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Planning for Success

The Bible places a premium on preparation and forethought (Luke 14:25-33). But it also advocates a common-sense approach to life, in which the individual makes reasonable preparations but trusts God to guide despite human frailties (Matthew 6:34; 10:19-20). "It is vain," the psalmist says, "for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep" (127:2). Such should be the home educator's attitude toward lesson planning. The following pointers should help you run your school day smoothly without your having to prepare lessons into the wee hours of the morning.

It is one thing to know all your subjects well; it is quite another to prepare to teach them. The work load can be a little intimidating when you have to prepare lessons for math, science, English, Bible, and history-for each child. Needless to say, the work load must be chopped into little pieces, or else you will feel chopped into little pieces! Break your work down by planning first for the semester, then for the week, and then for the day.

Before starting each semester, you will find it very profitable to set aside a few hours to "block out" your classes. You simply take a sheet of paper, divide it into about eighteen rows (one for each week), and mark five blocks on each row for five days. You then look through the calendar and mark out days when school will not be held because of vacations and other planned days off. Make a copy of this sheet for every class. Then divide the pages of the primary textbook and/or workbook for each class in some logical fashion so that the material will be covered by the end of the semester. Review days and test days should also be noted.

The advantages of a semester schedule are fourfold: 1) the schedule gives you a good grasp of where you are headed so that you can keep the pace moving each day; 2) it gives you plenty of time to find or make supplementary materials (e.g.; filmstrips, charts) that enhance your teaching; 3) it improves your ability to make applications and conclusions that tie the whole year together; and 4) it prevents conflicts in test times and helps you to see how daily changes affect your scheme for the rest of the year.

Even if you are in the middle of a semester, you can still benefit from beginning your weekly planning now. Most school supply stores carry inexpensive lesson plan books, which you can adapt to your own needs. Early each weekend you can take an hour or so to fill in the next week's schedule. The planner should provide a two-page spread for each week, with one column for each day. Each column should have a separate space for each class. Fill in each space with the following information: 1) a brief list of the main concepts to be covered, 2) a list of needed instructional resources, such as library books or audio-visual aids, 3) suggestions for classroom activities (like writing exercises, collages, model-making, etc.), and 4) the next day's assignment clearly marked off at the bottom of the box.

These weekly plans help you spread out your tests and see what extra materials are shared by various lessons. They will also give you time to think about alternatives to the standard lecture method, like an outing to a historical or cultural center in the community.

Ideally, lesson plans for each day should be done at least a few days ahead of time so that last-minute emergencies do not leave you unprepared when class time arrives. Early preparation gives you time to organize and practice using your teaching aids; rather than having to rush at the last minute, you have greater confidence with the material-and thus are a better teacher.

But in reality most of your final lesson plans cannot be done until the evening before the lesson will be given. This delay has some advantages. It gives you time to adjust your preparation according to up-to-date feedback from your child. Flexibility is as necessary as forethought, so that you can adjust for sick days, change pace if the material is difficult, and take advantage of unanticipated opportunities. Remember: although you have planned your year's schedule to cover the book, you do not succeed in teaching by hurtling helter-skelter to the last page on day 180. Teach so that your child understands--not just completes--the material.

The skeleton for each class period's lesson plan-put on a sheet by itself, not in the weekly planner-needs to include these three things: 1)a brief statement of what observable objectives you want the student to be able to perform by the end of the lesson (not what material you want to cover), 2) a reminder about needed instructional materials, and 3) a detailed outline of the class procedure that you will use to accomplish your objectives.

Writing objectives may seem at first to be busywork designed for a teacher. But time spent preparing clearly stated objectives and a list of activities will actually save you from wasting time filtering through nonessential materials.

Some subjects, like social studies and literature, require a lot of reading, whereas others, like the sciences, will require time to prepare materials and activities. These subjects should usually be tackled first. You can prepare some subjects, like, more easily, because the students spend most of the time practicing a few major concepts.

As a teaching parent, you have taken on a great responsibility and have precious little time to meet all your obligations. But by investing a few minutes each day in lesson planning and preparation, you reap successful home education for a long time to come.

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