Another Method of Scheduling: The File Box System
by D. S. German
Dani German is a homeschool graduate and mother of four. She attended college in Switzerland, married shortly thereafter, and now resides in South Carolina. Besides teaching her children, she is currently working on her first novel.
Over the years, I have been asked by new homeschoolers just what our typical school day is like. Many homeschoolers worry about the actual scheduling and planning out of their school day — often because they think they aren’t “doing it right.” In reality, there is no “right” way that suits each and every family. We all must discover the best way to schedule and carry out our own school day.
I would like to share with you the way in which our family does it, in hope that this will help you think through your own home school day. Rather than work with time periods in which to do a subject (i.e., “Today we’ll do grammar from 10-10:30 and then history from 10:30-11″), I have found it very productive for us to use page goals instead. When we originally started homeschooling, we set aside a specific amount of time to do each subject. The time allotment was determined by the child’s age and ability (much as described in The Well Trained Mind). The problem? My children found it difficult to leave an assignment half finished and move on to another subject when the allotted time was up. I also found it much too easy to scrap school for the day when things came up (as they always do!) With no real goal mapped out in terms of material we needed to cover, there was no motivation to stay on track and complete school for the day. I found it way too tempting to say, “We’ll just skip that and do it tomorrow.”
I am a goal-oriented person (and I’m finding out that my children are that way as well). There is nothing so satisfying to me as crossing off a completed task on the “to do” list! It gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I realized that for us to stay on track with our schoolwork, I was going to have to write out some goals for us to reach on a daily basis. I will confess that this does take me extra time, but the rewards are great!
I use a 3×5 card file box filled with lined cards. I put a tab on one card for each of the children, labeling it with their name. In our case, the first section of the file box is labelled “Joel,” the second “Olivia,” the third “Zachary,” and the fourth “Reed.” I also have sections labelled “History/Science” and “Memory Work.”
I schedule our schoolwork for a month at a time. At the beginning of the month, I plan out how much we will cover in the subjects we do together — history, science, and memory work. We do history on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with science being done on Tuesday and Thursday. In the “History/Science” section of my file box, I write out a specific assignment for the two subjects for each day of the week. I label the cards: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, etc. On each card, I list the weeks history and/or science assignments. A sample card might look like this:
Week 3: Ancient History / Animal Science
Read Usborne Book of World History, pgs. 22-23, do narration pages and map work.
Read Tutankhamun to page 12
Read Tutankhamun to page 30, put dates on timeline.
Finish Tutankhamun, do narration page.
Read Character Sketches, pgs. 365-370, do narration page [This is an animal science text that we've chosen to use for life science].
Read Character Sketches, pgs. 371-375.
When I state “Do narration page,” the children know this means that the youngest children will narrate to me and copy the narrations back onto their drawing, while the oldest two write out their summarizations by themselves. They also know that my oldest son is required to do a much lengthier summarization than his sister.
In the “Memory Work” section, I write out any poetry, lists, etc that need to be memorized each month. I label these cards: Month 1, Month 2, etc. (I find it easier to plan out memory work a month at a time, rather than a week at a time, since it might take a child more than a week to memorize an assigned piece.) A sample memory work card might read:
MEMORY WORK MONTH 2
“The Moon” by Robert Louis Stevenson
The books of the Bible
Then I make daily assignment cards for each child. I write the date at the top of one card for each child for each day. Then I list the subjects that each child must do, in the order that I wish for them to do it. I have planned the order out so that we can avoid everyone needing one-on-one attention with mom all at the same time. (That plan works most of the time.) After each subject, I list the page or assignment goal that each child must reach for that day. The children all know exactly what is expected of them each day and can cross off the assignments as they go through them. (For those of you doing MOTH, you will need to figure out a realistic time allotment for all schoolwork to be completed and then block out that amount of time on your schedule, labeling it “School.” If my children do not finish the day’s work during the “School” block of time, then they must work on it during one of their free periods.)
Here is a sample of what our cards look like:
History, Week 3
Memory Work, Month 2
Saxon lesson 71
WWJD, Chap. 25 [Bible curriculum]
Explode the Code pg. 90
Spelling B pg. 120
English 2 pgs. 99-101
Handwriting 3 pg. 54
When Joel takes this card out from behind the “Joel” tab on Monday, he has all of his assignments lined up for him. For “History” and “Memory Work,” he will refer to the cards I’ve made and filed in the “History/Science” and “Memory Work” sections of the file boks. The purpose of this is to save me having to write out the same history, science, and memory assignment over and over for each child; you could follow this plan for any subject that your children do together (Latin, logic, etc.). The cards also serve as a permanent plan/record of our rotation through history and science. This sould come in very handy for the mother of many children; she would not have to plan it all out agin for the younger children coming along in the future.
It will take some time to figure out what each of your children is capable of doing at one time. I started out by writing down what I would like for them to do and then adjusted my goals to better suit their abilities. If I find that one child is zipping through a subject without much effort, it may be time to add a bit more work to be done each day. On the other hand, I may find that a child begins to struggle with a particular subject and we need to slow that one way down. There have been times that my daughter needed more math review than what was provided for in the text. I try to anticipate this and plan for it, but that is not always possible. On occasion, I have had to cross out the planned assignments and write in some review work for a week or two.
There needs to be discernment on the part of the parent as to whether or not a child is really struggling or is just lazy. That is easier said than done! But since we have been scheduling out our school assignments in this way, I have noticed more of a determination and drive in each of my children to complete the tasks set before them. Would you believe than most evenings I will find one or two of the kids in the schoolroom working on the next day’s work so that they can get ahead? They will have their assignment card out, looking over the things that they can do on their own. (I have a rule that they can do as much schoolwork as they want to in the evenings but I am done for the day!)
This method also keeps me disciplined and on track. I hate to get behind. When we are tempted to dispense with school for the day, I think about how the next month will be thrown out of kilter. Am I willing for that to happen? Never! Sometimes we may skip a day and then make up for it on Saturday. At other times, we double up school on one day so we can have a “play” day the next. Either way, what we need to be doing is getting done.
At the end of our school day, I collect all of the 3×5 cards for that day and write out what each child completed in my teacher plan book. (Our state requires daily records of attendance and work completed.) This takes me all of five minutes to do. I use a different colored pen for each of the children as I write their work in my plan book. You could also just file away the 3×5 cards as a record. But the plan book makes for a nice colorful record of all that we have accomplished each week. I will say, that ever since reading The Well Trained Mind my plan book pages are much fuller than they were before.
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