Sunday, August 17, 2008

Planning At Beck's Bounty

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am a LIST person ... I LIKE to write lots of things down, I NEED to research (a lot), and that I take great joy in checking things off my lists. And they also know that I tend to be overly organized in some areas of my life (which is merely a result of years of over-compensating on my part, honestly), and am also nearly consumed by total chaos (my true "natural" state) in other (most) areas of my life.

That being said, as a homeschool Mom and a mother of 6 very-busy Cherubs, planning for "school" is my nemesis. I HATE LESSON PLANNING. Well, I like the "idea" part a whole lot, and I love the lists and the buying part (books only - I hate to "shop" for most everything else), but the reality of putting it all into an organized user-friendly "item by item" format, well .... the "formatting" nearly kills me every year. (This being the direct result of my "Natural" state, mentioned above. HA !)

My planning always begins with handwritten notes gathered in piles (this year I kept them scribbled in a steno-style notebook in an effort to be "more" organized - and it worked very well for me). I keep making these lists throughout the school year, planning "as we go" for the next year. My lists and notes are about resources, project ideas, curriculums I want to check out, recommended titles, websites of interest, interesting topics, rabbit-trail ideas, academic needs, and lots of other things.

Then in the spring, when we have finished our school year, those lists are organized and compiled into a Word document (above screenshot). I do this in order to be Organized (which also gives the appearance of being Hyper organized, which is NOT a true picture - HA !). Then, as I weed through the notes and lists to consolidate the information, I can figure out exactly WHAT we need, WHEN we need to do it, and HOW we are going to accomplish it. (and leftover notes are kept as "ideas" for more consideration, or things for next year, etc)

In late June, the Book Shopping begins, at the Conferences and (mostly) online.

Next, the books and resources arrive and are put away on the shelves (My bookshelves are very organized thanks to a lovely friend. Thank you MamaLion !).

And now ... the REAL planning begins !

I begin entering our resources and plans into the Simply Charlotte Mason Organizer.

**There is a great free demo on the site in case you want to check it out too ! **

If you have read my blog for a while now, you will know that we first used this Organizer last year, and that in our family's opinion it is the best $99 we have EVER spent on Homeschooling !! (This $99 is the once-annual fee . There is a monthly fee that you can opt for too - check the link above for details. BTW - there is also a free 30 day trial.) It has saved us (yes, all of us) soooooo much time and energy and has spared all of us (not just me) a whole lot of frustration as well as stress !! It keeps our "plan" organized day to day, week to week, month to month, all year long. It keeps a great record of what we have accomplished, and what we have yet-to-do. According to the children (and Mom & Dad agree), the best part is that it provides a very specific daily TO DO list for each of the children. Every morning of our school year just before breakfast, I print out everyone's Daily Assignments. BTW - you do not HAVE to print - you can just use it "a la computer" if you prefer. We just prefer printing because we have a whole housefull of "box checkers". HA ! Then the children work through the list throughout the day (even Dad does school if I have to be away from home, because there is a specific list !). With their lists in hand, each child knows exactly what the assignments are for each subject, along with any other to-do's on their list (notebook pages, narrations, read alouds, etc).

** SideNote: Because this planner is web-based, I can access our plans from any internet-connected computer. After losing our paper and harddrive records in a housefire in March 2007, this is a BIG plus (no more lost records !). Also this is a great help on trips to the library when I find a great book or when I hear of a museum exhibit. I can quickly check our plans to see when it would be approriate to use / visit (or if it is a duplicate of something we already have planned) -- I have done this many times with our history studies in particular. We can also access our plans when we travel, when we take "school on the road" (only we do not "print" them on the road - we just use them online).

Back to HOW DO I PLAN -
I sign into the SCM Organizer, and go to the BOOK FINDER to search the files for each of the resources I want to use, or I enter my own resource (usually the Title, Author, Chapter Titles or Lesson names - -BTW, the more detailed the entry, the better the Daily To-Do lists work out) ...

Then, when I have found the Resource, or have entered the Resource, I click SAVE AND SCHEDULE. Next, I select which child / children this resource is to be used for. And for each child, I choose a Subject Heading (history, math, science, etc), and a date to begin using this resource (first day of school, January 1st, to be used "with" another resource, or even "following" directly after another resource), and which day or days of the week we wish to use this resource. On this screen I also choose what I want the child to do with that resource (read independently, read and narrate, read together, picture study, complete, etc). There is also an optional NotePad for each day and also an optional NotePad for each subject, where you can add notes for that particular day or for that particular assignment.

(above) This is a screenshot of part of our FAMILY listing -- FAMILY means that these are things we all do together, such as Nature Study, Art Appreciation, Music Study, Shakespeare, and other subjects. Each child has a Name Specific listing too for their individual plans.

When all of the resources are entered for each child (or the family), I check them off (one at a time, BoxChecker-style) on my WORD list (the very first screenshot of this entry), and slowly I make my way down the list until everything is "planned" and "entered".

At this point, I go through the Resources for each child, one by one, and try to determine whether or not I have overloaded a certain child on a certain day in a certain subject area --- I try to spread subjects and assignments evenly throughout the week. I edit the days and order of resources in the SCHEDULER portion of the Organizer to make it fit our family and to make it work well for each of the children. (BTW - when I used written plans and Excel spreadsheets for planning, I had a major tendency to overload days without realizing it, so this part of the organizer works out SUPER for me !)
This (above) is a screenshot of our FAMILY listing (partial) ... Memory Work (a daily occurance), Kamana One (book to be used on Fridays, chapter by chapter).

Now --- at the end of all of this writing and "entering", my WHOLE YEAR is planned. TA DA !!

* Of course I CAN plan a bit at a time, a week at a time, a month at a time, or even a quarter at a time. The SCM Organizer allows also. Personally, however, I prefer to have the planning finished before we begin our year (and the plans can still be tinkered with at any time, if need be). I used to plan for weeks and weeks in the summer, and then would fine-tune plans on Sunday evenings, writing or typing out item-by-item lists. Now I plan for approximately a few days in the spring (assembling lists and orders), 1 week in the summer (entering all the information and plans). My Sunday evenings are FREE to be with my family. YAHOO !! This "planning time" was a major improvement for me, for my husband, and for our family. I also really like that there is a clear "big picture", so I can focus on the learning NOW rather than what we might do next, and also we make great progress because no one is waiting for Mom to figure out what comes next. My husband likes the clear daily list (so clear and simple that he can do school well without me if necessary), the "record keeping" feature that shows all Finished work for the week / month / year per child, and he also likes the "big picture" all mapped out for the year. All of these are the result of our using the SCM Organizer.

How does this planning "LOOK" as part of our school ?

When we start school (September 1st this year) I will print out everyone's assignment sheets for Monday, September 1st, before breakfast. In the morning immediately following breakfast, we will do our Monday "Family" work (together - Prayer, Bible, Memory Work, Artist Study, ...), and then afterwards everyone will work their way down their own list (for independent and non-independent subjects). I will float from child to child, big kids to little kids, working on "teaching" or helping with questions or problems. This gives everyone the opportunity to work on their school work, and also to have the teacher-time they need if and when they need it. This also allows me to plan timeslots to work with each child, teaching math lessons or working with beginner readers or working on science labs / experiments without having another child "waiting" for me or "waiting" for their next assignment. (This is time I lost a lot of in previous years, before we started using this planner.)

Then, at the end of the day I will meet with each child (they let me know when they are completely finished. A diligent child is finished much sooner than one who dilly-dallies. And in our family, this lesson was / is best learned by the child's own experience. Free time and priviledges in the afternoons and evenings hinge on Diligence.). During this Daily Meeting, the child and I (or occasionally it's Dad instead) will go over assignments on the list (together) for Math, Grammar, and other such subjects to "check" them. I then re-teach as needed (usually math), and the child will make the necessary corrections immediately. Any oral narrations are done at this time as well. Together, we review / correct / discuss every assignment. The children LOVE this 1:1 time, and look forward to the feedback (Everyone loves Affirmation and Praise for a job well done !). In addition to Diligence, this part of our day also encourages Accountability and Responsibility (Habit Training a la Charlotte Mason herself). When we have reviewed each assignment, (another great SCM Organizer feature) I sign into the Organizer (with the child next to me, and their "checked" list in hand), and click on that specific child's Daily Assignments. I "check" one of two boxes for each of that day's assignments -- WORKED ON or FINISHED. "Worked On" means that the child worked on this assignment, but is not finished with it yet -- so that same assignment will show up exactly the same on the next appropriate day's list. "Finished" means that the child completed the assignment -- so on the next appropriate day the next assignment for that resource (or the next resource if the entire resource is finished) will be on the list.


Today's list says Lesson 5 (math) ... if we check WORKED ON, then Lesson 5 will be on tomorrow's to-do list (math is a daily subject) ... but if we check FINISHED, then Lesson 6 will appear on tomorrow's list. This works well with subjects like Math and Science with specific lessons, but also works well with books (Chapter 1, Chapter 2) and for curriculum lists (Week 1 History Readings, Week 2 History Readings, etc).

Another example is Literature, which is done daily. The child is currently reading through the Anne of Green Gables series --- Book 1 is ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and has 38 chapters, and so the BOOK, and the CHAPTER will show up on Today's assignment sheet for this child. They read the assigned chapter (#5), so we click FINISHED. Tomorrow Chapter #6 will show up on the assignment sheet. And when the child has read all of the chapters, when we click FINISHED for Chapter 38 ... the following day Book 2 ANNE OF AVONLEA will show up with Chapter 1 assigned ---- this is assuming all of the chapters and such are listed for each book, and that I have scheduled Book 2 to follow Book 1. (BTW - there are A LOT of books and resources already listed in the Book Finder so it is best to search for them first -- this prevents you from having to enter in 38 chapters of a book that is already listed.)

And the last example is to be used with "curriculum" that is spelled out day-by-day or week-by-week. (THESE ENTRIES ARE MADE USING COPYRIGHTED INFORMATION SO ARE NOT MADE "PUBLIC" by SCM - YOU WILL HAVE TO ENTER THESE REOURCES YOURSELF. You can obviously use PUBLIC resources found in the BookFinder. You can also view and use resources that you enter that are not "Public" due to copyright restrictions. Information is stored in a web database. SCM periodically reviews all "new" resources that are added, and makes those public that are appropriate and legal for Public use. This protects the copyrights of curriculum-specific plans and their creators.) So --- say your curriculum includes History and Literature. You can enter DAY 1 assignments, to be followed by DAY 2, and so on. Or you can enter WEEK 1 assignments, followed by WEEK 2. Since these "resources" are solely for your family's use and are only used by your family, you can specify these plans to suit YOUR needs. So Week 1 assignments show up on Monday, and you click FINISHED at the end of Monday. Next Monday, Week 2 assignments will show up. (Hopefully that makes sense. You do have to be a bit creative when using the SCM Organizer for these types of resources.)

Oh - I almost forgot to share another fantastic feature !! (It seems I am sharing my experiences with the SCM Organizer AND how I plan our homeschool year - although for us they are a "pair"). If we have a sick day, a family emergency, or take an unscheduled field trip .... there is no "re-planning" or "moving" "rolling forward" or "shuffling" of assignments !! Let's say we miss a Friday because we have the flu (which happens in our house many times per winter). Well, THIS Friday's "to do" list (math, history, science, Chapter 5 of the current literature book, etc) will appear NEXT Friday because it is the "next" thing to do. All Fridays lessons after that will slide forward because the program is not "date" driven. YIPPEEEE !! After years of re-working lesson plans because we were sick, fell behind, raced down a rabbit trail, or went on an unexpected trip, this is FABULOUS ! And after more than a few episodes of "double up" work to get caught up with the plans (so as NOT to re-work them -- sometimes I am a mean mother, huh ?), the children are pleased with this feature too. This also allows "missed" lessons to slide forward --- suppose you are doing only Math, Spelling, and Grammar today because of a doctors appointment. You will check "worked on" or "finished" for those subjects, and those subjects left untouched / unchecked will "slide forward" to the next assigned day for that subject. VOILA ! (I am quite sure that I have fewer headaches just from this feature alone. HA !)

Again, back to HOW DO I PLAN -

Essentially our Homeschool Lesson Plans are completed for the WHOLE YEAR. However, during our break at Christmas Time, I will tinker with the plans a bit based on our actual "experience" and "progress" --- adding resources, subtracting resources, changing assigned days, or altering things according to each child's progress. (This takes 30 minutes at the most, to tinker with everyone's plans.)

After all of the planning and box checking is finished, I give my printer a MAJOR workout. I print lists of Memory Work, Poems, Math Facts, Art Appreciation prints, notebooking pages, blank maps, and more. And these go into the Hanging File Drawer of my desk (which is in the school room) or into specific notebooks. I do this because it is easier to look in a file for something needed (a map to follow a geography reading or lesson), rather than to hunt for it (online, in books, and sometimes not being about to find it - ARG !) and use it or print it. For our family, this hunting many times means we do not DO whatever it is at all, getting lost or frustrated along the "rabbit trail". Memory Work, Songs, Poems go into a MEMORY WORK folder with "prongs", ready to be used every morning from Day 1 to the end of school, with pages for each week / month / season. After years of trying to find "new" Memory Work, and forgetting to find it until it was too late, this has been a BIG help.

The last part of our Planning for our school year -- the children's notebooks and our school supplies get set up, the school bookshelves are checked to be sure everything is where it belongs -- and with the notebooks we set up the dividers, add paper, sharpen the pencils .... (you know the drill).

TODAY: I am running a bit behind this year because our garden has kept us VERY busy (and I have been procrastinating a bit too). At this point, I have JUST finished entering all of our resources and every child's plans into the SCM Organizer. And our supplies are almost ready (history notebooks left to be set up). I have to finish assembling our Memory Work for the second half of the year and do a bit more printing (maps, lists, and more). These last tasks should all be finished by Monday.

Then ... we will finish harvesting in the garden (and will plant our fall garden) ... take some trips to the lake ... do some swimming ... visit some friends ... and enjoy the last bit of summer ... until September 1st, which is our first day of school for the 2008-2009 year.

P.S. After reading through this post, I felt it VERY necessary to say ... I promise that I am NOT an employee of Simply Charlotte Mason, and I promise that I do not receive any benefits of any kind for the promotion of the SCM Organizer or any of SCM's products. I am, very simply, a VERY satisfied customer, and a MUCH better homeschool Mom, as a result of using Simply Charlotte Mason's Organizer. I PROMISE !! And so, for the Charlotte Mason BLOG CARNIVAL PLANNING BASH I just had to share MY methods of planning ... organizer and all.


3'sacharm said...

OH MY!! You get the award for the longest blog!! ha ha and I read EVERY word---I think the correct term for our disorder OCD--I can say that because I AM! I wish I had been a little more adventurous and gone with the CM organizer--one thing at at time-the TOG was a much bigger planning ordeal than I had done in previous years--one thing at a time!

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! I really want to try the planner at SCM one day when I have a little more room in the budget for something like that. It sounds pretty amazing and that is the best review for it I have ever seen! :-)

Good luck this year!

Jimmie said...

Wow. It's great to find something that works isn't it?

I've looked at the SCM planner. It seems so expensive. But if it works I guess that it's worth every cent.

Anonymous said...

With a large family, I'm sure it is crucial to have such planning.
Even with my three children, I need it!

Cindy said...

And I thought *I* liked to plan! ;) Seriously, I'm glad you found something that works. I'm sort of in transition this year. I doubt hubby would go for a big purchase right now, but I may look into the planner you mentioned anyway.

Have a great year! :o)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the details! I need to read independent reviews by real people. I'm looking into this planner. It just might save my sanity this year. Thank you.
Many Blessings,