Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Unschooling With a Plan

            I knew from the beginning of our homeschool that I did not want to buy curriculum.  As a teacher, I picked and chose from the curriculum the district purchased, some years not even handing out certain textbooks.  So I knew it was possible to teach without purchasing someone else’s plan.  I had heard the term “Unschooling,” but as I read more about it, it was too loose for me.  I did not just want to blindly go through day by day with no plan, just depending on what my daughter was interested in.  I came up with the method that works for me.  I call it, “Unschooling with a plan.”  It is a very simple concept, and it does not cost much at all.  Here is the method in which I decide what to teach.
1)  First, before I started teaching, I decided what subjects I wanted to teach.  I chose reading, math, handwriting, finances, PE, nutrition/cooking, science, social studies, speech, OT, and PT.  That sounded like a lot, but I knew I did not need to teach everything every day.  I also decided to leave out subjects which were not developmentally appropriate (like English-grammar) or which were mostly a waste of time to teach by itself (like Spelling).

2)  My next step was to look at the state requirements for each subject.  Oklahoma has very good pass skills – they just have too many in elementary ages.  I figured I would pick what my daughter would focus on for the year and push what we did not work on to another year.  To find your state skills, just go to any search engine on the internet and type in the name of your state and State Department of Education. You should be able to find the required objectives for each year.  In Oklahoma, the website is:  http://sde.state.ok.us/Curriculum/PASS/default.html

3)  I made a Word document with a 3 by 4 chart, one chart for each of the subjects which I was teaching.  I labeled it with an objective I wanted to focus on each year per subject.  Using the skills which I saw on the state website, I assigned one skill per month.  If there was no skill, I made up something I wanted to focus on which fit with what I wanted to accomplish this year.  Here was my chart for math:

Math – Number awareness & Place Value to 999 & add/subtract 1- & 2-digit numbers

July – 2 weeks only
One-on-One correspondence
Read & write numbers to 100
Read & write numbers to 100
Add & subtract 1-digit
Read & write numbers to 100
Add & subtract 1-digit
December – 2 weeks only
Read & write numbers to 100
Add & subtract 1-digit
Add & subtract 2-digit
Add & subtract 2-digit
Place Value to 999
Place Value to 999
Place Value to 999
OFF – No School

As you can see, I extended several skills to more than one month.  Notice I did not make any specific lesson plans at this point – just chose what I wanted the focus to be on for that month.  I did this for every subject which I decided to teach.  It did take a couple of hours, and I’ve been doing something similar for years with my classroom, so plan on spending a good amount of time on this step.  15 minutes of planning is worth hours of just jumping in and doing.  Make a chart for every subject which you are teaching this year.

NOTE: You really need to do this step, even if you are using curriculum.  Write down the objective for the lesson, which should be stated in the Table of Contents.   Do not just write down “Chapters 1 – 5” or “pages 16 – 82.”  It is a great help if you know the subject of what you are studying, even if you are following chapters.  If you have never done a yearly plan, you’ll be shocked at how much this plan helps you bring in related subjects and study with greater depth.

3)  Make another Word document, listing one month per page.  This will be your monthly lesson plan, and you will use it all year.  Then look at your tables and write each subject and what you are teaching that month.  Here was what I wrote: 
Reading:          Rhyming words & word families
  Vocabulary:   Dolch Words – up to 200 high frequency words;
  Comprehension:  Identify beginning, middle, end of a story & who, what, when, where, why
  Fluency:  DEAR Time
Math:              Patterns
Writing:           Writing Without Tears
Science:           One-on-One correspondence; Read & write numbers to 100
SS:                    Friendship; Zack’s birthday
OT:                  Create objects with playdough
PT:                   Demonstrate manipulative skills of catching, throwing, kicking, striking, and dribbling with hand and foot.
Cooking:          Identify Fruits & veggies from our meals
Finances:         Give/Save/Spend envelopes; Chores & Commission begin

NOTE:  I had planned on using my daughter’s IEP for her Speech objectives, but as the year went on, I decided that Speech worked better by focusing on vocabulary.  Any speech issues she had with certain letters, I addressed as needed, without specific focuses per month.   Basically, we dropped this subject as the year went on.

4)  As each month gets closer, I decided specifically what we would do that month to teach that skill.  That is where you write chapters, page numbers, and what you are doing specifically on a week-to-week, day-to-day basis. 
These plans were invaluable – especially in the beginning!  Even when my daughter would not sit down with me at a table, I knew that for math we were to work on patterns, so we went to her room and made “small, medium, large” patterns with her stuffed animals, or made patterns by color with “My Little Ponies.”  Even though we were not sitting at a desk with pencil in hand, we were able to work on the skills which I had chosen for the month.  As the year went on, I changed some of our plans to better fit.  Remember that these objectives are not written in stone, so when they do not fit, you can change them – just don’t change them without a reason to do so.
            Unschooling with a plan has been an incredible blessing this year.  I have the flexibility to teach my daughter in the way which fits her learning style, and we can change activities without notice and still keep inside our skills for the month.  I could work on projects or give assignments on the internet without feeling guilty, because I knew our plans for the month.  I could make field trips and library books fit our plans easily.  Unschooling with a plan was the best plan for our home, and I hope it helps you, too.

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