Set the week
When I was teaching in a classroom, I was always concerned with and strategizing about how to be sure I was seeking out and hearing the quietest voices in the room. I had similar concerns when I began unschooling our three children in our home.
How can I see, hear, and support the interests of three different aged children?
How do I plan and prepare without sacrificing their right to self-direct?
How can I balance gathering necessary supplies for projects with spontaneity?
I first learned about Set the Week Calendars from an Agile Learning Center that my oldest child attended (Philly Agile Learning Community) and thought it could be adapted to use in the home.
The Physical Board + supplies
Our calendar is a large, magnetic whiteboard, divided into sections using washi tape. I like that the washi tape is semi-permanent; it doesn’t wash away or smudge when we draw all over and then erase the board each week AND it’s easily peeled off when we want to redesign the board. We periodically purchase a large box of colorful dry erase markers because we do a lot of drawing and coloring coding for our pre-readers.
The most important part of our Set the Week calendar is a large blank space at the bottom called the “Parking Lot”. We keep a running inventory of our children’s interests, desired outings or play dates, questions that we can’t readily answer, etc. in the Parking Lot.
Our oldest child (8) will often tell us what to add to the Parking Lot or add ideas independently. For our younger children (5 and 2), we add any ideas that they tell us, but mostly we’re jotting down ideas/questions/interests that they mention in passing. For example, our five year old was watching a movie and called to me, “Mom, do bees sting animals?” I wasn’t entirely sure and couldn’t help her find a resource at that moment, so I wrote that question in the Parking Lot.
The next day, we had a quiet moment and I glanced at the Set the Week calendar, noticed that question in the Parking Lot and asked her if she was still interested in finding out if bees sting animals. She was and so we began to consider how we might find answers to that question. With all the ways our attention is divided every day, questions such as this are easily lost.
Above the Parking Lot is the largest section of the calendar, a square divided into columns labeled “Monday- Friday”. Each of these columns is large enough to draw and write with markers. To the right, we have a column of smaller squares that we use for different purposes that I’ll describe in more detail later.
The main way that we populate our calendar each week is through our family Set the Week meeting on Sundays or Monday mornings. But, before we meet, I add a few things. First, I list (or never erase from the week prior), any standing commitments we have. For example, my oldest daughter has a weekly piano lesson on Tuesdays and Lego Club on Mondays. If we have doctor’s appointments or any plans we’ve made prior to our meeting, I’ll add them in. My oldest child also adds the weather at the bottom of each day column. We’ve found that this helps inform any outdoor plans we’d like to make.
Then, we have our family Set the Week meeting. We intend for this meeting to be on Sundays because it gives us a chance to look ahead, but sometimes life happens and we don’t get to it until Monday morning. This meeting is really an informal conversation.
Sometimes, one of us will have something we’re really excited about that we want to find time for and that excitement is usually pretty contagious and so the ideas will pour out onto the board. Where an activity or outing goes on the board depends on the standing commitments, weather and the person’s excitement! Some things are so exciting that they MUST be scheduled on Monday. I find that our Monday column is often overfull, as the kids get excited to start directing our weekly plans.
If we don’t come to the meeting full of inspiration, we’ll look to the Parking Lot. Here, we can remind ourselves of interests and questions that we’ve had and see if we are still interested enough in the topic or activity to add it to the week’s calendar. If we are, then we will move it up into one of the day columns. If not, that interest/activity can remain in the Parking Lot. Once we have all of all of the identified interests populated, we’ll conclude the meeting.
Though we “schedule” out our weekdays, the calendar is still completely flexible and directed by the individual. So, any item (that we haven’t committed to another person or paid for), is subject to change. For instance, we can wake up Monday morning, look at the calendar and realize that none of our plans are appealing. In that case, we can look for something interesting that we’ve scheduled on another day, look at activities/ideas still in the Parking Lot or come up with a new idea for how to spend time that day. The activities that were scheduled for that day can be moved to another day or back to the Parking Lot. Sometimes, we only schedule one day at a time, as we move through the week!
We might also dive into a planned activity and stay consumed in that activity for the rest of the day, necessitating that we shift other plans we might have had. We also add plans to our day columns throughout the week. As I mentioned, Mondays often overfull and the subsequent days have fewer plans.
The Set the Week Calendar is not a family schedule set in stone. Rather, it is a tool to support thinking about how you want to spend your time and allowing reflecting on how you actually spent that time.
Because we are legal homeschoolers, we use the Set the Week calendar as a weekly activity log for our homeschool portfolios. I take a picture of our calendar each week and upload it to our digital portfolios.
It has been useful to keep some parts of our board open to be used for varying purposes. We have an extra day column on the top right of our board that we divided into five smaller squares using washi tape. Most often, these squares have been used for weekly intention setting. I often write a particular goal I have for the week, such as “Commit to daily meditation” or “Prioritize creativity”. Occasionally, my 5 or 8 year old or husband will have an intention they want to write in these squares as well.
Another way we’ve used these squares is to write family commitments. For example, we recently brought an awareness to our kids that we felt they were capable of making afternoon snacks for themselves. They agreed to try independent snack making for a week and then we’d reflect on it as a family. No one is required to set these intentions or use these squares at all! They’re open and available if it feels useful to “say” aloud intentions to the family community. Because the Set the Week calendar is for the kids, sometimes those squares are just for free drawing or writing a funny note or drawing a countdown to a birthday.
The overarching goal for the Set the Week calendar is to help our family be intentional with our time- to actively decide how we spend our time and reflect on the time spent. It helps us, as parents, be responsive to all of our children and not just the child making the loudest request. The calendar also feels like an essential piece of my deschooling journey because it keeps each individual in our family firmly and explicitly in charge of their own time.
I hope this explanation of our family’s Set the Week Calendar is useful to you! For even more information, check out Lauren's video describing her family's use of Set the Week: