by Sunny Weigand
Lesson plans. Just the very words seem to strike fear in the hearts of teachers whether they be public, private, or home school teachers. Why is that? And for home schoolers, what are lesson plans exactly? First of all, conventional classroom teachers know that preparing lesson plans for a class of twenty-five or more students involves time. Teachers must take several factors into consideration.
First, they must set a reasonable pace in order to teach each lesson in every academic discipline within the school's calendar year. Second, as plans are being developed and the pace is being established, teachers must also take into account the individual needs of each student in their class. Some segments of the class may require additional time for learning in certain areas within particular subjects. Teachers must allocate time for needed review and practice. Perhaps it is the recollection of teachers laboring long and hard at their desks over their daily lesson plan book that has somehow given home school moms the idea that they too must produce these same detailed plans for their home school program. Not so. Remember, all good curricula will have lesson plans included in their teacher's guides, also known as teacher's editions, for each academic area. That's right! All good curricula will already contain lesson plans that are written out for you.
What exactly are lesson plans? Lesson plans give you an overall plan of attack for accomplishing instruction in any given subject. These plans will provide specific objectives or goals for that lesson. For example, in Heritage Studies several objectives might be to 'label the southwest states and capitals on a map' or to 'locate places on a road atlas.'' A few Math 4 objectives might be to 'compare decimal fractions using greater than, less than, and equal signs' or to 'order decimal fractions.' At the end of the week, teachers usually evaluate whether their objectives were met in each subject area and then adapt accordingly as they prepare for a new week.
As a home school instructor, you too must make those kinds of decisions. Curriculum lesson plans will offer strategies and suggestions for teaching lessons in the most effective manner. In addition, materials you will need during the lessons are listed for you; such things are manipulatives, visuals, charts, and student worktext pages. The actual lesson is organized from start to finish, assisting you in the presentation of the material to your child. The lesson plan will do everything but fix your morning cup of coffee! Finally, good lesson plans offer methods for evaluating the lesson including guided practice through the use of worktext pages.
I know what you are thinking: 'If all good curricula contain lesson plans, then what is there for me to prepare?' You need to take time to read the teacher's editions in order to familiarize yourself with the material you will be teaching. As conventional classroom teachers prepare their lessons, they must record their plans in a daily plan book as well as submit a copy of those plans to their principal or administrator to keep on file in the school office. Many home schoolers are required by their states to keep a daily log or lesson plan book. Even though your state may not require it, it is still a very good idea to use a daily lesson plan book because it gives you an overview of your school week at a glance. It takes time to prepare this overview. Set aside some time each week for preparing your lessons. Don't wait until Saturday night or Monday morning. You'll feel too unprepared, and your children will sense it as well. It is NOT necessary to plan lessons for the entire year! Unless, of course, your state requires it. If you try to prepare too many lessons in advance, you will probably wind up frustrated before too much time has elapsed. Why? Because, although conventional classroom teachers can control their class schedule to a large degree, home school families cannot. There are many factors that affect one's home school schedule. Consider first of all, that a majority of home school families usually home school children on different grade levels. Then there are babies and toddlers to take into consideration when scheduling the day. These two factors alone prompt interruptions of various natures, adjustments, and scheduling changes. A home school mom must learn to be flexible in her home school program. The question that arises is, 'How flexible should I be in order to meet the needs of my children and yet get some teaching done?' You want to have a plan in hand that will accomplish the instructional goals for each of your children, but you can allow for those unexpected situations that come into your family.
When should you make these plans? Every opportunity you have, use time to your advantage. During early summer, purchase the curriculum you will need for your next school year. Also purchase a lesson plan book. I like to recommend the 'Daily Lesson Plan Book,' which BJU Press carries, because it is so simple to use. Take some time each day in the summer to read the introductory pages in all your teacher's editions, highlighting salient information as you go along that you may wish to go back to and consult during the school year. Then prepare the first five lessons for each child you will teach in every subject area. What do I mean by prepare five lessons? Read and highlight important instructions, directions, and bold-faced or italicized terms in your teacher's editions. Remember, when it comes to making entries in your lesson plan book, the only notations you really have to make are the lesson numbers, teacher pages, and perhaps titles of the lesson as well as any student worktext pages or worksheets. For example, if you were teaching K5, you might write "Lesson 61, 'The Lion and the Mouse,' pages 132-135; Worktext B, pages 61-62." For reading for your third grader, write "Sooner or Later, Part I, student text pages 219-225, Teacher's Edition pages 217-220, and student worktext pages 101-103." As you work through each academic subject, you will be able to take note of those items in the materials list that you will need to purchase, make, or gather from different sources. These entries will provide you with an overview for each day of the week and take the guesswork out of your teaching. You'll know what to teach and how much to teach, eliminating over- or under-teaching.
Once you begin your school year with at least one week's worth of lessons mapped out, pick a time that you can begin preparing for the next week's lessons. I usually picked Monday evenings after dinner. That way, I was able to have the rest of the week and weekend to collect items, make visuals, go to the library for resources, and purchase supplies that I might need. If, for some reason, I was not able to complete my lesson plans in one night, I had the rest of the week to finish. Another advantage in preparing only five lessons in advance is that if you missed a lesson due to an illness or having to take an extra day to review a lesson, you can quickly reschedule it for the new week.
One other suggestion. I included some long-term dates in my lesson plan book for the year such as birthdays, holidays, grandparent visits, vacations, and home school activities or events that I knew we would be participating in. That way, I could, from time to time, gauge how I was progressing towards those events in case I needed to pick up the pace or allow for additional time for seasonal projects or expanded unit studies. Also, you might want to make a notation of when your 'official' school year would end under 'normal' circumstances. But be prepared to factor in a couple of weeks beyond that date due to illnesses, unexpected visits, emergencies, responses to ministry opportunities, and days needed just to catch up.
Good curricula have built-in lesson plans. Lesson plans give you a plan of action for teaching the information your children will need. Using a daily lesson plan book is a valuable tool that gives you an overview of your school week and helps you accomplish the wonderful task of teaching your sons and daughters to the glory of the Lord.