Friday, July 29, 2011

Planning for Next Year - Part 4: Daily Schedule

              I don’t know about you, but after making my monthly plans, I was a little overwhelmed.  How was I EVER going to find the time to teach all of this?!  It reminds me of another scripture:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

 ~ Proverbs 19:21

              Before you go too far in your planning, pray about it.  After you have planned, pray.  Before you try to figure out exactly what each day will look like, pray.  In fact, anything that you actually want to succeed, you need to pray all the way through the process. 

              After you pray, start thinking of how you would like your school day to “look.”  Remember, you will probably end up changing parts of it, if not the entire plan, so don’t get too attached to your original schedule.  Even from one year to the next, you will probably find some “tweeking” will be necessary for a successful day.  Don’t get upset if a schedule doesn’t work, and don’t just completely “throw out” the entire schedule and start from scratch.  Use the parts that work, and replace or improve the parts that don’t work.  Your children will follow your lead.   If you calmly fix scheduling issues, then they will more easily accept the changes than if you get upset and fight changing the schedule. 

              I have found that I work best with some parts of the schedule being very firm, while other parts of the schedule being very flexible.  I loved the schedule which I made in my last year of teaching public school, and I have used parts of that in my homeschool.  For me, if we are going to have school on a particular day, we must have reading and math.  That, to me, is inflexible.  They don’t have to be long, and they don’t have to include a worksheet of some kind, but we need to do some type of activity related to those 2 subjects.  I also strongly prefer some type of writing assignment, whether it is handwriting, journal writing, or writing a response to something we have done or that has happened.  If we study these three subjects, then I will count it as a school day.  These are inflexible (though the starting time and the length of the lesson will vary per day). 

              Knowing what I want to happen every day helps me figure out how to schedule all of the events I want to happen.  Here is a general schedule of the school day in my last year (FYI, school hours were 8:30 – 3:00, but students could come to class after 8:15):

8:15 – 9:20         Unstructured work time.  I wrote a spelling assignment on the board.  They could work on this, finish work from yesterday, work on a class project, small group folder work, work on a book report, or read a book for a book report.

8:45 – 9:10  Individual or small reading group (with teacher). 
While the rest of the class was working on their independent work, I would pull over a small group or  individual to work with.  In a homeschool setting, this could also be a “consultation” time with an older child, to find out what the child’s plans are for the day, see if they need help with the direction of a research project, answer any other questions, and just basically “touch base” with your child, especially if your child is old enough to work mostly independently.  I made it VERY clear to the rest of the class that while I was working with this small group that I was NOT available for questions or other attention-getting plans.  If they did something where I needed to leave this group, then it was a MUCH more serious offense than if I needed to correct behavior during other times of the day.  Everyone was in a group, and I tried very hard to get to every group every day, so they all had a small amount of time with just me and a couple of other students.  That became a special time for all of the students.

9:20 – 10:15       PE, MUSIC, or other activity break, followed by a restroom break.
In school, I did not have a choice of when these breaks happened.  At home, we usually take an activity break closer to 10:30 or 11:00 instead of 9:20.

10:15 – 11:45     READING
Yes, this is a very long time allotted to nothing but reading, and at home I do not use this much time (it’s just not necessary with only one child), but there were 4 basic things I would do during this time which I wanted to share.  I would (1) have reading instruction with ALL reading levels together, (2) have practice for vocabulary, (3) have time where the students read a story (the students read the same short story at least 3 times during a week – this is great for fluency!), and (4) small group activity.  The small group activity is something I cannot do with only one child, but if you have more than one child, it works wonderfully! I’ll talk specifically about possible small groups in homeschool in a later article.  During this time, everyone had an activity (sometimes writing and reading, sometimes just an activity related to vocabulary or some aspect of reading instruction).

11:45 – 1:15       Get ready for lunch, eat lunch, recess, restroom break

1:15 – 2:15         MATH
This is longer than I use for Math at home.  I usually teach it in the morning, after our Reading instruction.  Both subjects together take about 1 hour in my homeschool.

Basically, this time was used for all of the other subjects which I taught once or twice per week.  I taught Science, Social Studies, Grammar, and Writing in this time.  I tried to have a short (10 minutes or less) lesson, then gave them a project to work on.  With Grammar, it was an assignment (work on page such-and-such), but with the other subjects, this was where I introduced a research or other project which the students would work on for about 2 weeks.  Time they had to work was this time, as well as first thing in the morning.  Yes, we did have several projects going on at once, but that gave the student the independence to choose which one they would work on.  With me teaching a specific lesson, though, most of them worked on the subject which I had taught about. 

              Notice in this schedule that I have provided the students with a lot of “independent work time.”  This is NOT “free time.”  To me, that is the same as “play time.”  That is what I call Recess, and that is needed every day.  At home, we will mostly have our structured lessons in the morning, then my daughter will be able to work independently on projects in the afternoon.  She will have break times.  Everyone needs a “brain break,” especially if they are learning something difficult, but everyone also needs time to work either alone or with a small group of their peers.  They do not have to be on the same “level” to work together – in fact, I would intentionally structure my groups so that kids who were on the same level were NOT in the same group. 

              At home, you have more flexibility in times than public school teachers. For homeschool, primary grades (K – 2) should only have about 1 hour of structured instruction.  Intermediate ages (grades 3 – 6) should have about 2 hours of structured time, middle school (grades 7 – 9) should structure 3 hours, and high school (grades 10 -  12) should structure 3 – 5 hours.  In high school, though, you may want to do a type of apprentice work with a business that your child is interested in.  This basically would mean that part of their school day would be spent in a work environment.  They may not get paid at all, or paid very little, but in exchange, they would learn how a business works, from the bottom up.  You would have to work this out with a local business, and you may have to ask more than one before you find someone willing to do this, but this type of education is invaluable, so it should be considered when looking at the school day for a high schooler.  I would recommend 1 – 2 hours of structured school work and 3 – 4 hours of internship, if this is how your high school day is designed.

              Plan your schedule with both structured, uninterruptable time, as well as flexible learning periods.  Teach your child to do some activities, then let him do it on his own.  Help him, but let him know how proud you are of the independent work he is doing. Then enjoy your own time to get your work done!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Planning for Next Year - Step 3

              Hopefully by now, you have started making your plans for next year.  I have found that if I don’t make my general, monthly plans over the summer, I don’t get it done.   After I make my plans for each subject per month (using only general topics – I’ll do the specifics when each month gets closer), I take that information and put it in a schedule per month.  I list each subject with the topic for August, as an example.  This gets rather intimidating, actually.  I look at my monthly lists and think, “Am I ever going to be able to teach all this?”  Is it better to just “wing it” and see what happens?

 “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say:  My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”  ~ Isaiah 47:2

If God makes His plans from the beginning, shouldn't I do the same thing?  According to this verse, I’m doing the right thing to make my plans for the entire year, planning for the end at the beginning.  Another benefit is that I get to see how certain subjects progress throughout the year, instead of just heading wherever my daughter or I feel at the moment to go.  I can see where I’m headed with our instruction and make plans to get there.  I can decide to begin with learning basic routines that I want to introduce in the first month, and then start building from there through the year to more difficult topics. 

By keeping my monthly plans general, I have a lot of flexibility.  For example, if I know Babygirl’s math this month will be addition and subtraction, and if we also are planning a Social Studies field trip a certain day to a local lake to look at landforms and bodies of water, I can plan addition and subtraction with rocks and other items which we find on our field trip.  If we go to the store and I find that Babygirl needs practice in counting money, instead of doing a worksheet, we can practice adding and subtracting with coins from our change cup.  As long as I know what our focus is for the month, I can plan on using it with whatever we are doing.

However, looking at my monthly goals, I’m back to my big question:  Is it possible to teach everything in one month?  Well, first of all, that depends on what you have planned.  This year, I have twelve subjects which I have made plans for:  math, reading, science, social studies, writing (which includes handwriting objectives as well as writing sentences and paragraphs – I keep those separate), p.e., music, art, foreign language, technology, and health/safety.  I have one main focus for each topic per month (and some topics carry over to more than one month if it’s a basic concept that I want to make sure she understands).  I plan on teaching reading and math every day (a good habit from my teaching public school days), and hopefully writing every day, but the other subjects will not be every day, possibly even once per week.  Everything does not need a half-hour or hour-long lesson.  Many of the subjects can be combined, like my example above with Math and Social Studies.

Some people think that I’m missing out on the whole Unschooling experience if I make plans for the year, and I suppose in some ways that’s true.  I miss waking up in the morning thinking, “Are we really doing school right?  Is my daughter really learning what she needs to learn?  Would she be better off in public school?”  Making my plans removes a lot of uncertainty which a lot of unschooling families (and families who use curriculum without an overall plan) experience.  It does take some time, especially if it’s your first attempt, but it is truly worth the effort.

 “May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”  ~ Psalms 20:4

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

I love the country which we live in.  God has richly blessed us with freedoms that no other country in the history of the world has enjoyed.  Why has it worked so well in the United States of America, when other countries have tried and failed?  Because we are (and were in the beginning) a Christian nation.  Celebrate our country's birth and continued independence today!

Here are some links to some of my favorite patriotic sites:

The National Anthem

"God Bless the USA," by Lee Greenwood

"Have You Forgotten," by Alan Jackson

"American Soldier," by Toby Keith

Other videos:

"Pledge of Allegiance," by Red Skelton 

"The Silencing of God"  dvd
  This educational video addresses religion with our founding fathers, and specifically addresses the "separation of church and state" issue.  It has to be purchased, but it's very inexpensive and it's worth watching.

There are so many other links which I could post, but these were the first ones to come to mind.

Happy Independence Day!