Thursday, November 6, 2014

Weekly Work Plans

If you’re anything like us, those heady days of newly sharpened pencils and crisp notebooks are over, possibly lost alongside the pack of cute erasers you bought last summer in anticipation of the new school year. The initial burst of enthusiasm at our house lasted a good six weeks before tapering off to a dull drudgery of complaints and reminders, punctuated by daily battles of wills.

You see, my lovely children, who had started off the year tackling challenging learning activities head-on, started exercising their freedom of choice in a way I did not appreciate.

Now, freedom of choice within limits is a big deal in the Montessori world for a lot of reasons.

Children are more motivated to learn when they choose their own work. (Aren’t we all!)

Freedom of choice allows each child to work at his or her own level within the schoolroom.

And allowing children to make decisions fosters independence and positive self-esteem. 

I truly believe in the Montessori philosophy of freedom of choice. It’s why, each month, I fill the shelves with activities aligned with our monthly work plan, prepare myself for the coordinating lessons, and (attempt to) let the boys lead the way.

But by late September, my sons began choosing the same, simple jobs over and over again – not because they were engaging with the work, but because they were actively avoiding anything that required time, effort, or (gasp!) thinking.

In fairness to them, they were doing lots of thinking outside of the school room...

Building elaborate structures with Rokenbok. (Highly recommend Rokenbok if you’re looking for Christmas ideas.)

Designing, testing, and redesigning their own plans for paper airplanes.

And memorizing hundreds of animal facts they learned watching Wild Kratts.

But as much as I absolutely love seeing them working on those sorts of things, their school room work is important to me, too.

As such, I found myself, daily, uttering the words they most despise.

You’re welcome to choose that job, but you also need to choose a challenging work this morning.

Morning invariably slipped into afternoon. Every day.

My sons went from being (relatively) independent, content workers, to being almost completely dependent on me. They spent their school time guessing what I would approve, and never quite knowing when they would be free.

And instead of the kind, encouraging, facilitator of learning I imagined I’d be, I became a nagging, frustrated warden I hated.

After multiple venting sessions with my husband, I finally realized that our boys needed a little more structure in our school room. I wanted to maintain their Montessori-style freedom of choice and allow time for exploration of their interests, but still encourage them to choose challenging work and make progress on their monthly work plans.

The result was a Weekly Work Plan.

Here’s how it works.

There are 5 columns on the plan, labeled: Math, Language, Social Studies, Science, and Daily.

Using each child’s monthly work plan as a guide, I list 3-5 activities in each subject area that he should complete during the week, placing each activity in a block for that column. In the “Daily” column, I list reading and music practice.

If the activity is a new lesson or requires my guidance in some way, I write (with Mom) in the box. If I want them to work together on an activity, that’s also included on the plan.

Because we stick pretty closely to the Montessori curriculum, which contains considerable interleaving within each subject area, the boys can often choose which order they’d like to complete the activities on their Weekly Plan. If there’s an activity they need to do before they can complete another (For example – working with the North American animal nomenclature cards before choosing an animal to research), I put a (1) beside the job.

At the bottom of the plan, there is room for them to write in 3 additional work choices that aren’t on already specified on the plan.

The parameters are that the boys must choose at least one math and one language job each school day, in addition to one social studies or science activity, but when they finish the Plan, they’re done for the week!

This is only our third week using the Weekly Work Plans, and I’m not going to lie – I’m still working out what the “right” number of activities is for each of my sons. (I imagine this will change every week, depending on what the activities are.) 

Overall, though, we are loving the Weekly Plans.

The boys still have their freedom of choice. They can see what’s expected, and have opportunities to follow their own interests. Even better, they’re taking on the responsibility of managing their school time wisely. 

I'm happy that they're back to making progress on their monthly work plans and engaging with the work on the shelves. And with the boys free to work on their own projects in the afternoons, I’m getting a little time for myself again, which - let's face it - is always good for my sanity. Heck, just yesterday, I found those cute erasers I bought last summer.

Download your FREE customizable Weekly Work Plan for your elementary-aged child HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Stacey, I love this idea! It is a great happy medium between little guidance and a daily to-do list, plus you're totally teaching them time management! Well done!