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Montessori Our Way Part 2: The Planning Binder

I apologize for completing this post a day late.  We had a wonderful time as a family yesterday for Valentine's Day and I wasn't able to give it the attention it deserved.

For last week's Tips and Tricks Tuesday I shared our school routine.  Today I will discuss my planning binder and how I use it to guide our school time.

The Planning Binder
Here is the binder.  Yes, I need a more exciting cover.  And in case you are confused, Cornerstone Academy is the name we have given our home school.

This is the opening page which includes our overall daily schedule.

Here are the grouping tabs.  It made sense when I first created it but it doesn't work well now.  For the most part I use my weekly planning sheets, subject rotation schedules and classroom checklists.  I really should update the tabs but I'm able to find what I need so it isn't a priority.  Here is what I have right now:

  • Schedules 
  • Circle Time
  • Special Subjects
  • Afternoon Activities
  • Classroom Management
  • Checklists/To-Do
  • Planner
  • Ideas

For this post I will focus mostly on the details of my planning sheets.  I fill one out each week ahead of time.  It helps me focus on what we are doing and ensures I have everything prepared.  Some of it may seem redundant week to week but it really does help keep me on track.  I also use these sheets during class time.

Here is the first page (below).  It begins with our weekly/monthly rotation information such as the monthly composer and or the weekly country.  This has been a great checklist for ensuring I have the right music clips on the iPod or the correct letters on the shelf.

Underneath that you will see the first two core subjects, math and language.  Here I list the presentations I hope to give during the course of the week.  It's a little hard to tell from the photo but I have a few extra items listed to the side.  These are extra presentations I will give if we get further into that area than I expected.

The second page continues with the core subject of Sensorial.  I also list Toddler works here as well.  From there we move into our first school day.  I list the specifics of the opening and closing circle times, our special subject presentation, presentations for the culture subject of the day and our afternoon activity.  If you look closely you'll see I have a printed X for the activities that are not numbered.  That provides something for me to check off if we complete it.  In the notes area I also have S and F.  That is for the start and finish time, should I chose to record it.

The next page is similar and is customized to the specific variations of each day.  If you can't remember exactly how I set that up you can view the scheduling post.  I also apologize for my appalling penmanship.  I realize that it is difficult to read the details I have penciled in.

 The final page finishes out the week.  It also provides a large note section.  I use this area for capturing any to-dos I identify as I plan.  You also may have noticed an asterisk or two next to a presentation.  That is my signal that I am not fully prepared for that particular presentation.  I try to glance at my binder every evening and ensure that there is nothing left to address.

I could probably post many more photos showing the various documents I have prepared but I'm not sure they would be helpful since everyone has their own way of ironing out the details.  I really wish I had taken photos of my check lists.  I have separate lists for weekly and monthly rotations that help me remember what I need to change out in the classroom.  For example, my weekly list reminds me to put out one new practical life activity while my monthly list reminds me to change the artist cards on the wall.

At the end of the week, or more accurately when my binder gets too full, I remove my planning sheets from the binder and put it in an archive binder.  It's a great way to go back and review what we have done in the past and how we're progressing.

This is one of my rotation checklists.  This one covers language material.  Since I have limited space, I only put out two object spelling sets at a time.


This shows the countries we are currently rotating through.

I keep printouts of the table of contents of all albums in the back of the planning binder.  It's helpful to be able to reference them quickly.

Overall, I have been very pleased with the planning process.  It requires me to put adequate thought into our week.  It also give me a method of staying on track during school times.  Once our week starts, I need to have something at hand to execute, especially on the rough days.  It has made the time in the classroom feel less chaotic.  And of course, it gives me a great record of what we've been doing.

The Binder In Use

As a mother of a chronically ill 4 year old, 2 year old and 3 month old I will openly admit that we DO NOT hit the schedule each week.  That really isn't the point anyway.  I use this tool as a guide and a way to properly prepare myself, not as a list of items we MUST get done each day or week.  I believe very strongly in the follow the child approach of Montessori.  Our opening and closing circle times do happen at my discretion for the most part but once they are dismissed for work time I tend to let them go wherever they want.

As long as a work is being respected I generally will not break a child's concentration.  When a lull emerges, I choose a presentation from either the core list or the daily plan.  I always ask if I can give them a presentation on that particular topic before we begin.  If the answer is no I move on.  Often times I will offer something else on the list from a different topic.  It's also common for me to offer the presentation again later in the school day. 

When they have been particularly uninterested in selecting work and accepting presentations, I have taken up the practice of presenting to myself.  This means I will set up my own rug and work through a presentation exactly as I would expect them to do it.  Not only does it give me a chance to practice the presentation but I have never made it more than a few minutes before the curiosity becomes too intense and I have two very eager children by my side.

So how does this variability affect my planning?  It's simple.  We do what we can each week.  As I plan for the following week, I rely heavily on my plans from the following week.  If we did not complete a particular presentation I had planned then it simply gets moved to the following week.  Yes, this was difficult at first for someone who is a type-a planner.  Over time I am learning to trust the process and I have found that some of the most beautiful moments of learning involved nothing in my planning binder.

Overall, I hope you see that planning is really about preparing yourself both physcially and mentally.  It's up to the child to do the actual work.  Flexibility is key!

I plan to continue my "Montessori Our Way" series next week when I showcase how we use Montessori around the home outside of class time.
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