Work Plans and Journals, Part 1

This post actually originated as a draft in blogger, to keep notes I was taking that I didn't want to lose (yes, I admit - I write a lot of hard copy  notes because writing them helps me memorize, and then I lose them...). I start with that, because when I started it, I was in the middle of a 'mommy snuck away' moment. My sweet husband was at home, feeding the children, getting them to bed on time, and I was in a quiet corner of the library, mentally up to my elbows in reading about work plans and journals. 

The presence of a work plan is a must. It has also been a mystery finding the one right for our family. Last year, we started out without one. Then tried a simple plan, that didn't include enough. Then it fell away. Then gradually moved in to one that worked - for two weeks. Then it fell away, and we were without again. Then, this year we started with planners - and those, too, failed miserably. There was something lacking, and I couldn't quite get my fingers on how to fix it. 

Let's take a look at what we have tried:

#1 - Folders. Short and sweet - folders. Keep your work
 here. Nothing too complicated about that, right? 

It was very inexpensive for the initial cost. Less than a dollar for a folder, and you are ready to begin. Everything is in one place. Any work that required writing of any kind was kept in one place, so you can find everything in one spot.

Can we say messy? Messy because - paper gets squashed, folded, bent, torn. Small pieces of graph paper and mixed in between regular notebook sized paper, therefore causing your 'all in one spot' access to everything chaotic. Might I add frustrating when the notebook tears, or someone carelessly picks it up the wrong way, and all the papers fly out. Oh, and I was still pretty much in charge of what they did, when they did it, without the freedoms available since the folder was only the way to keep up with everything. Not much motivation was shown past what I said to do next.

#2 - Work pockets. No, not pocket charts - work pockets. There is a difference.

Each child had their own. They had their own pocket, made out of felt, and their own color of card - each specific to the other. There was no confusion as to whose card was whose. One pocket held their work cards, and there was a joint, larger pocket for completed cards to be put in until the next week. This follows a pocket chart to an extent. There was the ability to choose their own work, when they wanted to do it. Work cards were made for a full week of work, so the decision of what to do everyday was already made on Monday. BUT - if they decided on Wednesday they didn't like the math card they had, they can go to the envelopes (each one with a separate day of the week on it) and trade it for one that they had for Thurs. or Fri. .

When you have five children going in five different directions, it's a little hard to go looking in pockets to see what has and hasn't been completed. Too many specified works that weren't completed at days end. And in our house, when 3:30 rolls around, we HAVE to be done. It's time to move on to cleaning, laundry, preparing for Daddy to come home. Which means if 3 works weren't completed, they got moved to the next day. To an extent, that teaches an important lesson - what gets put off does not disappear. I don't mind that. What wasn't working is that when they open their work pockets on Friday, and there are 11 cards in there, there were one too many days of discouraging melt downs from a certain 9 year old (then 8) who had half a day of Math to do. Yes, it was her fault, but if you have followed our journey to learning to love Math - it just wasn't conducive to getting anything done that day. This one was one of the closest we had to working well, but there was also a lack of motivation to do anything else, or make sure that their work for the day was complete. Looking back, I'm sure it could have been partially a matter of seeing the cards left to go, and not thinking about what they had already been able to accomplish.

#3 - Planners. Store bought, dated planners, for planning your day's work (just so we are clear here on what type of planner I am referring to). 

Once again, we are back to an easy, small amount of storage to be done. No various envelopes and felt pockets to be kept up with, just one small notebook-sized planner per child. These were used by the older two children, Little Mama and Hoss. They were able to choose what the wanted to do, and fill in their planner weekly. They had the freedom to decide what days they wanted to do certain things, and when to have a larger work load, or smaller, whatever the day fit best. Example - when we spend half the day at libraries in town on Tuesday, and then come home - no one wants to have a lot of work left to jump in to. Truthfully, no one wants to do school work at all - they want lunch, and new books, and not always in that order!

One of the cons is my own fault - if you use this method, don't go cheap on the planners. You don't have to buy ridiculously large or expensive ones, but don't decide on a whim while at the dollar store to try theirs. When small(er) hands are opening and closing them all day, they tend to begin to lose their covers quickly, and just get a worn out feel to them. And that's within the first couple of months. They would fill them in weekly, as I said, and we would do this together. This all sounds like it was working, but for whatever reason, it just didn't. Another problem we had was that apparently I didn't check them often enough during the day. They already had their work written in for what they needed done, so if I got busy with everything else going on, I didn't always see them until the end of the school day. The next part was their fault - they weren't always marking off what they did by the end of the day. Or, once again, they weren't finishing it. They didn't seem to be ready for the full accountability a planner requires just yet.

All of this trial and error got us through last school year, and the first semester of this one. Still I was searching for something that worked well. My Boys Teacher at What Did We Do All Day has posted before about using a pocket chart, as well as sweet Abbie from Montessori Homeschooling, and so I thought I would give it a try. I was prepped and ready to start that last week - I even presented the idea to the kids, and they got excited about it. 

Then, I read this post from Jessica at Montessori Trails, and the comment thread, and immediately my best laid plans came crashing down. The cons of such a system came back to me - using it as a check list, only completely the bare minimum, not being further motivated to go on. That sounds like a jumble of thoughts, because that's what it was. However, I could see such a thing happening again, since it had already in the past to an extent with the work cards. Then I did what I tend to do often - I began a trail of self doubt. It's not a pretty one, to be certain. So I jumped in the conversation, asking about a few things that came to mind. Jessica suggested that what I was looking for was accountability (I was, on their part and mine). She referred me to a post which I had NOT read in full on her blog, and then said that a work journal was a good place to start. And that takes me full circle to the beginning of this post - my quiet time spent in the library, reading about work journals and thinking on them for 2 1/2 hours. 

Now that you know where we have been, and the next post will tell you my next step in trying to find something that fits - at least for now!


  1. We use workplans. I do realize it probably gives too much structure, but I feel we needed a bit of both or my children will not always choose the harder work (they still generally don't). We do a group learning time, and then my 6 year old is required 3 works per day and my 8 year old is required 4. If a work was presented during our group learning time, it is added to the work plan. At the end of each day, I record what they chose in Homeschool Tracker. This seems to be working well for us, as I know when I need to have a work created and when I can remove it from the shelf (we have VERY limited shelf space). In general, my older ones don't choose to do work more then the amount of times requested anyways. I have been using the workplans from Montessori For Everyone as my guide. I hope you find a system that works for you!

    1. I read your post on work plans when I started researching them! In fact, I want to say I had read it once before, as well, but didn't pay as much attention to it as I should have. There is some accountability that is being brought in, this week in fact, especially for the older ones, My children are like yours (and probably many others) - they would never choose what was 'harder' or 'less fun' if I didn't initiate/expect it of them. I am really praying that where we are going with all of this helps smooth out the days. I'm sure you know as well as I do, that when you have children going in all different directions, there has to be a GOOD system to keeping the day going smoothly! I'll be posting on Wednesday (hopefully) more about this. :) Thanks for stopping by!


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