Homeschooling Questions: To plan or not to plan?

To plan or not to plan, that is the question…
In a recent Facebook post, I asked friends to send me their homeschooling questions, as if I could answer any of them as I emerge from a very difficult first year and enter the second. I meant to write a Q&A type of post but the questions were too far ranging to fit on one page, each one deserving a full post to itself. The first question came from Jenna. She asked (edited for length):

“I always love hearing about how/when homeschoolers fit in planning….and getting a glimpse of what a typical day looks like. I am constantly battling with the idea that we need to have a structured routine, but fail to have one every single day. Sometimes I feel great about our go-with-the-flow approach, and sometimes I feel like my kids need more consistency and I should work harder at that.”

I think that personal style and what works for your family are key. For us, planning is a must. Like you, I tend to fall on the go-with-the-flow end of the spectrum but it is a complete fail with my children. In fact, nothing guarantees a bad day like not having a plan. As a result, I need to walk roughshod over my personal preference and manage to work with what works best for my children. And that’s a lesson plan, attached to a schedule. My children need to know what to expect or their brains short-circuit. On the positive side, when they have a lesson plan clearly laid-out, they work well and thoroughly.

Last year, I planned our work using Laura Berquist’s Designing you Own Classical Curriculum and Jesse Wise’s The Well-Trained Mind . While I really liked the classical approach, it required a lot of work and advanced planning on my part, especially since my children were something-less-than-enthusiastic. Their school experience had not prepared them for the type of work and inquiry that the classical curriculum demanded.
Mid-year I started using spiral bound notebooks to prepare the children’s workweek.  If I had a chunk of time on Sunday I would plan the entire week day-by-day. That rarely happened so I was normally planning one day at a time, after the kids’ bedtime. When the children got up in the morning, they knew right away what they had to do and would often power through most of their school day in a few hours. Whenever we didn’t get to the end of the list, the work got reported to the next day. I never scheduled Fridays and used it as a bumper day to finish the week’s work.

Using the spiral notebooks really made things easier for everyone but I was still struggling to keep on top of the highschoolers: making sure that their work was completed properly and corrected, that areas of concern were addressed, etc. As former school students, they both had a tendency to stop working whenever they encountered a problem they couldn’t solve.
As a result, this year I registered the highschoolers with Mother of Divine Grace School. They are taking online classes in math and religion, have tutors for the other subjects (science, English, history, latin) and I teach French using these resources. The Mother of Divine Grace syllabi are very clearly (and expertly) broken down in assignments by days and by weeks. The curriculum is demanding, clocking-in at 5 to 6 hours per day for the highschoolers. In other words, it will suck back a lot of our homeschooling flexibility. But the reality is that my teens don’t know how to use their time wisely. I was hoping that homeschooling flexibility would allow them to delve into new interests and develop their talents but it hasn’t. Unless Tumblr, Netflix and Starbucks count as talents.
Another dimension of planning are your needs as a parent. As usual, a little bit of critical self-examination can go a long way. I find that there is a very predictable arc to my day depending on where my butt sits around 7:30 am. If I am on the couch with my phone, in my pajamas, having my coffee, chances are I’m still there at 10am (or more likely I got up in a panic as the twins dumped a bucket of outside gravel into the couch and I am now cleaning it up as they flush dominoes down the septic tank and Damien is drinking toilet water from the dog’s water dish. I wish I was making this up.) If I have gotten-up before the kids, stretched a bit, said my morning prayers, eaten and dressed, I’m less likely to get caught-up in the wave of chaos that represents my family. Because my brain is impervious to routines – no matter how long I stick to a routine it never becomes second nature – a plan help me remember where I’m supposed to be at a certain time and what I’m supposed to do.
Finally, one last dimension of planning is that it really clears hours off my day. I know because I’ve been operating plan-less for most of the last 9 months and the insanity of doing all the cooking, all the cleaning and all the homeschooling for a family of 11 is really catching-up with me now. A plan allows me to assign tasks to the children and keep them accountable. It’s easier to keep them doing their chores if there is a predictable list of work I can pin to their foreheads. Left to my own devise, I tend to rely heavily on the most naturally helpful children, which of course breeds resentment on one end and unrealistic expectations of being left alone at the other end. I purchased Managers of their homes  in a fit of despair last year but it’s still shrink-wrapped and glaring at me. I’m scared witless of this thing but I’m afraid we’re at that point of disorganization.Many friends have also recommended Holly Pierlot A Mother’s Rule of Life  but I can’t buy another book until I have read all those I ordered last year so it may have to wait until I’m in a nursing home.
My thoughts on planning, in a nutshell: If you think you need it, give it a try. If you are happy and healthy, why fix what is not broken? I would much prefer following my children’s learning cues and enquiries, if the cues weren’t always about Paw Patrol.


3 thoughts on “Homeschooling Questions: To plan or not to plan?

  1. Bonjour Véronique!
    Je suis curieuse de savoir le pourquoi du homeschooling. J’ai toujours été impressionnée par les gens qui faisait cela et je me suis toujours demandé quelles étaient les raisons derrière cela. Peut-être l’as-tu déjà expliqué dans un autre post??

    1. Salut Véronique! Je ne sais pas si j’ai déjà écrit un post sur les raisons qui nous ont poussé à éduquer nos enfants à la maison. Premièrement, j’ai toujours aimé l’idée. Nous venons de commencer l’école à la maison, c’est notre deuxième année. Nos enfants allaient à l’école depuis de nombreuses années lorsque nous les avons retirés de l’école. J’aimais le “profil” des enfants éduqués à domicile que je connaissais. Il y a une grande communauté d’école à la maison au Canada et surtout là où j’habite à Ottawa. Je trouvais que de manière générale, les enfants étaient mieux socialisés que les enfants éduqués à l’école. Ils n’avaient pas peur d’interagir avec d’autres enfants d’âge différent, ils étaient capable de socialiser avec des adultes, ils s’entendaient mieux avec leurs frères et sœurs etc. Je trouvais aussi que du point de vue académique, ils étaient plus versatiles et plus curieux, mieux cultivés, plus ouverts sur le monde que mes enfants et leurs pairs à l’école. Et en tant que Catholiques, je devais faire prendre des cours de catéchèse aux enfants pendant le week-end parceque l’école (Catholique) ne le faisait pas. Avec l’école à la maison, je pouvais décider sur quoi je voulais mettre l’emphase etc.

      Côté logistique, nous avons déménagé dans une communauté rurale l’hiver dernier et les écoles sont loin. Avant de construire notre maison, nous avons décidé que si nous déménagions à la campagne, nous n’allions pas passer notre vie en voiture à conduire les enfants à l’école (les écoles francophones sont à 45-50km de la maison.) Alors nous avons fait le saut.

      Mais tu vas trouver autant de raisons différentes de faire l’école à la maison qu’il y a de familles qui font l’école à la maison! C’est l’avantage principal de l’éducation en famille: la flexibilité!

  2. Merci beaucoup pour ta réponse, je l’appécie beaucoup. Je continue d’être fascinée par le homeschooling! Maybe one day… we will see! Kee up your good work! J’adore lire tous tes posts. Je te trouve tellement inspirante, drôle, authentique. Ce que tu écris vient beaucoup me chercher. J’ai 4 enfants et aspire à encore plus! 😉

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