Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Planning a Semester - How My Mind Plans Our Montessori Path

I must be honest, I didn't know what the plan WAS when we started out in August. But I sure am planning a lot now.

I know a lot of Montessorians will say that they don't have a curriculum plan. Some classroom teachers just say that they need to know everything, all the time, so when the child is ready, they can present.

I also know from a parent-perspective that our primary teachers did plan and integrated group presentations into their field-trip schedule and the changing of the seasons. Before the Native Indian American History Museum tour, they talked about the part Native Americans played in our Thanksgiving tradition. Before the planetarium visit, they talked about the stars, the planets and the rotation of the earth. And I know for a fact, that some works on the shelves cover these themed topics as well.

The main reason I plan is because I am planner. I like to know where I am, where I've been, and where I am going, and of course how to get there.

The other part of me that makes following a plan difficult is that I get hyper-focused. And I can get distracted. Not at the same time of course. I like to keep to a certain part of the plan longer than planned because I don't feel like switching just yet. And I also can start one thing, come to a road block and then start on another thing, and then, before you know it, there are 10 things started and none finished. So, I guess this all means that I like to plan and make lists, and set goals, but their interpretation and implementation are loose. Things just slide, we don't get to it all, and that is OKAY.

(Did I just write that? If you had asked me a few years back, I wouldn't have even known what that statement meant.)

So, how do I plan?

I look at my calendar. (I print one free from here.) I look at my albums. (I use the Keys of the Universe Elementary Albums, Cultivating Dharma - Elementary, NAMC - Lower El, Montessori by Hand - Primary, and CGMS - Primary.) I take out my planner composition notebook and set to work.

I go through everything one time per child. For T, it is the Lower El info. For S, it is the Lower El info, Primary info, and now the OT info. For D, it is the Primary info only.

I write down in the calendar portion, for each child, the lesson headings I'd like to cover in each discipline:
  • physical geography
  • cultural geography, 
  • language - there are different threads here like grammar, sentence analysis, aural prep, phonograms, CVC, penmanship, writing, mechanics, and word study
  • math - there are different threads here like numeration and operations
  • geometry
  • fractions
  • botany
  • physical science
  • zoology
  • history
  • art
  • practical life
  • sensorial
  • great lessons
  • OT - for S
  • other
  • and right now I don't have a music curriculum picked out
I take into account, prerequisite works, parallel works, the time of year, vacation/holiday schedules, field trips, birthdays, appointments, and anything else that will interrupt our flow. It makes no sense to embark upon a new lesson topic with lots of extension work right before a two week break. We'll lose the momentum and I'll need to review a lot when we come back to the classroom.

Taking it a quarter year at a time I've noted, through March, most of the key lessons I'd like to cover in the order that they need to be presented. April through to June, I have a lot less written down because I don't know exactly what we'll have covered by the end of March.
Then I break the Key Lessons down by week and I fill in a general time-line of what we'll do when. This includes a list of extension lessons I'd like to get to and when I hope to get to them.

I simultaneously make a list of materials I need to make, collect, or buy to be able to pull off this schedule. And I write them in just that order, MAKE, COLLECT and BUY. Then I back-up a few months and figure out when I need to order anything I am going to need and budget for these accordingly.

After all this, I go back to these lists weekly to re-assess what we did last week, what we missed last week, and what needs to be ready to go this week. Each week I write a new revised list of lessons for that week only. I also go back to the albums to re-read the lessons I have planned and figure out what materials I still need. And then I freak out and start making materials into the wee hours of the night.

So, how does this follow the child? Well, my planning doesn't really follow the child all that closely. Weekly I assess what we've covered, and where we need some review, and where the children want to work more. But it is the implementation that "follows the child."

We pause when the kids want to and I present the next lesson when they request them. When the children have questions, want more information, or want to delve into something further, we do. There is no "we-have-to-get-this-done-by-X-date." My planning is simply a map of the stepping stones I see to get from one side of the river to the other. If the kids want to examine a rock more closely half-way across, we all just pause there.

What this process DOES afford me:
  • Plenty of time to read and re-read the album texts. I benefit from a lot of repetition. This time with the albums helps the key lessons sink in better and allows me to see how everything fits together.
  • Lots of handwriting. I am a note-taker. I simply remember things better when I transcribe them by hand. Typing doesn't do it for me. I like paper and pencil, and I believe I always will.
  • A heads-up materials-wise. I get a quarterly list of what is coming up and then I can get a better sense of what I need to make, collect, and buy. I like to comparison shop and figure out what is going to be ACTUALLY CHEAPER to buy after you account for laminate, ink, and shipping, and of course your time! 
  • A time-line of lessons. I am also a visual learner, so I like having a calendar that lists what comes first and what comes next. I like to think that the Montessori scope and sequence is a bit more linear that I once thought. In my mind it is the stopping and starting a subject/thread, switching subjects/disciplines, and the when to go onto the next lesson that are the flexible aspects of the "follow-the-child" philosophy.
  • Peace of mind for the planner in me.
The down-side to this method I see, is that it takes time. I spend a couple of hours doing our weekly planning. A quarterly plan could take me a day or two to complete all aspects. But I am learning, studying, and internalizing everything, and it all makes so much more sense to me after.

The other down-side I feel this plan unfortunately affords is that occasionally I feel like the rug is being pulled out from under me. I plan for the week generally what T will cover in math; what he has to work on, and what I have ready to present. And then T goes through all of that material in two days, demonstrating his understanding by doing the work independently and then asks for the next lesson. And I haven't prepared the next lesson. I find either that I am staying up late to prepare the next lesson in the sequence, or we just pause there, and he doesn't pick up the material again until we move on. This may topic may be another post in and of itself.

So there you have it. I am a planner, and I plan our Montessori curriculum. I do have a tendency to push through and I try to resist this. But I can also tell if we've moved on too fast and if the information hasn't sunk in and they aren't "getting it" if the follow-up works are too difficult. It is all comes around in the observation.

How do you plan? If you do... or if you've already blogged about this topic, leave a link in the comments. I'd really like to know.


  1. Your explanations sound VERY similar to my own! I have to "plan" - have that map in hand - but then we do indeed go with the flow to follow the child.

    And yes, there have been a few times of my son or my co-op children speeding through something --- but when I think they will, they stop and smell the roses - so no perfect solution for those of us not in a full classroom ;)

    1. It is so nice to hear you say that. I had been feeling like planning was a little taboo among Montessorians.

    2. I have heard something similar from others as well - that the impression is that Montessori is entirely child-led and the adult has little/no input. But I find it difficult to understand how we can "guide" if we don't know the terrain. ;) We have to have a plan, but know that it is flexible because the children might go deeper or might not have an interest in something we hoped they would (in which case, they still receive the basic keys they need, and they move on to their real interests).

      I have some ideas for a blog post now... ;)

  2. I am right there with you! I was so blessed to get a Well Planned Day planner for Christmas, which was so needed, because I am trying to both run a homeschool and run a home, and do it all at once. I am also a planner - and often feel so scatterbrained and overwhelmed when I don't have things planned out. So then I retreat to an over-relaxed state, and worry and pray that the kids are getting everything in! :) I love your planning, and I agree on writing everything down - I much prefer to write it out - it works itself in to my brain better that way, and although it is time consuming, it helps! I hope your new year starts well!

    1. That sounds like a wonderful Christmas gift! I just did some home-planning sheets myself since cleaning and laundry always get scrambled in last!

  3. Wow, I am in awe of your planning skills.

  4. I have also been under the impression that Montessorians don't "plan." It was a revelation to me recently when talking to a Montessori teacher that she told me that she definitely has an agenda set in place each day. She knows exactly what she plans to present and who is getting what lesson. Which makes sense....how exactly do you make sure enough lessons are covered if you are constantly waiting around for the student to approach you about a lesson? Many will do this, but some students are content to stay in their little corner and will never approach the teacher for much of anything.

    1. teapot - you are not the only one with the impression that Montessorians do NOT plan.

      What takes care of those students who don't approach the teacher? is the work plan/journal... which many people, not understanding what they actually are, also avoid because it feels anti-Montessori to them.

      I find it frustrating sometimes to explain the reality of planning, work plans and work journals to people who are dead-set that no planning is allowed in Montessori and that the children should be followed, without regard to road-maps, lay of the land, developmentally appropriate, any structure or framework, etc. The reality is that a child cannot KNOW what comes next unless there are other children doing that very work, or the adult lets them know.

      And the training/albums are clear that in the beginning, with a group of new children at any age, the adult is to present-present-present-present - until the child has found an area of interest to explore or has enough options to begin choosing what he/she would like to repeat until ready for the "next step."

      So yes - planning - and lots of it. But that is because we have the "map" and the knowledge of what is developmentally appropriate --- the child expresses needs and interests and we are prepared because much of it we could see coming based on the pattern of previous work and interests (and since we have the "map", we know what is coming up).


    2. Teapot, I agree with you. When I first embarked upon this homeschooling journey, I was a parent of a couple Montessori School students. I as spoke at length with all four of our teachers (each of my older child had two trained guides) about how they "plan" their year, I did feel surprised. And indeed a lot of planning did go on, even at the primary level.

      I also agree with Jessica. As a guide, we need to know the terrain we are guiding the child along. I do a lot of this planning for myself. The children never see it. I do it so I can keep track of which threads have been dropped, put on hold, or picked up. I do it so I can see where we are headed, and I do a lot of comparing with our public-school curriculum sequence so I know were we stand in relation to the conventional. I do it for my own peace of mind, my personal training and self-formation, and to deepen my understanding of the process, the theory, the materials, and the Montessori philosophy. It sounds like you are right there with me. :) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    3. And Jessica, I just did a marathon 2 day planning session where I poured over your primary and elementary albums to see where we need to spend a little more time. I have pages, but the detailed planing makes the flexible implementation so much more comfortable for me.

      A question for you...I have been going back and forth about work plans for the kids. You probably have read most of my comments on the topic as well as how I feel they serve as a check off list for my children particularly. I just realized that as much as I like to plan and have a that road map, so might they. Or at least the older two. The other one, D, just told me that 150 came right after 17 today. So, perhaps a verbal conversation could be our format for how we create a "work plan" with the "subject - framework" up there in my head as the guide making sure that we have certain topics covered? At this point, I would prefer the plan to not to be "my plan" or "you must cover these areas on this list I give you." I'd rather our conversation be more a reminder of the areas they are covering, their input as to how deeply they plan to work in each area, and my suggestions for the ares we have been neglecting. I have a sneaking suspicion that in the beginning it will be, "what do you want me to do mommy." But I suppose we need to start somewhere. :)

    4. Abbie - that is exactly what a work plan is ;) The conversation. Then when ready, we write it down.

      That is why I am SO IRKED by the number of people who say they use this "great checklist from (a popular Montessori site I don't actually WANT to criticize)" - then later those same people say, "Well it became a checklist mentality so we don't use work plans AT ALL now."

      Um. THAT particular website is providing a CHECKLIST - so it is going to sprout a checklist mentality.

      But the work plan IS the conversation; the written form of it is entirely up to the individual child/family/situation.

      There are some great videos on Montessoriguide.com as well - some specifically address the work plan/journal conversation. Very nice to see it in action!

    5. Whew!!! I think I FINALLY GOT IT!! I feel so relieved. This work plan thing has been rolling around in my head for the past year and a half, and now I finally feel like I know how to approach it. All I can say, is thanks for bearing with me. :)

      In all my failed attempts I was providing a checklist, and they were using it as a checklist. :) But now that I have a better feel for the lay of the land and where we are going, and which things can run parallel, I think I am now finally able to have this "conversation" with T and S. And perhaps their work cycles will happen more smoothly since they will also have a better idea of where they are going. Goodness. And thanks for the video tips.