Monday, September 09, 2013

Why it's good, often, to lay out your week

Sunday-night planning is tradition for a lot of homeschoolers.  At our house, because the trash gets picked up early Monday mornings, it's part of the Sunday evening routine: take out the garbage and recycling; make sure  any public-schoolers have signed permission slips or whatever they need; and go over the week's homeschool work.  That's when I rescue the 2-litre plastic bottle from the recycling, because it's on the supply list for a science experiment; when I track down a book that's gone missing from the shelf; and when I try to figure out the tune to the next hymn or folk song.  It's the homeschooling equivalent of looking in the cupboard and seeing if we have enough oatmeal and sugar to make cookies tomorrow.

But the best kind of planning goes beyond that.  I don't mean in a compulsive, track every minute every paragraph way, but in terms of overall goals.  Do you know, for example, what pages or chapters or topics your students are going to read this week, or that you're going to read to them--and if they read their own work, how are you going to communicate those plans to them?  Or if you don't plan ahead to that extent, do you at least know what books or materials they're going to use this week, and in what sort of order? If you have older students who do written narrations, do you have a couple of the readings tentatively (or definitely) marked for that?  If you want older children to help younger ones with math or reading, are there particular topics this week that would be a great match for those kids (or not)?

If there's a new and difficult book you have worried about starting...and for AO Year Sevens, there are a few of those...your planning time is also the time to boost up your own confidence and ability to communicate what's important or special about this book.  A couple of school years ago, I decided to start reading Silas Marner to Dollygirl.  Silas has been the butt of bad-English-class jokes since about the day it was published, but it honestly doesn't deserve its long/boring bad rap.  But like Shakespeare plays, it's easier to follow the book if you have some kind of a character guide; so Dollygirl got one made from "Mom's doodles"--like stick figures. Like meeting too many people at once in real life, it's hard to make sense of all those names without a bit of a hook; but it doesn't have to be complicated.  Just drawing the bad guy in an evil-looking hat or with a sword is enough.

You might have been thinking about a particular child's learning style, say a VSL-type, and wanting to incorporate some good ideas you read about in Upside-Down Brilliance.  Some parent/teachers can think on their feet and come up with stuff on the spur of the moment: "Quick, grab ten books off that shelf and put them in alphabetical order."  But for the rest of us, it makes more sense to preview the week's plan and pencil in some "let's try this" ideas, than to finish Friday and wonder why the week dragged so much.

Real-life examples:  At the Treehouse, this is the week we start Whatever Happened to Penny Candy, so I'll pull out the family box of coins.  This isn't just for amusement--we have some U.S. and other coins in there that have "reeded" edges, which is something discussed near the beginning of the book.  Why do coins have the features they do, such as reeding?  It's based on a question of honesty (keeping coins intact, not being able to shave off the edges without being detected).  I also noticed that there's an article in today's paper about Bitcoins, which I don't think we'll need for Chapter One but which is worth hanging on to for a later chapter.

When I look at Monday's work, I realize that we have three book lessons in a row, unintended, and they're all on British history (or history of literature), or British geography, also unintended.  Simple fix:  since we're rotating history and science, Monday's main history lesson moves to Tuesday, and we'll do science experiments today instead.  And what's that Robert Browning quote in the first chapter of English Literature?  About a magic place--

"Where waters gushed and fruit trees grew
 And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
 And everything was strange and new;
 The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
 And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
 And honey bees had lost their stings,
 And horses were born with eagles' wings."

Oh--it's from "The Pied Piper."  Well, I'm not going to re-read the entire poem during our opening time today, but maybe the last part.

For geography--well, Dollygirl will be doing most of the other readings today on her own, so it wouldn't hurt to read In Search of England together, and then we can talk about the narration project I want her to do over the term.

And so on.

A final note, and this is important:  I am not a compulsive planner in every area of life.  For instance, I've tried writing detailed dinner menus for the week, but for us it doesn't work well; if we have the pantry ingredients, we're usually good with day-ahead meal plans or even "it's three o'clock, what are we going to eat?"  As long as the food gets on the table, it seems to work.  I'm not knocking those who prefer to know every meal a week ahead: if others are cooking or you have to buy ingredients, it's good to know what's coming up.

I know some people reading this will have more children, more books to read, and more plans to write.  It is not possible to pre-read and pre-think absolutely everything during the week, and I'm not suggesting that our look-ahead weekend planning is the right way or the only way to homeschool, to do Charlotte Mason, or even to do Ambleside Online.  If your students are more independent than mine, it may be possible to just turn them loose with a checklist of chapters to read.  For us, it works better to have a bit of a Mom-plan.

P.S.  The funny side of planning:  I called down to Mr. Fixit to ask if he had a piece of cork for Dollygirl to use in a science experiment.  "Yes, but you'll have to thaw it," he called back.  Thaw it?  "Not pork...cork!"

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