Last year, I had a work plan that I probably followed for about a few weeks. I felt bad that I posted about it and didn’t actually use it. This year’s work plan has been test driven for a few months and so far it’s sticking.
The biggest mistake I made last year was not having a tight work plan. I gave Thumper way too many choices. Without a classroom routine set up, she did not know how to use her freedom of choice. It’s akin to teaching Thumper how to cook by showing her each step slowly, making sure she has mastered certain skills, before giving her more responsibilities. For example, to teach her to make hot chocolate, first she learned to just mix the cocoa and sugar, then I taught her how to pour milk into a pot and use the stove to warm it up. Only after she’s shown me she’s very careful with heated food did I allow her to pour her own milk into the hot chocolate mix. This took at least 6 months. I realized I needed to really show the kids the steps before giving them free rein. It’s inherently different in a homeschool because the child isn’t coming into a very well established classroom with kids showing them how to do these things. So it’s all up to me to implement them.
Before I started, I consulted a neighboring homeschooler mom who has homeschooled for 6 years, and Mandarin Mama. My neighbor does more traditional homeschooling and has a very strict schedule where specific times are designed for each subject. I learned from her schedule that it is only to do a certain subjects every other day. I don’t have to try and do every subject every day. From Mandarin Mama, I learned it’s okay to think of each task as only taking 15 minutes. This allowed me to not get so hung up on feeling that Astroboy isn’t doing enough school. (Logically I know he is, emotionally is another issue.)
In addition to changing the work plan, I also made some changes to our school schedule. We have weekends on Wednesday and Thursdays, where we go out and play with friends and have our co-op. Tuesdays and Saturdays we typically have a whole day work period, till 3pm. Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we often have activities like 4H, hiking, zhuyin class, museums, etc. Last year we often had field trips and play dates during the week and ended up not having enough class time. Weekends are too crowded for me when we go out and play anyway. In addition I realized that to do bilingual homeschooling, I need 5+ hours of school time instead of the typical 3.
In Montessori primary, kids really don’t have a work plan because the goal is really development of concentration, not subjects a child must cover. Astroboy has one this year partly because he wants to be like his sister. To keep things simple, his work plan and work record are combined into one. He just checks things off as he does them. He often veers off from the work plan and I don’t really bother him about it, other than Sagebooks.
For Astroboy, his work plan is basically
- Sagebooks (must daily)
- Meditate (must daily)
- Chores (must daily)
- Reading, being read to, zhuyin, and all other subjects
The work plan is just as much for me as for Astroboy. It makes the work plan part of the environment setup rather than teacher dependent (as in, me nagging). For this reason, I put his morning routines into the plan. After talking with my Coop Mama about Charlotte Mason (a schooling philosophy), I realized that I need to establish habits 1 by 1 or else Astroboy will never remember to do his self-care himself. We’re not at a school where kids have scheduled time to do chores and there are other children to keep you in line. I’m usually running around in the morning getting ready myself . So now, in the morning, he is required to wash his face himself before he comes into the classroom. Over the last 2 months, I’ve also added dressing himself and feeding the pets in.
Every day, there are a few things that are must do’s, one is learning his characters from Sagebook. Those are highlighted. We’re starting to hit that spot where he gets tired of having to do Sagebook every day. So sometimes we don’t do them even though it’s on the list. It helps actually when we do them in the car driving to our co-op. For some reason, because I’m not available to sit next to him, he will zoom through 10 -20 characters mostly by himself in the car. Having that item highlighted means that I remember to teach him instead of doing other things.
The primary focus of kindergarten year really should be learning to read, I decided. It makes everything else simpler when you can read. So that is why Sage and reading/being read to is on the list. Math started as a daily must do item, but got moved to a weekly item when I remembered the goal isn’t mastering math, but concentration. Plus Astroboy in general just randomly does math. So I figured I really shouldn’t push him.
Finally, Astroboy is supposed to chose at least 1 work from a list of various subjects like Practical Life, History, Geometry, Map, Science. I did it this way only to entice the children to choose these work as well. Astroboy has not managed to either find time or will to actually do them. Probably partly because the work presented hasn’t been interesting. It’s an area I need to work on as a teacher.
Honestly, this is not very Montessori preschool, forcing a child to accomplish specific tasks. One could argue that in Thumper’s preschool, the children learned their Chinese fine without such a todo list. However, we’re at a homeschool of 1 kindergartener, he can’t get inspired by watching other children working. And I’m busy working with Thumper half the time so I cannot demonstrate by working on those myself.
In any case, I don’t really force him. He chooses and, on his off day due to lack of sleep or what not, can just linger one one activity for hours until the work period is done. What I do actually is to have the kids work again from 7-8. Typically they’re in a working mood after dinner. It is important we learn our Chinese characters before the requirements of charter school catches up. I’ve already spent a year kind of letting the kids do whatever they liked last year. And Astroboy ended up not doing much, often because he had no routine and was aimless, and I was busy with his sister.
Thumper’s Work Plan
For Thumper her workplace is divided into:
- English (must daily)
- Chinese (must daily)
- Math (must daily)
- Piano, presentation, meditation (must daily)
- science, geography, other math subjects, history, etc (she chooses)
I try to have one item from each subject area be a highlighted must do so I feel like we’re covering the basics.
On the Chinese side, we’re learning to write 2 characters a day (it was 3 before), Writing with Ease in Chinese, and her Chinese homework. There are no grammar, mechanics, etc. I decided I really needed to focus on just reading in English first. Writing with Ease right now is just writing Chinese songs. But really it can be anything paragraph based. The other day she wanted to write a diary entry and she will use it to learn to write characters.
For English reading, we started with reading two Primary Phonics books a day and now it’s progressed to 2 Dr. Seuss books a day. But we’ll go back to Primary Phonics again to see if her reading has improved. I plan to focus on learning English next semester now that I’ve determined that she recognizes at least 1000 Chinese characters. The Primary Phonics workbooks are there to help her learn to spell, in addition to her logging her work daily. We’ve adjusted the writing exercise a bit so that she alternates writing in Chinese and English daily. To me, she’s not getting enough writing practice to firm up her muscles. She holds her pencils very tightly still and gets tired easily.
And one thing I realized last year is that in my own head, I need to only keep 1 goal at a time for Thumper. It insures that I don’t get pushy with her. For example, the primary goal for math in Sept/Oct was multiplication memorization. That allowed me to let slide when she conveniently forgets to choose multiplication or division operations work. Next semester we’re probably going to start on fractions.
Piano also got moved up to daily todos because she was never choosing her weekly todos. This last week, I also changed her weekly todos so that she has to put in order, on Monday, what she will do that week from her “Weekly” list. Like Astroboy, I’m also slowly adding to her habits list. She now has to brush her hair, brush her teeth, do 5 minutes cleaning pickup daily.
I can’t say enough how putting these types of chores on the list has made Thumper very self-sufficient. It moves me out of the equation. Whereas I used to nag her every day to brush her hair, she now does it daily without nagging. It is why I’ve added the 5 minutes cleaning to the list as well. I finally reached a point where I cannot stand that she only cleans when she is told. I’ve noticed that whereas it takes adults a long time to establish a habit, for kids it only takes a few weeks.
In the beginning, we still had trouble with finishing all of it in a 3 hour work period. I was also having trouble because I’m constantly juggling 2 kids asking me for help. In a Montessori classroom, kids end up asking each other for help, or figure it out themselves, or just stare into space. I finally sat my brain down for a talk. Decided I needed to automate the process more, remove myself from Thumper’s learning as much as I can. This is still a work in progress, making adjustments to our environment and also classroom routine, but it’s been helping. (Class schedule and routine will be in another post.)
For example, one reason we never got any writing practice done was because Thumper has to ask me to show her how to write a Chinese character. But half the time I’m busy with Astroboy. Finally I realized I could ask her to look it up in the dictionary, or choose all the characters she can learn this week and write it down for her. Similarly, half the time she doesn’t do English Writing at Ease because she’s waiting for me to narrate. If I’m more prepped, I would record those passages and just have her listen herself and then come to me for some Q&A.
There is no reading in Chinese here, nor me reading to her. Reading is now relegated to free time activity. I had scheduled me reading to her in the afternoon but they hasn’t panned out either. So we’ve moved onto podcasts and ximalaya for now. I think she will still benefit from me reading to her.
We’re still barely doing fractions, geography, science, history, practical life, as those are on her Weekly List. But having co-op has eased my mind a bit because we are covering it there. Next semester I keep telling myself.
I looked at What Did We Do All Day in depth and tried to mimic her schedule in the beginning. It is not very clear to me just how many items her child is able to accomplish in a 3 hour work period. (Let’s ignore that schooling is not about checking off items and squeezing as many in as possible for now.) But both of my kids can take 30 minutes to 1.5 hour on one item of work. In September, Thumper was maybe able to do 3-4 items on good days. They were taking 30 minute snacks time. For awhile I restricted that to 15 minutes. Then I read about false fatigue and thought about how public elementary kids probably get 20-30 rest time total in the morning, so I stopped. More recently, she can sometimes get 8-9 items done.
I find that the more I remove myself from the equation other than to do presentations, the more she is able to be self sufficient. As she gets more onto the self-learner track, I realized just how much more important it is to establish routines and habits of learning in the classroom first. It makes the actual learning easier. I hope I can somehow transfer this realization to how I work with Astroboy, instead of getting frustrated with him when he doesn’t want to do work.
Coming up with the Work plan
I remember when I was looking around for work plans, I wanted to know why/how people chose to do what they did but most people don’t really talk about that.
For me, I kind of consulted What Did We Do All Day, and counted up just how many potential “pieces” of work her children could get to. I try to keep it to 5 on days when we have just a morning work period, and to about 7 on days when we have the whole day, not counting meditation and teacher presentation. Last year, I asked around online and the Montessori teachers gave the very traditional responses about how there is no one answer. Children should be free to follow their interests and can spend maybe one whole morning doing something they like. But I think of it as having recipes to cook. It’s there as a guideline for a novice user, with the understanding that tweaking and veering off receipt is totally allowed, especially once you understand the hows and whys of the recipe.
As I mentioned, I try to have one goal at a time in language and math or else I will go crazy trying to squeeze everything in. I believe What Did We Do All Day has alternating schedules (for example alternating multiplication/division work) and focusing on one strand of study at a time for certain things. In hindsight, those didn’t work for me because the kids are not normalized. Thumper is getting there and I can see a big difference between last year and this year, and beginning of semester vs. now. We started homeschooling late and I cannot just start by imitating what a normalized classroom looks like. I have to take little steps to get there.
In August, I was still giving Thumper a lot of choices and then finally got fed up because she wasn’t wielding her freedom wisely. My mistake is thinking she knows how to choose without showing her the steps. In fact, I’m slowly realizing that is my problem in general whenever things don’t go well. I’m a bit impatient and I really want an independent learner, or really independent child. But without some guidance along the way, they often do things that don’t meet my standards and then I get mad.
The work plan has gone rough 4-5 iterations already. I’ve started soliciting Thumper’s advice on what she thinks of the work she did last week, and how she’d make changes. Another reason why the work plan has worked for us this year is my insistence on a stricter work schedule and work routine. This has forced the children, and me, to look at our work plan daily. Well, at least we try now. Whereas last year I tended to just say, “Oh well, none has the heart to study today because they cannot focus, there goes our day!” and went off to run errands or play outside instead. We now schedule our school around our daily lives rather than scheduling daily life around school. I try not to randomly have too many playdates with children who go to public school anymore during our own school hours.
It’s really all about figuring out what works for me. I realized that I really need to limit my outside contact time or else I feel disorganized and my senses overwhelmed. I have to respect my own needs as a teacher and I hope I can eventually teach the kids to observe their own needs and habits in studying and adjust their study environment accordingly.