One of the great temptations for new home educators is to bring a traditional, assembly line, children-stuck-at-desks, seven-subjects-each-day-in-50-minute-increments approach to their home education. That approach is not working very well for the schools and their students, so why would we bring it into our homes with our children?
Sometimes, we are tempted to do that because it is familiar. In the same way, we might stop at a familiar fast food chain even when we know it is inferior food and scanty nutrition, but since we know what to expect, we default to it. Instead, I love the approach to learning that plans the overall material we want to cover in a year, comes back and looks at how much should be covered in a month, and then offers some freedom. At the smallest increment I would go, look at plans for a week, but never each day.
Planning Based on Age
Much of how you plan schooling depends on the age of your children.
In a child’s early years, 50 minutes is a real test of a young child’s attention span. Instead, exploring, learning stations, games, changes of pace with lots of variety are all great. Incidentally, they also might lock onto something that is exciting and joyful, and the last thing we want is to be a spoiler by looking at the clock and ringing the proverbial bell to tell them they must stop their creativity just as they are wholly engaged. If they are engrossed in that science experiment — learning, questioning, testing — why on earth would we stop that, even if it means we don’t get to another subject “on time” or even that day?!
My older high school students like simply knowing what needs to be done and being left alone to do it on their pace and around their other activities. For me, it is more about being a resource and a supplier than about standing up front (or sitting across the table) and teaching something new. Once they know how to learn, my role shifts to inspiration and evaluation.
Planning Based on Subject
So, while age makes a difference, so does the subject. In the case of art, science, and history, it is often better to run more like a college, with a block schedule where you touch those subjects only one, two or three days each week, but for a longer chunk of time. Something like spelling or mastering those multiplication tables or learning a foreign language benefit from frequent, probably daily, touches. So for those items, put them in the pretty untouchable times of the day that you can count on becoming routine. For many, this might be just before or after breakfast, or in the evening. Remember, too, that school does not have to take place in the same spot or in a rigid, at-your-desk manner. The foreign language CD might be put in the car for drive time, listened to each evening in bed, turned up while cooking, or enjoyed as a family for 15 minutes just after dinner.
We love having a plan of what you want covered and hitting those monthly, or perhaps weekly targets. This still allows flexibility for the spontaneous opportunities. It allows for diving in deep and spending lots of time on a special project or something intriguing or fun. It also allows time to simply check-out, serve, meet a need, and jump back in. Rather than feeling always like you are behind or needing to catch up, or feeling a daily pressure, this less-structured approach can help our children learn time management alongside their coursework.