Friday, April 04, 2008

Reforming the non-planner

Used to be, I didn't like planning out our homeschooling days. Oh, we had a math book, and a history book, and various other things we were working on, so I'd know what to do each day, sort of. But a lot of times things got missed because I'd forget, or we'd lose the book, or no one felt like doing something. I fought the idea of planning things out, because I feared I would lose spontaneity. I thought we wouldn't be able to get stuck in an interesting time period of history if we had a planned schedule to keep to. The partial unschooler in me rebelled at the idea of a schedule. The lazy person in me did too. (Note I am not equating unschooler with lazy.)

But I am changing my ways.

In 2005 my family had the privilege of spending 4 weeks traveling in the UK. It was a dream come true. Some of our trip was planned, some not. The unplanned parts of our trip were sometimes frustrating and stressful. It was no fun driving around trying to find a working phone booth or free wireless location in order to secure a place to sleep that night or the next night. Internet access was not as easy to find as we'd thought! We had travel brochures and some lists of bed-and-breakfasts, and the tourist offices in the towns we visited, but sometimes I had to call 4 or 5 places before we'd find one that had room for us. Way too much of our precious time was wasted as we dealt with our lack of planning.

The planned parts were wonderful, satisfying, stress-free. Of course we did not want every minute planned out. But when we had planned chunks of time (ie. 1 week in London, 3 days in North Yorkshire, 4 days on Lewis, etc.) with accommodations planned and some ideas of things to do and see, we were in heaven, enjoying ourselves, and not thinking of what we had to do next.

Of course if we had planned our trip carefully we might have missed seeing Urquhart Castle, on Loch Ness. We might not have enjoyed a wonderful day at Chatsworth, which we happened upon at the end of our trip. So there were some good things about being unplanned. But overall, I don't think I would do that again. I think I'd do more research and a little more planning, and build in time for free exploration.

Hm, planning, with time built in for free exploration. Sounds like an ideal homeschool. Too bad it took me 2 1/2 years to make that connection.

So I am planning now. It is not as burdensome as I had thought it would be. I don't spend much time on the basics. We do some form of math, grammar, spelling, composition, that sort of thing, most days. We have our math books and when we are done with those, we will progress to the next one. I don't care about fitting that into a school year; we just keep going till we're done.

Then, history. This is the core of our homeschool, our favorite part, and thus where I spend most of my planning time. We just started Story of the World book 4. Now I am in the process of finding the extra reading I want (if any) for each chapter of the book, putting it on a list to request from the library or locate in our shelves/boxes, and estimating how much time each chapter might take us. In determining the extra reading, I think about how the importance of the topic, how interested my kids will be, and what sorts of books will best help them learn about it. So,
the British invasion of Afghanistan gets an overview and no extra books; the American Civil War will probably take 2 weeks. I found several books we already own on our shelves, and requested more from the library. My boy will read some biographies of generals and books about the battles and weapons; my daughter will read some books about Clara Barton and other females involved. Both will get the basic overview they need from Story of the World.

Science works the same way, except we don't really have anything going in science right now, other than reading North With the Spring and doing some animal classification exercises from
The Prairie Primer. Oh, and theoretically, working through the experiments in a chemistry set.

There are other things we do, but that's the basic idea.

All this information goes on a weekly checklist. I make the "bones" of the checklist several weeks ahead, and keep plugging things in as I plan or as things come up. I can adjust to fit in a field trip or play day. On Monday I print it and keep it close at hand so I can keep on track. This saves me so much time each day because I don't have to think about what to do next. It helps me remember to request books from the library in advance, not the day before I want them. If we don't get to something on the weekly checklist, I either delete it or carry it over with no feelings of guilt. If I see we never check certain items off (why are we never doing any experiments with that chemistry set?) I try to figure out if it's something we need to put more effort into, or something we can just skip.

Spending some time planning really helps me stay focused and feel like we are actually getting something done. It gives me a record of resources used, which I need to comply with my state laws. It helps me see that we are accomplishing something.

And, it doesn't hinder us from real learning, from spontaneity, from camping out in an interesting time period for a while. If it looks like there is just so much interesting reading on the Civil War, and we decide to take 2 days to visit Gettysburg instead of just one, I can add it, and adjust our plans going forward. This is not a schedule. It's a plan, and it feels good to have it.

No comments: