Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Helping Kiddo Manage His Learning

We're trying something new at Funschooling Academy. We're trying to help kiddo take more ownership over his learning. I might say I wish I'd thought of this sooner but I can't. I think a child needs to attain a certain age or maturity to be ready for a responsibility like this. It just wouldn't have been reasonable to expect this of him when he was 8.5, for example.

Now at 9 however, the boy seems to be ready to handle this.  Once quite an easy-going child about listening to Mom's plans, he is becoming a lot more insistent on things being done his way and I want to respect that. And I want to ensure he continues to have plenty of time to play and tinker and think about his various interests.

These are the steps we're taking as we try to make this plan work:

1. What to include. To begin, I needed some insight on what is important for kiddo to learn right now. So we started by looking at what he wants to learn and why. Next, we looked at what his Dad and I want him to learn and why. Finally, we pared down the three lists to the very essentials. I further divided the essentials into parts because it helps me to plan better this way. For example, when I list "science", I tend to forget about experiments, for example. I created this chart using MS Excel to help me remember what to plan for every week. The printed chart is placed on our fridge for easy reference.

2. Flexible targets. Until kiddo has the maturity to set his own targets, I will fill the chart with a reasonable weekly overview of work to be completed. I will work on it a week at a time. This overview needs to be simple and predictable so that neither of us feels stressed about unexpected deadlines. It needs to be open-ended so that we can drop everything for a day and go attend an interesting talk or take a field trip 60 miles away, for example. Yet, it needs to be meaningfully significant enough that kiddo learns the value of having free time after working hard.

To set a weekly target, I look at how much work kiddo is usually able to complete in a day. I then multiply it by three. We follow a four-day learning week (and take the fifth to visit friends/ the library/ park days/ attend classes etc.). So for example, if kiddo is able to finish one math section a day, I target three sections for the week. This allows him to use the extra day to complete one more section and feel as if he accomplished more than planned. Or it gives him the flexibility to use the extra day for living math learning, playing math games/ puzzles or spend the day reviewing what was learned. Or he could take that day off and pursue one of his many projects.

If you follow a more rigorous schedule than we do, you might look at how many sections each resource has and divide the work accordingly into 36 weeks or something like that. We, however, like to skip around too much so very detailed planning won't work for us. :)

3.Tools. While I help with the weekly targets sheet, kiddo will be in charge of the daily planning. His job is to break up one week's targets into manageable daily chunks and this is where I think he will learn most about being organized and responsible about his learning. I deliberated awhile over what tool to use for this. His Dad felt we should utilize an online planning tool. I felt kiddo wasn't ready to use an online tool on a consistent basis. Besides, I haven't come across an online tool that can tell us at a glance what he has completed and what he has coming without printing it all out on several sheets of paper. I use the free Skedtrack website for record-keeping and Skedtrack has planning and student log-in functionality but we don't always have connectivity when we're out and about.

I think it very important to have a clear, visual snapshot of how much he's learned. So for now, he'll be using a plain ol'2011-2012 planner that I bought at a bookstore for about $10. It's spiral bound and can be flipped and folded over and placed on his table right next to his computer. It's small enough to be popped into my tote bag or his backpack too. Easy.

4. Time. This may be the most challenging step of all. Challenging for me, I mean. I need to be patient and give kiddo time to make this work. We've set aside Sunday evenings to record the weekly target and then have him decide on his daily targets and write them into his planner. Throughout the learning week, I'm focusing on baby steps and gentle reminders but I hope he won't need to be reminded too often once he sees the benefits of having a say over the planning (what gets done when), keeping track of work completed and having the rest of the day free to do the things that excite him. Today, for example, it worked really well. He knew in advance what he (and not just Mom) had planned for the day and even added an extra task so he'd be done with it sooner.

5. Motivation. To be honest, I don't think this strategy will work without a child's buy-in. Before there's buy-in, the child has to know why he's learning Subject X, also, why he's being put in charge of planning his day. I feel very strongly that if a child doesn't have a say over "the what", he will not have any passion to see-through the "when"s and the "how"s. That's why I don't see this method working for curriculum that uses a lot of busywork or subjects that are not meaningful or interesting to the child. There's something to be said about a child excitedly filling in his planner for learning activities as opposed to a child filling it in because it's required of him or not knowing why he's doing it.

I've tried other ways of planning and I think I like this one a lot better. It's simpler and neater somehow. I honestly hope this works for us. I would also love to know if you are already using something like this in your home school and how's it's played out for you.

PS: I still manage the assignment blog I'd written about here but these days, instead of using it to assign work, I use it as a bookmarks blog for the online resources kiddo uses the most. I save the blog's URL on kiddo's favorites list (on IE) and the bookmarks toolbar (on Firefox) for a quick two-click access to his favorite sites.


  1. Sounds like a great system - I'll look forward to hearing how it goes.

    I'm *so* glad you have a kid just a bit older than mine (who is 8 1/2) so you can test-drive these things.

    We have a similar week to yours - I plan for 3 "full" learning days, often spread across 4 days, with a day out or day off planned. So far, though, I do all of the scheduling / long term planning. We us a variety of resources that my son picks from each day, and I mostly don't worry about making linear progress. I do try to keep track over the long term, though, and as he gets older the progress matters more to me. That's pushed me to do more record-keeping, both to see what we've worked through (which can suggest what's next or what we've missed) and to have as a reference as his younger brothers grow up!

  2. Hi Stephanie! Thanks for stopping by. It never fails to amaze me how something that wouldn't have worked a week ago works great a week later lol. :)

  3. From what you've said, I really think kiddo is ready for this. I can see it working well for you. We've used variations on this at various times, and it works for us too. ie when we're in an academic cycle :)

  4. Sounds like a really good system. As you have pointed out, the child's buy-in is very important for it to become a collaborative system. Tiger is too young to take the lead at the moment but he has a copy of the same plans that I do so that both of us know what is expected to be done in each week. I have a few years to go yet before we are at your stage, so I am very keen to learn from your experience. :-)


Comments are moderated and I will approve your comment as soon as I can. Thanks for taking the time to write a note!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...