Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Work Plan 2014/2015

This is what our work plans look like as Wednesday afternoon on the third week of school, September 2014.  As always, my photos enlarge if you click on them.  We used the same style of work plan all last year with great success.  The work plans change throughout the year based on the boys' individual needs.  These will certainly look a little different in a few months.  I have already made changes and reprinted these three times this year.  I have to make one small change and reprint them yet one more time.  After that, we should be good to go for some time.  

Each child's work plan is broken into two sections, daily work and "other" work.  At the start of the school year I thought the "other work" would be "weekly" work.  One week in I realized we were not close to finishing and I changed that to "every two weeks" work.  On my next printing I'm just going to label that section "cycle."  As we draw to a close this week I can see that it took my boys three weeks to get through the work.   To be clear, that is three weeks, four days of "school" each week, one 3-4 hour uninterrupted work cycle each of those days.

When we begin the work plan, all of the paper clips start out on the left.  As they do work in any category they move the paper clip over to the right-hand side.  The work plan is set up to give a framework of what I "expect" in a given period of time, but allows the boys to construct their own school day.  This work plan looks like it has a lot specified, but each area is just a "category" and there are often countless ways the boys can satisfy the category.  So, not only do they choose many of their categories each day, but they choose what type of work to do within the category.

They have even more control.  As you can see, each child has two colors of paperclips.  The black paperclips are for daily work.  The green or blue paperclips are the weekly/cyclical work.  They can change the color of the paperclips in the weekly/cyclical section if they wish.  For example, the first week of school both boys were super interested in maps so they both changed that paperclip to a black one to indicate that they wanted to do that work every day for a while.  They can change that clip back to green or blue any time they wish. The second week Kal-El was very interested in music and also changed the music paperclip to a black one.

At the end of the day, all of the black clips (and several blue) should make their way over to the right-hand side of the work plan.  The boys usually "clear" their charts at the end of the day by moving all of the black clips back to the left so it is ready for the next day.   Sometimes they run out of time and don't get to a particular "daily" work.  When that happens, I ask them not to "clear" their chart at the end of the day.  They are required to do those works first the next school day.

As the first week progressed I discovered that, unlike last year, this year the boys (particularly Me Too) really want to move a paperclip every time they do any work.  I did mention in a previous post on work journals that the boys' work plans double as a very primitive work journal. I hope you can see how I might interpret these that way.  However, not everything possible is on the work plan nor do I want them to feel like their work is limited to categories on a work plan.  So, after the first week I added "Kid's Choice" to their daily work as a category. This is by far their FAVORITE category.  They spend a lot of time outside of school planning what their "kids choice" activities could be the next day.  

Another category you might find interesting is "Mom's Surprise" in the daily category.  After I give whatever presentations I have planned for the day I tell the kids that was their "Mom's Surprise" and that they can move that paperclip.  In the past few weeks those have been presentations from the KotU geography album, the Waseca Biomes albums, and Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  I give many other presentations, but they tend to fall under one of the other categories and the boys prefer to move the corresponding paperclip.

Certain categories in the cyclical section of the work plan have more that one row and more than one paperclip.  This allows me to weight the cycle according to my preferences.  If I listed each category only once in the cyclical area we probably would finish the work plan in a single week.  Hmmm...I'll have to think about that.

Last year's work plans looked very similar.  The main differences were a little less daily work and most of the "other" work was only listed once or twice.  That work plan was intended to be complete in a week.  However, we almost never finished it in a week.  I noticed the same works kept "falling off" from week to week which leads to a lack of progression in that area.  That is why I decided to extend the time frame for the "other" work and treat it cyclically if necessary.

Our work plans from the 2012/2013 school year were a completely different style.  You can read about those in this post:  Work Plan 2012/2014.

Jessica is trying to compile different family's work plans over at this link:  Work Plans and Journals.

That completes the "how the work plans work" section of this post.  The boys are much more involved with their work plans this year than last and you'll see them lying around in many of their work pictures this upcoming week.  

What follows is a basic summary of the types of things they are currently doing in each category for those who are interested in that type of thing.  If not, stop reading now.

Here is a closer look at Me Too's work plan.  His daily categories are as follows:

  • multiplication
  • bead frame/ stamp game
  • reading
  • Mom's surprise
  • kid's choice

Here is a closer look at Kal-El's work plan.  His daily categories are as follows:

  • division/multiplication
  • writing
  • grammar
  • Mom's surprise
  • kid's choice

Let me give you an idea of how they fulfill those categories.

 Kal-El is currently alternating "multiplication days" and "division days."  I had these as separate line items on his original work plan for the year.  Likewise, on Me Too's work plan the bead frame and stamp game were separate line items. Here is an image of my first work plan of the new year:

However, I knew even as I was typing up those first work plans that I had way too many line items in the daily category.  Too many to leave room for choice.  I left it alone for that first week to see what happened and see what the boys' preferences and opinions were.  After the first day it was obvious that the best solution was to alternate the stamp game and bead frame work from day to day for Me Too and to alternate multiplication work and division work for Kal-El.  You can see that I started writing changes on the work plans and used them that way for a little while prior to retyping and printing.

Multiplication: Kal-El alternates between the checkerboard and flat bead frame for his multiplication work.  Soon we will add the elementary bank game to that mix.  

 Right now, however, Me Too is trying to muscle through the final exercises on the primary finger board (the blank or "bingo" chart) so he pretty much fills about two pages in his multiplication notebook each day doing that.  When he wants a break he asks to play a multiplication game, chooses some flashcards, or occasionally asks to do the chart using the iPad app instead of the actual chart.  He usually does the whole chart on the iPad each time so I don't really object.  He only does about 15 equations each day when he uses the real chart.  Soon he will have the option of the elementary "bank game," the large bead frame, or the checkerboard for that category.

Division:  Kal-El is working with the racks and tubes.  

Bead frame/stamp game:  Me Too is working on dynamic subtraction on the small bead frame and dynamic division with the stamp game.  

Reading:  (Me Too) Right now this is almost always a lesson from The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.  If I give a presentation from the "word study" section of the albums that would fulfill this category for the day.

Grammar:  This is daily work for Kal-El right now and on the cyclical section for Me Too.  I have recently revamped our grammar area in the the classroom.  Kal-El is rotating among grammar boxes, grammar commands, and logical analysis.  Me Too will be as well, but has been doing presentations with me instead of independent work thus far.

The categories in Me Too's cyclical section of the work plan are as follows:

  • fractions
  • word problems
  • squaring/cubing
  • geometry
  • writing
  • grammar
  • spelling
  • maps
  • Spanish 
  • music
Kal-El has all of those categories with one additional category:  vocabulary.

Fractions:  Both boys are still working through the drawers in our fractions cabinet.  They also like to look at the fraction charts or play fractions games (fractions pizzas or fractions dominoes).  Kal-El is almost done with the first elementary fractions album (MRD) and will start the second (unlike denominators, etc.,).

Word Problems: Both works from their word problems baskets.  Me Too is using the "first grade" level problems and Kal-El is now using third grade level.  Me Too finds these to be a breeze.  Kal-El always gets the right answer but has trouble writing down the equation he used if it is a division equation because he sees all division equations the way they asked as multiplication in disguise.

Squaring/Cubing:  These would be presentations and work from the elementary math album as well as continued work with skip counting.

Geometry:  Both boys have avoided geometry so far.  Tomorrow that is almost all that's left on their work plan so it will come to a head.  Lessons will continue from the elementary geometry albums.

Writing:  Both boys work in either his Handwriting Without Tears workbook or from Writing with Ease.  It also includes work on the chalkboards, sand tray, and other tactile work.  Kal-El has started a cursive iPad app.  He has a few more pages in his last HWT book and will start New American Cursive any day now.

Spanish:  I work on this with both boys together  and I plan to post about it sometime in the future.

Music:  These are lessons from the Montessori albums plus whatever tickles my fancy from day to day (music being "my thing" and all).  They did a lot of music work last week that I plan to post about.

Spelling:  Both boys use All About Spelling.

Vocabulary:  Kal-El reads really well but, like any elementary aged child, doesn't know every word there is to know.  I found a literature-based program we are trying called Vocabu-Lit.  I bought book B for Me Too and Book C for Kal-El.  Me Too doesn't really have time in his busy schedule to start yet.  Kal-El is on the fence.  He likes most of the work.  Some of the work involves looking up words in the dictionary and copying the definition.  The scope of that is a bit too much for him at this stage.  The activities in book B would be perfect for him but he already knew all of the vocabulary words.  Book C has just the right amount of "new words" but the activities are geared a bit old for him.  We'll see.  

Speaking of busy schedules, I am having a VERY difficult time finding time to blog this year.  I don't intend to give up, but don't know exactly how I'm going to fit it all together.  Please bear with me!


  1. Wow! I've heard the saying that 'Great Minds Think Alike', but really - I think it's my mind thinking like your great mind. Although our work plans/journals are a bit different, one thing I realized this year is that, at least for now, what worked at the end of last year was a little busy and almost too structured - not getting enough done, and no room for freedom of choice that was somehow there last year. So, as part of my relaxing and changing, I also added a Kids Choice and Mom's Choice :) Too funny - and it's worked well. For me, it's been a blessing because that is one thing I can plan, and usually it's a new presentation or time for me to choose something they've been avoiding but really do need. :) Anyway - I chatter too much! I love your work plans, and the way you've set them out! It is definitely time consuming trying to keep up with everything in itself, and then you throw blogging in the mix.... well.... :) I'm glad to see that everything is going well, though, and think you're just doing an amazing job, my Montessori, homeschooling, blogging friend! :)

  2. I, too, am really struggling this year with keeping up with everything... school... and my house looks like a wreck! I do hope that you continue to blog on a somewhat regular basis. I know that I am not alone in saying that you really provide a lot of inspiration to keep plugging along :)

    1. I don't plan on quitting, but I am having a really rough time. I'll keep trying!

  3. I was also wondering, why did you decide to switch to the New American Cursive books instead of continuing with the Handwriting Without Tears cursive??

    1. Ugh. Have you looked at the letter form for the HWT's cursive? It is very odd and awkward. I actually ordered the first book not knowing and was shocked. When I taught school, if a child had turned in work that looked like that I would probably have sent them to be tested by a developmental specialist. It looks like something is wrong. I'm on board with the "clean" "simplified" cursive, but the NAC option seems like a better way to achieve that.

  4. Wow, did that last comment not got through? Sorry, if there are two.

    At the end of last year I had a hard time getting my head and my heart around these work plans. Most of the time I think that I imposing my needs and expectations too much. Perhaps that is what they need in the beginning for direction, but one of the things I see is critical to individual success is self constructed, flexible and fluid plans and a strong ability to problem solve, prioritize, and self direction. My children responded to any work plan I set before them as a check-off list. Life isn't always a check-off list (as much as I'd love it to be that way.) Since I am rather caught up in other things at the moment this is a practical life type lesson I am going to have to ponder later. I've heard lectures on, and have been given advice to avoid "elementary work plans" so I am still on the fence about how to tackle the real-life issue behind this topic. Thanks as always for sharing in detail how you are tackling this issue. And as always your materials are beautiful!!

    1. Abbie, your thoughts are great ones. Take a look at the theory album on this subject. Each family has to develop the journal/plan system that works for them, and I appreciate MBT's comment that this chart is more of a preliminary work journal (I have been pondering that the last few months, and have not yet updated my own posts on that), but it is still plan too because the children are.reminded of the different areas and have choices within each. In a school, there would many more children doing the work which would remind the children of the different areas and the possibilities within.

      In the end, the proper Montessori way is to meet with (chat with) the children about their work in the last day, week, month... And make plans accordingly. Some plans may need to be at particular times, some plans can be very very fluid. Visiting the dentist to interview him usually needs to be scheduled, visiting the library pseudo-scheduled, and working with a model of the mouth at home doesn't have to be a particular time/day. But all those things might be on the upcoming week's plan for a child interested in learning about the structure of the mouth or oral hygiene.

      So, record of work, discuss (child needs the opportunity to express insights we may not observe or we just otherwise assume, or if we do know what is in their head, it still gives them a chance to find their own words), create a plan (of whatever design works for the situation), and see it through, not as a checklist but as a visual reminder of the child's responsibilities and what he wanted to do to begin with. It really does help the child organize his time, day and life. has a great video on this, with a portion of a meeting/plan in progress.

    2. Hi Abbie,

      I hear you and agree.

      One thing I maybe should have had a paragraph about, but didn't because it is so hard to describe, is our family attitude and atmosphere regarding the work plan. I can't say that I've TOLD them, but actions speak louder than words and my actions have shown them over the course of 5+ years, but the kids innately understand that if they are doing good work Mom doesn't care a whit about the "work plan." Today Kal-El did THREE HOURS of grammar because he is excited about it and did nothing else on the work plan. We didn't even talk about it. He just seems to know it's fine and when he takes out his work plan on Monday he'll just pick up like nothing happened. My actions over the years seem to have trained them where that invisible line is so that we have a good balance between variety and depth. They would not, for example, create a big project to purposely AVOID the work plan but sometimes a big project does just take over.

      I think we would have a hard time schooling without it. The boys tend to avoid topics they don't like. Kal-El was avoiding Grammar week one and two. Because it is "on the work plan" he sat through a presentation to fulfill his obligation and it started a fire. Week three has been a grammar explosion. Our music explosion week 2 and maps explosion week one were entirely kid motivated but it doesn't always happen that way. They don't always remember that they like everything and it takes the work plan to just inch them forward until a topic catches fire. If I left them without one they would skip geometry for a whole year. No doubt in my mind.

      WIthout the plan they also seem to forget what their options are. The school room is *stuffed* and it doesn't occur to them to do everything there without it. Because I try to only have a "category" most of the time rather than a specific apparatus listed, they seem to try to be creative about fulfilling their obligations. "How can I achieve this? What do I want to do?" However, the work plan also allows me to require a specific apparatus as well. When left completely alone, the boys' math work would be a little spotty. They would dabble, but not really practice the skills on the equipment. They would only use things to the point where they have "the general idea" but no mastery.

      They seem to take our work plan as a list of expectations that can be ignored for any good reason. They also seem to each be personally challenged to think of things they can do that are NOT on the plan.

      I think what's missing in my post is that the REAL work plan is more of a verbal/non-verbal mutual agreement that was learned over half a decade. Our PAPER work plan is there to track what we did, remind us what our different lines of pursuit ARE, hold us accountable when repetition is needed on an apparatus, and keep us moving in all areas to give all areas the opportunity to have a deeper interest sparked. So, the paper work plan is a tool we use. Our real work plan is a tacit agreement to keep plugging along in all areas while investigating interests deeply.

    3. Hi MBT,
      I agree with you 100%. I see your plan as a way to offer your children a balance diet (educationally speaking). You just want to remember to offer it. They may take it all, or just try a little bit; but is there and you know it is good for them! Just like with eating, we cannot force learning. All we can do is provide the best fulfilling and nutritious curriculum. =) I don't think this is imposed on them. It is simply a way to make it available. If we don't have it, they might not try it on their own, and might miss the possibility of something that will spark their interest.
      Thank you for sharing what works for your family! I use the work boxes idea to do something similar. My kids are little (3 and almost 5). We use daily skills like listening to reading, work on writing, work with words, and reading (They are from the Daily 5 by Gail Bushey &Joan Moser). The kids and I gather materials to practice those skills: a journal to write, some books to read, words and manipulative to learn about spelling (word work) etc. We have no worksheets, instead we enjoy creating and organizing materials according to their interests. Now the kids know that they are offered all these skills for daily practice. They choose the ones they want to do. My daughter always chooses to journal; she loves to write. Some days they do a lot, other days they do just one. The kids move the little picture card from one side of the drawer to the other end. This reminds them and me to look at the drawers they haven't use. It is not a checklist, it is a what-is-available list! I will make a post about it in my blog too.
      Finally, It hurts me to see someone criticizing you. You are awesome and I hope such comments do not hold you back from posting about the real stuff that works for YOUR family. Let me just say: there are no lectures on homeschooling YOUR family. You do what works for you all! I am sure work plans do not work in a Montessori classroom, but, you have to consider that in a classroom one child gets exposed to something by watching others! In a homeschool setting, with two kids, you have to be those other children and your work plan is a GREAT way to help you remember that!
      You don't have to approve this comment. It is just for you!
      Please continue to share!

    4. Hi Silvana,

      Thank you so much for your heart-felt support. I really appreciate it. The good news is that Abbie and I are friends so the invisible line between criticism and discussion is in a slightly different, more personal, place than the average. She meant no harm.

      I like your "food" analogy. You totally understood what I was trying to say.

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  6. I appreciate your detailed post about the work plan and also about the work that your boys are doing. They seem like very hard and enthusiastic workers :)

    We are also using OPGTTR. I think we just did lesson 53. Do you have recommendations (or a prior post) about other books/readers that your kids read when reading was still new?

    Your blog is wonderful. Hope you can continue writing, though I would understand if you didn't. Life is busy.

    1. Awesome! Me Too just did lesson 142 today (silent "g" when combined with "n"...gnat, gnome, etc.,)

      Here is a post I did on readers:

      After that stage, we really like Mo Willems, Kipper books, Berenstein Bears, etc., Me Too really loved Mo Willems and Sherman the Dog books.

      I have a couple of charts from school libraries printed out and in my library bag of book suggestions arranged by Fountas and Pinnell grading. I don't care about the grading. However, if I notice the boys are really enjoy a particular book or series I'll look up its Fountas and Pinnell grade (which varies by source) and see what other books kids seem to like at that level.

    2. Thanks so much! I will look into those!

  7. Hi, great to see your work plans, and how your children have kicked off the new schooling year. I wanted to ask where topics such as science or zoology or even their projects fit into their work plan as they don't seem to be on the cycle category. Many thanks.

    1. Anon,

      In the blog post I mentioned that "Mom's Surprise" on their daily work is usually a presentation from the Waseca biomes curriculum, Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, or the Montessori Geography album. You might not be familiar with those resources which would naturally lead you to ask about that. Any of those resources basically adds up to a daily "science" lesson from Mom and the boys usually do a ton of follow up work following any presentation. Zoology and Botany are all covered in the Waseca curriculum (which is really just a path through a combination of the Montessori Geography and Biology albums. Anything Waseca leaves out I pick up from the albums as we go down that path). So, they do get those topics daily. Their projects wind up as "kids' choice" or they move whatever paperclip they feel applies. When Kal-El made his physical map of the world the first week (which he spent about 20 hours on) he just moved his "maps" paperclip every day.