Consider this post a foil to my previous planning posts (this one and this one). Or perhaps think of it as a window on reality. No matter how early or loose a plan is, it always looks good typed up and/or photographed. Everything appears neat and tidy and organized. Such images may lead to assumptions that the person who made the very early and oh-so-loose plan is also neat and tidy and organized. Perhaps she is also impossibly tall, unbelievably thin and naturally blond. Sadly, none of this is true.
The photograph above shows the surface next to my chair in the living room. Underneath my coffee cup are resources for our bird block, poetic recitation, geology and a catalog for the John C. Campbell Folk School – which I always dream about going to, but really has nothing to do with anything. The photograph below shows the surface of my desk. (Notice I didn’t lead with that one. Didn’t want to scare anyone away!) God only knows what’s on there. To the right, I can definitely make out the watercolor paintings I worked on and featured in this post crammed in between someone’s grade binder, some other resource and the tape gun.
If my physical space looks messy, my mental space is even worse. This is a conversation I had with myself when I was planning Vincent’s block on Rome. “Hmmm . . . well Donna Simmons suggests starting out the block with Penelope Lively’s retelling of The Aeneid, In Search of a Homeland.” Look that up in the library system. Put it on hold. Think, “We should really own that.” Check Amazon. Check Thrift Books. Get side tracked by “customers who bought this item also bought” . . . and noticed retellings of The Odyssey and The Iliad. Remember both these titles were cut from our block on Greece last year. Think, “Really now, how can we read The Aeneid without first reading The Odyssey and The Iliad? These are seminal works. Literary touchstones in the course of human civilization. How can we NOT read them? I’ll put them in the beginning of the year and THEN we’ll start Rome. But which version of Homer should I go with? Donna Simmons recommends Rosemary Sutcliff’s retellings, The Wanderings of Odysseus and Black Ships Before Troy. But I know I read somewhere that The Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum is the best. Plus, we own that one already.” Compare Colum’s version with Sutcliff’s. Like Sutcliff’s better. Look up Sutcliff in the library system. Put both books on hold. Think, “We should really own them.” Check Amazon. Check Thrift Books. Get side tracked by “customers who bought this item also bought” . . .
This is where my eyes start to bug out, my head starts to ache and all thoughts of incompetency, overwhelm and anxiety begin to flood my brain. I’ve been around the block with this planning gig several times. It doesn’t matter. This is how it goes in the beginning. If I don’t consciously put a stop to my mental chatter and construct some firm boundaries around our blocks nothing is going to get done. Nothing. Not one stinkin’ thing. I’m trying to plan a six-week block on Ancient Rome for a sixth grader and suddenly, I’m piling on a mountain of pre-requisites like it is a 400-level college course. Not to mention, we have other subjects to cover, and oh, I have to plan those as well. We are never, ever, ever going to get to everything – especially if we can’t even get to the subject at hand.
But what to do with all of those books, projects and ideas that come up? I am pretty strict – sometimes even ruthless – with keeping our blocks lean and mean. A lot of additional books related to our blocks go in the read-aloud basket. Sometimes they get chosen and sometimes they don’t. This year, I have come up with what I’m calling “The Sick List”. Basically, whenever something comes up that is related to what we are studying, but is not deemed essential, I’m putting it on the list for when we are sick: physically sick, mentally sick, sick of school, sick of each other . . . you get the idea. Currently this list has a bunch of handwork projects, craft ideas, recipes and books – lots and lots of books. And can you guess who is at the top of the list? Homer and Virgil, well, Rosemary Sutcliff and Penelope Lively. After all, they started it.
***Click on the comments for this post. It would seem there are a lot of us in the same boat! (You can reach the comments by clicking the pale grey bubble with the number in it, directly to the right of the title above.)