Friday, April 4, 2008

Our Lesson Plan

My wife has this annoyingly endearing (endearingly annoying?) way of wanting to plan everything way, way in advance.

This is not like me. I tend to be much more of a "seat of the pants" kind of person. While I recognize the value in a good plan, I prefer just to jump in and do it. This has both advantages and disadvantages, as you may imagine. For example, when I decide to start big backyard projects, I tend not to think about what the job will take to finish. If I did "count the cost", so to speak, I'd probably never start in the first place. I explained this strategy several months back in a comment to my loyal reader Chris:
Start your project by digging a really big, really ugly hole in your yard. Note: it has to be really big for this whole thing to work.

There! Now any time you get bored with the project and want to quit, you keep getting pulled back to reality by the presence of this big, ugly hole in your yard. You can't ignore it. It's driving down your property values. It's driving down your neighbors' property values. And eventually your wife (who normally wants you to spend more time with her and the kids), will actually start saying things like, "When are we going to do something about that big hole in our yard? It's really ugly."

And I also find it helps not to "count the cost" before you start the project. Geez Louize, I had no idea how much this blasted walkway would cost when I started digging that big ugly hole in my backyard! But once it was there, the only thing to do was to keep dumping more money into it. (And I still don't know quite how much more it's going to take to finish it, but I know that at least fiscally, we're finally over the hump.)

After a while your motivation comes from a sense of guilt, which is one of the most powerful motivating forces around. Works every time, which for me comes around usually once every two years or so.
So, we can probably chalk up the fact that our backyard looks nice, in no small part to my impulsiveness and lack of foresight. :-)

On the downside, I often have to rip out my first attempt or two at whatever I start.

So Tonya is the one around here that handles such things as budget books, lesson plans, and the like. She's also the one that draws up multiple versions of diagrams for how she wants the garden to turn out. (By the way, the carrots, radishes, spinach, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, and grapevines are doing well; the peas, cabbages, onions, chives, and parsley are AWOL).

Since she enjoys doing this sort of thing (or at least, loathes it less than I do), I'm perfectly happy to let her do it. And she does a much more thorough job than I would ever do. When I do the planning, I tend to think, "I'll just cover a little of this, and a little of that, and play it by ear when the time comes." The results tend to end up a little like I explained in this old post of mine.

But I do try to provide Tonya with good input, when she solicits my opinion and advice.


So Tonya (with a very little assistance from me) has been putting together a very detailed lesson plan for the Pillowfight Fairy's first grade year, which starts next fall.

We have decided to follow a Classical Trivium-based educational model, based on the outline in The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. This method advocates a course of study that is very academically rigorous, with lots of practice and repetition of language and math skills, and heavy emphasis on history and literature--with these latter two taught as much as possible from what Charlotte Mason would refer to as "Real Books" as opposed to textbooks.

Now, this will be our first year teaching a "grade level" to our child, since the Pillowfight Fairy is finishing up her Kindergarten year now. So while the Fairy has been going through a fair amount of formal study already (and has been doing well at it), things are definitely looking to ramp up next year--both in terms of the difficulty level of the material covered and the sheer quantity of it. We think this is comparable to what happens when traditional half-day kindergarteners become traditional full-day first-graders. Still, we expect that it'll be a sizable transition for everyone involved, and we've been thinking about how to go about making the transition without burning everyone out or causing rebellion in the ranks. Mainly, we'll be ramping up her instruction prior to the "official" start date, which Tonya is targeting sometime in August. We are aware of the truism that in homeschooling, the first year is always the hardest.

We are also aware that most homeschoolers start out with very structured curricula and lesson plans, with timelines and milestones in all the various subjects; and that by the end of the first year, or the first month, those plans have often been chucked out the window in favor of something much less structured. Will this happen to us? It might; we have learned never to say things like "I'll never do something like that," because we know that God has a sense of humor, and he's into slapstick. (Tonya's mother once said, as her family was driving through the middle of the Mojave Desert, "I could never live in a place like this"--and within a year, the Air Force transferred her husband to Edwards Air Force Base.) But with this important caveat in mind, I suspect that we'll be staying with the rather structured curriculum--or at least, we'll be staying with it longer than most homeschooling families. It's just part of the way Tonya's brain works: everything in its place, and a place for everything. It's also the way the Pillowfight Fairy's brain works: she often becomes very unsettled if things aren't familiar. She has a rather sensitive streak that way.

So, what does the Lesson Plan look like?

Each subject will primarily be taught in short chunks of time, since the Fairy won't quite be six when she starts her first grade year. However, if a lesson is going really well, and if the Fairy is favoring those subjects and making breakthroughs, Tonya will allow the lesson to continue as long as the Fairy appears to be learning. At any rate, it's expected that her daily work will take somewhere up to four hours per day; but when breaks for lunch, potty, and generalized goofing off are included, we expect this to go closer to six hours.

Here's our chosen curricula. Again, it's heavily based on the recommendations from The Well Trained Mind.
  • Spelling: We're using Spelling Workout from Modern Curriculum Press. We'll be using Level B, because the Fairy is just about finished with Level A now.
  • Grammar: We will be using First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise, three days a week.
  • Reading (Literature): Primarily we will use library books and a few anthologies, with a heavy emphasis on the myths, legends, and historical tales of the peoples we will be studying in our history lessons. (For example, if we are studying the Sumerians, we'll dig up an age-appropriate retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh.)
  • Memory Work: We will have her memorize Bible verses, miscellaneous poems, and those items to be memorized that are built into the Grammar program we're using.
  • Math: The Fairy is finishing up Horizons Math Level K right now, which is a very rigorous program. It has her adding one-digit to two-digit numbers, and subtracting one-digit from two-digit numbers, with no carrying or borrowing--among many other things. Next year we will start Horizons Math Level 1, which mainly appears to solidify the skills built in Level K and extend them a little bit.
  • History: We will be following Susan Wise Bauer's The Story of the World (Volume 1) with the activity book. This curriculum starts with pre-history and continues up through the fall of the Western Roman Empire, covering both Western and Non-Western civilizations (such as the Indus River civilization, the Chinese, the Olmecs and Mayans, early African civilizations, and so forth). We will also be drawing material from The Usborne Book of World History, and whatever on-topic library books we can find (that are age-appropriate). For example, this week they brought home a children's book on Aztec technology, and a book on Phoenician history and culture; these are the things I'm talking about here. History will be done three days a week.
  • Science: During the course of the year, we will go through three units. The first, drawn from the Usborne Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Natural World, will cover animals. The second, drawn from the book Human Body (Usborne Internet-Linked Library of Science) and from Carson-Dellosa Publishing's Body Systems and Organs, will cover the human body. The third, drawn from the same book as the animals unit, will cover plants. We will be doing Science two days a week.
  • Religion: This will mainly be readings from the Bible and discussion thereon. Note that this section is intended to teach the Fairy about our own faith and devotions; other religions will be covered as part of our History curriculum.
  • Art: For the most part, the Fairy loves to work on art so much that we don't have to make it part of the regular curriculum--she'll do it herself when she's done with the rest of her schoolwork. But twice a week we will give her something a bit more structured. On Mondays, we will give her instruction from the book Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes. And on Fridays, we will be doing picture studies from great artwork with her.
  • Narration: We think that Charlotte Mason was on to something, that you don't really learn anything until you have to explain it to someone else. So Narration will be a big part of our educational method. That is, with pretty much anything the Fairy reads--or has read to her--from literature, history, religion, or art, she will be expected to tell it back to us, in her own words, in as much detail as she can manage (or until Mommy cuts her off, as she can get pretty wordy). This will be a big part of her everyday routine.
  • Writing: Since the Fairy is only first grade, we're not going to try to make her compose a whole lot of extemporaneous writing. We feel that forming complete sentences of complete thoughts and putting words down on paper are two different skills, both of which are difficult for a first grader; and doing both at the same time is very hard for someone that young. So the first of these skills will primarily be taught through Narration, mentioned above. To teach writing, Mommy will take dictation of a few of the Fairy's narrations each day, and then have the Fairy copy them out longhand. Additionally, we will have the Fairy write weekly letters to various members of the extended family.
  • Music: This one will be my responsibility, and will happen in the evenings when I'm home from work. Four days a week, I will teach her on the piano. In addition to building up her finger-skills, I hope to teach her the basics of musical notation--how to tell what key you're in, which lines and spaces go with which notes, and so forth.
We haven't completely finished the reading list for history and literature, especially since we will be getting a lot of stuff from the library (and won't know what we find until we get there). And we haven't finished figuring out which scriptures we want to cover yet. Nevertheless, we have a pretty good preliminary reading list, so far as it goes. In addition to the Bible, we will be reading through Aesop's Fables, through some children's versions of Homeric stories (Illiad, the Trojan Horse, the Odyssey); we will be spending six weeks each on Greece and Rome, and so will be covering a lot of Greek and Roman myths (Pandora, Hercules, King Midas, Theseus and the Minotaur, etc...); Egyptian myths; Mesopotamian Myths (like Epic of Gilgamesh); folktales from India, Africa, and China; and fairy tales of the British Isles. In addition we will be finding one age-appropriate biography per week, for people like Cheops, Hammurabi, Hatshepsut, Tutankhamen, Nebuchadnezzar, Homer, Romulus, Sennacherib, Lao-tse, Pythagoras, Confucius, Buddha (Siddharta Gautama), Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Cicero, Virgil, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Caesar Augustus, Nero, and Constantine the Great.

In addition to all this, we have been eying the excellent suggested reading lists at Ambleside Online. While they don't exactly match up with our intended scope and sequence (and we're not taking a pure Charlotte Mason approach to our homeschool), we've adopted many of the ideas suggested there, and we consider the site a worthy resource.

Well! All this looks like a lot, but bear in mind, no one activity lasts for more than a half-hour, and a bunch of this stuff overlaps: Narration and Writing are covered during the course of the Literature and History lessons, for example; and Memory Work happens at the same time as Religion, Grammar, or Literature, depending on what's being memorized. And for that matter, Music happens in the evening, well after the "school day" is over. So we think the formal education will easily fit inside a six-hour day, of which no more than four will be concentrated instruction.

And again, there's the chance (as many homeschoolers have testified) that we'll get a few months into it and say, "This isn't working. Let's sit down and have a big re-think," and do something completely different. But Tonya--who has been teaching the Fairy to read, write and do math this whole last year, and who will always be doing most of the instruction--is feeling confident about this plan, and we're looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

That is, so long as our illustrious state courts don't decide that we non-credentialed parents aren't qualified to do any of the above...


Anna said...

I know everyone has their preference between John Thompson, Alfred, etc, but I found a website that's totally free, through level four, and seems to be a good setup.
I printed off the music and put it in binder sleeves, and printed off the music fundamentals workbook for the theory aspect.

Timothy Power said...


Thanks! I'll check it out. I was planning on winging the music theory stuff (no surprise there)--which I could probably do, but it may certainly work better to have an approach that's a little more battle-tested.

And free is good.

Charley said...

Four to six hours a day of rigorous academics for a SIX-YEAR-OLD?!!! Unless you have a certified genius as a child, you are setting yourself up for misery and failure. as a long-time homeschool dad who has graduated one to college, please let me put a few thoughts out there for you and your dw to consider....

Point 1: What is your goal at the end of your education venture? What kind of young adult do you want to launch into the world? What does God say about what you should teach your child and what kind of young adult you as a parent should strive to produce?

Start with those questions. Wrestle with them with your wife. When you finally come up with solid answers, work backward to see what you should be doing with your daughter now.

Point 2: What kind of bent did God give your daughter? While not fully formed at age six, you can start to see her interests and talents. Don't shove her into the box of curriculum and scope and sequence because that is what was done to you or because that is what all those type-A homeschool moms in the magazines and on chat boards say to do. Instead, work the curriculum around her, around her interests and her specific manner of learning.

Point 3: Cultivate relationship and discipleship, for these are the things that are eternal in value. If they come second, they will be pushed out of place by the "holy" academic schedule.

Point 4: I wrote a post on three books that will really help you with "the vision thing." You can find it HERE.

If (when) your wife burns out, consider the wisdom of John MacArthur HERE.

For most people, virtually all of what they "learned" in school disappeared from their minds within a couple of years. Why? Because it wasn't linked to real life. HERE and HERE is another post on what education should consist of.

HERE is a link to a series of posts on thoughts on raising children.

Lest you think this is shameless self-promotion of my own blog, it is not. These are all thoughts that any dad should consider as he guides his family and raises his children. They are not the final say on any of the issues, but I guarantee you will have lots and lots of thoughts on which to chew as you enter this phase of your life.

Point 5: If your wife and/or daughter burns out, please don't resort to group schooling. Know WHY you are discipling at home and hang in there. Examine your preconceived notions and change how you do things. It CAN and DOES work; you just need to realize the unconscious limits you are placing on yourself and open yourself and your family to relationship and discipling. Let the academics come along as secondary, for that is truly the correct priority.

Your daughter will be better for you and your wife having thought these things through.


HomeDiscipling Dad Blog

Timothy Power said...

Well, one of the fun things about starting homeschooling is that there's so much contradictory advice, from so many people who've done it different ways (some successfully, some not), that it's hard to know in advance what will work and what won't.

The issue of how much time to spend on academics is hotly debated. Just to clarify, we are not expecting the hard-core academics to last six hours. That figure includes in potty breaks, goof-off breaks, lunch time, miscellaneous interruptions, and the like. We expect the academics themselves to last no longer than four hours (and possibly less than that, especially at the beginning of the school year).

You're saying that four hours is too much; and as you are an experienced homeschool father, I have to take your testimony seriously. On the other hand, Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer (the latter who we've met in person) are also both experienced homeschool mothers, and Susan was homeschooled herself. We're basing our curriculum on what they've recommended and outlined in The Well-Trained Mind. And if you add up how much time they recommend for each topic in first grade (page 219 in the 2004 edition), it comes to about four hours a day.

Furthermore it needs to be mentioned that some subjects are harder than others, and some are more enjoyable. The Fairy loves reading stories, and is already starting to develop an interest in books on natural science as well. Since a big part of her curriculum consists of her reading these things (or having them read to her) and her narrating back what was just covered, it's not like we've got our little ink-stained wretch shackled to a desk for four hours straight. We'll be doing plenty of stuff that she enjoys.

Of course, you may be right in your concerns; we fully recognize our first year will involve a bunch of trial and error. We may decide to scrap our plans and go with something completely different. But then, we also know our daughter and what she likes. She has always had a literary streak and a long attention span, at least when compared against other kids her age. In fact, we were thinking about this fact specifically when we settled on the Classical Trivium model of homeschooling for her. So in that sense, we are indeed matching the curriculum to the child.

And yes, it is very important to us that we instill a love of God and of her fellow human beings in her. And this can be quite a challenge, as she's rather introverted and individualistic; getting her to relate to the people around her (heck, just getting her to notice them) will always be a challenge, just like it was for both of her parents. She comes by it honestly. And we've given plenty of thought to how to do this, though we haven't yet come upon any silver-bullet solutions. We expect this will just be one of those things where we have to pray about it, play it by ear, and trust that God will work it all out in the end.

Anyway, thanks for your comment; we do want to hear from people who've done it differently from us, so that when we foul up (which will happen from time to time), we can draw on the experiences of others to get us out of the jam. But while we may or may not have a good plan here, be assured that we have given much thought to these topics.

silvermine said...

Ahhh... yes. I would love to do that. I would just wrap myself up in the Well-Trained Mind and have a happy fest.

However... my oldest is like his dad. Also one who isn't much on planning. A lot of spontaneity. I think we're going to end up doing a lot of more unschooling while I read all the classical stuff and sprinkle it on him whenever possible. ;)

Maybe he'll change a lot in the next year, but I seriously doubt it. I'm hoping he'll read in a year, much less do anything else. :D

Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...

Timothy, you said:
You're saying that four hours is too much; and as you are an experienced homeschool father, I have to take your testimony seriously.

Another way of looking at it is not on the amount of time spent in instruction, but whether or not Were the goals for the day met?

Rather than trying to fill four hours per day, set down a reasonable set of goals for the day. If the goals are appropriate and are properly met in 2 hours rather than four, then stop for the day.

In my opinion (and I have been teaching since '93) I recommend something like (1) set reasonable and limited performance goals to be met for the day, (2) set an upper limit on the time to meet the goals, if it is taking too long, stop and try again another day and in another way, and (3) if your kid is just eating up the material and doesn't want to stop despite the time limit, let her keep going.

Also, I would recommend you have the difference between active and passive learning well understood, as well as Bloom's Taxonomy, and Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction.

You want to plan your instruction backwards, then teach forwards. In other words, plan backwards by first setting your goals, then figure out how you are going to structure the lesson to get your child there.

Too many people choose an instructional technique first, only to try and figure out what later what they want the child to master.

Also, when I speak of setting perforance goals, I mean what objective means are you using to measure mastery. Never use words like "understand" "comprehend" in setting goals. They are to abstract. Rather, use words where your child shows understanding through some perforance, like "compare and contrast", "explain," etc.

You might consdier using graphic organizers
too. Properly used they are an excellent way to help children master the material at hand, demonstrate their mastery, and do it in a picture format.

Yes, parents can teach their children just fine under most circumstances, but obviously we would all agree that is not an argument for the parent NOT learning pedagogy

(BTW, you off-handedly mentioned in a different post getting a shotgun. I recommend the Remington 870 and spend four days in Neveda at Front Sight's 4 Day Tactical Shotgun Course.

I am sending my wife out to Front Sight in the Fall and have already gotten her some experience via the NRA.)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your post and your lesson plans for 1st grade. Our son is technically K age, with a late December birthday. To totally shake up the 'school' calendar, I consider our school year from Jan to Dec instead of Sept to May. I also plan on schooling year-round with short breaks every 4-5 weeks. We are working on our son's ability level, which is a bit above where he would be in public school.
We are following The Well-Trained Mind and use much the same books/sources that you are planning on using. We started in January with "First grade" and - so far, so good!
Our son is a sponge and loves to learn and loves to read, so that helps. In our experience, science (through living books) is a great bed-time reading topic - and it can be easily learned/absorbed by young kids through a few great field trips! We are doing Story of the World - we do the main reading and selected activities during the day and additional reading at night. (I read one book to son, then son reads a book of his own selection, than dad reads 3 books. That is our long bed-time reading routine.)
FLL is easily done 2-3 a week, only takes 10-15 minutes. My son finds much of it to be too repetitive so I combine lessons sometimes.
Our son takes art lessons and chess classes outside of the home, one morning a week.
Our schedule for today was: chess, art, lunch - ate outside, then we went to the library for 2 hours of schoolwork then attended story time at the library. Total time: five hours. But it was broken up in chunks and was very enjoyable for son.

I love reading your blog and look forward to hearing how your schedule works out! Best wishes.

Timothy Power said...


Thanks for the testimonial there. It's always nice to hear from someone who's made it work--it lets us know we're not clear out of our heads.


Just so you know, we agree with you regarding educating toward daily goals instead of time limits--and we're doing that already. I admit this didn't come out well in the post I wrote, but we're definitely not going to be saying, "Ok, you're done with Lesson 5, but we have thirteen minutes left, so on with Lesson 6...." In fact, as things go now, the Fairy takes up to two hours to finish what we give her, but occasionally she gets it done in under one. We see no reason to change this practice when we start the First Grade.

As far as pedagogy is concerned, yes, I'm interested in learning about it (probably more so than Tonya is!).

A few thoughts regarding Bloom's Taxonomy. First I note that it tracks very well with the progression of the Trivium. The lowest level, Knowledge, is the whole point of the Grammar stage (grades 1-4); the next three or so levels--Understanding, Application, and Analysis--are the focus of the Logic stage (grades 5-8), although knowledge acquisition is maintained. The top couple of layers--Synthesis and Evaluation--are worked hard in the Rhetoric stage (grades 9-12), with the lower levels continually practiced. This Trivium arrangement was the standard way of educating for over two thousand years precisely because it works, because it introduces the various layers of Bloom's Taxonomy at ages when the kids are best able to handle them.

A note regarding knowledge acquisition though: As this is the lowest level on Bloom's Taxonomy, it tends to get poo-poohed by a lot of people. "That's just regurgitation. That's not real learning. People need to move beyond that to meta-strategies for learning...." This thinking tends to result in the neglect of mere fact-learning.

Well, I don't see it that way. The Knowledge Layer is the foundation for everything that is built on top of that. If the Knowledge Layer isn't solid, people's Synthesis and Evaluation will arrive at faulty conclusions every time. I wrote in a little more detail about my related thoughts here (and promptly got into a heated debate with my public-school-teaching younger brother).

But grammar-age young kids (before age ten or so) are fact-sponges, and we need to take advantage of this. Reasoning skills will develop later--that's what the Logic stage is for.

Incidentally, the Grammar stage is also the best age to introduce them to foreign languages, although we haven't tried doing that yet to the Fairy. We'll hold off and see how the First Grade goes before making her conjugate Latin verbs.

Just kidding! :-)

Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...


You said, A note regarding knowledge acquisition though: As this is the lowest level on Bloom's Taxonomy, it tends to get poo-poohed by a lot of people. ...
Well, I don't see it that way. The Knowledge Layer is the foundation for everything that is built on top of that.

Agreed. There is no way to relate concepts together without knowing what the facts are.

Sadly, the standards based curriculum dictated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) essentially mandates we keep students at the bottom 2-3levels of the taxonomy. Not only are we told exactly what to teach by NCLB (aka "nickel-b")but that is the skill level the students are evaluated at by the Feds.

Sadly, the Republicans have replaced the NEA with an even dumber group, the Feds.

Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...

BTW, you said A few thoughts regarding Bloom's Taxonomy. First I note that it tracks very well with the progression of the Trivium. ...

I am sure you know this, but don't make the mistake of thinking that Bloom's levels are age dependant. Obviously, as children mature, the higher level thinking skills are easier. However, with most children, you can approach each level at any age.

Not taking this into account can be a flaw with the classical Trivium approach.

Jennifer in OR said...

Hey, it looks great, you've thought through it, go for it! This looks a lot like what we try to do over here, not always successfully, but we keep plugging along!