Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Montessori Homeschool Schedule and Work Boxes

The last two months have been a time of transition for us. We typically start our new school year with Advent (the first Sunday of the new liturgical year for our church). While he started to tell people he is now in 4th grade and he's 9, Legoboy is one (wanting to be) confused little boy!

He is 8. But during this study of ancient civilizations we came across the Chinese belief that life starts at... conception. Ok, perhaps that's not so novel. What is novel about this teaching is how it is applied: the child is counted as being alive since conception, hence 9 months old (even 1 year old) at the time of birth! So Legoboy knows he began life in August and after 4 years running of being 5 years old (an age he wanted to be forever), he is now firmly decided that he is 9 and has been 9 since August. And indeed, I certainly now have more than 9 years of memories of this beautiful little boy, having seen him for the first time 9 years ago in early September!
(note on the link above - I can't find the book where we read that, and I am having trouble finding solid information on the internet about the belief - this article was the one that explained it the most, but it's not entirely my preferred article either - just saying: that's NOT the article Legoboy read!)

Well, so back to that time of transition - I had a LOT on my plate, we were just coming off of 3 months of non-stop sheer craziness of roller coaster experiences (I hate roller coasters, by the way) - and we just didn't get our new year in gear... until today! (this is being scheduled a bit out from the time I actually write this ;) )

Some background: 
Legoboy has been working with a weekly and a 2-weekly plan for 3 years now. At age 5 1/2 we started on a weekly plan, but it really more of laying out the plan for the week, then either at the beginning of the week or the beginning of each day, marking with an appropriate letter what was expected each day of the week. He had the option of doing more in each area as well, which he routinely did, but he was also learning how to budget his time, earn free time, get his responsibilities fulfilled, all while I was right there helping him.

By age 7, we were creating the weekly or 2-weekly work plan and he would rarely need to ask for guidance on what to do and when - he had the plan, we'd already discussed it, he knew the expectations and he had his personal research. There were times I would do as my training and theory albums suggests and ask during our planning sessions, "When do you plan to work on this?" or "What is your plan for this project?" and provide feedback based on his answer. If it's a great idea, call it what it is. If he has a not so great plan ("I'll do that one on the last day of the week" - translation: I am putting that one off because "I don't really want to do it" OR "I am putting it off because I need help and I don't know how to ask for the help I need despite my insistence that I don't need help"), then I provide a suggestion or even a requirement: "It is Monday 9AM; this particular aspect of the project or this math practice (or whatever it is) needs to be done by 2PM Tuesday." or "Let's meet about (this thing that is troublesome) at 1 pm on Wednesday and we will work on it together." I am telling him at that point that I am helping, not asking him.

This has worked well for almost 2 years! But I think he's hitting that odd pre-puberty thing that boys hit around age 9. Yeah. HARD. Oh the Rebellion! He still has a heart of gold, but there is a new creature living in that body!

So here we are at 8 1/2, re-adjusting how we do our Montessori work plan yet again. I love following the child - not a dull moment! During this transition time, he needs a lot more hand-holding, but at the same time, he needs to prove his independence, while continuing to cultivate proper relationship skills and practical skills to have a strong foundation for the adolescent years ahead (did I just think 'adolescent' and 'my son' in the same sentence? Oh, I'm going to cry.).

So here is what we spent 4 hours working out: 

Legoboy wants a specific structure. So we created a quick and easy chart: 

DAILY: We have listed the subjects that must be covered every day. This includes both new lessons and continuing the work himself (ie reading analysis would count under "Language" here). We went through our scope and sequences (ours are fully-detailed excel spreadsheets, organized by ages), selected and printed just what we wanted to accomplish in the next 2 months, worked out what would need to be done and approximately how often. He selected to do most subjects daily, figuring that even he does 20 minutes each day on sentence analysis for example, it will "keep it fresh" (his words!). 

WEEKLY: Next, we have the subjects that must be covered at least one day each week. This usually entails specifically doing something NEW or more intense or another nuance - not just repeating the same work (he is moving towards upper elementary when desired repetition is a thing of the past but is still very necessary. For this month, that includes a Latin lesson, performing a piano lesson for me (whether he moves ahead to the next lesson or not), and selecting a big chore or project to do around our home. 

DAILY PRACTICE: Then there are things under daily practice - that could very well be nothing new at all; current month's items here include: piano practice, Latin flashcards he creates during the weekly Latin lesson, tae-kwon-do practice, speech practice, some form of art (he currently has a cross-stitch project in-progress, is working on his own version of a Book of Kells, and frequently looks to learn other skills - this way, he has built-in time each day to develop these skills). 

With this plan in mind, we will still create a weekly or 2-weekly work-plan to show what the goals are for the coming 5-12 days as well as to evaluate the work done in the previous 5-12 days - see where we are in the scope and sequence, what should be practiced more, what areas we want to go more intense with and select a new biology or geometry topic (we are reviewing these subjects by topic area, now we've done the full albums, we'll review each area in-serious-depth and see where it takes us). 

     I am sometimes asked my thoughts on monthly work-plans. I personally and professionally cannot, in my hear, recommend them for any child younger than a mature upper elementary. Why? Because there is a longer time period to "see" the results of one's planning. There is a greater responsibility and maturity gained from making plans and seeing them through; evaluating and adjusting, with more immediate feedback. That is why we adults will look to the next semester or set of months, then make our plans for about the next month, then sit with the child to focus on the next *week*, and depending on the child's needs, let's just focus on each day, but the child is still visually exposed to the weekly plans - not the rest of it - that is too much for a 6 year old to truly learn from. Now at almost age 9, Legoboy is getting towards upper elementary and is ready to see the scope and sequence plans I have, but I *only* print out the sections that I think we can feasibly do in the next 2-3 months -- and even then we might not finish one area, but go far beyond in another area. 
     With that said, I find that 6 year olds without a work-plan at all, are missing out on a *huge* piece of Montessori elementary. See this upcoming post for more information. 

We have always held to a daily routine, which is difficult to put onto paper at times because every day is different. For now, we finally have some morning consistency because Sunday mornings are our only morning out-of-the-home commitments (starting in February we have twice-monthly Monday morning homeschool classes at a local-ish museum, which we will then count as "morning work cycle" for those days). Afternoon activities might be more work time, or speech, or tae-kwon-do or atrium. 

Finally, we have reached an age where the workbox system is much more readily modified into a Montessori environment. Others have modified Montessori to make the workbox system fit; we've modified the workbox system to fit elementary Montessori. Essentially we have ONE box (could be two or three), with the usual supplies needed for the day and for the week - it is essentially the "hard-copy" of the work-plan. If a larger material is required, those can be placed nearby, or noted on that week's work-plan and he knows to go gather the materials. This works great for those pre-puberty boys are losing EVERYTHING, ALL, THE, TIME. 

At primary age, we would do something similar when traveling, in a backpack, to keep skills going. Or if I were sick or had a big project and wanted him "occupied" he'd have a planned out box to go to if he had nothing in mind. Typically, he didn't use it ;) In elementary, if he were to be spending the day with another homeschooling family or when I traveled for a week for a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training, I packed him up a box and a notebook with a list of assignments we created together - enough to keep him busy when needed, but if it didn't get done the world wouldn't come to an end. 

But now, he developed this solution to keep us on-task and not "forgetting" to do things each week. We have one place to store the small items that are used daily. Like the tae-kwon-do breaking boards, the books we want to read together this week, pencils and erasers and sharpeners in a nice pouch not buried in his desk somewhere, but actually available ;) The clipboard with the work-plan. It might hold the Life of Fred book we are currently reading. 

So there's our January plan. We'll see how it holds into February!


  1. Very helpful post! How do you feel about a 5.5 year old having a work plan? I always do language and math with Janessa everyday, but wanted to know if it would be appropriate to do a formal work plan with her.

    I noticed starting a work cycle is difficult for her.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. I started a simplistic work plan with Legoboy when he was about 5 1/2 - just on paper - we'd discuss general goals for the week, plans for the week, write out on a calendar was happening on each day (which days I had to work and he would be with a friend or coming to a Montessori school with me; which days to do errands; etc); then each morning I had little chore/school picture cards in one basket that I'd remove what needed to be done that day and place into another small basket for him. He had to do those ones and place them in a 3rd basket, and he could choose other cards from the "full" basket and place those (when completed) in the 3rd basket as well. We then discussed what he'd done at the end of the day, or sometimes the next morning. Just a beginning to planning and follow-through.

      During that school year, I long-term subbed at a school and he spent 3 months in one of the school's primary classes. The teacher had a chart only for the oldest in the class, with a grid on it - each square of the grid was probably 2 inches wide, with a velcro circle in the middle. She then had a set of baskets containing activity picture cards with corresponding velcro on the back - a basket with movable alphabet pictures; a basket with a picture of the reader books they used; a basket with a picture of the bead cabinet; one of the golden beads; I forget what else - there were about 10. She "assigned" something in math and language to the children every day; then one additional thing pertinent to that child. They were placed on the child's card before they arrived. When the completed the activity and showed it to her, they could remove the picture and replace it to its basket. They could also choose other picture cards to remind them later in the day of things they wanted to work on. If they didn't finish those, they could leave them for the next day - but it was on their card, not a material left out. They HAD to finish what she assigned.

      For those children there full-day, I think it was a good introduction to responsibility for them. :)

  2. I replied to a comment in my blog telling you I was going to pay you a visit and I just realized I already read this post before!!!! So here I am again!!!!! You have a lovely blog!!!! Thank you!!!