Thursday, July 27, 2006

Planning Our Learning

For many years in our homeschooling journey I tried to keep my eyes on the horizon ("I want my children to be happy, moral, confident and productive adults when they grow up") and not on the day-to-day stuff ("Plan? We're supposed to plan? I'm too busy [deschooling, folding laundry, wiping noses] to plan!"). But last year the independent school program Erin signed on to forced us to participate in a planning process that I thought would be artificial and pointless.

I was rather surprised to find out that the planning process, and the gentle regimen of revisiting that plan three times a year, was extremely helpful, both to Erin and to me. So helpful, in fact, that it was a big part of why I signed Sophie and Noah up for the same program for 2006/7 -- though I fully intended to go through similar planning with them, whether they were interested in signing on or not.

The crux of this planning is that it is directed by the child (though facilitated to a variable extent by the parent). It starts with a "mind map", which is really just a no-holds-barred "inventory of interest"... a list of things that intrigue my kids, that they're interested in learning a bit, or a bit more, about, or want to continue pursuing. Right now I have lists for each child. Anything they express an interest in goes onto the list. We just started these latest lists last week and they're only just beginning to accumulate ideas. Sophie has taken to the process with enthusiasm. Noah is less forthcoming, although when, in the course of life, he expresses an interest in something and I remind him that it could go on his list he is always agreeable. Fiona's list is all about doing what the older children are doing, this being the grand theme in her life! Erin is quietly, independently, developing her own list.

As the summer progresses, lots (too much!) will get added to those mind-maps, or "learning wish lists". At the end of August, we'll sit down together one-on-one and each child will decide what directions they want to move first. We'll likely set about half of the ideas aside for later. And then we'll investigate resources for the ones we're tackling first.

In December, March and June we'll look back at the original learning plan. We'll discuss what has been accomplished, how things have shifted, where the momentum lies, and decide whether to add or remove items from the learning plan.

I've found, over the past year, that's it's been really helpful to (a) go through that mind-mapping process to come up with ideas and inspiration and (b) to revisit the fluid plan on a periodic basis to decide whether the gaols and plans that were devised a while ago still have relevence even if they've been neglected so far (often they are -- and that re-orienting back to the ideas generated a few months ago has been really invigorating for Erin and me).

Our learning plan is like a beacon. We are not required to stand in its shadow. We are not required to follow a specific path in its vicinity. But starting from that beacon and checking in from time to time on where it is, and deciding based on that whether we are where we want to be, has been helpful.

When I first encountered the SelfDesigning process it seemed very "out there" and contrived. I'm sure my description seems a little the same way. So I'll add a few specifics to attempt to make it a little more concrete and useful.

On Erin's learning plan last year were a combination of tangible goals and whimsical thoughts of possibilities to explore. Lots of the elements of that plan were revisited with a sense of purpose. Although she didn't touch math until after Christmas, it was revisiting her goal of completing her current grade level book that helped spur her (happily!) back to math bookwork. As she had expressed an interest and it was there on the plan we did manage to gradually put more priority on chamber music and she got lots of new experience there. ... and so on. Some adjustments, some re-alignments, some discarding of elements of her plan ... but always upon due consideration, never just because she sorta forgot about something or got busy with something else and didn't bother.

We will see how the process evolves with the other children.


  1. I've heard a lot of great things from people who use the selfdesign program. I'm glad its working out for you all.

  2. MamaOutThere8:30 am

    I enjoyed this post. Well, I enjoy your blog in general.

    Unfortunately, the selfDesign program has a waitlist for next year. But I just asked dd1 (7) to come up tell me about some of the subjects that interest her:
    * chemistry (she said experiments with substances)
    * the solar system
    * animal anatomy
    * Italian
    * German and German geography, culture, etc.
    * Latin (after looking at Minimus!)
    * guitar (if she can find someone who'll teach her through games)
    * gardening

  3. SelfDesign might uncap their enrollment once they hire new teachers, but in any event, it sounds like you've got a great list on the go. I find it so much easier to have some starting points for exploration like these that your daughter has so capably supplied.


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