This month has been all about lesson planning for us. I’ve been spending hours every day putting the finishing touches on the new daily lesson planners for the First and Second Grade Earthschooling Curriculum for this coming year, planning our coming year and listening to everyone talk about lesson preparation and planning. With this in mind I’d like to share some tips to make your planning process easier.
Of course, now that we have planned your preschool, kindergarten, first and second grade years out for you every day there is not a lot of planning left to do on your end with lessons but there is always something to plan…
1. Don’t Over-plan: When planning lessons you don’t need to plan out worksheets and step-by-step instructions. Lesson planning should be like storytelling or like giving a speech. In both of these cases the speaker/storyteller has an idea of what they want to convey but they let the mood and the audience carry the actual process. Have you ever heard someone read a speech directly from their notes? And then heard another public speaker share an idea while speaking and responding to you directly? Which was more inspiring and fun? In which situation did you feel more connected with the speaker and involved in the topic? Now, imagine your children feel the same way.
As a teacher you need to be responsive like that storyteller or public speaker. You need to be able to adapt your lessons to the audience mood, abilities, interests and energy. Make sure you have a general idea and outline of what you want to do, but also make sure you don’t over-plan.
For example, if you are telling a story to a Kindergarten student, you simply need to get out the story, set up the characters on the table (wooden figures or stones, scarves, shells and clay or wax to represent some or all characters), highlight the main points and then tell the story in your own words. For an older child you simply need to highlight some of the main points of the story (this is done for you in many of the Earthschooling lessons) and, once again, tell the story in your own words.
2. Don’t worry about getting the words exactly right in the story. Don’t memorize the story. As the stories get more complex you can choose to insert passages from the original (chosen passages are highlighted in the Earthschooling lesson plans) and combine this with your telling.
You will get more skilled at this very quickly. The first few stories may take you an hour to plan. However, after some time you could simply read through the story once and tell it the next day. When you tell stories or teach the lesson put the emphasis on what questions the child has, what interests them about the story or lesson and how they relate to the story or lesson. This will help “round out” your lesson, require less planning time and allow more understanding and interest in the lesson. For example, when I told the biography of Avicenna to my children I talked about each highlighted part of his life. However, I would stop each few sentences and “ad lib” the lesson with them. For example, when it says “Avicenna was home-schooled by his father and learned math from the grocers” I talked about what it must be like for his busy father to manage his lessons and had my children imagine that I sent them down to the corner store to learn math. We talked about how this would be hard to do today because of all the cash registers.
3. Plan a 10 minute lesson for each hour of teaching. If you spend hours planning for a lesson you will often not use 80% of what you planned because children are naturally curious, want to ask questions and want to interact with you. Children also take more time to complete tasks than we imagine. If the lesson is done in a careful, interactive and creative way the ten minute lesson you planned could easily turn into an hour. Even if this seems uncomfortable in the beginning – try it for a week or two and try to get used to it. It will make your life much easier in the future if you can learn this skill. A good lesson, like a good newspaper article, should be able to distill what you want to teach in a short period of time. Remember what your High School speech and language instructor always told you – “Be concise and not verbose”. An interesting lesson filled with about ten scattered minute of well-presented and explored facts is much more effective and memorable than an hour information-packed lesson.
4. Don’t be afraid to look things up. Every teacher will tell you that planning is essential. However, a lot of parents and teachers create stress for themselves because they feel the need to know everything in great depth and detail before they teach it. As a homeschooling parent this is often impossible as you may not have gone through years of training as a teacher and you are most likely teaching numerous subjects to multiple grades – a task far above what any Waldorf or public school teacher is doing. You need to respect the great task you have taken on and realize that you will most likely need to look some things up and sometimes this will happen during a lesson. Doing this in front of your child teaches them: The skills of research, humility and the ability to always learn new things and not say “I already know that”, a thirst for knowledge and a respect for the resources available to us in this age of information.
5. Plan more than lessons. Don’t plan your week solid with lessons you are leading. This creates a stagnant feeling in “the classroom” and is very stressful for you. Even in Waldorf schools the teacher has a break and is able to hand off the class to a handiwork teacher or language teacher from time to time. Make sure you plan in plenty of time for rest, silent reading or picture books, free play, house chores (this is a fantastic learning experience which I’ve discussed in another article), walks, field trips and completion of old projects. Once you have allowed for all of these aspects of the day you will find that your week really has very little planning involved. Some weeks I only have three hours of actual lessons where I am teaching the child directly. We are all programmed to think we need to plan something from 8am to 3pm. However, keep in mind that even at a local school they “waste” hours taking roll, having recess, eating lunch, filling out forms, handing out work, listening to daily announcements, moving from class to class, completing worksheets and waiting for teachers to start the next lesson. Also remind yourself that the reason you are homeschooling is so you CAN be more creative and responsive. If you are like me, you may have to post this on your wall for the first few months of homeschooling.
6. Use outside resources. Make sure you plan, at least once a week, to visit a local place that relates to a lesson you are giving that week. Even if you have been there before. We visited the local Mexican grocer the week we learned some Spanish words for food items. We visited some of the bridges in town the week we studied Roman architecture and visited a friend who breeds dogs the week we started our animal science unit. We also use the local zoo, science center and Living History farms, local festivals and museums. However, often, it is the everyday places that can provide the best learning experiences. And using these everyday places helps the kids open their eyes to the wonder around them.
7. Use your children as resources. Even the youngest child can plan a lesson. Block off some time each week for each child to give a lesson of some sort. If you have multiple children this can turn out beautifully as the older ones can then teach some of the lessons to the younger ones and the younger ones feel very proud giving a “lesson” to their older siblings. Even if that lesson is telling a story with some puppets. Teaching is actually the best way to learn something so these “student teaching” moments are essential to the child’s learning experience.
8. Start with one lesson. Are you intimidated into starting or don’t know where to start? Choose just one thing for the week to plan and take it from there. Before you plan this first lesson you won’t be able to imagine planning more. However, by the time you are done planning it you will have ten more ideas in your head.
9. Take an hour or two on Saturday or Sunday AFTERNOON. Take an hour or two on Sunday to look over the week, briefly outline your goals and what you want to teach and skim through the stories and lessons. This will make a big difference. If you have a curriculum this is probably all the planning you will need all week (this is all I need since I have my curriculum written already) but even if you don’t this hour or two done at a rested time of the week when you don’t have the pressure of a lesson looming so close, can equal tens of hours of planning during the week. This brief, focused time of planning is much more effective than many short sessions of “last minute” planning.
10. Honor Simplicity. Teaching in the Waldorf method is not the easiest way to teach. It involves becoming familiar with a lot of stories you may not know, handiwork you may never have been exposed to and more art in first grade than you may have done your entire school career. A lot of parents are intimidated by this process and decide not to continue with Waldorf because of this. However, what we all need to remember is that not all teachers are artists, not all the Main Lesson Books look like the ones people post online and it is the process that is most important – not the quantity or sophistication of the lesson. So, for example, if you are teaching a lesson about a Saint Francis you don’t need to paint an elaborate picture of St. Francis standing with the birds. You could paint just a bird, or even just the sky where the birds fly. If you need to teach a lesson about Roman history and are not prepared you can, from time to time, READ the lesson instead of telling it. Then, after you read it, you can tell some parts again, talk about the story again or do a “story play”.
11. Don’t get buried in over-information. If you are using the Earthschooling curriculum keep in mind that there are a lot of extras on the website. If you are using multiple curricula or another curriculum and belong to multiple groups and lists remember that you CAN actually have too much information! Follow the simple schedule given with each Earthschooling curriculum (or create your own if you are using a different curriculum) instead of getting drawn in by the “magic” of all the options out there. You will only end up using about 20% of what you have on your shelves, in your curricula and in your in-box. That is OK. As long as you have a schedule and the goals for the year (also found in the Earthschooling curriculum) you know that you are at least getting through the basics and any extras are optional but should not be stressful. Don’t stress about not completing that awesome craft you saw on the Yahoogroups or telling that amazing story from India you saw next to the story you chose for the week. You don’t really need all those extras and you can always save them for the summer, the weekend or a rainy day. In fact, that’s a good way to help you feel less stressed and guilty for not using “that awesome lesson”. Keep a notebook especially for those “lost lessons I wished I had time for” and get out that notebook in the summer or in a pinch when you need inspiration for the day or find yourself without enough planned for the day!
12. Save money and balance your budget by purchasing curriculum.
We tend to forget how valuable our time is. How many times have you ordered out for pizza or eaten out because you were so busy planning lessons you could not cook? This cost adds up quickly. Within a month or two you could have paid for a curriculum or two. In some cases this may even effect your budget directly. An Earthschooling curriculum represents an average of 180-250 hours of planning or more. What money could you earn starting an ETSY shop, doing some part-time work or putting in more hours at your job if you didn’t have those 180-250 hours lost? Probably much more than $85.00!
The first year of homeschooling I started the year thinking homeschooling would be “free” and ended the year having spent hundreds of dollars on books. The second year I was ready to purchase some supplies and books “up front” but then realized later I was missing some items and ended up spending another couple hundred as the year progressed. On top of this I spent at least ten hours a week looking for the right song, verse or lesson. I spent more hours trying to re-learn some things I had forgotten since childhood.
In a curriculum like Earthschooling you purchase a year of curriculum for only $85.00 and have everything you need to teach with all year. You do not need to purchase any additional books, stories, verses, MP3s, teaching guides or anything. The lessons and teacher’s guides contain explanations about how to teach them and instructions on how things work. If you decide to purchase anything that year it is optional so it is a lot less stressful on the budget knowing that, if you have a rough spot during the year your child’s education will not have to suffer.
In addition, all the planning has been done for you. There are even charts that tell you when to teach each subject, what time of day to teach it and where to find the lessons. All you need to do is take an hour or two on the weekend to fill in a few personal details, take about 15-30 minutes per day to look over the stories and lessons and then enjoy! I have heard from a lot of Earthschooling members that they are happy to finally be able to enjoy teaching instead of spending so many hours planning. I know I am!