Two Small Coins Worth of Planning

I’m having a looovely weekend, all alone in a basement suite, with a beautiful garden and deli salads and hot coffee. I’ve been waiting for this for a while.

It’s a bit overwhelming, sometimes, training up children. Getting our arrows ready to be launched. Nurturing soon-to-be adults ready to make their mark on a hurting world. Really, investing in the people who will grow our grandchildren.

No pressure.

And since I believe that God has entrusted us with their lives and discipleship- not anyone else, and certainly not the government- that means that all their life learning and education is on our, and my, shoulders.

No pressure.

Today I attended a service here, at a church I’ve never been before. The pastor spoke of the widow who gave everything she had in offering: a measly two coins. This meant more to Jesus than all the rich people’s lavish donations. It was encouraging to me, because I am giving all I have, knowing that it’s all He’s ever asked of me. It may not seem like much to some, but it’s all I’ve got, and it’s for Him.

I’ve had years in the past with a lot of planning that went well (2017). I’ve had years when my plans were so utterly ridiculous, you would think I forgot that there are literally children involved (2013). I’ve had years that the plan went out the window, and we just needed to “do the next thing” (2015). I find the older they get, and the more little people we have added, the more I need to have a plan in place to feel that I am doing all that God wants me to. This doesn’t mean that we stick to a minute by minute schedule- imagine! But when I have one learning to read, and one entering junior high, two in the middle, and three little busy people, I need to have some sort of “flow” to follow so that everyone gets the Mama they need, when they need it. They can’t all do math at the same time. We’ve tried that. Doesn’t work. Seriously. Our family does well on routines: everyone likes to know what comes next.

Here is my school breakdown.

First, I come up with a “focus” for the year. We always have our core subjects (math, Bible, reading, spelling) and everything else gets added to that. Last year our focus was French. We spent time in it everyday, we listened to cds in the car, around the table, and I believe that we have a good foundation now that we can add to. Our eldest, especially, did really well and picked up the ebb and flow of it due to this immersion. This year, we will continue with it and add it to the Loop.

This year’s focus is writing. Both the actual mechanics (cursive, typing and printing) and actually communicating effectively through different media. I’ve read news articles lately that looked as if they were written by fifth graders. Unbelievable. In our society, one needs to be able to email, text, and write well, because often, that’s the only way we communicate (a post for another day, to be sure.) We will spend time every day over the year really investing in this. I already know next year’s focus, and the year after that. It may change, it may not.

Second, I determine which subjects we do together, and which will be independent. We do the group stuff together first, in “Morning Time.” This year, our Morning Time will consist of Bible Road Trip (something I’m pretty excited about), whatever read aloud we are doing, Brave Writer (a very cool writing course that can be used across ages) and handwriting. We will Loop (more on that in a sec) science, social and French. They will do their math, spelling, reading, writing (different one) and typing separately (we don’t own four computers!).

Third, I figure out the flow. I hesitate to use the word schedule, because we don’t follow it to a T. We have a flexible time we start with Morning Time, and we mostly keep at it until everyone is done. If they are all squirrely and need to go outside, we break early. If they are all snuggled up or drawing quietly while I’m reading about Canada’s history, we go a bit longer. We add in our Loop subjects here, as we can. Sometimes we can do them all a few times a week, sometimes a week passes that we didn’t get anywhere. That’s okay. We just do the next thing on those. When everyone is “done,” they play outside, no matter what. If they only last a few minutes because it’s super cold, that’s okay. I think they still need the fresh air. After outside time, we break up into the individual subjects. Some like to go around the table, some go on our bed and listen to music. It doesn’t matter to me as long as the work gets done. As soon as they are done, they can do their chores and then do their own thing. We are done by 12:30 or 1, although this year our biggest guy will have a bit more independent studying in the afternoon.

That flow is by far the hardest part to figure out. I need to know what everyone is doing and when. If I’m working with children who are just learning to read, I need the bigger ones to be doing typing, or their own reading. I can’t help them with their math. It took me almost an hour of pacing, scribbling and thinking to figure that part of our flow yesterday.

Fourth, I plan out our yearly schedule. We like to be done at the end of April so that we can focus on soccer and baseball. Also, after the long winters, we just want to be OUTSIDE as soon as the weather changes. We don’t take off many days during the year. I figure out how many lessons need to be done each month in order to get to our goal, and I know how much wiggle room I have. We do NOT do school on birthdays, and this year only one falls on a school day, so that was lucky!

Fifth, I plan out our resources, field trips, supplies. I don’t do inside field trips in nice weather. We are going to the zoo the first week of September (we start school the second week or so, depending on the forecast), and an art gallery in November for our writing projects. I’ll try to nail down a date ahead of time if I think Daddy may want to come, so he can take the day off. I need to order specific novels and books for different things from the library, to have them ahead of when I need them. We live out of town, so I need to get our art supplies or weird science experiment stuff when I normally get groceries. I purchase all the books I want to read aloud, so that the next is ready to go when we finish. These are all little things that I have not planned in the past, which has greatly reduced our freedom to go ahead of schedule, or switch things up.

Sixth, I plan our own “family school” things. On Friyay (not a typo), we have a light school day and do art (which I didn’t do at all the first few years) and something else cool. Last year we did the Torchlighter series, which was a DVD about different missionaries and some activities to go with it. This year we are doing Magic School Bus kits. We also do House Blessing on Fridays, so we try to get done school a bit earlier. We’ve decided that on Wed. nights, we will do our DVD lessons. Stephen is able to go ahead in French, but it’s very hard to watch DVDs in our little home with little people. So those nights he’ll get to stay up a bit later, have popcorn, and do his French. Same with Silas (other TV) who will be listening to his writing seminar (Institute for Excellence in Writing.) We’ve learned the importance of being flexible, and adding snacks! Once a month or so, last year, we would stay up late on a Saturday night and do a bunch of science lessons. I also need to figure out our “bare minimum” days. If I am sick, or something comes up, or if God changes our priority of the day, this is the smallest amount possible, but what still makes me feel like we’re okay. Usually, math and Bible.

If this seems super regimented- it’s not. It’s just my plan that is subject to change. The most important thing every single day is relationship and discipleship. If we have to stop to take care of sick kids, or babysit for a friend, or run outside and enjoy a sunny day after weeks of rain-that’s what we do. It just helps me be prepared for what’s coming, because when we’re in the midst of the laundry, meals, groceries, field trips and potty training, I can’t remember what book I wanted to read aloud next. I just need it to be on the shelf, ready to go!

This is literally, just the school stuff- my weekend goals are half complete. I need to have a meal plan of all the meals, and snacks. It helped SO MUCH last year that when I was working with the younger kids, the older ones would make lunch. I also get the younger kids to prepare the snacks that we munch while we work. But I can’t give the instructions while I’m working with someone else, so it all needs to be written down and planned for ahead of time. So, back to work I go!

How do you plan (or not plan?) What works best for your people?

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