Friday, February 3, 2012

Schedule Scramble: Listening to the Kids

Some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the kids approached me with an idea: break up our subjects into different blocks of time instead of studying “everything” each week.  I was skeptical.  This is not exactly a new idea, and other home schoolers do exactly this type of plan quite successfully, of course.  But . . . was it right for MY kids?  Could it really work, or would it just feel too fragmented?  I didn’t really think it was a great idea.  I let the idea percolate.

I thought about what the kids were saying.  I looked at our schedule.  We are studying a lot of stuff, for ages 8 and 10.  A lot.  My expectations are quite high.  Trying to cram all of it into every.single.week. might be a lot to ask at ages 8 and 10.  So instead of their suggestion, did I need to take stock of the overall curriculum?  What should we drop?  Well .  . .  looking it over . . . nothing.  I liked our plan.  Most of the “optional” stuff was stuff we were only doing once or twice a week, and was stuff they really enjoyed (ie computer programming, mind bender puzzles).  Hmmmm.

I continued to  mull it over through the Christmas holidays, and came back around to the suggestion the kids had made.  What would be the effects of it?  5 day per week subjects might move more slowly.  Two day per week subjects might move more quickly.   With fewer things to focus on in each week, we could go into more depth in each thing, tie them together better, and spend more time, or opt for shorter days on some days, as circumstances required.  Hmmm.  The kids idea might have some merit.  We could always go back to the old schedule if the continuity issue resulted in problems.  And they would feel more invested in their school process.  Okay, let’s give this a shot.  So . . . what does the new schedule look like, and how does it feel, a month into the rotation?

Science and Math Focus Week

DS (now 11) works on:
chemistry (primarily NOEO level2, plus the texts from RS4K, KOGS from RS4K, Happy Scientist videos, ScienceWiz kits, Some Ellen McHenry Units, Some information from BFSU, Lab of Mr. Q, and some others, all as I can weave them into the NOEO spine to keep the coherent order to things)
math (primarily Life of Fred PreAlgebra, with some work in Art of Problem Solving as a light supplement—LoF is definitely our spine in math though—with some Khan Academy and living books tossed into the mix as well)
 logic (KidCoder computer programming, Mind Benders and Critical Thinking pages from The Critical Thinking Co)
Music and Art (Trumpet practice, Mark KistlerArt, Classics for Kids Podcasts, Art KOGS, and other activities)
writing (Unjournaling on Friday, typing practice with TypetoLearn4)
German (Rosetta Stone, Usborne Easy German, Pokemon Videos, Other activities.  Not trying to be stereotyped here, just separating the two languages in different weeks)
 Reading (min 45 minutes self-reading per day, plus group read-aloud of literature per day above and beyond his self-choice reading time)
Geography (ongoing project to learn to map each continent by heart; review world map on Friday).  
 **All subjects are daily, except for writing (typing is twice per week,  Unjournaling only on Friday), Logic (Mind Benders are a Monday wake-up), Music and Art (different activities except trumpet practice are spread through the week).

DS8 works on the same subjects, but in different, age-appropriate programs.  
 He focuses on Singapore math (US Edition) as is his spine, with Life of Fred Elementary as a fun supplement (though we are pretty pleasantly surprised at just how MUCH math is packed into those books!  If you skim them or read them fast, you’ll miss it; if you take your time, there is pretty advanced stuff in there!) as well as Khan Academy and some other fun stuff.   
He also does NOEO Chemistry, but at level 1, with the same chem supplements as his older brother, minus the KOGS.  There is nothing wrong with NOEO; we’re just a little science crazy in our house!   
For Logic skills, he hasn’t starting programming quite yet, but loves the Mind Benders, Ken-Ken, Sudoku, and other types of puzzles.   
His musical instrument is the recorder, but the otherwise does the same music and art activities as his brother.
  He also does Unjournaling and typing for writing this week.  
 He works at Rosetta Stone for German quite successfully; I love how easily they pick up the grammar and spelling from that program!  At 8 years old, though he does work through it at a slower pace and goes back and repeats some lessons, and I sit with him and guide him through the worksheets.   
 His self-reading time is supposed to be 30 minutes, but he often sneaks in much more, and has to be told to put the book down and work on some of his other work, and naturally group reading time includes him as well.
He practices mapping the same way as DS11 for geography.

History and Language Focus Week

For H&L week, DS11 works on 
history (HistoryOdyssey Ancients 2, plus much extra reading (he makes great use of the library and his new Nook Simple Touch!) and any extra activities, trips, or movies I can dream up, plus the mapping project)  
Latin (Big Book of Lively Latin I, Latin Crossword Puzzles, Visual Latin, and a variety of activities); 
vocabulary (Vocabulary Workshop)  
music and art (same as in Science and Math Week)  
Writing (Writing With Ease, plus writing from history program, and typing)
grammar (was GrowingWith Grammar, now Grammarlogues)
reading (same as Science and Math Week)
math (A lighter schedule than during Science and Math week, with LoF on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Khan Academy on Tuesday, and Alcumus on Thursday).

DS8 again follows a similar plan, but in an age and skill appropriate manner.  
I decided to hit Ancients and Medieval history with him this year, so he has finished History Odyssey Ancients 1 and is now in History Odyssey Middle Ages 1.  It’s a good thing he loves to read, because there is a lot of fun stuff for him to read now!   
He is nearly finished with Prima Latina, and will soon begin   The Big Book of Lively Latin like big brother.  There will be a small amount of repetition, but at his age, that is a good thing.  
He studies spelling with Spelling Workout rather than vocabulary, at this age, concentrating on natural vocabulary development.  
Like DS11, music and art are unchanged from science and math week.   
Writing consists of Writing With Ease and typing lessons, as well as anything he needs to write to summarize history lessons.  I still help him by scribing a lot of history, but we stop and discuss sentence structure, using specific words instead of general words (names instead of “those guys,” for example), and other details.  Typing is also done twice per week.  
 Grammar continues our experiment with the definitely non-secular but very solid Rod & Staff.  
As with DS11, reading is the same as the prior week, with the minimum self-reading time set at 30 minutes for an 8YO, though he frequently exceeds it.  For History and language focus week, Singapore math is only completed on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; on Tuesday, he does some type of playful math, and on Thursday he works on Khan Academy.  He works in Life of Fred (elementary series) whenever he has time, just because he’s a fan of Fred J.  By the end of this year, he will have completed 2 years of Singapore math, a year of Math Mammoth, many topics in Khan, and learned a tremendous amount from Fred, so dialing math back every other week doesn’t particularly bother me.

So, how’s that working for you?

First of all, the kids have been highly gratified that I took their suggestion seriously and really listened.  They understand that trying this schedule out does not mean we will keep it, but they appreciate being heard.  That said, I think they are really on to something here.

A month into this experiment, I think we are all less stressed out, are exploring each subject more deeply, feeling less rushed and more flexible about our daily schedule, and more able to explore any side trails that pop up and become interesting.  I have had buckets of additional “extras” that I have been wanting to add in to their studies to either make them more interesting or more memorable, and I feel more able to just add things in now, because we are cramming less into each day, and each day flows more naturally into the next than it did when we tried to do Chemistry on M-W-F and History on T-R.  I found a great book of English to Latin Crossword puzzles on Amazon, and we try one of those out each week.  We have time.  I found some Pokemon movies in German, and we have time to sit and watch them together .  . . what a difference to watch something in the language you are studying, instead of just conversing about who is eating rice or wearing the green shirt or riding the large horse!  I feel free to schedule a day to just sit and read extra folk tales from the period of history we are studying, or to put the brakes on somebody who is moving ahead too fast for comprehension to sink in, and say, “Nope, let’s not move ahead yet; let’s master this first!”  It doesn’t break the flow to do so. 

Next week is supposed to be science and math week.  I have decided, looking at our schedule of various appointments, that we will take a Fakation instead.  That’s half days of educational activities not using our usual materials and curricula, followed by half days “off” for the kids, when we aren’t at some kind of appointment.  The week after that will be Science and Math Focus Week, business as usual, nothing missed, and we’ll then roll onward until my husband’s spring break, nearly 2 months.

Kids have good ideas.  Even though we are in charge, and responsible for the decision and outcomes, it’s still a good idea to listen and take them seriously.  

So, let me know:  What different kinds of schedules have you tried, and how have they worked out?  I am sure that as we grow, gain experience, and evolve, different option will continue to present themselves with varying degrees of success-- I'd love to hear some of your experiences with scheduling trials and tribulations, and success stories!

--Thanks for reading!

 PS:  Okay, I got the links up.  In many cases, I tried to make them more useful by linking directly to a specific book or portion of the curriculum to which I was referring.  However, this increases the likelihood of broken links as various publishers revise their web pages.  If a link breaks, just let me know, and I'll hunt down the new one and fix it!  --NJ


  1. I really like this plan! It seems you're getting to delve more deeply into things.

  2. Wow, you get a lot done! It's good for me to see other ways that people schedule things so that in the future, I might have some idea of what I might need to do.

  3. NB. I intentionally left out our routine road trips. Re-reading this, I realize my emphasis on physical fitness is really not reflected. We do make time throughout the week for formal gym class, fencing, karate, gymnastics, and swimming, plus random activities such as the upcoming art class at Longwood Gardens!

  4. Glad you stopped by, Sonshine! Feel free to leave any tips or discoveries you make along your journey!

  5. Thanks Gillian! Yes, I feel as if we are now, too. Recently Son#2 was covering the Vikings in History Odyssey, and we really have had time to both read to him and let him read. He has had a great time reading Arthurian Legends, too, and I have not felt a need to rush him through or move him along to "other stuff." Sorry about the late response; for some reason your comment was stuck in the spam folder. I should check that more often.