|How I Organize My School Year|
I organize our school year in a sort of Waldorf format using the four seasons to provide our basic structure for the school year. This of course begins with the planning of our Spring and Fall gardens and the keeping of them, not that we are that great at gardening, but we plan a seasonal garden for the purpose of learning and then we plan our canning and preserving around the harvest as well, again often purchasing our produce. While we aren't that great at gardening, our school structure is very Waldorf in that it is planned around the rhythm of our home and what our goals might be at the time. This year we are try to insure that our home is sustainable so much of our seasonal projects revolve around this concept.
I divide our formal school year into two semesters with the Fall and Spring seasons and holidays in mind and then a few projects and field trips end up on the summer session list either because they apply to the season or for practicality reasons such as vacation or time constraints.
Development and Needs
Having this structure in place, the first thing I consider when planning a school year is child development, interests and what we have already studied. For example, we have studied Apologia Astronomy and Ocean Life and now the kids are showing a huge interest in plant life. This fits nicely with our new love of hiking and our plans for hiking the local trails this fall. Teaching an area where your student is showing an interest is important because they are going to connect with the material. It also gives you a clue into their development. It is important to consider development as well; you want to nourish these normal areas of growth.
Oak Meadow has some great cheat sheets on their website that will give you some idea as to what types of activities you should be offering. For example, if you have a pre-school to first grader they are naturally going to crave sand and water play. You need to provide this opportunity so that they can grow and develop in all areas of their motor skills and understanding of science. I like to think of knowledge like food; you want to put a balanced plate in front of your child, designed to meet his or her needs and then let them do the rest. While some memory work is important, you cannot force feed your child knowledge, he or she must learn to put the pieces together on their own.
Once I have chosen my books and materials for the year, I write in the important dates and holidays and then fill in my field trips. It is important to me to fill in my field trips before I plan my activities so that I can coordinate the themes and plan a reasonable framework of time.
Planning a Weekly Rhythm
Once I have filled in our field trips and holidays, I plan my weekly rhythm, keeping in mind that this isn't something you can actually plan. A rhythm is something you fall into but if you don't have some sort of plan then you might fall into an unproductive rhythm, so plan it anyway. I know that we stay home on most Mondays and that the kids are naturally slower on these days so Monday is usually cleaning and station day. I like to give them fun work at their own pace stations on Monday. Tuesday is usually a heavy work day. I plan science experiments, reading assignments and new math material on Tuesdays. Tuesday is the day my kids are most alert and focused. Wednesday is usually another station day with written assignments. Thursday is often a craft station day. I might rotate them through three or four craft activities ranging from math to science to social studies on a Thursday and Friday is field trip day. We are ready to get out of the house on Friday.
I try to set up my week so that they are ready to apply what they have learned in conjunction with whatever field trip we might have planned. Sometimes this plan might play out in a different order, for example one week last fall we were studying food chain economics so we went on a trip to the wholesaler on Tuesday and canned and preserved fruit throughout the week. Finally, I add crafts, kitchen projects and science experiments to my calendar two weeks at a time as I know what pantry supplies will be available to us and how our time is going to actually play out. I use a secret Pinterest board to collect the craft and activities ideas that I want to use each semester so I can refer back to this board on a two week basis. I just started doing this and I love it.
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