I really love to gain information from others; their success, their mistakes, and their strategies. I figure, “Why reinvent the wheel or start from scratch, when you can just learn from others and make any improvements or personal preferences?” .
I paired up with Erin Randall, an agile coach, who has her own coaching and consulting practice: Ad Meliora Coaching. Over the last 20 years, she has worked with teams and companies, including everything from blue-chip companies to start-up software teams, coaching everyone from corporate executives to other coaches. She also spent her early career teaching at DePaul University, and even before that, was in the Peace Corps, teaching English in Outer Mongolia.
She introduced me to the concept of a Kanban board. “Kanban boards were first developed by the Toyota Corporation, and the word means something like signal cards, signboards, billboards. Kanban is a pull system, meaning that as one story moves to Done, another card is pulled from To Do into Doing. Kanban also limits the amount of Work in Process, making it easier for you to focus on the work at hand. Your system won’t get clogged because you’re trying to do too much. Do one thing, do it well and to completion, and then move onto the next thing.”- Erin Randall
After she explained this system to me, we agreed that a simple version of a Kanban board would be a tremendous help to young students at home. You could even start preschoolers on a version to help get started on chores!
How it works
So for our example, we used a typical week of school assignments for a 1st grader. Here are our assignments:
Now, if you hand all of this information at the beginning of the week to a first grade student, you are likely going to get 1 of 3 reactions:
- total meltdown (overwhelm),
- dazed and confused daydreaming (avoidance), or
- random completion of their favorite subjects (unorganization or lack of focus).
Because I really appreciate quality training that will help my students learn to be more independent, I am willing to invest a little time in the beginning to get them started in this method. Handing them the spreadsheet and hoping they will “figure it out” seems much more time consuming in the long run than helping them learn a system like Kanban boards.
Supplies for Kanban board:
- Large magnetized white board OR foam core poster board OR tri-fold poster board
- Painters tape OR marker
- Labels – To Do, Doing, Done
- Assignment cards – sticky notes in various colors, colored index cards or print-outs with colored borders
- Small magnets, if you use a magnetized white board
- Double-sided tape, if you use index cards or print-outs from your computer
(This post contains affiliate links – by purchasing through my affiliate links, I receive a small commission, but you are not charged a higher price and I will only recommend things that I like!)
Start with a large white board, a foam core poster board, or a tri-fold poster board and make 3 columns with painters tape or a marker.
Label 3 sections from Left to Right: To Do, Doing, Done.
Prepare Assignment cards (sticky notes, index cards, or color print-outs).
Then for each subject, you will see in Erin’s video that she used a different color sticky note. It would be helpful to be consistent in the color choices, ie, Math is blue, Science is green, Language Arts is yellow, etc. You or your child can choose the colors for each subject, just keep the same colors each day.
Start with DAY 1: The parent will need to write a simple version of the assignment on the Assignment Cards and place them in the To Do column. For example, the Language Arts assignment says, “
|Point to the following letters and say the name and the sound: h, s, t, n, w, r, f, d, m, c, l, b, g, v, p, j, k|
|Practice the short “a” sound|
|Practice sight words for the week: red, yellow, blue, orange, green, purple, brown, black, the, is, in, on|
|Read Mac and Tab are Pals with parent.|
|Answer 5 comprehension questions in writing.|
|Spelling words for the week: rat, can, van, bat (Spell with letter tiles)|
I would write very simple Assignment Cards that say, “Letter sounds,” “short ‘a’,” “sight words,” “Read Mac and Tab are Pals,” “comprehension questions,” “practice spelling words.” I would mark the items with a “M” or “D” for things that need to be done with a parent.
From Erin, “Notice that we have three columns: To Do, Doing, and Done.
- At the beginning of the day, all of the items are in the To Do column.
- As work begins on an item, it is pulled into the Doing column.
- When that item is finished, it is pulled into the Done column. This leaves room for you to pull another item from To Do into Doing.
- Each subject is denoted by a color, and if a story requires help from mom or dad such as, reading or discussing, an M or a D is placed in the upper right-hand corner of the card or note.
See? Quick, easy, simple to use, but it makes it clear, transparent, to your child about the work they need to do that day.”
Take a quick photo of the Done column each day for documentation or keep a copy of your weekly spreadsheet.
According to Erin, it is important to ask a child some or all of these questions before starting their work. It gives agency, choice, and starts to plant the seeds for critical-thinking skills. At the beginning of each school day, consider asking your child some or all of these questions, changing them up to keep them interesting.
What do you think will be the most challenging item/subject today?
Asking this question will help your child to learn how to think ahead, building executive-functioning skills. It will also give you insight into what they like and don’t like, where they have worries about their day. It will help you know where you might need some extra patience, ingenuity, and encouragement at the ready.
But notice the wording of this question. I specifically used “challenging” instead of “hard” or difficult. Use language to your advantage here, helping your child to learn to think of challenging as a good thing, not something to be avoided.
Tip: Define “challenge” for your child for a couple of days so that they are clear about what the question means. “Challenging” could be defined as “an interesting or difficult problem or task.”
Tip: Clarify for your child that just because a subject or story takes a long time to complete, that does not make it difficult. (Added bonus for introducing the new vocabulary word of “tedious” at this point.)
What are you most excited about school today? What are you looking forward to doing in school today?
Asking this question will help you discern what subject your child looks forward to doing, where they have some passion. It’s kind of like finding out what subject is the “broccoli” and what subject is the “ice cream” for them: if you eat your broccoli now, then you can get it out of the way and have dessert later.
Why am I specifically mentioning the word “school” within this question? I want the child to stay focused on school, on learning, and without this context, I could inadvertently send them down a rabbit hole of non-school things.
Where do you think you will learn the most? What did you learn yesterday that you want to practice or do again today?
This question helps to instill that growth mindset (thank you, Carol Dweck), and it helps to generate excitement around learning and practicing.
Tip: Try to retain enthusiasm for school by moving to the next subject before you have exhausted the enjoyment of the previous one.
How should we plan today? How should we order our subjects today?
Ask your child what they want, and listen to the answers. Let your child contribute to the plan. If they are fairly successful, they get to take more and more control of each day’s plan. If the day is a train wreck, then regroup. Try the parent’s plan for a few days, then gradually lean into trying the child’s plan.
Many parents like to do the longest or most challenging stories first in order to get them out of the way, and that makes complete sense. You might encourage this, much like eating your broccoli in order to be able to have ice cream.
What subjects do you want to get done before snack time? Before lunch time?
This is a great question because it helps to introduce realism: just how much work can actually be done within a certain time. I usually have a quick conversation about diligence and what it looks like as well.
Tip: If the day is going south in a hurry, I often stop, regroup, and have the child do some sort of exercise (jumping jacks, squats, run around the block with the dogs, etc). Then, I would say, “Let’s start over?”
Ask “What went wrong?” and listen to the answer. If need be, apologize. Children will often admit where they contributed to a conflict if they see me, as the parent or teacher, apologize first.
Work the Board
- Based on feedback from your child’s answers to the questions, order the stories for that day in the To Do column. (And yes, keep the stories in each subject together. This will help to lessen the tax of context-switching.)
- If you are homeschooling more than one child, you might have set hours that you work with each child. Remind your child that their time is from 9:00-10:00 am, for example, so you need to schedule any work that requires direct mom-or-dad supervision or help into that box.
- Once that order is determined, work those stories. Have your child move each sticky note from To Do to Doing through to Done. This will help them to see the progression of work, plus it will help them to see that they are accomplishing something with every single Assignment that moves to Done.
At the end of each day, once all of the stories have been completed, moving from To Do to Done, conduct a quick retrospective with your child. (Remember that I often talk about inspection and adaptation? This is where it comes in!) Ask your child these three questions:
- What was your favorite part of school today?
- What was difficult or challenging in school today?
- What should we experiment with doing tomorrow?
Then, have your child give the day a quick rating: thumb up, thumb down, or neutral. Keep that rating there on the board, making it an easy reference for you. It will also give you an end-of-week visual for how your child feels about each day’s work.
And that is it–this is how to use a Kanban board for homeschool. It’s easy, low-cost, and dare I say even fun. But more to the point, it’s helping you to lay the foundation for your child to look at a task, see what needs to be done, break it down, and complete the work. It helps to build critical thinking and executive functioning skills, and it will lead to greater independence down the road.- Erin Randall
Shortcuts to parent prep work
The advantage of using a magnetic white board is that your cards could be used over multiple weeks, if needed, by just moving them with magnets. For example, most students are going to need to practice math facts each day, so that is a card that can be used almost all year. The disadvantage is the upfront cost, which is noticeably higher in price than a tri-fold cardboard poster board.
The advantage of using a tri-fold cardboard poster board is the cost is low and it can be easily stored after school is over. Just fold it up and store it in a closet or behind a door.
The advantage to using paper assignment cards that are printed on your computer for your notes, is that you can easily change the template each week for the cards that change and reprint them. They could be moved with magnets and reused the following day or week, as long as the assignments are clear to the child and generic enough to use each week.
Note: I usually buy a teacher’s manual with most of my curriculum, especially language arts, so that I don’t have to write out everything and can use the daily schedule that most of them provide. It can also provide documentation for your homeschool when you check off the finished assignments and record quizzes and tests.