Thursday, September 1, 2011

Planners and Responsibilities


Remember the teacher’s planner that enthralled you so much at the convention that you bought it? Its purpose is not just to look pretty on your shelf or on your computer’s desktop. It’s time to pull it out and start using it, or to figure out all the features it has if you’ve purchased an e-planner. Yes, I mean right now (well, after you’ve finished reading this)! If you follow a more traditional school year, you’ve probably recently started the new school year. The good news is that it’s not too late to start using your planner!

First of all, plan—at least roughly—your starting and ending dates for the school year. Be sure to incorporate holidays and other dates you know you’ll be taking off from official academics. Make sure you have 180 days if that’s required in your state. It’s okay if these dates fluctuate during the year—really—at least you’ve got a framework.

The next step is to write all these dates into your paper planner or to program them into your e-planner. The nice thing about e-planners is that they will calculate the number of days for you and it’s much easier to change dates if something unexpected comes up, and it will. This feature comes in handy towards the end of the year when the kids (and you) are getting antsy for the last day of school. Many states require you to keep and submit a yearly attendance log, which will be a breeze once you start using your e-planner. No more counting out days trying to remember if you did school on Columbus Day or not.

Mid-range planning involves breaking the school year down into quarters (or whatever units you use), then months, and then weeks. I plan which books will be read when and which projects go with which history and science units. I also look at every textbook, workbook, and living book we’ll be using to see approximately how many pages and chapters need to be done every quarter, month, and week. It saves time when I do my short-term planning during the school year, and it also helps me keep the children on track to finish each book by the end of the school year (but not three months early, unless we want to do it that way).

While this may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, it makes my planning during the year go much more smoothly. When I do my bi-weekly planning, I simply look at my chart and decide what and how much to do each day. That way when we get to the end of the year, I don’t discover a really cool project that we forgot we had or find a book about an explorer when we’re studying the Civil War.

Short-term planning, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, involves planning specific pages, chapters, lessons, and projects for each day of the school week. I have found that it works best for me to do this once every two weeks. Doing it every week tends to feel cumbersome and never-ending. If I do it only every three or four weeks, we tend to get out of sync too easily by an unexpected field trip or illness. It may take you a few tries to figure out what timing works best for you, but you will be much more relaxed throughout the school year if you take a little bit of time now to do so.

As I do my short-term planning, I print out a lesson plan schedule for each of my children, starting about when they reach the fourth grade level. At this point, especially if you’ve been homeschooling for several years, children are capable of looking at the list, figuring out what to do next, and crossing off each item as it is completed. This is part of the progression towards independent learning. Children enjoy feeling as if they have some control over their days, and they start to figure out the process of scheduling for themselves. For us moms, it cuts down on the constant, “Mom, what do I do next?” syndrome. Of course we’re not leaving our children completely to their own devices; we’re just teaching them a little bit of independence at a time while we can still monitor their progress.
           
Another option is to purchase (or make) a planner for each child. The Well-Planned Day, Apologia, and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Store offer planners for different age groups with grade-appropriate forms in addition to regular curricula planning pages. With younger children, you may find yourself writing everything in their planners and perhaps just having them check off each subject as it is completed. Even kindergarteners and first graders get a kick out of finding the word math on Tuesday and x-ing it off.
           
As they get older, you can have children take more responsibility for planning one subject at a time—with your guidance, of course. For instance, when my children reached middle school, I started telling them that they had two weeks to finish a science module. We elect to complete most available tests for memory retention and for future training (driver’s license or SATs, anyone?), so I teach my children to work backwards from the test date. If this is Monday and the test will be next Friday; that means that next Thursday will be a study day. That leaves us with three days next week and five days this week to read the chapter, do any experiments, and answer the questions along the way. Now we count the pages in the chapter; let’s just say there are twenty-four pages. Then, we divide the twenty-four pages by the eight days in which we have to do them and come up with reading four pages a day, including corresponding questions and experiments. In the early stages of planning, I make my children write the exact page numbers on each day of their planners. Voila, they’ve planned out the next two weeks of their science curriculum (almost) on their own.
           
I get less strict about how my children plan while keeping tabs on their general progress as they become more mature. Instead of doing some each day, particularly in science, history, and other subjects that don’t need daily repetition, some students may prefer to do more of one thing on certain days. That works, too, but make sure you count the right number of days and/or weeks when you plan that way.
           
Yes, this type of planning takes time. But it’s not just about writing down the next math lesson number or the next literature chapter. It’s also about learning to manage one’s time and resources, which is a life lesson that will be used over and over again. Most jobs require some sort of planning and implementation—even homemakers are more efficient if meals are planned ahead of time.

“Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” Proverbs 11:14.
“Plans are established by counsel” Proverbs 20:18a.

**This article appears over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Check out the other great writers over there!