Monday, November 14, 2011


: the act or process of making or carrying out plans

I love planning.  It makes me feel motivated, accountable and ready.  In fact, I probably enjoy the act of planning even more than executing the plan.  That's not necessarily a good trait to have, but that's the truth of who I am.

When I started homeschooling sixteen months ago, I eschewed written plans.  I did this partly because I wanted to keep my inner perfectionist at bay and partly because I know that I have a tendency to love a plan and lose sight of the bigger picture in pursuit of sticking to the plan.  I also thought A needed to loosen up a bit and that more freedom in schooling would be good for both of us.  This lasted for approximately three months of our homeschool experience. 

This time last year, A and I tried our first unit study.  We spent the month of November studying Thanksgiving in more depth, both as a way to prepare our hearts for the holiday and to shake up our schedule a bit - taking a break from our regular history and science to do the unit study.  A loved doing a unit study, so we decided to do one for Advent as well.  The catch?  I couldn't find a unit study that I liked.  I found two that were candidates - one had great hands on activities, the other was a fairly comprehensive look at Christmas symbols - but neither one was challenging enough or detailed enough to fulfill our academics for the entire month.  My solution?  I combined the two studies and created an Excel spreadsheet with each day's plan.  A loved it.  Not just the study - the plan.

When January arrived and I attempted to go back to our original method of deciding together what subject to do next, A asked for a written plan again.  After some thought and honest assessment, I realized using a plan was working. If A did better with a plan in place, it didn't make sense for me to not use a written plan just for the sake of "freedom."  After all, freedom is much more about knowing when to say yes and when to say no.  Saying no to something that worked wasn't freedom - it was being a slave to what I thought we needed.

I've refined our plan and its look a few times, but the basics are the same.  One spreadsheet contains all of A's (and now B's) work for the week.  They can see at a glance which days have heavier loads and which days allow time for field trips, time with friends, etc.

Like last year, I'm creating a different type of plan for Advent.  We'll still do math, although a lighter load - interspersing our Saxon lessons with Khan Academy practice.  Once math is out of the way, we'll Think, Read and Do.  We'll Think about either a church saint or an aspect of Advent each day.  We'll Read about our topic - mainly via books, but with some online help for certain topics.  Finally, we'll Do something to tie together what we've learned.  I'm excited about all of this, but I'm most excited about Doing.

As I said above, I love planning.  I'll gladly spend time researching several options, selecting the best books to read and diving into ideas.  It's the doing where I fall down.  I lose energy partway through the execution of a plan.  This is (I think) partly the result of being a Nine.  I love plans because they help me see underlying connections.  I love reading about Saint Lucia and connecting her name to the Latin word for light, then coming up with an activity to help us think about the importance of light not just during Advent, but throughout our journey of faith. 

But the doing?  I find it difficult.  I can get lost in ideas and forget to actually do these great things I envision.

The beauty of my Advent plan for this year is that it will hold me accountable.  Writing down that we will have Saint Lucia bread on December 13th means two very disappointed girls if I don't deliver.  (That's one good thing about having an Eight as a daughter - she will push me to Do and not just plan.)

Let me be clear that I don't expect all of this planning and even accountability to change who I am.  If I'm going to bake cookies several times weekly, run deliveries to different friends and oversee the creation of dozens of Christmas gifts, I'm going to require some down time.  I'm going to have to feed my soul if I want to help my children see Christmas as more than a time to receive.  How?  Partly by keeping it simple.  Instead of trying to make a gingerbread house, Christmas cards and homemade marshmallows in the same day, we'll do that on three different days. That's the beauty of Think, Read and Do.  Pretty simple.  The less our plan outlines specifically for the day, the more freedom we have to keep Reading, go on Thinking or Do something else.

I'm also going to try something that worked during Lent: I'm going to adopt a spiritual practice of creating every day.  This time around, it might not be collage.  I've spent less time blogging in recent weeks, so maybe part of my spiritual practice will be to journal - here or in my Advent Journal.  I just know it fills my emotional tank to have space in my day for quiet creating.  So no matter what the plan says, I'll do that to take care of my soul. 

What will you do?  For Advent?  For your soul care?  For celebrating?  If you'd like to know details of our Advent plan, I'll be posting weekly on my other blog about Advent activities you can do with your children.  And since we can't be fully present for our children without taking care of ourselves, I'll include some suggestions for that as well.

Here's hoping all of this planning leads me to one place: the cross by way of the manger.


Becky said...

Shannon, I really sense that I need to focus this Advent season. A friend from the Y recommended a book to read, but an Advent journal sounds like a great idea to go along with it. I actually don't like journaling, but I see the benefit when I do it. And I will keep an eye on the Fun Jar. How about a winter hike during Advent?

EJN said...

I love that you are planning the Christmas tide season - I do think that this time of year is the time we need most reflection. Last year we did most of our activities early so we could spend good "down" time with our family and close friends. It gave us a chance to really focus on the meaning of Advent and curtailed beginning in the midst of hallabaloo. I forgot you had another blog. I'll check it out.