Checklists. Many of us have a love-hate relationship with checklists. We love when we get to check off an item — done! Yay! We hate when we don’t get to check off an item on that list — ugh. Failure.
Whether we like it or not, checklists are, for many of us, a necessary part of lesson planning: a way to keep track of what we need to do, what our kids need to do, what has been done, and what has not. If you’re homeschooling multiple children, checklists are essential. However, we can easily fall into the trap of feeling as if we are slaves to the list. And we certainly want to avoid having a checklist mentality when it comes to teaching and learning. Ideally, we want our kids to enjoy the process of learning (at least sometimes!) and not just get the work over with. More importantly, we want to set an example for our children that nurturing relationships are more important than completing tasks.
Over my many years of homeschooling, I’ve come up with as system that has allowed us to use checklists without being stressed out by them. Here’s what we do:
To begin with, I give each child a worklist for the week. The weekly worklist is basically the same for the entire school year, with minor changes made as needed. Here are some sample work lists:
In addition, I give my kids subject lesson plans for any subject that needs them. They usually get subject lesson plans for history, science, and math. These go into the front of each subject’s notebook or binder. This way, my kids can easily refer to these plans to know what they need to do each day for that subject. Most of my subject lesson plans are available (for free!) under the Lesson Plans tab on the top of the home page. Mother of Divine Grace homeschool also offers single subject lesson plans, as does Catholic Heritage Curricula (for some of their texts.) All the Apologia science journals include lesson plans.
As an example, here’s the first page of our fourth grade science lesson plans:
Some subjects or workbooks are so straightforward that no lesson plans are needed. My kids simply need to do one lesson per day or two pages per day in the text or workbook (depending on the subject). This is usually the case for Latin, grammar, religion, or drawing.
The only two subjects that I write out assignments for on a daily basis are spelling and writing. I give my children a spelling lesson from All About Spelling on Mondays and Wednesdays. At the end of each lesson, I write out their assignment for the following day on a sticky note, which I place inside their spelling book. This assignment is usually to practice or self-quiz words from their spelling list and to practice writing sentences from the dictation page.
For writing, we use books or videos from Excellence in Writing. Since writing assignments vary from week to week, I jot down their writing assignment directly on the worklist at the beginning of each week. As the kids get older, I let them plan out their writing homework, with the stipulation that they write it down on their worklist and turn in a polished writing assignment by the end of the week.
What are the advantages to this system?
First, the kids know exactly what they need to complete each day and week. Managing expectations plays an important role in helping your kids to be responsible and compliant. Once kids know what to expect and know that you will stick them to it, there is less arguing over assignments. Instead of asking you if they can skip math fifty times, they might only ask you five times. 😉
Second, I have found that my older children like to work ahead. Having a checklist helps them manage their time.
Third, I don’t need to write lesson plans at the end of each day or week. This is a huge time saver. I know some moms who spend every Sunday afternoon writing lesson plans. Other moms spend 40-60 minutes writing lesson plans at the end of each day. If I spent even ten minutes each day writing plans for five kids, that would amount to fifty minutes per day just lesson planning. And so much of it would be redundant. In a year, how many times would I have to write Do grammar, p. x-x?
Fourth, these lesson plans easily roll over. Life happens, right? Kids get sick, appliances break, you run out of milk or toilet paper and have to make a dash to the store. All sorts of things happen each week that can interrupt the school day. It happens in regular schools, too. When I taught highschool, there were always disruptions to the schedule: teacher enrichment day, student assemblies, fund raisers, retreats, and fire drills. Last year, from January to March, not a single week went by at my daughter’s highschool without a special event that truncated her schedule. So we have to expect the unexpected, plan for the unplanned, and make room for special events.
Roll over lesson plans allow us to make quick and easy adjustments to our schedule. When our basement flooded last winter, I didn’t have to write new lesson plans or checklists. I just crossed off the assignments for the day (my kids love that!) and those assignments rolled over to the next day or week. (We spent the rest of the day pulling up carpet and cleaning up the mess.) When we have a doctor’s appointment, I cross out a few subjects which, again, simply roll over to the next day. I don’t have to re-write checklists/plans everytime we have a special event or the unexpected crops up.
I also leave ample room in our schedule for the rolling over of assignments. Fridays are half-days, so I sometimes push assignments over to Friday. But I also plan on a 34 week school year, so there’s room at the end of the year for “catching up”.
Combining weekly checklists with single subject lesson plans gives us a lot of structure and flexibility. The structure allows kids to work independently and saves the me a lot of time. The flexibility gives us freedom from the checklist mentality, so we can roll with whatever comes our way with grace and good humor. And perhaps, in the end, that’s one important lesson kids can’t learn from books. They can only learn it from our example.
Have any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments box. 🙂