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You'd think that since I have a teaching degree (and used it to teach 8th grade English before coming home to teach my own kids) that I'd be a very organized and planned-ahead sort of person. After all, I paid money to be trained to write up lesson plans and did it professionally for three years.
Well, okay, I admit that I am not un-organized. With the right amount of space, enough time, and the appropriate tools, I am even more organized than I usually am today. However, ample space, time, and tools currently do not apply to our situation. We are living in a house that "needs work," not to mention, needs more room, and I deal with migraines (which affect my ability to think and function) regularly. Both of these things have caused me to be a "seat of the pants" sort of teacher in recent years, meaning that I use whatever resources I have from day to day to get something useful done.
But wait...please don't think that that means that our learning is disjointed and all over the map. In fact, I really am an organized person at heart. And I do have a reputation for being able to find anything, make do with what I have, gather excellent resources, and pull something together quickly (because my knowledge base is fairly wide). So, given our decision to work on Ancient History and Cultures this year, and our ownership of a wide range of resources (collected over time), you will find us doing something to work towards our basic goals (Bible, reading, writing, arithmetic, history, nature study, art, music) on any given day. Just don't ask me Tuesday what we are going to be doing next Wednesday, because honestly, I just don't know.
I know. All of you folks out there who have Sonlight or A Beka Curriculum guides to rely upon are probably hyperventilating right about now. Believe me, I have considered what the blessing of knowing what is going to be done on any given day (and not needing to plan anything myself) might be. But any time I try it, it's a big flop.
- I get a bad run of headaches and all plans go out the window to be converted into a temporary cinematic extravaganza (meaning Netflix saves the day) or an online work day
- I find some fun, new (often free) resources that the kids and I are dying to try out (lapbooks, internet sites, living books, field trip opportunities)
- I get bored. Yes, really. I am admitting it. Doing the same thing (or same type of thing) every day bores me. It is not my ideal learning style.
I am what I consider to be a "delight-directed" sort of learner. Now, I know that this does not mean that all my kids are that sort of learner, and I know I have to worry about what they need to help them be successful lifelong learners, but truthfully, right now, the younger four are too young to have a real set learning style (at least, if they have desires to do anything in a way that varies from my way, I have not yet seen evidence of it), Tex (age 14), is an independent learner and does most of his work on his computer (which works for him because he is a techie and a lefty, so the computer is an ideal tool), and Bubba, well, he's graduated and doing very well adjusting to owning his own business and taking college classes a few at a time.
In any case, running with our interests is working for us right now, so I do not see any reason to adjust from this method. However, since it's always better if you do have the finish line in mind when you are running, I have planned out a vague timeline in my mind, and when choosing what to do each day, I keep that timeline in mind. For example, I know we want to be through Egypt by Christmas break, and we take much of December off to celebrate the season and accomplish all that it entails in a joyful way, so while we are enjoying delving into the cultures of the Egyptians, and other ancient people groups, there will be an end to it and a start to something new...Greece until Spring break, then Rome until June. This isn't a precise plan, and honestly, the exactitude of it does not concern me since doing history as a four year cycle is my intention, so anything we miss this first time around will be covered again in four years, and likely in more depth (since the Amigos are so young now...ages 2-almost 8). There is some security in knowing that even if you miss something, you will have another opportunity to revisit the information. For me, at least, it opens up the way to explore interests and have fun.
All that having been said, I DO use several resources to help me keep what we do study organized. First, there are two daily planners which I have used in the past to help me keep track of what we accomplish. Please understand that I do not use these as planners (as in "plan ahead"), but as record-keeping tools, and a way to look back at our week and evaluate what I might improve or need to address the following week...however, you can feel free to use them as a plan-ahead planner, if that is what works best for you. They are both very good, spiral bound, simple, yet effective, planners.
The first is the Record of a Learning Lifestyle by Notgrass Company. I liked this one last year because it has spaces to fill in for spiritual learning, chores, creative expression, relationships to others, and physical activities, in addition to the usual academic pursuits. The spaces for writing in your activities are generous, and while it encourages some structure, it doesn't box you in. I think this planner is especially great for younger students, and it works well with the Charlotte Mason style of learning.
However, in recognition of this year's move towards a Unit Study method, we have chosen to use the the Unit Study Daily Plan Book by Carey Taylor which I bought from Rainbow Resource Center at our state convention last June. This has been a definite winner for me, as it includes spaces for a daily subject by subject breakdown of educational activities (which I sometimes use as a student by student breakdown instead, since the label lines are blank), places to write down books read and videos watched, a section for special activities and projects, a spelling and vocabulary section, a space to note which timeline characters you will be covering, and a space where you can check off which subjects you covered on which days, for people like me who are more random, but prefer to make sure all the bases are covered each week. If you ever use unit studies in your homeschooling, I highly recommend this planner.
All that said, I still do have dreams of being more organized ahead of time. I'd like to have all our amazing ideas mapped out (to a certain extent) so that in times when I am less functional, I can just pull out a book that tells me what I am supposed to be doing and don't have to think up anything, or choose to just put the kids in a holding pattern, doing work online or watching a topic-related movie. Not that I think there is anything inherently bad with either of those options, or I wouldn't be using them, but I think there is something to be said for striving to always make improvements and adjustments. To help me with those goals, I asked my husband to buy me the Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education dvd and book set for my birthday in June, and was hoping to have time this summer to really dig into it. Nope. Not yet. But it is in my drawer, waiting for a chance to be heard and learned from. Perhaps during the Christmas season, there will be time to sit and watch and sew a bit...sigh.
One last thing that I will say is a planning lifesaver around our house are our marker boards. Earlier this school year, I decided to give up on that idea of having a meticulously pre-scheduled plan (again), and went searching for a viable alternative. I liked the idea of workboxes, as you can develop them a week at a time, depending on how far you get the previous week. All the stuff you need is within easy reach, the kids can start to get work done on their own, and the idea of offering a variety of learning tasks each day sounds exciting for the kids. However, space is at a premium in our house, and we have our own living proof of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (everything moves from order to disorder) in our house (Boo), so that idea isn't viable for this year.
Fortunately, while researching workboxes, I discovered how another blogger used marker boards to organize her kids' assignments using workbox labels (and markers), enabling her to achieve much the same effect as workboxes without the space required for them (since all the needed items for the day fit into one box instead of many). I tell about how I am using markerboards this year in my post on Organizing Our School...1,2,3, Help!. Using the boards is the way I have of translating the "lesson plans" I see in my head to "paper" so the kids can implement the plan without me holding their hand every step of the way. Eventually, we want them all to be self-directed learners, like their older brothers.
There is still that dream of someday having great lesson plans that anyone can follow if I have a bad day...but for now, I am setting dreams of that aside, and learning not to feel like I have to produce solid plans two months in advance to keep up with the Joneses. There is something secure to be said about having solid, pre-written, well-thought out lesson plans, but there is something to be said for flexibility, delight, exploration, and thinking outside the planner box, too.
If you aren't a meticulous planner, and have been knocking yourself out trying to become one, I challenge you to take a step back and look at the big picture. Are your kids excited about learning? Are they interested in what you are teaching? Do they explore ideas on their own? Do they love to read and draw/make stuff and try new things? Are they developing all the basic skills (reading, math, writing) to the best of their capability level? Are they happy? Are you happy?
If you answered "yes" to these questions, then maybe what you are doing, scheduled or not, is just what you are supposed to be doing at this time, and detailed lesson planning isn't needed right now. Give yourself a break (like I did) and keep your focus on your kids, their character, and their appreciation of learning because you are doing great!
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, schedule or not, you need to take a second look at what you are doing and evaluate whether it is the most effective method of teaching for you and your students. Perhaps you need to work on making a more concrete schedule because you, or they, need one. Or perhaps you need to break out of your rigid schedule for a time because your kids (0r you) need to exercise your self-expression and explore some personal interests for a while to bring back the joys of home education.
Whatever your style of lesson planning is, as long as it works for you, your hubby, and your kids, I hope you have planned (or intentionally not-planned) your way into having the best year ever!