Recently, I’ve become fascinated by personality types and how they influence our every day lives (thanks to Mystie at Simply Convivial). I’ve taken the good ole’ Myers Briggs personality test a number of times and without question, I am an INFJ. I have found that understanding my personality type has helped me to better understand what drives me (ideals, planning, helping people), what makes me want to crawl into a hole and never come out (conflict), and what helps me to be successful and peaceful (moving to the beat of my own drummer so that I can live out my ideals). It has also helped me to better understand my homeschool planning process and how it needs to roll in order for us to be successful.
As described on 16personalities.com, the INFJ has a knack for creating a vision and working out the details to see those ideas come to fruition:
“Few personality types are as sensitive and mysterious as INFJs. Your imagination and empathy make you someone who not only cherishes integrity and deeply held principles but, unlike many other idealistic types, is also capable of turning those ideals into plans, and executing them.
Yes, starting with a big picture plan that embodies “my deeply held principles” and then having the freedom to turn those ideals into plans and actions steps creates a homeschool where we all thrive.
Begin with the big picture
A few years ago, I purchased Pam Barnhill’s Plan Your Year Kit, and it was a perfect fit for how I roll. It begins by having you formulate your Vision Statement. In my mind, this Vision Statement provides me the chance to put into very general terms the ultimate goal for our homeschool. It’s not about specific nitty-gritty details, but about what I want our homeschool to embody. Our homeschool Vision Statement goes a little something like this:
* To raise saints who seek truth, goodness, and beauty and who chase wonder at every pass.
* To know, love, and serve our Lord and each other and to use our God-given talents to serve God, our Roman Catholic Church, and our greater community.
* To live a life centered around the Liturgical year and to grow in virtue with each passing season.
* To develop a relationship with the great works of literature and the thinkers of Western culture.
Having these big ideas at the forefront of my mind has helped me to make sure that as I begin the planning stages for our school year, I have a litmus test that helps me to stay focused on the essentials.
Each of my children have very different strengths and weaknesses, and their interests and natural bents vary quite a bit. I can dream big dreams for my kids, but if they aren’t based on the reality of who they are, these lofty ideals will only frustrate all of us. So the next step in planning includes assessing strengths and weaknesses and setting realistic goals. For me, this happens mid-summer after I have had enough time to rest in the year we have just completed, but before my mind begins to run rampant with new ideas, additions, and changes for the upcoming year. I’ve found it best to do this early-on in the summer because it helps me to stay grounded about what our upcoming year will actually look like.
Last summer, after a few weeks off of our full-time school year (we do a relaxed review term in the summer), I jotted down a few notes about areas that I recognized as weaknesses. One of my kiddos needed to work on elocution when reading aloud. Another needed to continue to work on slowing down, following directions and giving the best effort every time. All of the kiddos needed to work on that wonderful virtue of perseverance (cue: math). I also realized that the littlest man really needed some more of our day spent reading books to him that are at his level and enjoyment preferences (it’s hard being the youngest, am I right?). And with adding another kid to the school day mix, it became clear to me that I needed to focus on ways to move the older kids to doing more of their work independently. These were just a few of the areas I had at the forefront of my mind at this stage in the planning process. Identifying these weaknesses helped me to set specific goals that would help us to grow in these areas.
For example, the kiddo who struggled to read aloud smoothly now reads to me every day from one of his school books (a nature lore, history novel, Greek myths and so on) for 20 minutes. This is also helping him to work towards reading completely independently and reporting back to me when he is ready to narrate his readings. The kid who needed to work on slowing down and doing her best work at all times now has a check list with detailed instructions that she has to complete before turning her work in to be reviewed. And the little guy who needed some one-on-one reading to time, now has a great book list that we are working through, as I’ve etched out time in our schedule to read to him each day. In recognizing these areas of weakness, I was able to develop action plans that have now become part of our daily routines.
Initial planning: assessing the course of study
Once I established realistic goals for each of the kids and action plans to achieve those goals, I could then begin my favorite part of homeschooling: the initial planning phase of choosing our areas of study and which resources I have in mind to utilize. Honestly, if I could spend hours each day talking curriculum and good books to read, I’d be so happy. This is where all of the ideas that I have swimming around in my head get a chance to be dumped onto paper. Of course they are grounded in the reality of who my kids are, but it is in these moments that my inner-idealist gets to let loose—at least for a little while.
This part of the planning process usually happens in late-July. At that time, I begin by plotting out the courses of study I hope and plan to tackle in the upcoming year: Math, Latin, writing, spelling, grammar, science, history, geography, reading, handwriting and so on. Each kiddo has his or her own sheet and it is here where I indicate the subject, which curriculum resources I’m thinking of using (or need to look into), as well as to-do’s to prep for that subject, what needs to be purchased or pulled out of storage, etc. Here’s a sample of my rough draft ‘Courses of Study’ for my 3rd grader. Remember this is a rough draft so not all of these subjects made the cut in the end and the final curriculum choices are not all on here.
This rough draft helps me to quickly see where I have my ducks already in a row and where I get to roll up my sleeves and dig deeper into planning mode. It is a fairly rewarding part of the process because in a short amount of time, I have a good portion of our studies mapped out because subjects like math, spelling, handwriting and Latin do not change from year to year. We have found resources that we love and have chosen to stick with even when we hit challenging concepts that push our comfort levels (like in math…every week…ahem…).
The deep dive planning: creating my own curriculum
You’ll notice that on the planning sheet above, the history block was empty (and copywork was written twice—apparently I didn’t want to forget that one!). Every year, I have created my own curriculum for a number of subjects. I love doing this. Creating my own book lists, schedules, and activities, this is where I feel like I have a gift to give to my kids and my inner-idealist gets to be creative and turn that Vision Statement into a plan that can be executed for the year.
History is one of my favorite subjects to plan because it involves reading from a delicious assortment of books. It is in this part of the planning process that our schoolroom floors becomes impassable as stacks of books overtake our space. I also turn to my favorite resources to find living books that cover the time period we will be covering in the upcoming school year (Landmark books, Classicalreader.com, Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, Beautiful Feet Books and AO). From these lists, I create a booklist for each of the kids, as well as a read aloud list that the whole family will enjoy. In this way, I am able to come up with a curriculum that challenges and engages each of the kids at their skill level. Here’s a sample from one unit (The American Revolution) of our history studies this year.
You’ll notice that there are five columns: chapters from the history text (we do read from a textbook to simply provide some background information before we begin our feast of living books), whole family read alouds, Jonah (3rd grade), Analise (5th) grade and a ‘Basket’ list. The “basket books” are the books that are not specifically assigned, but are out for free reads during this unit. The kids always devour these and generally these are the ones that get read to James (Kindergarten).
I take a similar approach in planning for our nature study and science studies, geography, as well as all of the topics that we cover in our Morning Time. This process always takes a long time. It is where I find myself “in the zone” and often lose track of time, forget to eat or shower and generally get lost in piles of books and 352 tabs open on the computer screen. The kids have learned to leave momma be when she is in this planning mode, unless of course they are dying or something.
Creating a weekly and daily schedule
Once I have our basic plans for each subject and the resources that I plan to use for each of these areas, I then slowly build up the steam to do my least favorite part in the planning process: creating a schedule. This part of the summer planning usually doesn’t happen until August because I put it off as long as possible. I detest this phase because it is here that my inner ideals often get smashed. I have to make decisions about what can and simply cannot stay in the schedule, and how often and for how long certain subjects will be studied each day or week. This is the part where I have to let go and I really hate letting go of my ideals.
The only way to get me going on this phase of planning is to arm myself with a bag of chocolate chips and a hot cup of tea. I begin by plotting out our day, placing in the known variables like piano lessons, karate, play practice, atrium sessions and so on. There are also things like eating and doing chores that need to come out of time budget. I then block off an hour for Morning Time and the other areas of study that we do together like some of our history, science and geography. Our days are already getting quite full.
From there, I begin a spreadsheet for each kid, mapping out individual work that she or he will do, as well as the subjects I will tutor him or her in each day. I spread the subjects out over the week and before long, more ideals have to be sent on their sad, sad way. There is just never enough time to do all that I want to do. For example, on my initial ‘Courses of Study’ for Jonah (3rd grade), I had hoped to begin a formal writing program this year. I tried various scenarios but just couldn’t manage it in our time budget. It would have to wait until next year. Sadness. But, as these things usually go, it has been a blessing that we weren’t able to work a formal writing program into our year. Jonah is working on copywork, grammar, and reading from a feast of good books and doing lots of oral narrations. On his own accord, he has begun writing some of his narrations each week, and they are rich with ideas, a blossoming vocabulary and sentence structure. God seems to have a way of working out these details, the very ones that I wring my hands over, wishing I could fit into the day.
These spreadsheets represent our average day and week, and I use them not only to keep straight who is doing which subjects on which days, but also as my lesson plan template for each kid. Because I’ve already figured out how often and for what length of time we will be covering each subject, all I need to do is plop in the specific page numbers, chapters and so on each week during the school year—most of which I have already mapped out over the summer.
The pink spreadsheet is where I record the weekly plans for subjects that the whole family will do together. The green is for Analise (5th grade). The blue is for Jonah (3rd grade). The yellow is for James (Kindergarten). You’ll notice that there is nothing pre-written on his. This is because I fill in his spreadsheet after I’ve worked with him. Everyday he and I work on reading lessons, handwriting and math. The resources that we use vary daily and so I don’t worry about planning it out. Somehow it always seems to come together.
Daily assignments and spiral notebooks
Now we are down to the final element of planning and it is the key component in helping our school days to run smoothly—the spiral notebook. Each night, I pull out my planning sheets (the color coded ones above) and fill out a list of to-do’s that both of the older kids are to accomplish on their own during their independent work time. I also list out what we will be doing as a family, as well as what subjects they will be getting tutored in that day.
The kids love having spiral notebooks and I love that I don’t have to answer, “What do you want me to do next?” It is all in front of them, and they can choose to tackle their list in whatever order they desire. The spiral notebooks help our days to run like a well-oiled machine.
Pulling it all together
Admittedly, this is a heck of a lot of planning and sometimes when I am in the middle of it, I find myself thinking how much easier it would be if I just used someone else’s plans (but then I remember that I tried that once and it was a disaster). In the end, I do love this process; okay, well maybe not the parts where I have to let go of my ideals. But it’s all part of the journey of dreaming up ideas and letting go of the ones that just weren’t meant to be in this particular season. In the end, it allows my INFJ idealist to create a homeschooling experience that is rooted in these ideas and brought to fruition through each of these planning phases.