Isn’t “unschooling lesson plan” pretty much an oxymoron? Well, maybe. I’d imagine most unschooling families don’t make any sort of lesson plans. It’s the beauty of unschooling — there’s nothing telling you what you need to do or when. There’s total freedom, no curriculum, no lesson plans. Right?
Well, yeah. But.
Unschooling is not about a strict adherence to anything. That means that you don’t have to adhere to making no plans! You can do what works best for you, whatever that looks like. The only real tenet (in my opinion, anyway) is not following someone else’s plans or guidelines (i.e. a prepared curriculum). You gather a bit of this and a bit of that to make schooling work for you.
But Why Lesson Plans?
These are not the sort of detailed plans you might find in some houses. Some families literally schedule out their days — “At 10 we do math. At 10:30 we do reading. At 11, we do science.” And each day they have assigned each child a particular lesson in their curriculum books, and mom spends time each day correcting the papers and then addressing any problems with each child and assigning new work based on the child’s areas of weakness as well as what comes next in the book.
This is not what I am talking about. Not for us, anyway.
For me, “lesson plans” are a general list of what I’d like to accomplish each week, and they are based on what *we* (my kids and I) have decided together that we would like to do or focus on.
This accomplishes a few goals for me:
- Making sure I actually do it. This is especially important if we are talking about a field trip or outing. With small children, there is no “pick up and go.” I have to plan ahead and prepare snacks, pack diaper bags, work around nap schedules, etc. If I don’t write it down in advance, I will not go. Plus, if I plan in advance, we can often invite friends to go along with us, which is always fun.
- Purchasing supplies. I love the idea of projects and crafts a lot. I always *think* I have what I need to make something awesome, except then I don’t. When I make a plan in advance, I can make sure to purchase the supplies we need, if any. (And I balance the occasional ‘directed’ art project with tons and tons of ‘free’ art projects.)
- Getting the kids excited. Randomness is what we do most of the time, but knowing that we’ll be doing a specific activity that they find fun is exciting for them too. They look forward to it. Sometimes they even behave better because of it. 🙂
- Not letting learning fall by the wayside. Especially at such a young age, it is easy to say “Well, they’re learning plenty just by living,” and forget to expose them to new ideas, environments, experiences. They still need the stimulation of new things. Making a plan reminds me to look for new activities for them that will both benefit and interest them, so that learning through play becomes a priority, not an afterthought.
I always think up a thousand neat experiences. “Oh, I wanted to take them…!” (insert any local children’s museum, event, etc.) or “I should so try that activity…!” Or even “That concept is so neat…!” (creating a ‘sensory box,’ making silly putty, decorating in a particular way, etc.) But then day to day if I have no plan, we never seem to ‘find the time’ to do any of these things, for one reason or another. I don’t like that.
Which reminds me. I’ll be sewing a special calendar to help us understand months of the year, days of the week, and activities. It will feature “pockets” for each day and cards that we can move to represent our different activities. I’ll be sewing this myself soon. Is anyone interested in this?
How I Make Lesson Plans
Last week, my kids and I sat down together. I asked them what they wanted to learn about. I asked them what projects they’d like to do. I offered some suggestions. Then, we searched around on the internet together for pictures of crafts.
They pointed out the ones they wanted to do. We made a big list together of the fall and Christmas crafts that we want to do over the next few months. It looks something like this (these are only the fall ones):
- Decorating pumpkins
- Making fall wreaths
- Making “placemats” with pretty leaves
- Painting t-shirts with leaves
- Going pumpkin picking/for a hayride
- Going apple picking
That’s basically our ‘bucket list’ for the fall, as it were.
In addition to these crafts, we will be reading a variety of fall-themed books (many on their request) and possibly visiting the library to do so; working on our music lessons (I’m a little stricter there only because I am a former music teacher and it’s just my ‘thing’); doing Bible stories and prayer time; finding various science ‘experiments’ to do (I haven’t even decided what yet); learning letters by playing with the computer; taking field trips to various children’s museums; whatever else strikes our fancy.
Last weekend I bought most of the supplies I’ll need for all the crafts so that whenever we’re ready to do them, we have what we need. I also made a list of fall books I wanted to read (from what we already have). I made a plan (actually weeks ago) to take the kids to COSI today.
We collaborate, the kids and I. We decide together what our goals are, with a little suggestion/direction from me (which come from my knowledge of their desires and strengths, of course). And that is how we make our “lesson plans.”
What’s On Our Plan?
This is a loose outline of our plan from this past week:
Monday: Playground trip in the AM, music lessons (see below), read fall books.
Tuesday: Fall coloring sheets, music lessons, Bible stories, outdoor play at home.
Wednesday: Music lessons, fall ‘turkey’ craft, Bible stories, outdoor play/library, AWANA.
Thursday: Outdoor play, music lessons, books.
Friday: COSI trip, music lessons
As you see, it’s not exactly specific. And there’s plenty of ‘randomness’ involved too. If I make some bread, the kids are going to want to come in and help measure and dump and knead. If we’re taking a bath (well, them) we might be calling out letters, sounds, and words that start with that letter. We might be counting objects for some reason. We might sit at the table and match words to pictures (although I don’t love that activity because I don’t like the ‘whole word’ approach). We might scavenge for ‘fall items’ on a walk to use with our crafts in the next week or two. Whatever else appeals to us, we do.
This is a special area for me because, as I said, I’m a former music teacher. I tend to have a very different approach than some because I don’t believe that young kids ‘have’ to be stuck singing silly kids’ songs and dancing randomly around. I believe they can actually begin to study the rudiments of music and prepare for future instrument study. This is what we actually do.
Keep a beat: We use rhythm sticks to all tap a beat together that I set and try to stay steady. Sometimes we play a musical example and try to tap the correct beat. We might also walk or move to the beat. But it’s always purposeful; it’s not random motion.
Note recognition: I have already taught both the older kids (3 and 4.5) to recognize whole, half, and quarter notes and rests.
Rhythm patterns: We are working on tapping simple patterns (two bars) that include whole, half, and quarter notes. I often have to do hand-over-hand to help them tap the patterns now but they are quickly catching on. Sometimes I don’t use any cards and I simply tap a pattern I make up and ask them to repeat the pattern just by sound (with sticks).
Singing pitches: I sing three-note, step-wise patterns and ask them to match my voice.
Musical symbols: I use flash cards to show them some basic musical symbols (treble clef, double bar, crescendo, diminuendo, forte, piano). They have learned to recognize them and also can tell me what they mean. (They remind me if I forget this part!)
Pitch recognition: I am teaching them to read music on the treble clef staff. So far I am only emphasizing A and E (from “FACE” if you’re curious) because these will be the first two notes that my daughter learns on the violin.
Yes, they’re young. But they’re actually very focused and interested in doing all of these things. We also listen to a variety of musical examples (classical, kids’ songs, praise and worship, and so on). We have plenty of non-directed music time, too — they are constantly listening to something! My 3-year-old enjoys singing and knows lyrics to many songs. We probably spend 10 – 15 minutes per day doing all of these activities (total time). It’s really the only area in which I have a specific plan, and it’s one I developed myself through my experience and training as a music teacher. (I have my own theory curriculum that they’ll go through when they’re a bit older.)
That’s what our “lesson plans” look like in our home! They serve as a loose guideline just to keep me on track and make sure that I am continually making learning through play a priority during busy days, and they help us all to enjoy our activities more.