It's been a busy summer here. I won't bore you with all the details, but I will tell you one of the things I have been scrambling to finish up over the last few weeks:
I get a little obsessed by this, I think. But not because I think it is necessary to over-plan every detail in order to have a successful school year. Quite the contrary. I like (and thanks to the ministry, I need) to have a lot of flexibility in our school plans. But I also know that I must plan and map out the year because the same ministry needs that require such flexibility out of us will also completely high-jack our school year if I don't have a good plan. We will get to the end of the year and realize that I spent the whole year taking calls and answering emails, but not doing school work. The kids will have suffered and will have to give up their summer to catch up. You'll just have to trust me on this one. I let that happen one year and purposed to never, ever let it happen again.
With past experience to spurn me forward, I have been planning and mapping out the course requirements for two very different high schoolers, one elementary student and a very project and activity heavy pre-school. Gone are the days when all my students could study the same classes together. They have very divergent graces and interests, and their ages are so spread out that it requires very different course work. So, for math, we have Pre-calculus, Business math, elementary math and beginning math. But wait -- it gets better. For science, we have chemistry, anatomy, astronomy and nature study -- all in one year. And don't forget Foreign Language, Language Arts, History, Music, and Art. I'm not nervous or anything. Really. I'm, um... not...nervous.
I'm thinking I'm pretty much bonkers for believing we can pull things off the way they've worked out this year. But just to prove I'm perfectly sane, let's throw a very active pre-schooler into the mix.
Oh, yeah. That will help.
When I looked at how the year was shaping up, I knew I needed to do as much as possible ahead of time. There was just no way I was going to be able to prep pre-school crafts while trying to keep my teenagers from blowing up the kitchen in chemistry lab. So in the picture above, I am making pre-school kits for 34 weeks worth of daily (yes - daily) crafts, activities, learning projects and book lists for Pickle-Mickle. There are hundreds. With all her stuff organized and prepared, I can easily delegate some of the preschool teaching to one of my kids while I help a child with a concept.
For the record, I don't like to push my little ones into school work, and didn't do it with all my kids. They are ahead in school anyway. However, with the kind of school work my older kids are doing, I need good wholesome things to occupy Pickle-Mickle while I help them. Besides, she wants to be a part of what we are doing. She loves school. With all these kits made ahead for her, she is able to take part in what we are doing. She can learn in a fun way without being pressured to perform or feeling left out and isolated from us.
You may ask, "But how will you manage to teach all those different classes?"
My basic plan is this:
1. Pray, Pray, Pray. -- I need the Grace of God to stay on top of my responsibilities.
2. Plan well. As the saying goes, "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail." I spend a great deal of time planning so that our school has the best opportunity to go smoothly.
3. Pre-prep absolutely anything that I can. The more I put together now, the less I have to do when the pressure is on. This is especially necessary when there are younger students in the mix.
4. Work as a group on any class that involves everyone. A couple examples of classes that we group are Bible and Character Training. We also group History and Science when we can. Math, however, has always been an individual class in which my kids work at their own pace.
4. Train the older students to take personal responsibility for their own education. When they enter college, no professor is going to hover over them to make sure they study and complete their assignments. The sooner they learn a good work ethic, the better prepared for life they will be. I have always told them that there was no way that I could teach them everything they needed to know, but if I could teach them how to learn, they would always be able to find out everything they needed to know. We make "learning to learn" a focus.
With the older students primarily working on a college style model, I have more freedom to work with the younger students. I give my high schoolers their course requirements, help them schedule their time, and monitor their progress. Thankfully, they are very hungry to learn, so I don't have to twist any arms. By the time they are in upper high school, they have a good work ethic and have learned to manage their time very well.
5. Don't sweat it. We work hard, but we don't fall apart if our plan falls apart. Kids are learning all the time. One of the things they are learning is how to respond when things aren't going well. If we have a lousy school day, I try to make sure they see me respond to it a positive and proactive way. If I can, I salvage the day. If I can't, I've been known to drop everything, shift gears and either go outside for some Nature Study, read a great book aloud to them, or something along that line. My kids have never fallen behind over a lousy day. Don't sweat it.