Now that school has started for our friends in public school, it is time for us to head back into the classroom officially as well. Well, after Thumper takes that one last week long vacation with Grandma and I get a little break.
We adopted two kittens a few weeks ago. One of them, Shadow, likes to chase his tail. He ends up running in circles. Quite funny to watch. I’m reminded of this when I think of our schedule last year. I started with a 3 hour work period that eventually deteriorated into……a mess. I was chasing a normalized child but the harder I chased the more the kids didn’t seem to want to settle down to work. We ended up doing lots of 1.5 hour work periods interspersed with outings and chores.
What I really needed was to stop running and take stock. And finally a few weeks break in the summer allowed me to do that. Montessori philosophy is pretty adamant about not interfering with a concentrated child and letting them guide their own learning. Freedom of choice within limits kind of thing. But, as I learned last year reading a famous Montessorian talking about his first year in teaching, you are allowed to do whatever you need to do to get them there.
All this to say, we’re going back to the 3-hour work period this year and I’m making a few changes. What I realized I needed to do was to enact a stricter schedule so that the children are used to the whole routine and my expectations within those routines. Then I can let loose a bit because I don’t need to be constantly chasing them down to remind them what to do.
1. Work period is now 9am-12pm.
Last year one of our problems was that school started at 10am. Since I wake up early, by 11:30 I’m famished. I could not last till 1:00pm. Eating lunch at 1pm also had its own problems because we had to leave at 3:30 for swimming. Factor in my desire for chores and gardening and exercise for Astroboy. The result is feeling we didn’t have enough time. One conflict I had was loathing to hurry up the children when they eat. I wanted them to enjoy their meals, not treat it just as food to wolf down. But, that means meals are always 2 hour affairs. I realized that if I really want to fit everything I want in, I have to limit.
As a result of this new work period schedule, it means we now have 1 hour to get ready for school instead of the usually 2-2.5.
2. A new afternoon 2.5 work period
I also realized last year that if I want to do bilingual homeschooling, I need to devote more than the usual 3 hour work time homeschoolers have. Because technically we’re adding 1 more extracurricular subject, English Language Arts.
I also felt really guilty I was not providing art and music into the work period last year. Montessori tends to integrate these into the curriculum. It’s part of whatever your studying. So maybe you’re drawing parts of frogs, or painting history timeline. You can put on a musical or sing songs as part of Language Arts. But, I decided that I need to do the more traditional school route and push this to the afternoon for now. It gives me specific time slots to make presentations. And also schedule chores and appointments over these when necessarily without missing a work period.
3. Saturday and Sunday three-hour work periods
Yet another thing the kids really needed last year was lots of play time with their peers. Every time we had a playdate they would ask me when they can play with their friends again. And it took a long time to get them to leave. It wasn’t that we didn’t have playdates. But apparently not often enough. With swim practice daily at 4pm, that is really really hard to do. I personally don’t deal well with classes where we get home by 6pm.
We also were spending a day every 2-3 weeks driving to the Books and Me Chinese Library in Los Altos, which is a whole day affair. Or planning afternoon outings to the Blake Garden, or Friday homeschool hikes, or random playdates. All of these means we ended up with few actual work days at home.
So this year, my goal is to find playdates within the homeschooling community, rather than just our public school friends. Playdates during the day means that we will not have as many work periods during the week, which means that we need to have work periods on weekends.
I’ve started scheduling the kids week by week on an excel spreadsheet. With some color coding, it allows me to easily count how many 3 hour work weeks we get in a week. I figure 5 times is good. That is more than the 4 I sometimes see for homeschoolers. But these are the minimum requirements and will give me those extra hours for our English.
4. A daily presentation schedule
Last year we ended up doing mostly math and language because I procrastinated prepping for the other subjects. Math was the easiest because I had most of the materials bought. A lesson learned: in order to really follow the child, the more your environment is prepared, the better. You could argue that I could have just looked things up as needed for science. But I was doing it in Chinese, which always adds that extra layer of difficulty.
What I did learn with math though was that I can just “throw” presentations at the children and some will stick and they will show interest and others they won’t. That it was okay to do that because it’s a spiral education. I can throw the same thing again next year and they may show interest then or be interested in a different aspect.
With that in mind, I’m going to try and do one presentation per subject per day. And I will try not to worry too much if I have no follow up.
So here’s our generic schedule this year. It’s in an excel spreadsheet for now. I tend to randomly choose excel or Google docs to track my planning.
The schedule lists the work period schedule as well as my presentation schedule. It is a work in progress because I’m trying to add my co-op in during one of the week days We have Chinese class with a tutor every Thursday. Ideally these two “outing” days also serve as playdate days. This means I can add a work period either Saturday or Sunday so we get that 5 3-hour work period in.
This year we also added a homework time. Partly because I find that the children are sometimes able to concentrate more, not less, after a full day of activity. In addition, there is now a dedicated reading time for the kids because I need to up their comprehension in Chinese this year, especially Astroboy. Poor Astroboy got ignored last year in the classroom. It took so much of my time to deal with Thumper, who couldn’t read, which meant I was reading a lot to her. Now that she can, she can learn on her own. Astroboy is also learning his zhuyin and his Chinese characters earlier than his sister, so I want to up his comprehension lest he gets stuck once he learns to read because he can’t understand what he’s reading.
Am I going overboard? I guess we’ll see by how much the kids resist going to class. By no way does this mean that the kids will actually follow this schedule. I’m scheduling things in knowing we will likely miss afternoon, night, and weekend work periods. But it’s there to keep me on track.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that taking a hike or working in the garden DOES count as learning, so is playing with trains and building Legos. But Thumper really needs to learn to read so that acquiring knowledge isn’t so hard for her and me. So we need more intentional work periods this year.
|9:00AM||morning exercise, garden, circle time?|
|11:30AM||11:45 clean up & circle time?|
I consult my monthly curriculum and this schedule and decide on a specific presentations I want to do on a Google Presentation Calendar. With Google Calendar, I can easily drag and drop presentations I don’t get to. This is what really gets me on track. Because I read my calendar every day. It isn’t something I can get out of doing.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m making things way too complicated. I’ve got a Yearly Curriculum Plan, a Monthly Curriculum Plan, this Word Period schedule, a Presentation Calendar, an actual weekly calendar,. And the kids have their work plans and work records. That’s a lot of planning. But, going back to the beginning of the post, I’m doing this because I wanted to see what happens this year when I pretend I’m a real teacher in a classroom, where I do have to make lesson plans and prep, rather than flying by the seat of my pants all the time. Also schools tend to devote specific times to gardening, music, and art, all things I’m doing as well this year.