This post is part of a series of helpful teaching tips for homeschoolers. Check out the first post here.
If you look up “how to create a lesson plan,” the first thing that most resources will tell you is to “Know Your Objective.” That is, know what the main point of the lesson is. For example, “after this lesson, the student will be able to name the four largest moons of Jupiter.”
Some homeschoolers have no problem doing this (especially those with lesson-planning experience). And, if you use all purchased curricula for your teaching, you probably have this one covered.
But many homeschoolers love the idea of DIY lessons, child-led learning, and following rabbit-trails (at least for some subjects, if not all). In fact, having this kind of flexibility is one of the main reasons a lot of us choose to homeschool in the first place! The idea here is that whatever the kids take away from the lesson IS the “main objective.”
After all, if my kid wants to learn the seven largest moons of Neptune instead of the four largest moons of Jupiter, then who am I to squelch this interest-led moment by forcing a different set of moons? Where there’s interest, there will be higher retention.
I totally agree that we should not be slaves to our curricula – even if it’s a lesson we designed ourselves! And I know first-hand that cramming information because some test or worksheet says you need to know it is a highly ineffective way to learn.
With all that said, though…
… even the most unschool-y, child-led homeschoolers benefit from naming objectives and having learning goals.
For example, if my 5th grader’s key takeaway after our forty minute science lesson is that Jupiter reminds them of their friend’s dog, “Jupe”, then I think we might not be getting the most out of our time (and I, for one, don’t have much in the way of “spare time” these days…. so I’d hate to think we’re wasting any of it).
For us, I’ve found the best balance between “slave-to-the-curriculum” and “chaotic-random-ineffectiveness” is to have loose learning goals most of the time.
Sometimes, my “objective” is a key phrase or important fact that I try to repeat several times throughout the lesson to provide repetition for my kids. Other times, it’s just a few key ideas I keep in mind to help me stay on track as I guide them.
And it’s not uncommon for my kids to be more interested in information that wasn’t part of my original plan (like Neptune instead of Jupiter). That’s totally ok! There’s no rule that says you can’t change your learning goals or follow rabbit trails, too. But having at least some loose goals helps you get the learning train moving – it provides a framework for you and your kids to build off of.
Notebooking (a fancy, homeschool-y word for journaling) and narration (repeating what you’ve learned in your own words) are two easy and flexible ways we use to keep a balance between planned learning objectives and the kids’ spontaneous child-led take-aways.
Allowing them to draw, write or record the things they’re learning in a free-form-but-guided kind of way lets me make sure we’re not getting off track. And when they narrate out loud what they’ve retained, I can make sure they’re getting at least some of the key points plus other information they find interesting.
So maybe you write out formal objectives. Or maybe you just have in mind some key points or phrases you’d like to emphasize to your kids. However you implement them, try to have some specific goals in mind for your units and lessons. It will help you guide your kids’ learning, help them learn how to retain key ideas and help you use your precious time effectively.
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