By Kara Murphy
“Be confident. Jesus will perform it.” (Philippians 1:6)
I love the beginning of the year if for no other reason than for the opportunity for a fresh start. As Anne with an “e” says, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.” That’s an encouraging thought! The Bible teaches us: “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I [Paul] press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b–14)
A new year is a time to evaluate where you are now and where you are going. In an academic calendar, this is an opportunity to adjust, decide what to eliminate, and what to add (if anything). Planning is a topic that I have intentionally avoided up to this point, though. I wanted to give you time to get your feet wet, so to speak. Now that you have some teaching under your belt, you have a better idea how much activity fits into your day. Moving forward, your planning will be more effective because it is more informed.
For those who are easily derailed or distracted, the plans we make now can be an anchor, bringing us back to where we belong. But planning also has its pitfalls. Desiring the best for our child, we fall into planning traps. We become unrealistic, we over-plan, or we plan too far in advance.
Unrealistic planning is planning what you think you should be doing rather than what you really can do. For a time, I used a flexible, history-based unit study that had reading suggestions for history, science, art, music, etc. I bought a lovely plan book and proceeded to fill up all the squares. My mentor kept reminding me that blank squares are not bad—but I felt I needed to fill up the book. Finally, she suggested I change my planning format. With fewer lines to fill, my plans became realistic. Was I really going to read four different picture books aloud every day, on top of working on skills and caring for five young children? If you are prone to unrealistic planning, keep your planning tool small. If you tend to plan too much in a day, plan for three or four days a week (knowing that you will take five days to complete the plan).
Did you know that just because a subject area is important, that doesn’t mean you have to schedule it every day? When I had a lot of little ones, I alternated many subjects. One day we worked on phonics, the next day, math. I couldn’t devote time to both each day, but my child benefited from the focused instruction every other day. Even though it is called Five in a Row, it doesn’t mean that you must read each book in five consecutive days. Planning Five in a Row or other reading every other day allows for doctor visits, interruptions, surprises, and plain old bad days. (We all have days when we don’t seem to get anything done. For a few years, I felt like it was every day!) It is tempting to look to the really good days, the ones when we get a lot done, as the standard for all days, but that is unrealistic. And if you find yourself running short on things to do as the end of your planning period approaches, simply take time to plan more tasks.
Over-planning occurs when you plan minute details. Insecurity drives us to plot every, single, tiny detail of what we want to accomplish. Then life happens and we are discouraged by unfulfilled plans. Choose the books you hope to use, but refrain from scheduling specific page numbers. An outline gives a general idea of what you would like to accomplish over time, but wait until the end of today’s lessons to fill in the details for tomorrow.
You can wear out an eraser, moving your lessons back another day. Planning too far in advance can be an exercise in frustration, especially in the skill areas. Children are unpredictable in their learning spurts and plateaus. For example, plan to practice reading. Have a list of books ordered by difficulty, but wait to assign specific page numbers to specific days or you may rush a reluctant reader or hinder a child who is ready to zoom ahead.
Maintain flexibility after you have planned. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” In an instant, God may change your plans dramatically (or subtly). Take comfort in knowing that you have been diligent to plan. Be assured, knowing that every day has already been ordained by God for your good.
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Originally published January 7, 2010. Used with permission. Homeschooling Today® magazine, P.O. Box 244, Abingdon, VA 24212.