I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cultivating a Self-Driven Day for a Middle Schooler

Cultivating a Self-Driven Day for a Middle Schooler {The Unlikely Homeschool}

It's no secret that I loooooove using Task Cards to keep my kids on task. It helps to motivate them...to propel them forward into independence...and provides a sense of security for "what comes next" in their day. But, as in all areas of life, there is a season.

A season for Task Cards. 
A season for something else.

Since catapulting herself into middle school, Sweetie Pea has officially moved past the usefulness of Task Cards. 

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She still needs something to help her organize her day...something that will allow her to prioritize with purpose. But, she needs something a bit more tailor-made...a bit more practical for her age and growing maturity.

Cultivating a Self-Driven Day for a Middle Schooler {The Unlikely Homeschool}

So, her Task Cards have been replaced with a student planner. It's nothing special. Just a simple calendar-style notebook. But, it's one that affords enough space to create her own method...her own rhythm to her day.

Here's how her week gets scheduled...

A skeletal calendar

Before the school year even began, I etched out a basic school calendar in her planner.  I marked off any "specials" in both the month-at-a-glance pages and the weekly planning pages.  These special things included days off of school, co-op days, piano lessons, holidays...anything that would prevent her from doing "the norm." Having a skeletal calendar in place gives her clear vision for what the weeks and months will look like and reminds her NOT to schedule school assignments at those times.

From plan to planner

Since I am a "plan the entire school year out in advance" kinda girl, I already have all of her assignments written out in my own planner...along with a whole lot of other information that I don't necessarily want her to be digging through. So, every Monday...or Sunday if we are really on the ball...she and I sit down to have a weekly planning meeting. She takes out her planner and I take out mine.

Cultivating a Self-Driven Day for a Middle Schooler {The Unlikely Homeschool}

She copies a week's worth of assignments into her planner including her individual work, the two subjects that she does with me (Spelling and English), and subjects/assignments we all do together as a family like history, science, art, etc. If it is group work or work done with me, she mostly just writes the subject name down with very little specifics. Individual work is listed with page or chapter numbers (if applicable).

A mentor moment 

After her week is given space on the page, we chat for a few minutes. I use this as a time to give her direction. To give her feedback. To listen. To answer questions. To mentor but not meddle into her learning. She shares about things she is discovering and gets my opinion about her latest independent project. It is a short and simple time but one that refuels both her and me in this new season of our relationship.


With a plan in place, her week takes on direction.  She is free to manage her time however she would like as long as all of the items on her daily list get "checked off" by the end of the school day.  Since she still participates in several group/family subjects, a portion of her time is determined by me and my schedule. When we are ready to begin a group subject, she knows she must stop whatever she is doing and come join the group. That being said, I do my best to respect her time by scheduling our group subjects at natural "starts" in the day...times I know she hasn't begun any individual work yet...like at the very beginning of the school day or right after lunch. Most of the time, I follow one of these group times with Spelling and Language. Since she is already sitting with me for a group subject, it is easy to have her continue with me for those two tasks.  Other times, depending upon how long the group subject was, I tell her to take a quick break so that I can have one too.  And then, we do Spelling and Language together.    

The fruit

The realization that she controls the length of her day and can be done with school just as soon as she has completed her list naturally motivates her to keep on task. I never EVER have to nag her or beg her to get her work done. NOT EVER. She starts her day running and dives into her work with fervor. When she feels she needs a break, she takes one. When she wants to "power through", she does. As I had hoped, the Task Cards gave her a taste of the freedom that comes from a well-ordered schedule. The student planner has broadened that freedom to include independence and self-direction.


  1. What do your other children do while you have this planning time with your daughter?

    Also, I assume some of her non-group subjects are still taught by you to some extent? Like spelling? Or I can imagine she would still need some help or may have questions with some of her subjects. Do you drop what you are doing to teach her whenever she wants to do that?

    1. Yes, there are still a few things that she does with me...spelling and language. I control when these things are done...usually right after the group subject that comes right after lunch. She's already with me, so it makes it easy for her to just stick around and do those two things.

      If she needs help in any subject, just like any of my other children who may be working independently at certain times of the day, she just tells me and either moves on to something she CAN do, sits patiently for a few minutes until I can help her, or takes a short break until I can help her.

      We usually have our planning time on "non-school" hours, so the other children are just doing what children usually do...playing. As I mentioned, this planning time only takes a few minutes.

  2. That is great that your daughter is responsible enough to get her work done. I am working with my 11yo son on this. We also use a blank calendar, I write in his assignments for the week and check them off daily. His routine is schoolwork first, then chores, then free time. Sometimes it is still a battle to get him going, but he knows he can get everything done in a few hours, so the battles are becoming less. Now if the self-directed responsibility would kick in...

    Robyn Dolan, author The Working Parent's Guide To Homeschooling

    1. Some of that is personality as well. I think some kids are just more naturally self-directed. Others have to grow into it with maturity and as the result of natural consequences that come in the real world from not being self-directed.

  3. My middle school daughter uses the same kind of system. We work together on a few things early in the morning before my son gets up. Her independent study time gives me time to work one on one with my 9 year old son.

  4. Your daughter is a several years ahead of us and I love reading about her schooling and some of the background info that got her there. I've been looking for methods to steer my two boys to more independent learning. I started using a daily checklist for my (almost) nine year old and it's been really helpful in keeping him on task, we're getting a lot more accomplished and he's able to be somewhat in control of his schedule.

    1. Checklists are a great way to bring about self-motivation. I used to use those in my classroom all the time.

  5. For the past several years, I've given my boys a daily checklist of everything I expect them to accomplish for the day. This year, however, we've moved to me giving them a weekly checklist and they decide how much school they do each day. It is working out GREAT! They love the freedom. I love not having to nag them. As long as they are finished with everything by the time my husband gets home on Friday night, they're golden.

    1. I love that. That will really prepare them for college should that be the route they choose.

  6. After years of trying every different scheduling idea, tip, and trick I finally realized it wasn't WHAT we were doing. It was WHEN we were doing it! I've been using a magnetic wet erase schedule that you can actually wipe clean easily and re-write a new activity. The best part is that it gives enough room for every member of the family to have their own schedule for the day. This is where I bought it: www.lovemyschedule.com

    All of my kids have school from 9:00 to 12:00 (Language Arts, Khan Academy Math, flash cards, and crafts). Then we eat lunch and do one more hour of school from 1:00 to 2:00 (quiet reading, Rosetta Stone Spanish, Typing, Journal Writing). Basically, every kid checks their schedule and knows what to do without even asking me. When they come to me to turn in all the work for the day I ask if they did everything on their schedule. Sometimes they have to go check to make sure because they have been using it for long enough that sometimes they need it and sometimes they don't.

    Our schedule makes ALL the difference.