Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Montessori Elementary Homeschooling: Work Plans and Journals, January 2016

We have been using the same style of work plans for a very long time now, but they change many times throughout the course of a school year.  I have been receiving some requests to show you all what they happen to look like at this time.  It's no wonder, I posted about these extensively more than a year ago and haven't photographed any of the (many) versions since.  Our work plans definitely look a different than they did then.

Kal-El's work plan is in orange on the left.  Me Too's is in green on the right.  It's a shame I had to edit their names off of them.  Kal-El wrote the name on the top of his in Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Each child's "list" used to look very different from each others, but now they have reached a stage where their "lists" are nearly identical.

About that word, "lists":  I highly suggest you read Jessica's many posts on work plans.  This post has links to all of the posts.  Yes, our work plans look like a list.  No, our work plans are not just a list.  These work plans are a result of many, many meetings with my children.  I've made them aware (through countless short conversations) of what society expects them to learn, what the government expects them to learn, and what I expect them to learn.  First and foremost we've added to that anything that my children want to know that wasn't already included.  Through these countless conversations I've given them a basic grasp of what subset of that we might want to cover this year. From there it has taken a lot of trial and error on the part of my children, with me observing and guiding, to figure out what they need to get done in a week to accomplish that.  THAT is our work plan.  What you see above is as Jessica stated, "simply a written form of the plans in your child's mind."   

I have to make changes to these and reprint new ones every few weeks.  Even then, as each week passes we make changes and just write the changes on top.  Because this is the 68th version or so of these work plans, we make fewer changes than we used to, and most of those changes will be to the top "Daily" section.  I just realized yesterday that a change needs to be made to Kal-El's work plan in the time since I took photographs.

Why do I bother with a work plan at all and not just let them freely choose work from the shelves or of their own making every work session?  For the reason that my children are old enough now to have a vague idea of who they want to be in a year but not old enough to balance "what I want to do right now" with "who I want to be."  "What I want to do right now" is important and it's engaging and you learn a lot.  But, you also want to do things that help you get to "who I want to be."  Last year was a year of transition with this.  Last year we had "kids's choice" prominently displayed on the work plan.  This year we don't.  Last year the boys needed the reassurance that there was room for "what I want to do right now" during their work time.  "Kid's choice" is still on the real work plan (in my kids' heads) but isn't written on this visual representation anymore.  The boys are confident that it's there.  

Okay, so now it's been five paragraphs since I've shown the picture of the work plans.  I had better show them again so I can talk about them and give you half a chance of being able to look at them at the same time.

The work plans have three sections.  The top section are works that my children will choose daily.  The middle section are works that they will choose weekly.  The final section are works that Mom chooses daily.  The boys start the week with all of the paperclips on the left.  They move the paperclip to the right when they complete a work.  At the start of each day they move all of the "daily" and "mom" paperclips back to the left but the "weekly" clips stay to the right as the week continues.  

About the "Mom" section:  We usually do all five of the items here all together.  We find that we have to do history and Spanish daily in order to make acceptable progress.  WWE (Writing With Ease) is something we used to do weekly and do a weeks work all in one day.  As the program has progressed, we have transitioned to doing this daily but it takes about five minutes.  The final two things in the "Mom" category are "????".  I have my OWN work plan that keeps me rotating through things I have to give presentations one:  BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding), Biomes (Waseca and covering the Montessori Biology, Geography, and History albums), math, music literature, etc.,  One of the "????" is always math.  We are finishing up the divisibility section of the math album right now.  

You can see from this that I am giving a minimum of five presentations each day.  It is often more.  I've set up our classroom so that the boys can choose and complete work in most of the daily and weekly sections completely on their own (piano lesson, from Mom, would be an obvious exception).  They are trained how to know when they cannot continue in a certain category without a presentation from Mom.  So, yesterday I gave eight presentations.  I gave the five in the "mom" section.  Me Too reached a new level of difficulty on the racks and tubes (He is recording quotient, beads used, and partial remainders and for the first time at that level he encountered an equation that required carrying when recording the beads used.).  Me Too also needed a presentation on direct objects for sentence analysis.  Kal-El was doing work in the "word study" category and it was practicing categorization.  He needed to sort cards according to whether they were a game, artist, astronaut or inventor and he didn't know the names six of the astronauts and three of the inventors.  So, he received a review presentation on research with the encyclopedias.  

Those of you who have read my previous posts on our work plans already know this, but I will say it again:  most of the items on this work plan are categories of work, not actual works themselves.  Most have more than two different ways of fulfilling the requirement for work and sometimes the boys invent their own work that fulfills the requirement.  Some things are listed in pairs.  For example, spelling and vocabulary.  The boys get to pick from either of those works and each of those works have multiple ways to be completed.  I only get specific when I am requiring a particular work, such as racks and tubes.  And sometimes the work plan is specific because the boys asked for it.  For example, Me Too is going through our stack of cards for the multiplication checkerboard and doing them all abstractly on paper.  I had printed the work plan and it just said "command cards" but he liked the "checker cards" as he calls them so much he asked me to reprint it and list that specifically.  But then he saw Kal-El doing some "cube up" cards with the volume cards.  He liked those so much that he changed it back by writing "command cards" back on that line.  It's hard to see because he's going through this stage where he is trying to make his whole work plan green...green paper, green clips, green text.  

These are our work journals.  I originally posted about these here.  The boys journal in a very basic way through moving their paperclips.  I keep the work journals for them.  I'm not suggesting that this is how it should be done, it's just what we do.  I write down the work that the did after they have done it.  I am posting some close-ups here (the will enlarge if you click on them) so those who are interested can see how one week of our work plans looks.  Each child has their own journal and one week spans two pages.

Me Too's left-hand journal page.

Me Too's right-hand journal page.

Kal-El's left-hand journal page.

Kal-El's right-hand journal page.

These are not perfect. I often miss recording a thing or two (I notice I never recorded Kal-El's fraction work or word problems that week) but it really doesn't matter.  What is useful here is that this format allows me to see what we are avoiding.  I can see the big blank columns staring in the face asking me "is there a reason you aren't doing this?"  Sometimes the answer is "yes."  We aren't working on squaring and cubing right now because we are working on divisibility and I don't have room for that many threads.  It's the same with geometry, but that is one that I really wish I could just add to the "mom" section of the work plan and do daily but if I did our school day gets too long.  At the end of the week I did notice that we hadn't touched BFSU and that prompted me to prepare a neat study of simple machines, beginning with levers, that we started yesterday.

If anyone who is interested at that level of detail has questions about anything on the work plan or anything in the work journal please leave a comment.  I'm have a lot of abbreviations in the work journal and am happy to answer questions.


  1. simply: WOW! My first question: How old were your kids when you started keeping these types of planning sheets, and records. 2nd. For a mom who has a 4.5, and a 6 year old, what are the baby steps I can take to start? 3rd. When do you get it all ready? night time? Early morning?
    Thanks for inspiring me.

    1. DLHE, I replied below, it didn't chain the comment as a reply like I wanted though.

  2. Some days, I feel like I live my life with my head inside of a brick wall.

    This post just makes me cry - happy tears. Somebody GETS it! ;)

    1. Good!

      I don't always do what you advise me to do, but I always hear you :)

  3. Just to be clear, don't forget I fill out the "work journals" which LOOK like teacher planning books AFTER the child has done the work. I'm just recording what they DID (in school, as they do the work) not planning what they are GOING to do. The only things I have to plan are the five things in the "Mom" section . Three of those are grab and go curriculum (Spanish, History is Story of the World, and WWE is Writing with Ease.) Two of those are ??? which I rotate choosing from prepared sections of albums. Other than that, I have to keep up with where they are on their dailies and weeklies to make sure I'm ahead of them prep wise So, I don't really do any major lesson planning unless we are starting a new album that I haven't prepped before. That kind of prepping I do while the kids do their dailies/weeklies independently and the rest in the evening. I VERY RARELY have to do that type of thing in the evening anymore. I've almost run out of things to make. For about two years I had to do that in the evening just about every night. You can find where I wrote about that in the FAQ section at the top of my blog. It's FAQ's 14 and 15.

    As for baby steps to starting, those are in the FAQ section as well. Read FAQ Q11 and Q12. Basically I started with ONE thing and added things ONE at a TIME and it took us years to reach the list you see in this post.

    I keep the work plan as a file on my computer so tweaking that and reprinting takes 10 seconds.

    So, Make one thing every night. If you can, get your work done while they do their work. Add requirements one at a time as outlined in the FAQ's. Record work as it happens, don't plan it all ahead. You'll eventually run out of things to do :)

    I'll do another post soon that will show my very short personal work plan and how I decide what to do next.

  4. Thank you. I read the FAQ's. As of now I don't keep records besides what I post on my blog which is only a glimpse of what we do at home. We read, write and do our own math almost every day. But I find it difficult to keep records. I don't own nor follow a curriculum or elementary albums. I am wondering how to start recording what we do in case I need to show it to someone. Instead of including chapter __, page ___ should I just write the topic of a journal for writing? The topic we covered for math? The books we read? the strategies we used? activities we explored?
    I like the idea of building one step at a time. I am wondering how you approach the time after a break. We are going on a three week vacation. Do you think I should start with one activity and then add to it, or jump right back to where we were at?
    I look forward to your personal work plan.

    1. My personality lends itself to keeping our work journals the way I keep them. I could be misreading you, but what you wrote above sounds to me like your personality would lend itself more to keeping a more typical Montessori work journal. Your older child could keep it himself or you could do it for him like I do. I think it is more typical to have a regular notebook and, like you said, record the topic for writing, topic covered in math, books read, etc., I wouldn't necessarily record strategies (sounds like a lot of work). An older child might record a page number or card number if they are using any materials that lends itself to that, but for your situation it seems like you wouldn't have a lot of that type of thing.

      After a break we alway jump right back in where we left off. We always get the most accomplished right after a break. It depends on your family's homeschooling personality. I have friends that report that it's hard to restart and they ease back in. We jump in the deep end here at our house.

  5. Thank you again. I love your kind non-judgmental honesty, and how you share your experience and opinions. I am very spontaneous(or very accommodating to my kids' interests), hence I can't keep planners. I always end up not following the plan. Instead, like you say, I need work journals. Thank you! You just pointed me to the direction I needed.

  6. Thank you for sharing this! How long does your school day typically last with these work plans? My kids have come up with a plan that is I think too much and items end up dropping off because we cannot spend all day on school work. Over the next few weeks I think we will be trimming it up to something comprehensive and achievable. It's a tough balance as I am always wondering if it is "enough."

    1. Our school days are almost always three hours, 9-12. *Sometimes* they are four hours and that happens when one of my "????" categories is huge, like recently when we made our own paper when studying ancient China. Very rarely one child will go four hours when one of them decides to read a book for an hour in the middle or something like that.

      I know what you are talking about with items dropping off. That is totally normal as you develop. That's what I meant when I mentioned all the trial and error. That's also part of why we change the plan so often. As the works change, you change it, but also as the works change and you make a change on the plan all of a sudden you realize the days get too long or too short. Or, as I noticed recently, by pairing word study and verbs Kal-El has NEVER chosen verbs so I am moving it to be paired with sentence analysis. All the things that are paired on the chart are paired because they are things I though were valuable daily but that we just don't have time for in a three-hour school day.

      Of course we still accumulate hours outside of those three hours that count toward our required hours...violin practice, piano practice, time spent reading or being read to, physical activity, fieldtrips, etc., but we have been making excellent progress with the three-four hours and a four day "in the school room" work week. Our fifth day is always a "going out." This week it's the symphony.