Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Work Plan

If you are looking for more about work plans, you can see this work plan in action and read a lot of discussion in the comments in the post "A Day in the Life of Kal-El."

As you might remember from the Frequently Asked Questions series question number 12, our work plan was nothing more than a loose verbal agreement until about three weeks ago.  As of his 7th birthday, Kal-El's work plan had matured to include three math works and one language work during the work period as well as violin practice at another point in the day.  We are juggling so many different threads of the math sequence right now that it was becoming easy to drop one unintentionally for several weeks at a time (think "fractions").  So, I wanted to develop a way in which Kal-El could still be choosing his own math and language works each day but in which he still got to everything he needs to an appropriate amount of times in the week.  After seeing everything all the irons we already have in the fire set up on the cards myself, I realized that Kal-El really needed to be choosing four math works daily rather than least temporarily.

AFTER I made this work plan for Kal-El, Jessica blogged about one of several work plan styles she has used over at Montessori Trails.  Hers is a lot simpler and takes up less time and space.  I plan on switching at least Kal-El (Me Too has his own chart) over to a work plan like Jessica demonstrates in the near future.  However, just like the Montessori math materials start with the concrete and move through increasing levels of abstraction, Jessica's work plan is just a little bit more abstract than the charts I made for the boys.  She blogged about another style she has used as a "first" work plan in another post.  Ours is kind of a hybrid between the two. I think you'll see what I mean as I talk more about it.

I bought the pocket chart at Target in the dollar aisle maybe three years ago and it has been waiting in the basement storeroom for just the right application. As soon as Me Too saw Kal-El's pocket chart he HAD to have one TOO!  AND he had many suggestions for "improvements."  Thankfully, I had purchased one for each child in their "signature colors" (Kal-El's is red, Me Too's is blue). I gave each child an envelope with their name on it and filled the envelope with one week's worth of cards labeled with activities.  There are some things I want them to do every day (like memorization boards) and some things they only have to get to once or twice within the week.  For this reason there are five cards labeled "Math: subtraction" in Kal-El's envelope but only one or two that say "dot game."   The boys have the choice to fill in a day at a time or if they wish they can fill in the whole week at the beginning of the week.  After they complete a task they turn the card over.  Kal-El's are blank on the back.  Me Too realized right away that this should be improved on HIS chart by the addition of dog stickers on the backs.

Here was Me Too's chart from the first week at the beginning of the week:

Monday is blank because I introduced the chart to Kal-El on Monday and hadn't planned on giving one to Me Too. I made Me Too's chart Monday night and gave it to him on Tuesday.  Friday is also blank because we had coop that day.  One of my jobs over the weekend is to peek at their envelopes of cards and make sure everything is relevant and that nothing needs to be added.  Another task is to make sure there are an appropriate amount of cards in the envelope for the number of days we plan to have in the school room that week.  Me Too asked me to include "violin" cards for his chart.  Kal-El does NOT have violin cards in his. It is an unchanging part of his daily life but it happens outside the work period in the school room so he doesn't want it on his chart.  Me Too is a list maker and loves crossing things off.  Also, he has less required work and I think he was miffed that his chart didn't look as "impressive" as Kal-El's and this evened it up a bit.

Here is Me Too's chart at the end of that week after all the cards had been turned over:

The very first week I had them plan the whole week at once so they could see the potential consequences of their choices. For example, each card that says "Math: subtraction" represents filling in a full page in Kal-El's subtraction notebook with equations.  There are FIVE cards that say this in the envelope for the week.  While Kal-El doesn't dislike the subtraction boards he definitely likes the OTHER math works BETTER.  So, when he first filled out the chart with the cards he realized that when he got to the last day of the week he was holding five subtraction cards in his hands.  If I had let him fill in the chart a day at a time he would have an unpleasant surprise at the end of the week. Now that they understand how it works they get to fill out as many or as few days at a time as they wish.  As you could see in Kal-El's work plan from Monday, he prefers to plan one day at a time.  They can make changes or swaps throughout the week as the mood strikes. Kal-El learned an important lesson as he kept swapping the "grammar" card further and further away from him as the week progressed but had nowhere left to put it at the end of the work cycle that Friday.

I don't make them choose a certain number of math cards and a certain number of language cards per day anymore.  They just have to choose a certain number of cards, period.  This has resulted in some days where all they want to do is math and some days where all they want to do is language.  I think this is great and as it should be.  Even when we had a loose verbal agreement to do a certain amount of language or math in a day sometimes the boys would just be in a language kind of mood.  They would stall their math work again and again wanting to read, then write, then spell, then have a grammar lesson.  Usually the next day all they want to do is math.  In fact, I would say that for the past two years there is usually a heavy language day and a heavy math day each week.  There is usually one day that is super heavy on the science and the other days are a mix.

The downside of these charts is that they take up a lot of room.  I don't have any wall space left to hang them.  Right now they are lying around on the window seat or on the table...taking up valuable real estate in either location.  One of Jessica's systems is a sheet of standard-sized paper with a few different lists on it and involves simply moving paperclips from one side of the paper to the other. As I said, I will probably switch Kal-El to that style soon.  I don't regret putting these together though because I feel like they are a decent stepping stone that my kids might have needed anyway.  The pocket chart is good for giving them a tangible way to construct a week's worth of work with their hands, manipulate it, and explore the possibilities.

Speaking of exploring the possibilities, there aren't very many strictly Montessori posts about work plans out there in the blogosphere.  Here are just a few that I have come across to give you some more ideas:

Montessori Monday


  1. Ok two of my favorite things from your post:
    "Mom Surprise"
    dog stickers as an "improvement"

    Very cool! ;)

    When you said you don't regret the amount of time spent creating it, I think you hit on a very important point - you just have to start somewhere. Our first official system (the cards in the baskets) took a while to set up - and you can see in the picture there are a LOT, so it did take time to get put together. Once put together it worked like a charm - and then, well, we outgrew it. The important thing, to get started and adjust as needed - because children keep right on growing ;)

    Now what I REALLY like about the plan you have here: they can VERY easily rearrange their week and see the consequences right away (lots of subtraction on Friday!) - and in other ways just play around with what might fit where - very visual, very manipulative. And can lead to lots of discussion (what would that be like to do nothing but subtraction all day on Friday!?).


    Earlier today (before I saw your post) I actually put up a new page on the Montessori Trails blog:
    specifically for sharing our work plan/journal ideas with one another. I am so happy to have other homeschoolers to share ideas with now! yay! :)

  2. I really do like your system you have in place! Every time I see the charts a new idea pops into my head. I can see Janessa using the cards from the three part cards of Montessori Materials to have a pictorial view of her day, maybe not in the structure of a work plan for now. Maybe as a review of what we did today activity, working towards a work plan in the near future.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. DM - you point out something interesting I'm seeing in my previous observation notes that I didn't really pay attention to until this topic became such a big deal on the blogosphere ;)

    The work journals, in some form, tend to come FIRST. The child's plan is in their minds; but their "journal" comes at the end of the day, as they discuss the work they've done, and use that discussion to prepare for the next day. Or they'll want to have something to show mom/dad; or in some environments, the adult invites the child to simply record what he has done for the day, as he does it - just track how time was spent. A very basic work journal (and the style my son basically still uses ;) he records what he has done and over the years has slowly started adding more details such as clock-time, what was learned/practiced, and where he wants to go with it next.).


  4. Thanks for sharing this! We were just using a white board to get the day's plan and my daughter checked off as she finished it. I love this format where it will give her the control and flexibility to structure her week. A snapshot of the week can even be used to journal, love it.

  5. This is all very interesting. I have tried a couple of differen things with Bunny over the past year and nothing has quite work. Right now we have a standing agreement that every day she needs to read, write, do a math work, and some spelling. It seems to be working, however I really like the idea of the chart. We are doing some serious rethinking about work time here and maybe this will work. I will add it into my planning! Thanks so much for sharing what you do! It is so inspiring!

  6. Great idea. I am heading over to Montessori Trails to see the other methods. I don't do Montessori curriculum with Bear anymore but she still has the Montessori mindset from us doing the Primary program at home. I use work trays for her books, but I make the choices of what work goes into which tray. She likes the curriculum we have chosen (she gets input into what ones we keep a following year and which we switch out)but not always the order I choose for her:) She would really benefit from a workplan in which she chooses the order and days she does certain work. Something to figure out how to implement with our curriculum for the near future.

  7. Jessica,

    Thanks :)

    Leave it to Me Too...he has ideas for better ways that I could do just about ANYTHING. I quote...

    Me Too: Daddy, you are the best daddy in the world. And Grammie is the best mommy in the world.

    Daddy: Your grandma is the best mommy in the world? What about MOMMY?

    Me Too: She's all right. I'm going to go live with Grammie when I'm seven.


    The "mom surprise" is my opportunity to fix anything weird I see cropping up such as his 14 vs 41 confusion. It's always good to schedule in a little weekly triage around here. Me Too is well ahead of where Kal-El was in the sequence at his age but more weird stuff seems to happen and he's less independent. One discovery this week was that he is not mature enough to do the hopping finger movements on the addition half chart. journals. Leave it to me to get it all backwards. I am the one who keeps the work journals and I only remember to write in them on Mondays. So, we have a record of what we've done every MONDAY for the past few months.

  8. Mommy to the Princesses,

    Love the snapshot idea. Me Too likes to photograph his own work...maybe I should figure out a way to let him journal that way.

  9. Thank you for stopping by Stephanie! I know you have your mind full over there!

  10. MBT - You didn't get the journaling/plan backwards ;)

    They've kind of been journalling already - you have those binders where they gather their paper-based work, and you have this blog to show off their work. Those are really the starting places anyway :)

    I have just written a post about Montessori work journals - it will go up on Tuesday the 26th. I would LOVE your thoughts on the ideas I present there! And especially questions that people have - I'm going into Montessori schools a lot during this month and asking teachers lots of questions, observing a lot on particular topics of interest to those online right now ;)

  11. Stephanie,

    It looks to me like you are getting it all figured out over there. Good luck!

  12. The Girl Who Painted Trees,

    You're right, this probably would help her feel more in control. Your blog has been TOO QUIET lately. I'm sure you're busy, but I miss your posts! You are always so inspirational!

  13. Jessica,

    I am really enjoying your series on work plans and journals. It is really filling a bloggy void.

  14. I had to think about this one for a bit! I have a pocket chart and I think I'm going to give it a try. I need to build up, though, so that there are many things to choose from. That's my plan this week.

    Don't get me wrong, I have the materials out, but not the work papers for math with various materials-for example. I've usually just had one day's work ready.

    I've got the science/history about done. Now on to math.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas!!

  15. Lisa,

    DEFINITELY build up. Obviously I am simply adding a visual element to something that is already in place. You probably saw in the FAQ section that the boys started with only ONE requirement and built up to where they are over the course of a couple years...I give them a new requirement every six months or so. I imagine at some point that the requirements will change but the number of them will stay static. Otherwise, it has been a long process getting the classroom prepared enough so they can be more independent...such as having the paper ready or the envelopes of equations set up so they can grab the right set at the right time. The good news is that you don't need the prepared equations (except for memorization). If you just get the paper ready or a notebook ready (whatever they use to do their work) then you can just TELL them what the parameters are such as "write down and solve as many fraction addition equations as you can think of with a three in the denominator. I obviously prefer prepared equations for some things and not for others but it will buy you time.

    I know what you mean, I used to just think a day or a week ahead and now I try to get as much ready as I can. My kids are quirky that way. Right after I introduce something, like astronomy for example, if I have 30 things ready they will DO 30 things. If I have one thing ready they will do one thing and beg for more. Then, after a few days they might be over it regardless of how many things they did. So I find if I'm not prepared they might only get to do three works when their interest may have led them to do a whole lot more if I had things ready. I'm learning to jump on it when they are interested and just keep giving them new things until the fire goes out. I'm jealous you have all the history and science done. I don't. I have the math, grammar, geometry and half the geography done. Too bad we can't share :)

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