As unschoolers, it can be hard to predict what each day will look like. In our house we have a general rhythm to our days, but that can change at a moment’s notice. Maybe we wake up and feel like heading to the pool for a swim instead. Maybe family is coming to visit. Maybe it’s so hot all we feel like doing is having a movie day. Or perhaps someone has a sudden interest in birds and we pack some food and head to the park for some bird watching instead. That’s the beauty of unschooling. We follow our interests.
So, how do you plan and record learning if things can be unpredictable? And do you even need to?
Firstly, you may have to. Depending on where you live you might be required to summit plans, record learning, and send in reports. Or you could be super lucky and not have to do any of that. The rules vary wildly all over the world. But that’s a whole other topic!
Personally, I find recording learning and doing a little bit of planning very helpful. I didn’t find it very necessary when the children were younger, but as they grow I find I definitely need it. It helps me to better support them.
Remembering Questions and Ideas
For some reason, I have great confidence in my memory and it’s entirely unsupported by the evidence! Sometimes we’ll be having a conversation in the car and wondering about things and decide we’ll look them up when we’re at home later. I am sure I’ll remember exactly what the questions were and we’ll definitely pick right up where we left off. Turns out it’s a 50/50 chance, unfortunately. I need to write things down or they just may not happen! When I had one child it was much easier, but four people with different interests and ideas? I can’t keep all of that in my head along with everything else going on in there! Recording things helps me simply remember stuff!
I am much better able to support my kid’s interests and projects when I do a bit of record-keeping. It’s the difference for me between having a vague idea in my head of what they’re into, and really knowing them and where they’re at, what they are keen to learn or practice, and where I can support them. It may not be the same for everyone but I’ve really found the act of getting things out of my brain and down on paper to be a massive help. I can see it all and really consider what each child needs from me.
Honestly, unschooling feels so much like normal life that don’t you sometimes wonder if you’re really doing anything? I think we all have moments where we think, ‘wait, am I doing enough here?’ Have we done anything this year? I think the thing is, it doesn’t feel like ‘work’, and we’ve been schooled to believe that learning is work. It sort of feels too easy and we question if that means we’re not doing enough. Recording learning certainly helps with confidence and deschooling. Whenever I look back at what we’ve been up to I am blown away at how much has been happening. And it all just felt like fun.
When you start to note down all the learning that is going on, you are actually able to do some planning. No, I still don’t plan what we will learn in a year. I can’t predict what my children will be interested in! But, if I am recording what they are learning I can certainly plan some shorter term things. I can look for resources they might like, upcoming events, surprise them with a new book or activity. It’s makes it much easier to see what things we need to make time for and then to make sure we do. When I’m aware of the kind of things they want to spend their time on, then I’m able to make sure there is enough space in our days for that.
We have access to lots of awesome resources but I do find that if I’m not reminded of them, I forget to offer them! Simply writing down a list of the things we have available has been a big help. Everyone can always see the options if they’re looking for something to do.
How I do it
There are lots of different ways people do their planning and recording. I can only share mine, but I’ve finally found one that works! I’ve tried a lot of different methods over the years, from notebooks to digital, and it was all very haphazard and didn’t last. I’ve always taken tons of photos so if needed can look back over them and see everything we have done. But as for actually writing things down, I could never find something I could stick to or that I could easily flip through and find what I wanted. Until this year! One good thing to come out of this year, I have nailed the recording! Finally! Since I’ve actually kept it up for a whole year I’m going to call it a success.
This year I’ve been using Mulberry Planner and I love it so much. I’ll definitely be using it again next year. I think the reason it works so well for me is that it’s so customizable. There are 200 pages of templates for various things, so you just pick the ones that work best for you. Perfect! I was able to use whichever way made sense best in my brain, and that seems to be what kept me going. I’ll take you through the pages I use most, and how I use them.
I don’t know what else to call this other than ‘the wall’, ha! That’s what we call it. This is in our art room, where the kids spend most of their time. These are the things that everyone needs to see, so we stuck them up on the wall and it’s super useful!
Projects and Interests. I used one of the blank templates to create this page. I wanted to have everyone’s current interests up on the wall so they could remind themselves of things they wanted to make time for. They often add to it and we go through once a season and remove anything that has come to an end. They like having this here to refer to when they’re thinking about what they want to do during the day.
Things To Do. This page is just a list of resources we have like Masterpiece Society, Prodigy Math, or even just sewing or cooking. This is so we don’t forget about what’s available, as I mentioned before. If someone is feeling a little bored, they might check out this list and see if there’s anything they might have forgotten about that they want to do.
Week Plan. This page is just the extra-curricular schedule. The girls do dancing and netball.
Calendar. We always have two months of the calendar up so we can see what events are coming up for our unschool group and anything we need to prepare for, e.g. book club, project fair, poetry teatime.
Questions. This one is used mainly by the younger girls (6 and 5). We write down any questions they have here, like ‘How do your ears get wax?’ or ‘How does a fish breathe?’ Sometimes when we’re having project time they’ll pick one of their questions to find the answer to.
Planning and Recording
My favourite pages for planning and recording are these two ‘weekly records’ templates. There is also a couple of other options, but I’ve mainly been using these two. I print them back to back and so then just have a page for each week. The one on the left I use for planning the week, and the one on the right I use for recording.
This is an example from a couple of months ago that I happened to snap before I’d written anyone’s names anywhere!
Planning the week: This is where I think about the week coming up and what we may do. I look back over the past few weeks of records of what the girls have been up to to give me inspiration.
In the weekly learning focus box I write what each child wants to do this week. I just ask them and write it down. This week Miss 11 wanted to draw a family tree. Something I never would have guessed and was totally random, which is why I always make sure I ask them rather than just planning things that I think. The point of unschooling is to support what they want to learn about, rather than take over.
Miss 9 wanted to sew an outfit this week. And both older girls wanted to make time to practice for their upcoming ballet exams.
Miss 6 said she would like to learn skip counting (she has been often telling me how she can count by 10s lately), and do some ‘dot painting’.
Miss 5 wanted to do ‘adding’, and an art class.
Talking about plans for the week is really helpful for us. It ensures we make time for everyone to do the things they want, and helps them learn valuable time management skills.
Under ‘Books for This Week’ I write the current read alouds we are doing, and audiobooks the girls are currently listening to.
I use the activities box to write a list of any fun things I might do with them this week. At the moment they are really into starting the day with an activity that I come up with (based on things I know they like obviously). Just something simple but they love the surprise of me setting something up for them. So I write ideas for that here, as well as anything else I think they might like to do this week (again based off me looking back over the last few weeks). For example, this week I have written:
-Full moon activity (because I noticed there was a full moon this week)
-Skip-counting hopscotch (as Miss 6 is interested in skip counting I just googled some fun ways to do that. I thought we could make chalk paint together and paint it on the pavement outside)
-Masterpiece Society (for art classes)
-Halloween costume design
-Eggshell planters (they’ve been really into gardening and I found a gardening book at the shops with lots of fun little activities that they’re excited about)
-Self-watering seedlings (also from the book)
–Yesteryear Gazette (a new history subscription we received in the mail and a reminder to myself to look at it with them).
Do all of these things fit into a week? Never! I don’t plan to fit them all in, it’s just me keeping ahead of the game. This is my job. To be prepared, to provide an inspiring environment, to support their learning, to give them options. Do they have to do these things? No way! Unschooling means not forcing learning and these ideas are not requirements. They come from me living with my children and really knowing them and what they enjoy. Planning in unschooling is more of a guide of how things might look, trying to prepare for the possibilities based off what you know. And also knowing that it all could go in the bin if a new passion suddenly springs to life, and that is totally ok too.
Recording the week: This page is where I record what actually happens during the week. I put in some of the ideas from the activities box on the previous page in pencil when I think they might happen, and I write in our events with friends on Weds and Fri too. That way I can see what everything looks like and where it might fit. I can make time for the important things they want to do.
At the end of each day I record the things that actually happened in pen, and then rub out the pencil. This works for me. I have a guide of the things we want to do, and when might be a good time to do it, but also the flexibility to let the day unfold as it does.
At the end of the week I look back over the plans and what happened. Anything that didn’t get done but is still important I simply move to the activities box in the next week. Anything that didn’t get done but they are no longer interested doesn’t carry over. And then I begin all again!
And that’s it! That’s how I plan and record learning. It’s not very complicated but it works for me. There are also lots of other pages in the planner I use for reflecting on what we’ve done each season, planning the year, coming up with our rhythm, keeping track of books we’ve read etc, but I’ll keep this about my weekly planning. If you check out the Mulberry site you can see all the different templates you can use to make up your own planner. I also keep a plastic sleeve in the back for each child where I can keep some of their artwork, writing, etc.
I hope this was helpful to you! I’m so glad I’ve finally found a way that works for me that I can finally keep up with. I really love looking back on all that we have done.
You can check out Mulberry Planner here. I highly recommend it:
BONUS: When you get your planner through one of the links above, you also get SIX extra pages exclusive to Happiness is Here readers! Woop! Mulberry have kindly made up the templates above for projects and interests, questions, etc. PLUS a version of the weekly recording pages that go from Mon-Sun, because unschoolers learn every day, right? AND a little template for chatting with your kids and asking about what they would like to learn and create. I’m thinking I’ll use this once a season when we refresh our list of current projects. I’m trying not to wish time away but I’m totally excited to start my 2021 planner! I hope you enjoy the special bonuses from me x