Monday, January 11, 2016

Staying on Track

I often joke that I'm waiting for a "normal" school year to pass, one without interruption of moving, family death or illness, or other significant event that interferes with our daily routine. I always seem to have to be carrying on school lessons in the midst of something pressing or unusual or distracting. It is a peril of homeschooling.

Charlotte Mason's declaration that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, helps me cope without throwing my hands up in despair. All those "interferences" are part of my children's education, for the children studying at home are not removed from life in the artificial seclusion of a classroom, but are in the midst of its circumstances. So much for the argument that keeping a child at home is sheltering them from real life. Yet, their presence when the crisis phone call comes or the cow gets out of the pasture or grandmother must be driven to her next chemotherapy treatment, not only exposes them to the realities of life, but presents enormous challenges to the home teacher to provide the consistent and regular lessons that are their children's academic nourishment--the daily discipline. A definite plan or organizational structure is essential even in the flexible environment of the home schoolroom.

So I am thankful for a schedule, even though it is likely that it will be disrupted with in any given week--or day. This is where the discipline in Mason's definition of education comes to the rescue. A regular diet of lessons is critical, and the structure of having a plan in place makes the chances of using that plan greater.

Over the course of my 30 years of home education, I have found several survival techniques for keeping school on track. They have evolved and altered over the years, because our family dynamics, living quarters, and needs have changed as the family has grown. I have no single suggestion to advise, no list of principles even to recommend that will encompass each family's unique situation. As I consult with mothers across the country, I am aware of the many individual components that have to be considered in helping them to fit everything in and keep up with all subjects for children of varying ages and abilities in each particular home, but I will give here a couple of survival tactics I have adopted over the years in case they can be useful as you tackle your own challenges.

Some time in late spring or early summer, I map out a plan for the coming school year. I settle on which subjects will continue, which new ones will be added, and then organize them into an ideal week in which to spread that feast before my children. This involves a bit of twisting and turning till I am satisfied that each day will hold its challenging subjects, its daily subjects, its once-a-week subjects, its most delicious subjects in a varying order and with appropriate time assigned to each. I will not deceive you; this process is often agonizingly frustrating to me, especially if several children of widely varying ages and needs are involved. I combine as many subjects as I possibly can each day that all children I am teaching that year can do together. The result is that at least 20 subjects do fit into morning school hours. The hope I offer is that this task is not impossible and every year I not only manage to accomplish this feat, but most years I get to repeat that same schedule and don't have to re-invent the plan.

I keep this template on the cover of my planning notebook so that each day I have my school day before me. If some unforeseen interruption or alteration to the plan occurs, I simply look at the clock and jump to what is next. If an entire day is missed, I do the plan for the following day. I do not stop to cover what should have been done yesterday. Somehow, by God's grace, all the ragged days come out even by the end of the last term. If a term takes me 15 weeks because life has dealt me unusual events, I do exams late and start the next term late. At home, we are not limited to the 36 weeks of the out-of-home school.

Another tactic I have developed is to take a moment some time over a weekend to glance through the planned week ahead and make sure I have found the book, purchased the science experiment ingredient, printed out the article, or marked the link I will need online. This takes less than five minutes.

Ideally, I stay only a week ahead in the specifics that I fit into my weekly plan. I do not like to get too far ahead in planning numbers of pages to be covered, because if things don't go according to that plan, I get too discouraged. Instead, each day, during some quiet moments or else right after lunch, I take the time to write out the particulars for the lessons for that same day one week ahead. In other words, while the lessons just finished are fresh in my mind, I can quickly prepare for what should come next when we return to that subject. That way, when Friday comes, I have already prepared for the following week. This method pulls me through the year.

Because, after all, where to go next is the hook that keeps us moving along, and moving along is how you actually get somewhere. Another benefit to devising a method of planning ahead, even if not too far ahead, is that your children sense that someone is leading and gain confidence from the security of knowing that things are on track, that education is not hit or miss and random, but an enticing road to follow. A plan frees the teacher to delight in teaching and the student to delight in learning.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

4 comments:

  1. This is fantastic, Liz. Thank you!!! Can't wait to think on it more! :)

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    1. We all develop different survival skills and I hope some of mine are helpful to you in simplifying a complex job.

      Liz

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  2. Yes, yes and yes!! Having homeschooled for two decades I totally agree!!

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    1. Confirmation from experience is encouraging. If we can ease things for others by our school of hard knocks, it's wonderful.

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