Planning Epiphany

After nearly two decades of planning for our home education journey I’m continually humbled as to how much I still have to learn.

Two weeks ago I commenced my planning with the determination that this would be the term we’d correct all shortcomings, and began with the premise that our problems would all be solved by ‘raising our work standard,’ an assumption I continued with until my epiphany moment.

When planning, many factors come into play; your teaching style, the children’s individual learning styles, family logistics, your educational philosophy, all have a role, not only in how you home educate but what resources you select. My personal philosophy and personality also influence the outcome. Two ‘mantras’ that continually run through my mind whilst planning are our family motto, “we desire books that feed the mind and nourish the soul” and my personal mantra,”there is more than one way to skin a cat.” Our academic goal is also in the forefront of my mind, “we desire to have independent thinkers who can express themselves well orally and in the written word.” 

After seventeen years these factors are long established in my mind, thus I began planning for this term. Wanting to be certain ‘our work standard was high enough,’ I headed over to Mater Amabilis and Ambleside Online, it’s been a few years since I’ve studied these sites in depth. Long ago I poured over their plans, selected the resources that would work for us and settled on our approach. This month I visited again, combed both sites which gave me a ‘big picture’ outline, then began selecting various books from the two sites.  My reason for chopping and changing is fourfold; the lists are American-centric (we’re Australian),  Ambleside Online is Protestant (we’re Catholic), budget wise it makes sense to use resources we already have and some of our resources are more appealing than the books suggested. I was also greatly blessed to have the patient support of a couple of friends who kindly responded to my copious emails. After days of study I ended up with a plan I was more than happy with. 

As I select, I enter my chosen titles into an excel spreadsheet. I’m blessed that PC who is a genius with excel data bases and pivot tables, has valiantly managed after great frustration to teach me the rudiments of spreadsheets.  I now love excel, though I’m well aware I’m only utilising a tiny portion of its capabilities. Once the books are chosen I find it useful to work out the finer details in a post on my learning blog, then the longer version is translated into a shorter, more concise form back on the spreadsheet. As I wrote my planning post I made a couple of interesting observations; each year my planning ‘nuts and bolts’ plans follow a similar pattern, I always begin with book lists and as I worked on the finer details of planning I realised my end result wasn’t that dissimilar from previous years, my plans essentially haven’t changed for several years now and the standard was already high.  This was the moment of my epiphany, it wasn’t the standard of work expected that was the problem, the problem was in the execution.

I emailed PC who was at work and shared my epiphany and he agreed, the standard of work set is of a high standard yet achievable, the weak area is in the execution. I realised our weak area needed to be addressed twofold, the children needed their work to be laid out in a manner that made it easily achievable and I needed to ‘keep my finger on the pulse’ more firmly. 

In the past we’ve tried a variety of spreadsheets for the children so they can clearly understand their expectations and to record their progress. Their preferred approach is more the overview approach, they want their sheets to show all the work expected for a week or a term, they enjoy the flexibility of choosing what to complete, when. After my epiphany moments I decided a new approach was needed as our current method isn’t working satisfactorily. We had thought the children could manage the macro method themselves but obviously we’re needing to teach a few steps with clarity. Previously I’ve seen other  homeschool lesson plans with far more detail than I’ve ever written, I haven’t understood why the breakdown and have dismissed these plans as micro managing to a level we didn’t need and truthfully it seemed like too much planning detail for me to organise.  I’m referring to plans that clearly tell the student how many pages/chapters are to be read for the day. I’ve always been a little more loose which hasn’t always resulted with the desired outcome. Trying to visualise how to ‘spell it out’ for my children I thankfully remembered Jen has generously shared her plans, her visual helped immensely and thus I began my own plans, though in excel. The first teen took a long time as I had to channel my mindset and decide on layout, after the first plans were concluded I was able to cut and paste various parts for the other children and the pace picked up. The work set is all achievable if worked at in in increments. I’m only planning a week at a time to keep my ‘finger firmly on the pulse’.

My previous ‘finger on the pulse’ method has been to ‘meet’ with my independent ‘students’ by the week’s end, if not prior too. In this ‘meeting’ we look over work accomplished and discuss their ‘highs and lows’ and potentially ‘nip any problems in the bud.’ On a good week our meetings are productive, sadly some weeks our meetings are far briefer than preferred. Upon reflection I realised leaving our meeting to the week’s end isn’t working effectively enough, if the children are in a muddle or have been slacking in some areas, both they and I are too tired to really address the issue and we role it over for the following week but then the issue can snowball. In my renewed bid to ‘keep my finger firmly on the pulse’ we’re meeting mid-week after dinner with PC present as well. This meeting is beneficial for several reasons; the children are keen to show Dad and receive his accolades, for others it’s highly constructive for them to be accountable to someone other than Mum, PC enjoys the opportunity to be more involved and I benefit from a little more accountability too;) 

So how was
it received? Well there were dramatic moments;)

On our first
day I meet individually with each
child from the oldest down. As each child received their pile of books and their sheet we discussed what was required and the change in expectations. I assured
the children that even though their sheets now covered two pages it wasn’t
necessarily more work, just broken down easier to follow. One child dramatically declared he would “be worked to death, working forever with never a spare moment,” his sister
after listening picked up her pile of books and performed a staggering, lurching ‘dance’ around the room before collapsing from the ‘weight’ onto a nearby
lounge. They do amuse me. 

The next
child had some more genuine concerns which manifested in tears. She’s at a tricky stage, wanting to be independent in her studies not grouped with her younger brothers but not yet reading to her
grade level. However she insisted she didn’t want to be listening to the history,
science, geography  and faith readings I had selected as she wanted to be doing individual work. Thinking flexibly, remember my mantras, I realised the more important goal at this stage is to encourage her reading independence not to read xyz book. Focusing on that we began combing our bookshelves for books of larger, non-intimidating print that enabled her to have a book for each subject so she could continue in her studies independently. She joins us for a few Language Arts lessons otherwise she is happily working independently.

The younger boys? Well they’re never enthused to start their lessons, they have chooks to catch, trees to climb and games to play, but as they are working directly with me, I’ve got it covered;)

Last week was truly a successful week with an impressive amount of work achieved, it continues to amaze me how the right ‘tweak’ brings about massive improvements. 

6 Responses

  1. Always love reading your homeschooling posts! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Brilliant post and idea for fixing the problem! Execution is a problem of ours too. We are going to make some changes (our school year starts next week). I would like to have a year that I feel like we have finished and not just given up on the last day. I'm curious about PC's meeting with the kids. I like this idea! My husband is not as involved with the schooling but is willing. We are on different pages with schooling though. I'm all about CM and he had a very successful public school education and can't get past that. ; ) We "teach" so differently that the boys get confused when dad takes over stuff, lol!

    • Cassie
      Somehow I knew I wasn't alone in this struggle;) Totally nodding to your words, I GET it!

      Often times our husband's might have different ways to do it but doesn't mean their input isn't valid, I like to think we balance each other out. My PC would love to be able to stay at home and teach yet his way would be quite different to mine, I actually think we would complement each other nicely and it's a shame we haven't won Lotto yet for it to be able to happen. Though yes the children don't always appreciate Dad's different teaching style, which is a shame as he is very talented. I think it is just they aren't used to different styles and if we only had more time it would benefit them.

      Our mid-week meeting….After the dinner dishes are cleared, PC and I continue to sit at the table and I and the children bring their 'sheets' to Dad and sometimes their books to show and discuss what they've achieved. He praises some and challenges others, and they respond, it really helps for them to be accountable to someone other than me who admittedly is sometimes too soft.

  3. I really enjoyed your post! I'm brainstorming our weekly meetings right now as I wrap up my planning – and you gave me some great ideas to consider!! It's great to see fruit after a season of planning, isn't it?!?!

    • Jen
      Thank you!!:) Mid-week is working brilliantly, we've had two meetings thus far, and the plan is to also have a quick recap Friday nights to make sure they hit the target. By meeting midweek it means they aren't leaving everything to the last minute and then it's all too big to achieve, makes me accountable too:) Love to hear your plans when finished.

      Oh and another tweak I'm about to implement, I'm going to do up the children's new sheets on a Friday night and give to them for the weekend so they have extra time to get ahead start on their readings such as their literature books.

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