Word document and you can do that yourself.
Don't spend too much time ever trying to go and find one that you can download. You can just type this up simply. You don't even have to type it, you can write it on a piece of notebook paper or a piece of paper. Don't over-complicate it. I've already done that for you in spades <laughs>. Unless you enjoy it and then you can completely make yourself a document, sure, and then it's great.
But it has everything there, and then it's specific to the child. So if you have a child that is an independent, who can do independent work, they're at a reading level they can do all of that themselves, then they can like, check-box method seems to work really well for them too. I do find it to be a good way to keep track and record keep as well for each day that you're doing.
There's many options and by no means am I saying, “You should do this.” No, you should do whatever your heart desires, honestly, and you'll figure it out pretty quickly. Because us women, we like things a certain way - we really are, you know. We might like that spiral-bound book more than anything else I know. I do. I like the way it folds over and then whenever they finish like a subject, like, they might just put it right back into that filing system and it's great. It could stay there all year if you wanted it to or whenever it comes time to, like, break that down because you can keep using that box every year.
You can use that box to organize your curriculum in for the coming year now to store it for your record-keeping. I take it and I put it in a three-ring binder. So I keep everything all together, and I have several of these for the kids throughout the last seven years and I've been cleaning out our basement and preparing for the year so I have it all. And especially whenever you start to think back on like, “Oh gosh, have we done things, you know, and all this stuff?” Like, you're thinking about all the times that you've been so busy, but when do you go back and you see everything your kids have done, it's so rewarding. I'm happy to have it. It's not a fire hazard <laughs>.
Yeah, when you can organize your curriculum like that, I put the books on the shelves and you know, I do them in order, like I have a science shelf and those types of things. I love resource materials so it's not necessary to ever buy books. You can find books at the library that you can use. And they don't have to be the same ones that are in the back of the book of like, you know, your resource. Because chances are somebody else has already checked it out and you're on a wait list that's like 5 deep, so just find something else.
And then branch out from the youth area over into the more mature adult sections of your libraries, you know, go into the science area. That is going to be something that even if your children can't read it, they can look at those amazing pictures.
Our library’s in Lenexa, and it's new to us because we haven't lived in that area very long, but I love the library. They have such a wonderful selection of science books that yeah, if you ever need one, I have it checked out okay? So you just come talk to me and I'll just return it, okay? <laughs>
So then if we talk about planners, I've used happy planner. I've used my own planner where I made my own sheets and did that. binding was always the thing for me. And I know it sounds kind of like, maybe that's like a unusual thing to get caught up on and I can't think of the word. It's silly, honestly, but it does matter, you know, because pages will fall out or things get dog-eared and if you have a trigger, that will do it.
Long story short, because I found one called The Homeschool Planner and I've been using it for the last four years. It's by The Peaceful Press with paper peony press. So you remember it by The Peaceful Press, and you can find it on Amazon.
It's got a black cover, it's solid, it's thick. It's got a gold by gold ring binder on it so the pages stay together. I love it. I sort of add memories to it as I go, so things that we experience, like this one from this year, I have pictures in it from, like, when we were living in DC, the kids. And it's got something for everyone. And I like the way it is laid out so you have your goals for the year. It's set up monthly, it's undated. You could get it and if you didn't use it, you could use it next year because it's been the same book every year I've used for the last, I think, it's four years that I'm on now.
It's got the month set out, two-page month, then you have your your student schedule, a monthly student schedule for up to four kids, and then you have your weeks where you can lay out your weeks and so the at-a-glance, you have a meal plan on there too. Yeah, she did think of everything.
Then the at-a-glance area I love. That's how I record keep with the at-a-glance stuff is so each of those days I write it out and maybe that's too much because technically you could use just your curriculum's lesson plan as your record keeping, like. “Hey, we're gonna do this.” But I like to be a little bit more personal with it and keep it unique to what we're doing. But it also helps me to keep track of everything we're doing and then I can look ahead and be like, okay so we did do something like we thought we were going to do it, which happens a lot, and then just shift it and move it.
It's got a spot in the back for attendance, field trip planner reading log, and a book wish list. So it really has thought of everything. I really like it. and it's, as you can see, has withstood a good year.
Trying not to fill up your calendar. Sometimes we feel like maybe we're not doing enough right, or we see a need in a child, and we want to get them involved in something. And those things are not to be ignored. You absolutely should, but even if you do one thing for one child, you don't have to do it for all 10 of the others, however many you had, like it's okay. You build off of what's good for everybody and have the flexibility to change with that.
But I think the point being there is just like, give yourself room for flexibility, so just making time for like those blank days in your calendar. Don't over-plan yourself and give yourself grace, and your children grace as well.
There's also another - oh, here it is straight in front of my face - Plan Your Year. That's Homeschool Planning For Purpose and Peace by Pam Barnhill which at - you know what? I just made a connection. I'm such a nerd. But this is the same podcast recommendation I wanted to give people because I want it, I like having a resource and sort of like an example.
We hear - you know, when we're listening to a podcast it's like, it is a data dump. It's a lot of stuff, it's a rambling, it's fantastic. I love it. I love being able to have a conversation and talk, but it can be overwhelming because a lot of times personally, I'm looking for, what was that resource, like I want to connect in that way where I can listen to somebody speak, but then I also need something that's like, tangible so I can know how would I need to fix, right? Or what's on the path, what's that tool I need?
But with Pam Barnhill, she has lots of podcasts, but she also had this book. This is the first time I ever came across her. It was maybe a couple years ago and this one, it's essentially a book, it goes over everything on how you can plan your school year. It's a good tool to have, especially if you're new to homeschool planning in general.
She has a podcast too. She has like three different podcasts, okay, but the one that - I think it's like 10 minutes to a better homeschool - and she talks to real homeschool moms about how they plan their school year. Again, her name is like Pam Barnhill.
And then there's - I came across another Instagram account too, and there's lots of wonderful women on Instagram and other moms that have tips and I mean, hashtag that stuff. Hashtag homeschool planning. Find out what comes up, you know, just the inspiration.
Oh gosh, Pinterest, but which can be completely overwhelming. For some reason I really appreciate Instagram for searching, like hashtag searching. I find it to be a little bit more precise in what I'm looking for. And perhaps it's because you can start to get an eye for what it is that a post is going to have, right? Whereas if you're doing Pinterest, it's going to link you to like, a lengthy blog. Which is great if you've already narrowed it down. That's a whole other thing too, is like even having a resource page of resources that are blog posts. That's overwhelming to me, a little bit time consuming. I like them whenever I'm trying to fall asleep, yeah, but the Instagram account that I mentioned is organized.homeschool.mom and she seemed to have some good snapshots of things like that that could be pretty encouraging too.
Planning does not need to be Type A. Listen, I'm not Type A at all. I'm Type All-Over-The-Place <laughs>.
I have an idea, I have a vision, and it's going to change a million times. And then I'm going to get bored with it, put it down, forget it, pile it up, but I'll get to it. I think that's why I'm always like, flexibility and spontaneity.
Shanxi: I love how whenever you talk about something like homeschool organizing, you can have the people who love homeschool organizing and the people who hate homeschool organizing. And we can all get in the same room and learn from one another because what works for one person may not work for another.
Angelena: It's like a light bulb moment, too, right? Because then you're like, oh, I didn't think of it that way or I could completely simplify it that way.
We get an idea of what it's supposed to look like for success for us, right? And then we need to scrap that and make it as simple as possible. And then it's different for each kid as well.
I've got three students - each different grade levels. They each are going to need a way to know what they're going to do for the day, right? That's going to be something that I start to look at in these coming weeks is, what is our rhythm for the year going to look like?
Typically it is - I have set aside time with Lola, the older, and said okay, what do you want your school year to look like? What are we working on? What's your curriculum look like? Those things. And then planning out her school year. This year is again, it's very minimal. She'll be doing community college courses so it got a lot easier as far as that goes. It's not a difficult thing anyways. I think whenever your kids are in high school though, right? You know it's not as hands-on, I think, as it is with the younger ones.
And then with my sixth grader, he's at an ability now where I think he really appreciates checklists. He is a type A. I love it, and I think he would benefit from having his own agenda. Like, he needs everything written out, right? He's not a kid who enjoys writing. He hates writing. And I'm okay with that, like it was one of those things for so long you know you're thinking, oh, my kid has to write. They have to be good at creative writing and stuff. And the thing is, they are, but you will feel like you're pulling teeth to get them to do something that, is it really worth it, right? To break them down to that moment so they tell you about, you know, all this…
Shanxi: What I did this vacation?
Angelena: …Walt Whitman moment about a snail and all this right now. It's not worth it. I mean, you can get to a point that's very conducive to your child's character and it doesn't cause tears, you know. And finding joy in that, or even having something that they can work towards, and not it being something that's overwhelming to them because I believe he's just totally overwhelmed by it. Not just because he doesn't like it, but just because it must be difficult, you know, to do it for him.
I'm thinking I will go back to the method I used with Lola when she was younger, which is - I have a printable sheet that I use, and then I can, I most likely will type everything in. But I'll also have some that are blank because I know that I'm not going to consistently be able to keep it day by day. Which is fine, and regular schools, you know, or any private school anywhere - the teacher is not staying to book with every single thing. That is a regimen nobody can do.
So we need to allow ourselves to have a blank sheet of paper basically for those days that just don't go according to plan.
And then for Lucy, for the 7-year-old, she doesn't need a checklist, you know. So hers is going to be pretty simple.
We also use baskets, so I keep all of their books in, and I say a basket because a basket is what you could totally use. But it's really one of those like, metal bins that Target has had, and I absolutely love them. They're the perfect size, they have handles on them, it's a pillow fort thing. They came in all these cool colors. They're just so neat.
It's those things that like, you use on a daily basis that you don't think anybody else is going to care about, right? Until you're talking about it, you're like, oh, they have no idea. They need to know because this is really cool.
Shanxi: Yeah, it's a game changer.
Angelena: It is a cool thing, yeah. It's like, when the cart came out, I got like, four of them, you know? What I'm talking about, like, the little - the Ikea cart and stuff like that, yeah. Those are fantastic as well.
If you have like a small classroom space or you're teaching out of your dining room - I have such fond memories of teaching out of the dining room because I literally did that up until just this year for six years - we were a mobile schoolroom.
Because I know all you want is bookshelves, that's all you want. You're just like, I just want some bookshelves. Maybe a chalkboard, that'd be nice, you know. I had to like, really wear down my husband to get the chalkboard for so long, as long as I could get a really big one.
And then use - there's chalk, there's Japanese chalk you can get that doesn't get dust everywhere. And that's another thing I need to put on my Amazon list. It doesn't get the dust everywhere like crazy, like your cheaper chalk dust. It's really fantastic. It's more expensive, but it's so good.
There's like funny stories about that online too, where people have bought out the - yeah, bought it out because they’re just like, professors because it works really well. Anyhow, so I completely went on a tangent there.
Shanxi: These are the things that people will never get anywhere else so they need to they need to hear <laughs>.
Angelena: Japanese chalk and pillow fort boxes. So I use those on their desks, and the desks that we have I like too is just a table from Ikea because we don't have a huge space. It's a small room that's probably supposed to be like, your sitting room, you know.
I don't know that anybody has a sitting room that's under the age of 75 right now. I mean, I have aspirations of it being a sitting room one day, which sounds amazing. So serene. But anyhow, so it's a small table that I have in there that is a white Ikea table that folds down on both sides. And in the middle part is some drawers, and it's great. So there's three drawers on each side but it - right now, it's even folded up and pushed against the wall so we can make space in there if one of the kids are wanting to play games or have a party or have friends over, that space can get used for.
Those tables are awesome too if you have a tiny space and you need a little table. You could seat four, but it would be tight for two children. It's fantastic.
It's also a good method, I think, if you were able to use wall space and you needed more than one table. You could easily put those touching each other. They'd be fantastic, and then they fold down and you can push them aside and have your dance, but yeah.
Shanxi: Thanks so much for listening. We hope you are encouraged in your homeschool journey.
Please continue the conversation with us on our website, midwesthomeschoolers.org, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're also active on social media if you'd like to connect with us there. Thanks to Kevin McLeod of incompetech.com for providing this royalty-free song Wholesome, which is licensed under creativecommons.org.
Meet Angelena, a passionate and loving homeschool mom of four wonderful children, and a devoted wife to her soulmate. Her heart overflows with joy as she nurtures and guides her children ages 19,17,11, and 7, on their educational journey.
Nature is not just a part of Angelena’s life; it's her sanctuary and source of inspiration. Angelena instills this love for nature in her children, teaching them to respect and care for God’s creation.
Beyond her role as a homeschool mom, Angelena is an avid seeker of knowledge in the realms of theology and philosophy. She delves into ancient texts and modern interpretations, always eager to deepen her understanding of spiritual matters and life's profound questions. Her faith is the cornerstone of her life, guiding her actions and decisions with grace and compassion.
Art is another facet of Angelena’s life that she wholeheartedly embraces. Whether it's painting, drawing, or visiting museums, she finds beauty and meaning in artistic expression. She encourages her children to explore their creativity, recognizing that art can be a powerful tool for emotional release and self-discovery.
But don't mistake Angelena for someone content to stay indoors. Adventure is in her blood, and she loves exploring the world with her family or alone. From local hikes and camping trips to exciting journeys abroad, she values the experiences that create lasting memories and broaden horizons.
Yet, amidst her love for nature, theology, literature, and adventure, Angelena’s heart is deeply committed to her ministry of encouraging women to find local community. She recognizes the importance of a supportive sisterhood where women can share their joys, struggles, and dreams. Through volunteering with Midwest Parent Educators, gatherings, and online platforms, Angelena creates spaces for women to connect, uplift, and empower one another. Her gentle and understanding nature provides a safe haven for women seeking guidance and camaraderie on their unique life journeys.