Work Plans And Journals, Part 2

Now that you have read my initial post on our lack of a working work plan, I'd like to share about what I gleaned from my research on them.

The first thing I did was go to Jessica's collaborative post on work plans, where there were links to her different posts on the subject, as well as others. To see that post, go here - Work Plans and Journals at Montessori Trails . There are several links to different posts on the web about work plans and work journals. I love how she started her son with a simple work plan, and may be able to employ something like that for my youngest two. My focus isn't so much on them right now, as far as a work plan goes, because they are really too young to need it, but by the next school year Bug will be considered in kindergarten, and a little direction in helping her make choices throughout the day will be good to prepare her for work plans/journals later on. 

I'd tell you everything that she has used, as well as all the other great ideas, but really - you should just go check out the posts!

Jessica poses the following question/answer scenario (in her blog):


To aid in the development of responsibility. 

To aid the child in going deeper with their work. 

She says:
"If the work plans you are thinking of are going to minimize a child's depth and not aid in the development of responsibility - you're thinking of work plans that probably "dictate" rather than guide what is already in the child. As a primary child "plans" his day in his head, an elementary child plans his day, his week and eventually his month both in his head and on paper. So he is making a visual plan of what is in his mind - in a way that the adult can guide him in areas of weakness and further develop areas of strength.

It becomes a contract - with the teacher, yes, but MOST importantly: with himself. He is committing to following through on his plan that HE
developed with the adult to aid him in constructing himself."

With each of the ways we have tried to establish some type of work plan, the lack of responsibility has sometimes been an issue, but more than that - my concern was for the lack of desiring to go deeper with their work. That's not to say it's NEVER happened - Little Mama was, at one time, so taken with Native Americans that it was a hyper-focus for weeks, and she was reading, writing, and drawing everything she could about them. During the Olympics, she started to take an interest in Russia's history. This, however, was short lived - when she tried to find information at the library, she decided it was just too bloody for her liking. 

For the most part, however, they tended to treat everything as a check list to get through - they would do their work usually, although they tended to avoid the subjects that weren't their favorite. Little Mama almost always did Math last, or didn't do it at all, and Hoss generally avoided a lot of reading. The problem was, they were usually working to be done. Their mantra was "Sooner we get done - sooner we get to play!" I didn't see the desire to do any 'delight-based learning' of any kind, or research any interests. I wanted something that would encourage just such a thing. 

Another thing I noticed was that so much of it was indeed dictated. This is where I needed the change - to encourage one, you have to alter the other. I still find myself tending to lean toward a lot of teacher directed learning at times. While there is a time and place for this, when you are trying to get your children to WANT to learn more, go deeper, in to something they care about, you can't direct that. Even if they do it, and like it - it wasn't their delight - it was your suggestion. The passion for soaking up the information won't be there the same way as it was when, for example, Little Mama was making little paper tribes of Native American Indians nightly.

In another Nuggets post, Jessica very clearly includes the presence of a journal/plan as a core need for the elementary classroom. If I understand correctly the difference in the 1st and 2nd planes of development, one of the signs is inward order vs. outward order. In the 1st plane, there is a desire for outward order. In the 2nd plane, the order being worked on is inner. In what sounds like an oxymoron at first, to achieve the inward, it sometimes seem that you lose the outward. 

When a small child - 3-5, especially - comes in contact with an orderly environment, they are able to move and work in it and learn. They can see clearly what's on that education plate, so to speak, and make their choices because there is a lack of confusion. To break it down even further, let's consider for a moment a child's play room. If you set aside a room for a child, designating it for only play, throw two or three toy boxes in there, and pile all their toys in them - they will find nothing. More often than people would think, they will walk around as if they are bored to death, and end up getting in to things they shouldn't be. Or they will have an inward, and outward, melt down, because they are unable to make a decision out of the chaos and can't figure out a way to tell you that. However, if you *ahem* get rid of half the toys, or more, get two shelves, and keep enough to have a variety, but not so much that you can't give each their own nice little space, you will find that your otherwise unhappy, tiny human, can walk in and enjoy themselves. That doesn't mean they will leave it the way they found it - especially not if they've had the 'toy box' mentality for a while. That is the part you have to teach and train them to do. Faster than you realize, however, they will learn that everything has it's place.

In the 2nd plane of development, there is a need to take the outward order that they have learned, and turn it in to inward order. In the before mentioned playroom, your 6 or 7 year old is going to take all the toys off the shelf, put them in a big pile and make a mess trying to create a huge 'yard sale' game in the play room. That's just a silly example (although I will admit, my children have done this!) that seems like they have forgotten what you have painstakingly taught them. They haven't - when they are done, they will return everything to the shelf once again in it's correct place. In the mean time, they are creating this great, logical, and somewhat real-world situation in their minds, and then bringing to to fruition in what looks like a mess to us, but isn't to them! So when you take that to the classroom, they may come in to the day with a plan in their heads of what they want to do first, and most important, and it may not be what's at the top of YOUR list of things that you need to accomplish with them. That doesn't mean your list doesn't have to be properly taken care of. However, it means you can squash the excitement if you throw your dictated plans at them before they have a chance to begin. Therefore, you bring in: 


Or, in our case, the Work Journal.

I didn't want a situation of 'check, check, check - we're done!' again. I knew that if I jumped in to something too ordered and specific, that is what I would get. That doesn't mean specific isn't going to come in the future - it just wasn't right for us at the time. When Jessica suggested a work journal, and I read the two last links in her collaborative post (the ones from an actual Montessori school), along with some thinking on my own - I knew I wanted to try them.

So, without further ado, here are out fabulous, amazing, wonderful journals.

Exciting, isn't it? Hahaha - I know, they are just notebooks lol.

For the first week, they were just told the use of the journals and got practice getting in to the habit of using them. The oldest three have them, and I will say that Miss Priss wasn't extremely thrilled, but more because it meant extra writing and work on her part. She will get used to it - there is responsibility that must be taught. I almost waited on hers, but she is 6.5 yrs old, and the need for that internal order is already showing up in some things she does. As the teacher/mommy, it's my job now to make room for it. Here are a couple shots of some of their entries from last week.

This was Miss Priss' first day of recording her work. You can see that the first entry, at the top, was my handwriting as I showed her what to do. At this point, I actually initiated a couple works with her just so she would have something to write down quickly. After an easy matching shapes/pictures and stereognostic bag work, she went to what she affectionately labeled 'crafts'. Actually, what she was doing is working with her sisters and brothers to color and cut out large pictures that she plans on keeping to make puppets out of (when her mama remembers to get tape or good glue from the store!). Already, the future plans are coming in to play with work. 

This portion of Hoss' journal is actually from today. I chose it because I wanted to point out something here that I will show him in the days to come. He did do reading work, and history and science. However, it was very unspecified in his journal what he did. In the next few days, I will be encouraging him to be more specific with his work. However, these particular entries are acceptable today, because of some more additions to this work journal style that I will talk about more in the next post.

This is Little Mama's from the first day. I tried to close here to show something I thought was neat. After finishing reading, she recorded it in her journal, and - unprompted - included the time. This is sometimes I had planned on showing her a little bit down the road, as things got more specific in their journals, so I was happy to see that she already thought to do that. So far, she has continued to do this - but only for the time she spends reading. I haven't checked to see if her times are literal or an estimate, but as you might be able to see, this one said 1 hour, and that is entirely possible. Then, right after - she records a trip taken to my mother's house. Which we did take, and, for whatever reason, she felt compelled to add in. She has been funny about them, because she tends to write EVERYTHING down. One day, she made sure to include in her journal that she wrote her little sister a note for our mailboxes, and this past Sunday she wrote EVERYTHING she did, despite it being a non-school day.

Now you know what we are trying, and the next post in this series will talk about expectations during the school day and what I am doing with Bug!

These are some other links I found while searching that you might be interested in! :) 

The following quote comes from the Montessori Central link above:

One good example is the use of a work journal instead of a work plan. They admit the work plan has to be used at the beginning of the year to provide guidance but transferal of responsibility to the student should take place as soon as the student is capable of taking responsibility for his or her own work. The work plan creates “a check off mentality that promotes getting work done quickly so children can be free to just socialize and play.” That’s when a teacher realizes she has trapped herself with the work plan. A work journal serves to document work chosen and done by the student, who also records it.

*I will be sharing how I am trying to evenly space out guidance and the ability to responsibly choose their own work next time!


  1. Amy - Great post on this! I am not sure how I missed it when you first posted!

    Interesting quote from Montessori Central. The properly Montessori work plans are simply the child's thoughts in written form, aided by a conversation with the adult so the adult can help "guide" and encourage. Sadly, I have seen SO many work plans that are truly a check-check-check set-up, so they will indeed create the check-off mentality. :(

    1. Thank you, for all your input as I worked to figure out how they would work in our environment. It's funny - our year has just begun,and yet I can already see where things need tweaking a little *again*, because the atmosphere is always changing! :) I hope all is going well with you, too!


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