Why Can’t I Keep a Lesson Planner?


UntitledHave you ever considered whether you’re a cyclical teacher (or learner)?  Is your lesson planner embarrassing, but somehow you keep your kids moving forward and digging deeper in a subject given enough time?  Do you teach to a point (or learn to a point), realize you’re hitting too many roadblocks in a subject, and choose to put it aside for a few months– or even a few years?  Do you often track and assess your child’s learning to see what has been retained and forgotten, re-teaching as needed?  If so, you may have a strong cyclical teaching style!

Cyclical Teachers May Beat Themselves Up

Cyclical teachers may beat themselves up because their lesson planners have gaping white spaces and they can’t keep with certain subjects more than a month or so at a time.  They cringe as they listen to other moms’ computerized lesson spreadsheets–because no matter how organized they are in so many areas of their lives, they just can’t follow that blasted planner.  And intuitively, they know it doesn’t matter, and they know their kids are learning–LOTS!  But what if the authorities come in and demand to see that steady, linear progression expected by the Western model of education?  What then?  And how do you explain your stop and go methods to another mom asking how  you do things?  I’m not talking unschooling here.  I’m not talking unit studies (although these probably fit well into a cyclical teacher’s methods).  And I’m definitely not talking about failure to have educational diligence and discipline, although until you recognize the cyclical pattern, it definitely feels that way.

Our Cyclical Style

Much of my homeschool curriculum is cyclical.  By this I mean we learn a lot in pre-determined, core subject areas for a time, and then we naturally wander away from them.  Because they are the core of our curriculum, we are always disciplined and return to them later. They are not forgotten or allowed to disappear indefinitely.  However, marching out a yearly, or even quarterly, lesson plan is difficult for me because teaching is attuned to our lives, schedules, interests, and development.  If fall festivals and Thanksgiving crowd out writing exercises, and I feel it is an appropriate lull, writing slips out until cold, snowy, winter days allow it to snuggle back in.  If I buy a Latin curriculum (which I did), but it’s not working in like I want (even though we love it), I save it for later.  I know I want my kids to be exposed to Latin, and they will be.

With a preference for this cyclical method, I selectively choose texts and ideas that can grow with us this way.  Texts and materials that I can scale up or down to my learner.  That I can put on the shelf for a year, pull them back out, and still have them offer us information and guidance–and get my money’s worth.  I actually prefer it if I don’t have to pore over choosing new core materials and books each year.  I desire a curriculum that can span years.  A cyclical method seems to fit my children’s natural learning tendencies, my natural learning tendencies, and my teaching methods.  (That  being said, our math, grammar, and Spanish flow on a more traditional linear method.)

Pillars of Cyclical Learning

I love our cyclical method, but I think there are a few pillars it requires.

  1. Pillar one:  Goals for all time ranges. (Short term goals, intermediate term goals, long-term goals, and final goals delineated for our selected core subject areas.  I almost want to say that my long-term and final goals are the most important here.  But that would neglect the short-term goals required to meet our long-term goals.)
  2. Pillar two:  Continuity.  (I could not ever entertain sending my kids to school because I function with a long-term vision.  I don’t shake my hands off on June 1st and say, “Well, I’m glad fifth grade is over.”  I have trouble thinking that way at all.  Right now my kids may have gaps in spelling and writing, but in two years, they will have hopefully caught up–and even surpassed what is taught traditionally.)
  3. Pillar three:  Dedication and commitment to always return to core subjects to learn more and delve more deeply.  (For example, one of our cyclical cores is poetry.  As young children, the kids memorized poems.  We continue to add more poems to our repertoire AND review our old poems for retention.  This year, we have added some discussion and texts to help us understand poetry elements.  We dabble lightly in writing poetry.  Eventually, I want the girls to study poets themselves.  We return to poetry cyclically, always adding more.)


I used to sheepishly listen to other moms describe their meticulous lesson plans and planners.  I bowed out of intense curriculum discussions.  I’ve kind of hung my head in shame sometimes because I can’t keep our writing and spelling lessons going all year-long.  Or poetry or history.  Now, mind you, I haven’t studied this cyclical learning thing, but I have definitely observed in our six years (long or short years, I’m not sure, haha!) of homeschooling that LEARNING IS CYCLICAL.  After finally recognizing my teaching (and learning) style as I prepared my series of posts on “Our Fifth Grade Curriculum,” I feel validated.  Linear learning has its place, but mostly I thrive on cyclical.  Up next in the “Our Fifth Grade Curriculum” series will be writing, a cyclical subject in our curriculum.

Are you mostly linear?  Are you mostly cyclical?  Are you neither?  Do you have another term to describe your methods?  Have you felt abashed at your lesson planner?  Have you felt undisciplined because you can’t finish the Latin or history book in a year?  Tell me!  Let’s share!  I know homeschooling is unique for all, and I love to hear about it!



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