Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Planning Less, Doing More

It's been a while.  
I'm back.
Carry on.

I find that as the years, months, and days fly by, we shift to more of an unschooly lifestyle.  We'll probably never fall under the category of true unschoolers, but we're even more "relaxed eclectic" than ever.  We still set goals and make plans, but these are negotiable and fluid.  As always, we do whatever works for us at any given point in time, and we're never afraid to shift gears or direction.  The main difference these days is the shift from planning ahead to documenting the work as/after we do it.

As I've mentioned here before, we've been including more project time.  Instead of once a week, my oldest now has project time daily after she finishes her math and any other required work for the day.  She's learning how to make goals and lists of project steps she can take.  She has her own project notebook, and I finally got my act together and set one up to record what both girls work on.  For now, I have a simple system.  I have a page for each child in the front, where I keep a running list of their interests.  Potential projects.  Then, once they settle into one, I start a page just for that and make notes on all the related activities we/they do.  I'm not very good at this, but I'm trying to get better.  I'm trying to take notes and take photos more often to document their learning.  Not because we have to.  Because it's useful and because I want to.  (For more info on project notebooks/journals, Lori has some great posts on this.  I'm trying to catch up.)  My project records are a bit of a mess right now, with photos and notes and lists in different places, but I my goal is to set up a centralized system over the next few months.

I'm still also using a traditional-style weekly planner, with blocks to fill in by subject; however, instead of filling out those blocks with plans for the week, I print out the blank forms and jot things down as we do them.  We decide each day what to do, so if it's not feeling like a math mammoth worksheet kind of day, I can write in Khan Academy or a Life of Fred chapter.  No erasing, scratching out, or squeezing in a "missed" lesson on another day.  I've always been extremely flexible with our planning, but changing up our paperwork has freed me from the stress of shifting things around.  And even on our sick days or "lazy" days, I can still write down all the things we do and see for myself how much my kids are learning, instead of circling all the things we didn't do.  Focus on the positive.

Since we're planning less, we have more time to do what we want whenever the opportunity strikes.  Like last week, when it was unseasonably warm and finally dry, we spent an afternoon cleaning up the garden.  The girls asked to each take over a separate raised bed, so they learned how to read the packets and learned how to plant seeds at the correct depth and spacing.  They also learned what happens when you don't follow those planting guidelines.  When those radish and beet seedlings all came up in huge clumps a few days later, we talked about how the roots need space to grow and how to fix our mistakes.

We had the time and freedom to take advantage of an opportunity.  But as I write this, I realize that I didn't write any of it down.  Not in my planner.  Not in my project notebook.  But I took photos and I wrote about it here.  So that counts, right?

Like I said, our system isn't perfect, but it is a shift in the right direction.  For us.  At this point in time.  It allows us to focus on our current interests, instead of trying to fit them into some preexisting plan.  It allows us to live completely in the present, while allowing for goals and plans.  It's flexible, functional, and so very us.


  1. love this, michelle. :)

    back when i was running my private school, i taught a seminar at a local community college. one of the instructors asked if i could make up a worksheet for preschool teachers to use in the classroom to replace the one they were currently using — the one that said X minutes of singing today, X minutes of read aloud, X minutes of math concepts, X minutes each in the block area, and so on.

    i said, um, you don’t have to change the worksheet — you just have to change how you use it! just fill it in *afterwards* instead of using it as a daily schedule. that was a mind-bender for them. i think it’s because of trust — it can be difficult to *trust* that given the right environment and support, children are going to learn without needing a sheet full of activities to tick off one by one.

    the shift from planning ahead to reflecting (and then supporting) what you see in front of you is a big one.

    1. I can't tell you how many hours I've wasted over the years (as a teacher AND as a homeschooling parent) searching for the PERFECT planning sheet. You are so right, it's definitely in how you use it!

      Trust. Ah . . . I could write a whole post on trust issues. :)

    2. Yes. The perfect planner does not exist. I've wasted too many hours searching. Finally, while at Target, I picked up a simple planner. I plan themes/ holidays/read alouds on monthly pages.
      I separate the individual days on the weekly pages with washi tape or highlighters since I have two children. Works great! Also, I am totally making a project book:)

    3. Washi tape dividers! What a great, fun idea!

  2. After reading Lori's book I set up a project journal for each of my kids. I also designated a super-useful multi-pocket bag as our "project bag". It contains cameras, batteries, project notebooks, pencils and sharpeners, a small stapler and staples. This way everything is in a central location when someone is ready to get into a project, but it's also ready for when we are on the go.

    As far as the project notebooks, I have the younger kids dictate any ideas they would like written in their notebook and the older kids write their own ideas. I also jot things down as they are working. With both of us keeping up with their notes, I hope to keep track of everything! Photos work this way, too. We both take photos of projects in progress. It's great to see the different perspectives on their work.

    1. so cool — love reading that! :D

    2. I need to have my younger one dictate for her own project notebook. That is, if I can ever get her on board. She's a stubborn one. I thought seeing Big Sis doing her project work would help, but no. She's a trip.

      Love your project bag!

  3. I love the idea of project notebooks, but my eight year old is famous for starting projects and running out of steam before they're finished. Or else her plans are so grand it's hard for me to help her get going (planning for the house she's going to buy when she grows up). I haven't tried dictating with my four-year old though- that could be very interesting! I use the planner from Funschooling exactly how you described- I write down what we did AFTER- it's a liberating feeling to never be behind! Some days I have more blanks than I'd like, but that's part of the territory. Thanks for letting me ramble!

    1. I understand. My 9yo spent most of last year jumping from one project to the next, but this year she seems much more suited to digging deeper with her interests. With some gentle nudging sometimes. :)


Thanks for visiting my site! I love hearing from readers, and I do my best to answer all questions here in the comments section. Thanks for reading and commenting!