Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lesson Plans

This is from HSLDA's Homeschooling Thru the Early Years Newsletter dated today.

Lesson Planning: Strategy for Success

Dear Friends,

There’s a saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Lesson planning is just determining what you want to cover in the school year and laying out a framework to accomplish those goals: a strategy for homeschool success. Some parents will be more detailed than others, but having an overview or rough sketch in writing puts your priorities in black and white and lets you see what you may have inadvertently left out.

Whether you use a prepackaged curriculum or an eclectic approach, a written plan can help you operate more on “autopilot.” If your kids can read on their own, include them! Whether you let them look through the lesson plan book, or set out work boxes or learning stations for them, they’re on their way to taking some personal responsibility in their own lesson management. A lesson plan also gives you a timeline to measure against as the year progresses. And if you’re in a state requiring the submission of lesson plans, or a record of what you’ve accomplished, this puts you ahead of the game.

Different Approaches to Lesson Planning

Of course, families will want to take into consideration any specific statutory record keeping or subject requirements for their states, so these are some general ideas. I liked having a lesson planning book, and once my children could read, each child had her own lesson book to help her learn basic time management. You might use one book for several children, or you can make your own sheets on the computer, or use index cards, a white board, a spiral notebook, or even a computer to-do list. You could even modify the card chart in a recent Early Years article to hold school assignments, readings, memory verses, and more. The point is to have a framework in writing that will help you feel accountable—even if only to yourself—and to give you a standard against which to measure as the year progresses (so you’re measuring against the goals that God has given you, not your neighbor or the support group leader).

Some people are most comfortable writing their plans out in detail. For example, “XYZ text, page 93, prepositional phrases exercises 1–12.” Others might put under English, “page 93, 1–12.” Still others may just do what comes next in the book, and then just log it afterward, journal style. Some moms even have their older kids log what they did.

An alternative to the standard lesson plan book is the workbox or workfile approach; this can be especially effective for younger children or especially distractible children. Instead of writing each assignment in a “box” on a page, you physically put the work for each assignment in a separate box, such as a clear plastic shoe box or a stacking drawer unit, or even a hanging file or envelope system. Some parents use this approach all the way into the upper grades: you could teach them to concentrate on the work in one literal box at a time, then (the next year or so) put the papers with assignments in the boxes, then transition into writing the assignments in a lesson planning book.

Whatever system you use, it is helpful for the children to have an overview of the expectations. They are more likely to be motivated to finish their work if they know there is a “finish.” When Mom is the only one privy to the assignments, it can feel to a child that finishing one assignment just means getting another one heaped on (and that sure isn’t very motivating!). Seeing a manageable (read: finite) number of workboxes, or lesson plan book “squares” for the day, or assignments on the white board gives them hope that there can be an end in sight (for the day, anyway!), and possibly incentive to work ahead.

What Should You Include?

What do you want to accomplish this year? And what tools will help you to achieve those goals? Choosing your curriculum and lesson planning are sort of the roadmap for getting from where you are, to where you want to be, with the actual curriculum itself likened to your mode of transportation. An airplane will get you where you want to go fast, while an RV is good for leisurely trips.

A few years ago, we drove from Virginia to Arizona on a tight deadline for an event, so we drove straight there, no time for sightseeing. But on the way back, we had almost two weeks, so we stopped at landmarks in at least 10 states and had a great family time, just enjoying the trip and enjoying each other’s company.

It’s the same with homeschooling: If your goal this year is to catch up a child who has lagged a little, you’ll take the direct route—the airplane—covering the basic skills areas of math and language and character/Bible, and then add the content areas of history and science as time allows. Once you feel more comfortable that you are where you want to be on your timetable, you can start cruising or sight-seeing, taking more time to enjoy the homeschool journey, adding extras to help you meet more advanced, delight-directed goals.

Resources such as What Your Child Needs to Know When or Learning Objectives for Grades K–8 can help you feel more confident that you aren’t leaving major gaps in your child’s academic education.

Build in Some “Down” Time

Plan to succeed by recognizing that there will be tough days, sick days, good weather days, catch-up laundry days, and so on. If you have a weekly co-op day or recurring medical appointments, plan a lighter academic load that day. Consider adding an educational games day every few weeks, which can be used for educational play if your children are on track, or catching up if you feel you need that. For example, I planned math lessons (our toughest subject) on a four-day schedule, with math games on Friday; if the girls were caught up, they played a math game on Friday, but could use that day to finish any lagging lessons or corrections, if needed.

And if you need an occasional catch-up-the-house day, remember that organization, sorting, and classification are math, science, and language arts skills!

Be Realistic

Think “overview.”

Decide on your basic timeframe, keeping in mind any legal requirements for your state. (I found it workable to plan for eight weeks on, one week off, for five cycles, with four-week breaks in December and July.)

Look over the curriculum: What will you cover and what can you skip? Your curriculum is a tool, not your master, and you want to remember to include life skills and character training, as well as academics.

Divide your materials by the number of weeks or days, for a rough plan.

“A Day in Our Homeschool” will give you a peek into the typical day of several other homeschool families (did I really just say typical and homeschool day in the same sentence?), and you'll find a few sample plans and routines in our lesson planning section.

While you don’t want to be a slave to your schedules or plans, you’ll want to be diligent and do your best to meet your reasonable goals. Do you have realistic expectations, or have you over-planned? Have you expected too much in too short a time? Have you underestimated the time to master a skill or complete an assignment? Or maybe you had realistic plans, but life broadsided your homeschool and you are totally overwhelmed.

My first year, I thought I would be ultra-organized, so I lesson-planned the entire year in August. In pen. So what happened when the first child didn’t grasp the math concept as quickly as we’d anticipated? Right—we “got behind” (or we thought we did—maybe you’ve been there, too?). So that threw my whole plan off.

This panic taught me to have an overall goal of what I wanted us to cover each year, but to divide that up and put it in writing only eight weeks at a time. After all, I can do anything for eight weeks! At the end of the eight weeks, I would evaluate our progress and, during the week off, would write down the plan for the next eight weeks. I learned to get more specific in smaller time chunks, so this motivated me to regularly evaluate our materials, our methods, and any character issues. Rather than being in bondage to a rigid schedule, we found security in a basic routine that helped me to transition through my day without having to make all the little decisions all over again.

The Real Lesson in Lesson Planning

Plan prayerfully and realistically, execute those plans diligently, but hold them loosely. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) What we consider interruptions to “our” day, God often intends as the real purpose for the day!

Planning in pencil,

Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Early Years coordinator
Homeschooling Preschool thru Middle School

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