The Switch to Block Scheduling: Semester 2

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You know that feeling you get when someone reaches over to scratch your back.. You didn’t even know that you wanted it, but suddenly you’re in the middle of heaven, clinging onto every last alleviating second, begging it not to go? Well, that’s what Christmas break was for me. I’m not ready to stop unwinding, but I am excited to finish planning for the rest of the year. So I’m just taking that and running with it. School! Positive energy! Yay!

So, the title wasn’t lying. One thing that has me totally psyched about this fresh start of ours is the fact that we’re trying on a whole new schedule. New year, new us, baby! Okay, I’ll stop.

Everything that’s still kind of messy about our old routine points a big, blaming finger at the constant start-and-stop of our old schedule. When I sat down to pencil out last semester, I tried my best to make her have a little of each class every day, or at least three times a week because I didn’t want her forgetting stuff. That was kind of dumb.

I never felt like we got to root deep enough into any subject before having to rush out of it and into something totally different. Mary likes to do this great thing where she whines about starting each new subject for about ten or fifteen minutes before getting to work. (Part of the creative process, I guess.) Once she works, she’s very diligent. But if you pull her out of that diligence to put it on another path in a new subject, you pull her out of a studious mindset altogether. Between every finished assignment, she hops up from her chair and starts an 80’s montage of completely random activities while Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” vociferates the background. Then I have to reel her back in and say, “Now’s not the time to start rearranging bedroom posters/organizing your bookshelf/taking pictures of yourself in the bathroom mirror for facebook, Mary. We only finished the first assignment. Back to the table.”

One day, as a journal activity for time management, I had her log in start and stop times for each subject’s activity. You wouldn’t believe how much time was being wasted meandering around the house between “classes”. Or, telling her to stop whining already and just get started. Of course, some of it is me, too. Poor Matthew is told to pipe down, like, 90% of the day now. I feel like I’m constantly shooing him away so that we can stay on task and I don’t loose Mary’s attention. Between classes is when I sometimes have to catch up on… you know, paying attention to the other two. I guess Mary figures that if I’m catching up on stuff, then she can be too, so she hightails it away from the desk at every perceivable opportunity. Reeling her back in always takes ANOTHER sliver of time. And even if all of those slivers are small, they add up when there are seven or eight “classes” for them to fall between.

Because we were more conscientious of it on our second go of the logging experiment, our day was finished in HALF the time. Not kidding. And I wasn’t surprised. I knew then that if we dedicated each day to one particular subject, we’d skip over so much of that “stop that, start this” whining, and would be able to keep her little mind motoring on at a much healthier pace.

It’ll also be much easier for her to know what to expect. Everyday she asks “is today gonna be long?” before she’s out of her pajamas.

I have tried so many different methods of writing out her schedule so that our day isn’t interrupted with her having to ask me so often “what’s next?” or “what do we have today?” or “is today gonna suck?”. For some reason, I dread those questions. Sometimes, our day is going to be a little longer.. and “what’s next” is such a trap question. She’s going to attack me with the death groan no matter what I say, and when you know that the death groan of torture is coming before you even answer the questions — UGH, it’s like an upright fork stabbing into a glass plate. I want to be angry, but I’m too busy just begging it to stop. Please, please, just make the whining stop, I’ll do anything.. anything, I tell you.

Sometimes I swear it’s just a stalling tactic because even after I tell her, she just sits there until I finally say: um, okay, you know what to do now, so… you know… permission granted to get a move on — she follows it up with: Okay, well, where are my worksheets? (same place as always) Well, where is my notebook? (same place as always) Well, what SIDE of my notebook is it in? (same place as always) Where do I put it when I’m done? (same place as always) What pencil am I supposed to use? (why the hell would I care?) Well, what if it doesn’t have an eraser? (kill me now) Well, what if the apocalypse comes before I can finish the assignment?

She could stand to spare me a few thousand of those regular complaints, but with our schedule the way it was, I actually don’t blame her for needing to be reminded what she has next incessantly throughout the day (even if it’s always written at the start of every week in fifteen different places that she could check herself). The new schedule is so simple, she’ll know the gist of her day without having to check the planner at all. A few, very short subjects (vocab, spelling) are done at the start of everyday, then there’s writing on all but Friday. The rest of each day is dedicated to one core subject. She’ll know Mondays are grammar days. Tuesdays are History. Wednesdays are Science. And Thursday – Friday are Math.

 

Some subjects I still think it’s important to have everyday. Writing, for example, requires repetition. I like that one being everyday. It’s nice to work on a piece for a while, put it away for a night (or even the next day), and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes, but also with ideas that are still hot out of the oven. Daily reading is a healthy habit – if not vital, as far as I’m concerned, and spelling tests are just too redundant to fit more of than one into any day. But the rest of our subjects are made up of enough smaller components that fitting a week of lessons into a day won’t be like doing the same activity for hours and hours.

With History it’s like: Okay, do this pre-test. Now let’s have our lesson. Okay, now make yourself a notecard. Alright, now let’s get the art supplies for our activity. Okay, now let’s clean this up, let that dry, and watch this video. Now we’ll do some mapping so grab your atlas, and then we’ll wrap it up with a little What Did You Miss exercise. There are just enough start and stops to keep the redundancy of a block schedule at bay; whereas there are just too many of them for it to be the seventh subject tacked onto an already up, down, left, right, A, B, jump kind-of-day.

Alright, enough yapping.

Here’s the new schedge:

Weekly health goal: (*note: alright, a little more yapping. Health class, though I had it on the original schedule last semester, never worked for us. I have much better luck not trying to make our health discussions so official and forced. I’m her mom and we’re together all day long now, so we talk about nutrition, exercise and sexual health in our everyday dialogue. Instead of giving her assignments, I’m instituting a weekly healthy goal. A few examples so far: make a smoothie that has a meal’s worth of nutrients; stick to water or milk for every drink all week; run everyday and chart any progress in time or distance; pick a dinner recipe we make often and tweak it to make it healthier – then treat the family to it! Whatever she does, I’ll be doing too.) 

Monday: Grammar

Language: spelling; writing; vocab
Reading:
Grammar:

  • lesson 1; worksheets 
  • lesson 2; worksheets
  • (if applicable) lesson 3; worksheets

Tuesday: History/Art

Language: editing; spelling; writing
Reading:
History/Art

(*History is the most involved subject. I like having it all lassoed into one neat and tidy day. But there’s a lot of info to process, so I’m throwing two of it’s components into Friday. Both Friday activities are all-inclusive of what’s been covered that week, so it’ll be a great review. Also, Mary despises art for some pain in the neck reason. Every attempt to make it a separate class has ended with her being in trouble for acting out. BUT, a lot of the history lessons comes with an accompanying craft for the daily activity. I have a lot of unused art-class assignments that I’ll be incorporating into the pre-planned crafts related to History.) 

  • review; pre-test 
  • lesson 1; notecard; activity (to include art)
  • lesson 2; notecard; activity
  • lesson 3; notecard; activity
  • mapping

Wednesday: Science

Language: spelling; writing; vocab
Reading:
Science:

  • Physics: Lesson; experiment
  • Mechanics 1
  • Physics: Lesson; experiment; lapbook (of lessons 1 and 2)
  • Mechanics 2

Thursday: Math

Language: spelling; writing; vocab
Reading:
Math

  • lesson 1 
  • lesson 2
  • lapbook choice of lesson

Friday: Math

Spelling
Math

  • lesson 1 
  • lesson 2
  • lapbook choice of lesson

History: (Cont.)

  • Timeline 
  • Worksheet exercise/Quiz

At the beginning of each week, I’m going to make a print-out of our schedule with each assignment on it and have it posted on the fridge. I used to write the schedule in dry-erase marker on this neat Martha Stewart weekly planner hangy-thing above her desk in the schoolroom, but it was a pain to fill out by hand every Monday, and to keep it neat while fitting everything in. This’ll be easier. Plus, she won’t have to go all the way downstairs or rummage through our daily stack of books and papers for my planner, just to check the schedule.

As always, I still have more to say than any respectable adult probably has time to read, but I think that about sums up our major changes. Today I’ll be baby-sitting Matthew and Scarlett’s besties, so before they arrive Mary and I will be making something presentable of the schoolroom again, and cracking down on this photocopying obligation hovering over my head. I swear if I knew how many photocopies were required of a homeschooling parent, I never would have signed up for this. Like seriously, that would have been the deal breaker.

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