Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Apple Recipe: P

Success always comes
when preparation
meets opportunity.

- Henry Hartman

The second ingredient in the Apple Recipe is an interesting dilemma for many of us. There are as many approaches to this concept as there are books on teaching. The important thing is to just do it. Make it fit you. Make it work. But make it happen. You must set aside time to . . .

Prepare. There is just no substitute for this. Vision and thoughtful preparation are core ingredients of the schools that do remarkable things.

Ready-made curriculum companies like to advertise that they have done all of the preparation for you. But even a boxed curriculum can't really do what only you can do. You still need to study your children, evaluate their needs and progress, and find ways of teaching that work best for them. Regardless of what materials you buy, you still need a clear vision of why you are teaching and what you hope to accomplish.

You need to be prepared when the approach of the curriculum you use just isn't working. The plain truth is, you can't just walk into the classroom and open the next page of a notebook, read the instructions, and follow them exactly like you would a recipe in a cookbook -- for the entire year, year after year, -- and get outstanding results.

We've all had weeks when we had to teach this way -- when life got the best of us, when we've been sick, when we've run out of time. We've all enjoyed periods in teaching particular subjects which were this easy to administrate. We can function like this for a while without any problems, and it's okay to do it. It's okay to do things more spontaneously, to shoot from the hip, when we need to.

But at several points along the way, we need to build a vision, a set of objectives, and a philosophy for reaching those. We must have some idea of where our lessons are taking our students. What end result are we aiming for? If the only answer is to finish the book or to complete the online course, then we are setting our students up for boredom, loss of motivation, frustration, and mediocrity.

Even if you are an adherent of "unschooling" -- letting the child lead -- you are not off the hook. Even in this laissez-faire approach, you should be planning, leading indirectly through creating atmosphere and opportunities, and finding resources to make available for the next phase of learning. As educators, we must be leaders in the learning process, and that requires some preparation.

Homeschools without any vision are the most miserable, for everyone, mom included. You know your kids better than anyone else. You are an expert on what they can do and can't do, what they need and don't need, what they like and don't like. No curriculum, regardless of how well written, can replace you. Use your priceless insight to adjust the school lessons so that they are appropriate for your children and so that your children are actually learning what you intend.

This needs to be done on a regular basis at a time when you are not tired. I found that once a month, at a time of day when I am relatively alert and able to think creatively is ideal. But let me encourage you to find what works for you. Find the method that is your best approach to learning and gaining needed perspective. Be willing to invest in yourself as a teacher, if necessary. Arrange for your kids to be busy doing something they enjoy with an relative or sitter who can supervise them, so you can really concentrate without interruptions.

During your preparation time, look back over your recent learning experiences. Think about the big picture and the quality of your recent school days -- what was working and what wasn't? Why? Then look ahead to your future lessons and make adjustments. Are there books and projects you can try or use as supplements? Are there resources at your local library that you can tap into? Are there field trips which would be inspiring? If you don't know or you feel overwhelmed, go back to the first ingredient of our recipe: ask someone. There are good resources all around you for building vision, a philosophy of education, and learning objectives. You just have to find what works for you.

You might even ask an experienced mom about the kind of preparation that has been genuinely helpful to her. But ultimately you are the one who should decide many things for yourself and your students, and that will take regular effort over time. If you are struggling and nothing seems to be working, do this once a week: invest in a sitter, and leave the house. Trade with a friend if finances are tight. But do it. Get away from the house to think. And know that there is nothing wrong with you or your kids. There are times when the needs of both teacher and student are more intense. There were periods of our school years when I employed a sitter who did light housework for me every Friday afternoon. Those afternoons were crucial to the success of our learning adventures. I don't think I could have homeschooled without them.

This is important work, but don't let it be a burden. Treat it as an opportunity and a privilege. There should be no guilt associated with it at all. This is not about what you haven't done or aren't doing. It isn't about what others are doing, either. This is your moment to plan delightful and good things for those you dearly love. It's your time for renewal as a teacher, your time to anticipate, your time to dream a little. Make it fun. Find a coffee shop, a bookstore, or a library you really like. Let yourself browse and unwind a bit first. Then sit down and reflect. And trust yourself: you know more than you think you do.


Be sure to stop in at The Moon Boat Cafe today to learn about The Noticer Project. I am very excited about doing this, and I am inviting all of you to participate!


  1. Well, I can't believe I just discovered your blog! First of all, thank you for your encouraging post on my blog. It's helpful to hear others' suggestions! I just may try setting aside some quiet activities and praying that sibling rivalry doesn't get the best of them for a half hour or so :)
    I love this post, a perfect recipe for a well-run homeschool. I can't wait to read more of your posts....
    Shellie :)

  2. Well now. Just what I needed. Right now. Thank you for giving me permission too. Why not set aside a monthly assessment of goals? Saturday mornings with coffee would be a great time.


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