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.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Work Plan - Balancing Freedom and Responsibility

One more work plan post - then I promise to start posting about our journals :)

MBT over at What DID We Do All Day? has put up some posts that have generated quite a hubbub of conversation. (what would we all do if MBT shut down her computer??? ;) )

Part of the conversation in the comments on the posts, as well as private e-mails with individuals, have revealed a few more questions....

The main one being - how controlling are these work plans?

The answer is... Follow the Child.

I'm not very creative on that one, huh? ;)

What follows are totally random thoughts as I sort through e-mails, past blog posts on work plans, the current ones with their ensuing conversations, and questions raised in elementary training.

I will try to organize these thoughts, but in case I run out of time, I wanted them out of my head at least! ;)

Here's the thing - I personally homeschool and I personally chose Montessori (whether school or homeschool) because I want to live in a structured environment that can handle spontaneity. Thus, I have chosen to Montessori homeschool so that we can live out moments like this:
LEGOS!!!!! Yes, we really LIKE our UPS man here! 

His goofy smile - when he's the MOST excited!
Um. The work plan is out the window for the *rest* of the day!
Although he'll still do his daily stuff at some point. 

Structure: For a child just starting out, you'll provide as much structure as they need to assure that all subject areas are being covered in some manner at some point - the details are up to YOU, your environment, your child.

Individualized: Every subject every day is unrealistic and does not provide near enough depth. But however you rotate through a week or a month, or work in blocks - no-one can plan that out ahead of time for a child unknown to them; hence work-plans that are already set up for "February cover these things" - are most likely not going to work because your child might be ahead or behind in varying subjects.

Freedom and Responsibility: We want the child to still continue to choose their own work and not be locked into this work plan/contract dictating their every move and interest. HOWEVER, it should also be built according to their needs as well as their interests, which in elementary don't just always correspond.
3rd year elementary example: Legoboy needs more work in decimal fractions; but is much more interested in history (it's always history around here!) - thus our work plan balances "this specific presentation in decimal fractions on Tuesday or Wednesday"; "enough follow-up to truly master the concept" (this can't be checked off until it is mastered); "possible new presentation if ready"; and what he tells me are the next things he plans to do in history for the week - "I'd like to look for books on the Vikings at the library" - "I would like to look up more information about the evidence for monasteries in North America before Columbus arrived". These are specific, but also child-led.)

Responsibility with freedom. Freedom with responsibility. 

THE BASIC DEFINITION: Essentially, we are at first taking their primary level "morning planning in my head" that they did, and putting it on paper or some other visual format. We are not DICTATING at this point as much as getting them visually organized.

Work Plan as External Order: Remember at the second plane of development, they have internalized the order they've had around them during the primary years, for good or bad, and an elementary child is outwardly "messier" than the primary child. THUS, the work plan is one place to have that outward order in place. Something to show the order that is in their minds.

Plus there are simply expectations of elementary children we just didn't have for primary children (local educational requirements and the like).

Meetings and Nuances: Most of the nuances of the work plan/contract - no matter the format you choose - is going to be in your meeting/discussion. The children should know they have these requirements but they should also be verbalizing their mental plans with you so those things can be noted. They should also have enough freedom to learn the consequences for their work choices - the good, the bad, and the ugly!
(I worked hard Monday through Wednesday - I have Thursday and Friday as light days; vs. I slacked off Monday and Tuesday, and now Wed/Thurs/Fri are going to be harder ---- these sorts of things should be worked out in a loving manner with the adults involved, so that lesson is learned but spirits aren't quelled - best done in homeschools ;) ).

Type of Requirements: The requirements can be vague (something in "math - squaring") or very specific (Math - squaring/cubing - Game 3A) - and usually a combination of both. I might have 2 presentations to give to my son in history this week, but he is expected to do something more with it of his own choosing; or he is expected to follow-up with a previous presentation.

Verbally discuss the plan for the day/week: We can ask the child to plan his day - not everything needs a particular time, but to say, "When do you plan to work on Game 3A? Let's plan a time so I can make sure I am available to show you." Now, this could be "after I am done with XYZ" or it could be "Tuesday at 1 pm or so, when the baby is down for nap".

Working beyond the plan/contract: Then the child is expected to find additional work to do - again, this needs to be emphasized within the environmental set-up, which includes the conversations and nuances with the adult. That just because they have done one bead chain, doesn't stop them from doing much more.

Work plans should match the child: My problem with reading and seeing such examples as a child NOT doing another bead chain because they've already "checked it off" - is that those are the children who have the wrong kind of work plan for their needs. They need something that will set them off to do MORE work, while assuring they have a base minimum of variety. There is a clear mis-match AND the adult has not set up the proper environment.

MBT has a neat system where if her boys work heavily with something, they could see it disappear off their plan for the rest of the week. In terms of a written work plan, such as the one I posted yesterday, if there are 5 boxes to checkmark, they could mark off all 5 in one day! (in which case, I might ask for something to be followed up later in the week or to move on to the next presentation in that sequence, just to keep things going).

Routine check-ins: Hence, in the beginning we want to check in throughout the day; then at least daily. As homeschooling parents, unless we have very large families or lots of other commitments, we will probably touch base every day; in schools or those with very large families/commitments, it might be touching base with each child 2-3 times a week. At least through lower elementary and possibly into upper elementary; older children might do a longer-span work plan and officially check in with it once a week. Throughout all of that, you are still going to be involved, so it's not like you don't know what they are doing  and can offer guidance along the way.

Areas of Interest are included or not - usually both: A child should also be working in his areas of interests - perhaps those are planned in (once your daily stuff is done, you work on your own items; or you work on your own project for the morning and the afternoon is the required stuff; or you don't have to say anything; OR if there is something your child needs, such as a trip to the library, you write that on the work plan - "Thursday morning: library").

Daily requirements???
Depending on your work plan style, yes a child could foreseeably do nothing but math on Monday, nothing but language on Tuesday, etc. And if that works for the child - GREAT!

But typically we do have a very tiny number of items that are daily (but are also generic - just something that meets my definition of real work (see yesterday's post) must done in these areas each and every day) - in our home, it is daily math skills, piano, tae-kwon-do practice, drawing, and Latin practice.

Our Montessori, spontaneous, work-plan organized crazy thing we call life: 
Back to those Legos above? It was mid-morning when they'd arrived; he had already done some of his daily stuff, and started on a project in history. I let him spend 20 minutes or so exploring the box and its contents, long enough to decide he really wanted to set everything else aside for at least a few hours. He then spent some time cleaning things up he'd gotten out; then finishing up a few chores so he wouldn't have to stop to do them later. He made himself some lunch to have on hand so he could keep building. Then he DELVED right in!

He had time to spend with it; then made some proper plans so he could spend longer with it; executed those plans; and had one HAPPY day!

I attribute almost all of that to Montessori and a good deal of it to the process of working with an adaptable work plan and journal system that taught him those skills of organization, planning, follow-through, consequences (he could work for 4 hours on those legos, but then be hungry and grumpy, having "missed" lunch - so he prepared ahead of time (I would have made him something at the proper time, but HE thought to make his own food for himself and not "burden" someone else with the task of waiting on him - thoughtfulness! Now, I did have to bring him water later - he'd forgotten to get that ;) )) - and again:

Freedom and Responsibility in action. 

One more time because I LOVE this smile! 


  1. Oh My! That smile makes my heart so happy! GREAT photo! GREAT kid!

    My computer HAS an off button? This changes EVERYTHING.

    Great post!

    Odd tidbit, this week Me Too asked to "do the chart in my head." He would close his eyes and say "next on my list is....three reading lessons!" Later "next on my list is...addition charts." Then he used the work plan as a work journal instead and inserted cards that reflected what he did. I think doing the chart for a couple weeks helped him internalize what my expectations are of him but he prefers to implement that in whatever way gives HIM the most control. Next week it will probably change again. I like how your post emphasizes how individual it has to be and how changeable it has to be. I also liked what you mentioned in one of the comments on my blog when you said that clarification must be done with the children in conversation. I feel like in modeling a certain attitude and language about the work I train their language and attitude about it. The boys have more of a "lets see how far we can get" approach rather than a "how much do we have to do" approach.

    1. There is no power button, it's a figment of your imagination ;)

      Perfect labels on the approaches. "Let's see how far we can get" - with my son is similar: "let's see how deep I can go!" (same idea - developing great work habits and develops joy in work :) )

  2. I love that smile too and it is nice to see a post including pictures of Lego Boy! Wonderful new to me information, and I am getting a better understanding on how Work Plans are developed while following the child. Thank you for sharing and I am looking forward to reading your post on journals.

    1. Tuesday! It's coming!

      I am drafting another now, with some more photographs of samples. :)