One spring a friend invited me to participate in a lesson planning retreat that she and a few other homeschooling moms went on together each summer.
The Value of a Lesson Planning Retreat
During the four years I participated in this lesson planning retreat, I found it to be incredibly valuable. Time set apart—free from the distractions of daily life and responsibilities at home—gave us each the opportunity to focus on preparing for the coming school year. Some sweet friendships were cultivated as well.
Our experience in a retreat center
There were usually six of us and we stayed at a Christian retreat center a couple of hours north of Phoenix. We all drove up together in one or two vehicles, loading the vehicles with crates, tote bags, and boxes full of our curriculum and resources, plus a few essentials like snacks and comfy clothes as well as office supplies, notebooks, laptops, and a copier, too!
After stopping for lunch on Friday, we’d begin our trek northward for a three-day retreat to seek God’s direction for our families and to get our thoughts and plans organized.
The retreat center worked well for us. Perfect for 6-8 people to sleep plus enough space for each of us to set up a six-foot folding table to spread out our materials and to work on our own lesson planning. Going to a retreat center also made it easy because meals were included. We didn’t have to spend time shopping, prepping food, or cooking, so we were able to dedicate more time to working on lesson plans. This was a big help!
Not your typical women’s retreat
If you’re like me when you hear the word retreat, images of worship, teachings, reading, hiking, games, and friendship probably come to mind. I quickly discovered that a lesson planning retreat is quite a different experience! I was amazed and inspired by the intensity and seriousness of these ladies the first time I went. They weren’t there to relax—they were there to work. And work we did!
We arrived Friday early afternoon and immediately got busy unloading our supplies and setting up our work areas. The experienced retreat moms explained what to expect beforehand, so it wasn’t hard to jump into lesson planning. We worked independently for a couple of hours until dinner and then put in another hour or two after the meal.
It wasn’t all seriousness and labor, though. Friday evening we watched a movie together and ate snacks we brought along. We talked and laughed for a bit, then went to bed and tried to get a good night’s sleep. (It always seems to be hard to fall asleep the first night.)
After breakfast, it was again time to work. By Saturday morning I had found a good cadence and was able to make good progress thinking through many of the subjects I planned for my children to study the coming school year.
Learning from other homeschool moms
One of my favorite things during breaks was the opportunity to ask questions, browse through the other moms’ curriculum, and glean ideas. We all learned so much from one another over the course of those three days. And the Lord certainly provided direction and brought clarity as we took time to seek Him in areas that were previously fuzzy in our minds.
The blessing of having uninterrupted time with other moms to bounce ideas off and to ask questions is priceless! Focused time away allows you to concentrate, read, preview materials, and write lesson plans.
A lesson planning retreat can prepare you for a new year
Having a plan for the year can help make you a less scattered mom and a more confident teacher.
Homeschool curriculum is written with the parent as teacher in mind, of course. Whether you’re using a packaged grade-level curriculum or taking more of an eclectic approach where you select resources from different providers, mapping out the overview of your year is invaluable.
Being able to to see the year at-a-glance was beneficial for many reasons. I was able to plan our scheduled breaks and make sure we had room in the schedule for unplanned days off, too. I could see how our various subjects worked together, where there might be overlap or opportunity to streamline, or when to leave room for special projects. And I got a clearer picture of what supplies, resources, and equipment I needed to have on hand.
Without a doubt, the opportunity to get away for a weekend and focus on preparing for the coming school year was more beneficial than I ever could have imagined it would be. My family’s homeschool experience was certainly more organized and purposeful the years I went on the lesson planning retreat.
As a bonus, I was blessed with some very special friendships that were formed during those retreats as well. A lesson planning retreat is a worthwhile investment of time and money to help you prepare for the coming school year. Here are a few tips and hints to help you as you consider organizing your own lesson planning retreat.
TIPS TO PREPARE FOR YOUR LESSON PLANNING RETREAT
- Schedule your retreat
Get it on the calendar. Make reservations at a retreat center, cabin, or hotel. Factors to consider when choosing a venue include price, availability, accommodations, and location.
- Plan the logistics
Think through details such as where you’ll stay, who will watch your kids, how you’ll get there, who you’ll invite, what you’ll eat, and what you want to accomplish on the retreat.
- Consider the timing
Find a time that makes sense for you. I like summertime after we wrapped up the current year’s work. I found I had more brain space to focus on the year ahead. It’s also important to plan your retreat for after you’ve purchased next year’s curriculum and have it in hand. You’ll want your curriculum with you for lesson planning.
- Plan for personal development
The retreat may be a great opportunity to listen to workshop recordings from your statewide organization’s annual convention, online events you’ve attended, or homeschool podcasts you follow. (Bring headphones so you don’t disturb your fellow retreat moms while listening.)
- Discuss expectations
Work together with the other moms to set expectations ahead of time so you’re all on the same page. Establish boundaries and a schedule for work times, free time, meal times, and fellowship.
- Determine travel plans
Decide if you’ll travel together or meet at your chosen venue. If you’re carpooling, make plans to share the travel expense by having each participant give the driver a predetermined amount of gas money.
- Set your own goals
Think about the goals you have for yourself and your children for the coming year. Try to narrow down what’s most important for you to accomplish on the retreat and focus on that. Pray and seek God’s direction on this before you go.
- Prioritize what you’re going to work on
Focus on subjects that need the majority of your attention. These might be core subjects such as history, English, and science, or it might be a supplementary subject like geography, art, or a foreign language. You might also spend some time planning meal schedules and chore charts if that’s a priority for you.
- Realize you won’t get everything done—and that’s okay!
WHAT TO BRING
By preparing ahead of time and bringing the supplies you need, you’ll be able to focus on lesson planning during your retreat. Here are some suggestions from my experience.
- Find out what is provided by the venue and make a list of what you’ll need to bring. (For example, will the venue provide tables for each of you to have your own work space or do you need to bring tables?)
- If you won’t have Internet access at the retreat, be sure to download any videos or documents related to the subjects you’ll be working on so you have everything you need.
- A laptop is helpful if you like to type your lesson plans and notes.
- We found that bringing a copier to share is very helpful, too! Remember to bring copy paper, extra ink, and necessary cables and cords.
- Bring your Bible, curriculum, resources and books, calendar, lesson planning worksheets, pens, pencils, highlighters, and other office supplies such as index cards, post-it notes, stapler, 3-hole punch, notebooks, 3-ring binders, etc.
HOW MANY MOMS AND WHO TO INVITE
Assess what works best for you and what your goals are for the retreat. The number of people also depends in great part on the facility and accommodations. A group of about six moms seems to be just right from our experience—not too many to be a distraction and enough to provide diversity for fellowship and idea sharing. However, going on a retreat by yourself or with just one other mom can work well, too.
Choose moms that are like-minded and have the same goal of getting away to work on lesson plans. You may regret inviting a mom whose main desire it to get away to fellowship or who has a hard time refraining from talking for long.
TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OF A LESSON PLANNING RETREAT
Stay focused while you are there. It’s easy to want to socialize all weekend, but if you aren’t disciplined you won’t get your work done and neither will the other ladies. Be respectful during work times. Limit distractions. Minimize talking during work times and limit socializing to breaks, meals, or scheduled time for fellowship and recreation.
Spend time praying together and for one another. You might even plan a time of worship together.
Jot down ideas that come to you as you read, pray, and talk with the other moms. Getting away on a retreat tends to get the creative juices flowing and you’ll want to remember those gems when you get home.
Be willing to share your experiences and learn from one another. Each one of us has experience and have learned different things that could be helpful to someone else. Don’t be so focused on your own lesson planning that you miss the opportunity to encourage another mom.
Go expecting to hear from God. He will meet you there. He has a good plan for your homeschool and family.
Many of the tips in this article were shared by the ladies that participated in the retreats I went on.
Blog image photo credit: Tracy Miller