Closer Look: Lesson Plans

“Because a curriculum is an educational plan, we do not need to have purchased a curriculum to be able to say, ‘Yes, we have a curriculum.’ We simply need to have thought about our children’s educations and have a general plan for them.” – Larry and Susan Kaseman, Citizenship or Lawyership: Choosing Political Strategies for Homeschoolers

The first year we homeschooled, I approached lesson planning with the vigor and enthusiasm of any new school teacher, but I soon realized my schoolmistress method was not a good fit for our family. From that time on lesson planning became an empworing family affair and I came to see my role in lesson planning change from that of a teacher to more of a librarian helping to find resources that would help my children explore their interests, pursue their passions and discover themselves and the world. Still, as their Mom, I wanted to make sure they would learn the skills they would need in life along the way. After our lesson planning sessions, we would do our best within our budget to supply the resources that might inspire and spark an interest in the world around them. You don’t need a large budget either, the local parks, libraries and museums can play a valuable part in providing the resources for your lesson plans.

Of course how you go about planning lessons depends on your own educational method and philosophy. Our family plan was child led, but there are many out there. There is unschooling, eclectic, school at home, classical, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf and many more. A-Z Homes Cool Homeschooling offers this Methods and Styles Directory if you would like to investigate the differences. Once you know what method(s) best suits your child, you can begin planning your lessons and enjoy finding the resources.

Here are some articles that will shed some light on lesson planning:

Dear New Homeschooler by Mary McCarthy

The next biggest challenge is deciding on a curriculum. You can make it up as you go along with lots of help from the library or purchase a curriculum-in-a-box with everything from pencils to report cards. Most new homeschoolers like the security of the curriculum-in-a-box but also find it restrictive and, over time, hard to stick with the regimentation it mandates. If you’re typical, by March half of it will be lost under the beds and in the garage. The kids will help you lose the least interesting things in it. (“Oops! How did that get in the trash?”) Listen to them, it’s their education and they are ready to run with it.

Anything that requires tears (on anyone’s part) isn’t worth the effort. Put it away for another day (or year). Learning is supposed to be a lifelong enjoyable process. Try and figure out why it isn’t working and either experiment with a different way or drop it altogether. Accept that none of us is overly proficient in everything. Nor are we ready to learn something just because our curriculum guide says we are. Maybe you don’t have a rocket scientist there, just a very interesting little person who has ideas of their own about what’s necessary to learn. Three hours of tears and cajoling to accomplish one workbook page of nouns does not teach nouns. It teaches “I hate workbook pages of nouns.” Try putting the workbook away and doing a couple of books of “Mad-Libs.” Much more fun!

Looking at Those Lessons by Carol Narigon

Go for walks and talk about what you see (language). Stop to examine small things like spiders or groups of ants (science). Pick up colorful leaves and stones (small motor development). See how far you can kick a rock down the street (large motor development). See how many of your feet you kicked the rock and how many of his (math). Read the signs you see along the way (reading, spelling and geography). His attention won’t stay on one thing for long. Keep moving. When you get home, press your leaves in big books, then make collages with them in the winter (art). Make a display of stones you’ve collected and count how many you have (math). Use the kitchen table only for eating (common sense).

If you don’t believe me, do some research on brain development. Read some of Frank Smith’s books. Really think about what your child needs at this point for his brain and body to develop appropriately. When you read to him, you’re teaching him to read and you’re teaching him language. His eyes aren’t ready to read and write yet; it’s not good for them. But his brain is ready to learn language. You don’t have to make it harder than it is. Just talk with him normally and read to him a lot.

I know parents are eager to start “teaching” their children. (I’ve been there.) I’m sorry to tell you it just isn’t necessary, especially at age four. Oh, sure, there’s a large industry perpetuating itself on the idea that children need professionals to teach them how to survive in the big, bad world. Nonsense. Children need parents who follow more than they teach and know how to get out of their children’s way so they can get on with the business of growing up.

Loving the Library by Rebecca Rupp

Library instruction lesson plans, informational articles, a bibliography, and a list of useful links. Lesson plan titles include “Several Ideas to Help 4th Grade Students Learn about the Library,” “How to Find Information in the Information Age,” and – should you need it – “How Parents of Homeschooled Students Can Get their Children to Use the Library.”

Measuring Up by Rebecca Rupp

This isn’t to say that there’s no place for pencils and paper clips, since home-and-garden-variety comparisons do help kids put standard measurements in perspective. It’s just that there’s no need to settle solely for the prosaic when there are so many mind-expanding alternatives.

Putting Together An Eclectic Curriculum by Cafi Cohen

Parents’ homeschooling roles change with older kids. Younger children ask questions, and the parent answers or helps find answers. With older kids, a homeschooling parent probably functions most effectively not as a teacher, but as a facilitator — someone who provides physical support, acts as a sounding board, and helps with planning and networking.

Through years of trial and error, with both Jeff and his younger sister Tamara, we developed a facilitating approach to planning homeschooling activities with our teenagers: Putting Together An Eclectic Curriculum. Our eclectic homeschooling program incorporated traditional materials, unit studies, unschooling time, volunteer work, community activities — and anything else that encouraged autonomy and enthusiasm for learning.

How’s School Going? by Mary Kenyon

“How’s school going?” It was a simple question, not meant to be accusatory, yet I didn’t know how to respond. You see, my sister is a homeschooler, too, but her method of homeschooling didn’t resemble mine in the least. Every morning Jane “does school” with her children. She uses the top quality reading programs, math textbooks, and other curriculum she orders each year after carefully scanning several curriculum distributor catalogs each summer. Each day the children are required to “do school” before they can play, read or go anywhere.

I, too, plan each summer, order workbooks, hunt down bargains on used curriculum, and start out each year with the good intentions of buckling down and having daily schoolwork. While not comfortable with a regimented approach, I do believe there are certain things each child should learn at approximate ages and I always worry my children have missed some of those things. But inevitably, after a week or two of schedules, we find ourselves drifting back into our regular routine, which actually can be pretty irregular at times!

Waiting for Unschooling to Work by Shay Seaborne

Having started homeschooling as a relaxed eclectic sort, it isn’t surprising that I was attracted to unschooling and slowly moved in that direction. I have never been the kind who needs a lot of pre-planned structure, preferring to cruise with the current and enjoy the blossoms along the way. Still, my journey toward unschooling has been fraught with eddies of doubt: Am I doing the right thing? How can I tell if my children are learning? And where are those interests unschooled children are supposed to follow with excitement?

Although my heart and instincts told me Barb’s advice is true, it has been difficult to un-learn what I was taught about education. Through school and culture I had learned that education is something done to us, the reason and timing determined by experts. Also, education must be pursued in a neat, linear fashion, is necessarily cut up into numerous subject areas, and most of all, learning is drudgery!


And here are some more lesson planning resources from the archives of HEM’s Guide to Resources.

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