Don’t Over Plan the Fun Stuff, (and what to do instead.)

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don't over plan the fun stuff, and what to do instead.

A new month comes along and I feel the urge to plan what we are going to do next.

In situations like this, I find I have three types of plans:

  1. Plans that are working right now and I am not going to mess with. This includes our maths curriculum, our science time, our outside classes and meet ups, and the back bone of our morning time.
  2. Plans that are short term, and are really likely to happen. For example I know what we are reading after we finish our current readaloud, (and what we are reading after that because a sequel to a book we enjoyed came out and I impulsively picked it up last time we walked past a bookshop. I might know the book after that too, because I found a good one in a charity shop but to be honest three books ahead might be a bit too much.)
  3. Plans that look really good on paper but were only concocted because I was sat ‘planning our next month/half term!’, and therefore probably won’t happen because I have – yet again – planned them way too far in advanced. For example we won’t get to the hands on science experiments, or growing beans in a bag taped to the window again, and the sunflowers and pumpkins shouldn’t be planted until April. These plans are regularly a waste of time, not because the ideas are bad or because we won’t ever do them, but because they are plans for the sake of planning, for the sake of making sure there is something for every moment.

Instead of those third plans I should take a deep breath, trust myself and my kids, and leave that space blank.

Blank space is room for rabbit trails and ideas dreamed up by one or more of the children.

Last month it was making cosplay weapons out of foam mats and duct tape. It was making a lego robot cat in time for it to sing happy birthday to their dad. It was time to listen to Harry Potter and make badges for their club.

Blank space is also for me to try things out.

Last month it was me randomly picking up a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, because it’s a story I love and I wanted to share it with my children. Which lead to us watching the best tv version together. It went down well, but if it hadn’t I could have cut things short and there would have been the space to try something else, or nothing else, and do more of the things we know we enjoy – library trips, re-reading an old favourite, or maybe drawing some of the birds in our garden. Or more time to play.

This week it was me picking up the children’s version of Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, and having it dominate our morning time because we had to read just one more chapter. Which will lead us today to watch an interview with her on the Ellen show. After that we have a few questions we asked while reading the book that we might try and answer (or we might come back to later), and that will be that for the moment.

Blank space means that I don’t need to know everything right now. It allows me to spend some of my time as a sponge, a magpie, looking for interesting things that I think we will enjoy or find interesting. (My natural state, for better or worse.)

Places to go when you have the space to be a sponge:

  • charity shops
  • libraries
  • notice boards for local events
  • your local home ed (facebook) group
  • instagram
  • the tv guide or iplayer, or menu of whatever streaming service you use
  • the Interesting stuff and Books We Are Loving posts we put up every month
  • (ps. don’t drown in pinterest.)

This is not the same as a unit study, (I don’t think – I have always found unit studies too time hungry and overwhelming.) This isn’t – find a starting point, borrow eight books about the same subject from the library, pin a ton of related activities and crafts, and then use hardly any of it, and subsequently feel a bit of a failure.

Instead I use this short loop:

  1. Find a thing. (A book, a piece of media, an idea, a physical thing etc)
  2. See if that thing is useful.
  3. If it is, where could you go next once you have “finished” that thing or explored it for a while?
  4. Find one related thing to extend what you have been exploring
  5. loop back around to step 2 OR
  6. pause there, knowing that if something comes up in the future that relates to the original thing/idea etc you can revisit it again. Then quietly be on the look out for another thing to spark your interest (back to step 1.)

Our Persuasion thing is quietly on going a step at a time. We are going to add silly speech bubbles to some illustrations I found on line. After that we are going to read the re-telling of Pride and Prejudice from the same series.*

But not by the end of the month. Not on a deadline. It’s ok if it hangs there a bit, while the ideas settle within us. It doesn’t have to be a project. It’s tempting to learn more about Regency life beyond the few pages of context at the back of the book. But I’m going to hold off, and leave some blank space.

(*Because apparently I break my own rules even as I write blog posts about them. Or maybe because breaking bad ‘plan all the things! then never do them!’ habits is hard, and has to be approached in baby steps?)

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