Why Lesson Plans Don’t Work

by ChristinaPilkington on May 21, 2011 · 0 comments

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When I was a teacher I was required to keep lesson plans-detailed lesson plans that outlined every page we would read, every writing assignment I’d give to the kids and every new vocabulary word we’d learn that week. In theory, this seems smart, right?  It’s a good thing to plan ahead for what you want to accomplish, to give focus and structure to your day, right?

The problem with lesson plans is that they don’t revolve around you. They’re supposed to be outlining what OTHERS will do. Now, I’m a planning person by nature. I love to have goals, but I understand the importance of flexibility and that priorities shift, even hourly sometimes.  I like to have a big picture of what’s important to me, but I know that if I don’t accomplish my plan each day than there’s a reason and purpose for it.

Schools, and often many homeschooling families, want to plan out an entire week or even year’s lessons ahead of time. They want to say what will take place and when it will take place; they want to stick with the plan and feel “behind” if they don’t. Their “plans” often come from a curriculum program that doesn’t have individual children’s interests or strengths in mind.

It’s impossible to plan in detail what your child will learn even a few days from now; if you try to stick with the plan you’ll either be frustrated at how life changes those plans or you’ll miss the wonderful, spontaneous opportunities that come along the way.

Lesson plans often don’t take into account your child’s interests.  I know when my children are interested in a subject it’s not a superficial or fleeting knowledge; they learn deeply and that knowledge becomes a part of them.  Many homeschooling families decide on topics in the beginning of the traditional school year. They might decide their children will learn about the Civil War, rocks and minerals, Charles Dickens, how to write a persuasive essay and the solar system. They do tons of research and gather lots of materials.

Then in a few months when it’s time to start studying rocks and minerals, their children don’t want to study it. It’s a constant fight every day since the parents have spent so much time planning and spent so much money on materials that it seems like a waste of time and money to give it up.  In the meantime, the children might be enamored with the tadpoles down at the river or the new series of historical fiction that came out and want to spend a lot of time learning those topics.

OPTION: Keep a journal of your child’s interests and talents. The best way to do this is observe them at play when they’re younger or listen to what they like to talk, write about or do when they’re older. If they seem curious about a topic, write it down and be on the lookout for resources or events that might expand their knowledge of that topic.  You might want to download the free sample chapter from my upcoming e-book, A Thrift Store Curriculum, for more ideas. Go to the home page of this site, enter your name and e-mail and I’ll send you the chapter.  

Lesson Plans leave no room for the unexpected. I write down things I’d like to accomplish for the week on Sundays. I think about all the important areas of my life and write down things I’d like to accomplish. I focus on those goals, but I don’t have a daily to do list, unless it’s something that absolutely must be done that day, like meeting deadlines or appointments. I’m also on the lookout for even better opportunities that come up unexpectedly that might help me reach my goals in an even better way than I might have planned.

When you plan ahead for what your child WILL learn, you don’t take into account the plans and goals they have for themselves.  It’s great to have things you want for your child, to have dreams and wishes for them, but they must mesh well with what your child wants too, with their own goals for themselves. When you have set plans that you WILL stick with NO MATTER WHAT, and then you won’t be open to spontaneous, going-out-on-a-tangent conversations with your kids, you won’t drop everything to see that new exhibit or go to that festival, and you won’t let your child practice and immerse himself in a new skill he’s developed for hours and hours if he wants.

OPTION: Buy one of those calendars with the big squares and write down fun opportunities.  I write down any parades, fairs, exhibits, programs, concerts, art exhibits, new stores or places we’ve never been to, and hundreds of other fun ideas that come my way. Then the week before we look at the calendar and decide if anything sounds fun to do for the following week. We might even invite someone else to go with us. The calendar is also good for days when you’re just looking for something different to do.

I’d also suggest keeping a list of resources you’ve purchased that your kids might enjoy. Keep it taped to the refrigerator so on the days when everyone’s in a funk, you can look at the list for inspiration. If you’d like to introduce new topics and subjects to your children, then the list is a great way to remind you of what you’d like to show them. This way you have a plan for things you’d like to do, but you’re not tied down to completing things on specific days or feeling like you’re “behind” if you don’t get to do something.

In my next post, I’ll share three more reasons why lesson plans don’t work. If you’d like to keep up on the latest posts at Interest-Led Learning, then sign up for the mailing list on the home page.

I’d love to hear from you.  Please comment on this article or shoot me an email at chris@christinapilkington.com Thanks!

 Photo Credit: koalazymonkey

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