Unschooling Record-keeping and Planning

I'm working on lesson plans, which is something that I haven't spent a lot of time on, lately.

When we started unschooling, I put our structured lesson plans aside and turned to less detailed forms of record-keeping. But, there were things about our planning that I missed. In particular, I liked having a list of ideas and some structure with which to start our day, and I missed the ready-made record-keeping that was so easy and simple to maintain.

So, now, I'm experimenting with a different form of lesson plans, which is more flexible and more child-directed than our old ones. I'm hoping that, instead of being a checklist of must-do tasks, they will provide suggestions, ideas and motivation, which will lay a foundation and bring some inspiration to the children's days.

So far, I have a basic weekly outline and some strewing ideas to include in the back pages. I'm not worried about having 'gaps' - there will always be gaps in any education - and I'm not concerned about forgetting anything useful. We'll adjust and write notes in the pages, as the term develops. If we go down a completely different track altogether, I'll just edit the plan on the computer and, then, replace the altered pages.

Here's what I have, so far:

Because I am strewing ideas and possibilities, I have tried to include alternatives for reading and I've left room to jot down topics or pages read, rather than specify an amount to be completed. In the past, I've found that it's difficult to predict how much time is needed for each activity, and it's hard to be flexible or to allow for rabbit trail discoveries, if the lesson plans are too detailed.

As always, we are planning together. We are choosing books together and making decisions, which are based entirely upon the children's needs and interests. I am offering suggestions but I am not basing the plan on what I think the children ought to be learning. We talk about their goals and discuss how they might achieve them, but, if they are not interested in doing something, then I'm not interested in putting it in the plan.

If you're not unschooling, that might sound risky and you'd be forgiven for thinking it would result in spoilt and undisciplined children. However, my experience has shown otherwise. I've found that it's just not worthwhile, trying to teach something to a student who isn't interested. It, also, deprives the student of other, more profitable studies, as well as the opportunity to discover real passions. As for discipline, not only can it be learnt in non-academic pursuits, I think it is, also, just as likely, if not more likely, to be learnt in a form of learning for which the student feels an attachment.

I'm still working on the strewing pages. I'll include some reference materials, ideas for activities and memory aids. Here's a list of some things we've included, in the past:

  • Latin vocabulary
  • Poetry
  • Reading list
  • Greek and Latin roots
  • Diagramming exercises
  • Timelines
  • Maps
  • Useful websites
  • Spelling rules
  • Phonics charts
  • Times tables
  • Hundreds charts
  • Weekly word lists
  • Prayers (although, the children have a separate prayer book, as well)
  • Pictures
  • Music scales
  • Art and Music chronologies
  • Short articles and biographies
  • Craft ideas
  • Domestic learning tools
  • Games
  • Music lists
  • Nature study ideas
  • Excursion ideas
  • Time management ideas
  • Catechism questions and answers
  • Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, Virtues, etc

The ideas will be limited to about 48 pages, as I've found that this is a manageable amount. It makes a good sized booklet, that can be easily stapled, and it provides just enough information to be useful, without being overwhelming.

So, this is where I'm at.

I'll add some colour to the design and some interesting pictures. Then, I'll put in the saints' feast days and I'll add detail and order to the bible entries, so that we can follow a reading plan. But, other than that, I'll keep it general to cope with for the inevitable disruptions, and to allow for spontaneity.

It's exciting to be thinking about all we'll be learning, both together and on our own. And, I think it makes me feel confident to know there is some direction and purpose to what we do. The plan may be loose but, hopefully, it will form the starting point for individual exploration and discovery.

I wonder if you use a plan like this or something different? What methods do you use and how do you make it work?


Angel said...

Vicky, I recently discovered your blog and am really enjoying it. Your unschooling plans are very intriguing to me. At our house we are very unschooly without being total unschoolers... I still do require a little bit of work. I have one child in particular who benefits from some structure, but I've never been able to hit on a lesson plan that isn't ignored after about three days. I like the the idea of having a booklet as a resource, but it looks like it takes quite a bit of time. Can you give me an idea of how much time you spend on putting these together? Also, as an unschooler, if your kids were to completely ignore your plans, how would you handle that? I always have trouble when I put a lot of work into something and the kids abandon it.

Vicky said...

Hi Angel,

It's nice to meet you and share with you.

The lesson plans are something I started doing about 8 years ago and I've adapted them, according to the methods we've been using and the needs of each child.

I've made a range of different types, to suit whether the children need more or less structure. The first ones were very simple and didn't take very long. From the start, I saved everything on the computer so, the more detailed the plans became, the more I was able to cut and paste. I, also, found some shortcuts, and some resources that speeded things up. So, I guess the quickest, most unstructured ones have taken up to an hour and the longest ones as much as a number of days of pondering, collecting resources and compiling.

We have learnt a lot through trial and error and one thing I've found is that it's important to be detached. Only put in as much time as you are happy to devote to it so that you feel able to abandon it, if it's not working. But, it's useful to find ways to make it flexible so that it can develop with the children's interests and can be altered easily.

At the moment, I'm making a structured plan for my conscientious student, a quick and loose plan for my free spirit and plans for the younger children, which include readers and read alouds to help me to stay focused and involved with their learning.

I have a lot of plans, on my computer, for every age group, and I'm happy to share these for use as templates or to take pages from. I'm also happy to shares ways I've found to make it more simple to put together and more attuned to the children's interests, if that's helpful.

Thank you for your comment, Angel.

God bless:)

Sue Elvis said...


I've been thinking about this. I know you talked with your children about what they wanted to do before you wrote these plans. But what if they decide they'd rather do something else after all? What if they don't do anything on their day's plan? Does it matter? Can you actually plan unschooling?

Vicky said...


The lesson plans are mainly about good reading and giving the children ideas to choose between. It won't matter if they don't doi it because there's space to write down what they do decide to do and they are free in the type of activity they decide upon.

There are options to choose between, too. It would be impossible to do everything, on the list, but it's arranged into subjects, anyway, for record-keeping purposes and our own use

I've found that the children like to have some guidance, even if they do make their own choices and I need some sort of reading plan for me, otherwise we aren't disciplined with our read alouds.

I've thought about whether you can plan unschooling and I think it depends on how you implement it. An analogy - do you insist the children eat the dinner you prepare for them or do you lay out a smorgasbord and tell them to take their pick? You wouldn't expect them to eat the whole lot and, if they see something they prefer on another table, it's not going to upset you if they try it out. Does that make sense?

I guess the main point is that we've written down our ideas and, once they're in writing, they look final. But, they're not set in concrete and I really expect them to be the inspiration for some rabbit-trail learning, rather than a comprehensive account of what we expect to do.

Does that sound like unschooling? If not, I may have to invent a new word for what we do - and, go and change the titles of all my old blog posts! :-)