Monday, May 4, 2015

How Lesson-Planning Checklists Improved Our Homeschool Days and Attitudes

It's Maaaaaaaay!!!!!  We're almost to the end of the school year!  Yes, yes, we do school through the summer, but May is the final month of all the official stuff.  Looking back on this past year, I've been really very happy with some of the changes that I made.  I hoped they would make things better for us, and they did...

This has been our busiest homeschool year yet - it makes sense since more kids equals more needs.  From the beginning, I knew that this would be a bit of a challenging year for me so I made some significant changes to the way we homeschool as compared to the previous two years.  One is that we carry some lessons into the afternoon (not preferable, but necessary), another is that I'm using more technology to assist in lessons and learning. And another is I finally started using a lesson-planning method beyond my former magnet system.   I loved our magnet system, but I knew I needed something more specific for my boys.  I knew I wanted (needed!) the boys to be more independent this year so it was obvious to me that they had to have a lesson plan that said more than "math."  They needed specific instructions that left little question as to what was expected.

Enter, our daily lessons sheets.  They've made such a positive difference in our homeschool - in the day to day operations, in the boys' ability to self start, and in the obvious benefits of planning and evaluating.  It's easy for me to "see" all that was accomplished in the last week and decide what we'll focus on in the upcoming week - all in one place.  I expected that the sheets would help in these areas.  That was the whole idea, after all.

But my new lesson planning system had another unexpected benefit.  It forced me to recognize a mistake I had been making in previous years, helped me to embrace the concept that more work is not necessarily better, and it made it possible for me to ensure my kids were covering the necessary material in short, intentional lessons.

In the past, my weakness has been wanting to do more to be as successful as possible.  When the magnet board said "'math," Aaron would finish a page in his math book and show me.  I'd see he understood the concept and did well on the sheet, so I'd tell him to do the next worksheet as long as he was doing so well with it.  Often, the second worksheet would be a struggle, more answers would be wrong than right, and Aaron would be grumpy and sick of math before he completed it.   The first worksheet didn't make anyone grumpy or upset or frustrated.  The second one did.   But since the magnet just said "math" and I wanted to forge ahead, I'd pile more work onto the good work that had already been done.  Another drawback to my old method was that, given my tendencies to "spring" extra work on the boys, they'd start each lesson never really knowing what was expected or how long it would take, and suspecting that if they finished quickly and did their work well, there was no guarantee that they would be done.  Knowing that I would often ask then to do more, there was no incentive for them to do their work quickly or well.  Mom might think, Done too soon?  Did a great job?  Here, do more!

I can easily look back at the previous years and recognize this problem.  It was a big problem.  For me and for the kids.  But I didn't really "see" it while it was happening. 

This year we've experienced the benefits of planning ahead exactly what and how much work is to be done.  I have a better handle on how much is enough to learn and assess mastery, and how much is appropriate for maintaining positive attitudes toward learning (including new material, practice, review, and assessment.)  By planning out the boys' work one week at a time (each day on its own sheet of paper) I see it all before me in bulk, and am less likely to pile too much on.  I "see" on the papers before me that one math worksheet on Monday is enough because there are more to come throughout the week and soon enough the chapter will be successfully completed.  The boys can look through the work for the day and see what's expected, how much it is, and can be reasonably sure that mom won't be adding to it.  There's no anxiety about what's to come and there is incentive to do their work well and to do it without wasting time.  The incentive is that when it's done, it's done.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but this year, the attitudes surrounding lessons and homeschooling in general have been much more positive.  There are fewer power struggles (you know --- the kid says, "I won't do it!", the mom says, "Yes you will!", repeat...) and fewer meltdowns.  I feel less anxious and worrisome about "all that we're not getting done" because I've already assessed our progress and confidently planned the new week.  

The checklist system is working well for us this year.  I'm guessing that I'll be using it next year as well.  It helps keep me sane and on track (without being being a task master!) And it helps my children be successful self-starters who know what's expected and are motivated to complete their work.  I'm calling it a win!

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More info on the how-to and practical application... if you're interested...  

I created a chart for the each of the boys listing all the subjects they have to cover.  There are three columns - "Have to Do it Today?", "Subject," and "Lesson (for the day)"  

At the beginning of each week (preferably on a Sunday, but sometimes I forget :( ) I print out the charts for each child.  I also print out the "homework" assignments they have for the upcoming week in their tutoring classes.  

I gather their workbooks and other materials. I "schedule" one child's lessons at a time.  Each page is dated and marked with what week of the school year it is.  I first fill in the work they'll need to complete for tutoring (history, literature, Latin, and grammar).  Then I move onto the lessons that are daily "regulars" - math, spelling, reading.  Then I fill in the extras (the things that only show up two or three times a week) - science, audio lessons, catechism, art, etc... 

If a particular lesson needs to be done on a given day, I make a small X in the first column, and write the specifics in the last column.  When the lesson is complete, the child puts a big X over my small one so it's easy to look down one column and compare what needs to be done that day, what's been completed, and what's left.  

I store the five sheets for the week in the front pocket of the the child's "Lesson Binder."  In the morning, he takes that day's sheet from the front and puts it in the binder so that it's the first page he opens to for the rest of the day.  The next day, when adding the new sheet, we can easily look and see if we missed anything the day before that still needs to be done.

That's it.  It's not too fancy.  It's simple.  Most importantly, it works for us.  And it makes me a better homeschooling mom to have it this way.  

(And one last photo for a laugh...  for the most part, our checklists help keep our attitudes on track, but once in a while I'll stumble across something like this.  Because no system - or child - is perfect ;0 ......)


  1. Oh well done:)
    I discovered 'checklists' 'later in the game' than you, you're far smarter than I.
    I now love checklists btw, don't know why it took me so long to work it out

  2. I am going to implement check list into next year. I meant to this year and never got around to it, but I really believe it will help us all!


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