Here’s what we were doing while the other children in our town were shuffling, uniform-clad, back to school this week …
Homeschooling just gets better and better.
I’m appreciatively linking up here:
Here’s what we were doing while the other children in our town were shuffling, uniform-clad, back to school this week …
Homeschooling just gets better and better.
I’m appreciatively linking up here:
This year I’m planning a small change to our daily routine which I’m hoping will have big consequences: I’m not going to declare our “school day” started.
Until now, everyone has done their own thing in the morning until about 9AM when I round them up to “start schoolwork”. C(9) might be watching TV, reading or playing Minecraft while Skyping her best friend. J(8) is usually at his computer.
“Schoolwork” in our house is a very relaxed affair, but it has often required the children to put aside what they’re doing in favour of what I have planned.
I wonder if, by calling an end to the children’s early morning pastimes, I’ve inadvertently created a scarcity situation.
Imagine you’re reading a book. You come across an idea that inspires you to write a blog post. But you know that in 45 minutes someone’s going to shout “Stop! Reading time’s over!” After that time you’ll be allowed to write the blog post, but there’ll be no more reading for several hours. Would you stop reading at the moment inspiration strikes and begin writing the blog post? Or would you push the inspiration to one side, deciding instead to the most of your limited reading time?
While my children are relying on me to formally begin the school day, where’s their incentive to take responsibility for planning their own time? If I was relying on an external call to action, I’d probably turn off my internal motivation, too.
I want C(9) and J(8) to become more responsible for their own learning, so I have to trust them with the freedom to make their own choices. Blurring the line between “school time” and non-school time is one step in this direction.
Of course I’ll still be offering plenty of learning ideas. I might try having a fun science or art activity ready to go in the mornings. But I want the children to be free to choose whether or not they take up my offers. I want to be open to putting aside my own plans in favour of their suggestions.
I’ve been chatting with C(9) and J(8) about these changes – I don’t want them to feel I’m suddenly casting them adrift in an uncharted sea of learning. Both have responded positively to my suggestions. I’ve made it clear that there’ll be as much routine as they’d like – copywork, freewriting, maths, science, history, poetry teas, etc – but that they’re free to take charge of their own learning schedule.
Of all of us, I think it’s me that’s going to find the lack of defined “school time” most challenging. I like to know what I’m doing when, so that I can plan my own time. But if I want my children to learn to plan their own time too, I’m going to have to compromise. I’m up for the challenge. Watch this space to see how I get on!
I’m linking with the Day In The Life blog hop at the iHomeschool Network.
We moved into a fairly large house six years ago. The great thing about having lots of space is we can spread ourselves out as we learn. The bad thing about having lots of space is that we spread ourselves out – everywhere!
Every now and then I need to pull open the cupboards, clear the surfaces and figure out how to make the most of our space.
Needs change as the children get older and our homeschooling style evolves. So I start out brainstorming what we want from our homeschool learning space this year. (This is partly a delaying tactic to postpone the actual tidying, but the five minutes it takes serve me well.)
Homeschool supplies fall into broad categories – books, art supplies, science supplies etc. In the past I’ve stored everything according to these categories.
But in the face of our overflowing supplies, I realised I don’t need to store a volt meter and a kilo of rock salt in our schoolroom just because we use them for science. Nor do we need a hundred polystyrene plates permanently in our art area.
So I took out the items we use less often, put smaller items into boxes, and moved them to an upstairs cupboard.
I used my phone to dictate a note of the contents of each area into Evernote.
The result – more space for the things we use frequently, but if someone has an urgent need for the Bug Barn, they can get their hands on it within seconds. (And how thrilled my husband will be next time he opens the landing cupboard and finds a flower press nestled next to the towels. Does that count as strewing?)
Next I sub-categorised our books according to who reads them (or who I’d like to read them). Do they all need to be at child-level?
When I looked closely at our bulging bookshelves I realised that a whole shelf was being taken up with workbooks and English curriculum books that I sometimes refer to but the children never do.
Once I’d weeded out the ones my kids have outgrown, I relocated the lot. Voilà – a whole empty shelf! (And what do we do with empty shelves? I’ve been on Amazon already…)
The physical space we use for learning changes as the children become more independent. Here are some of our learning zones.
*Project Desks with pinboards for artwork and project-related items
* Low play table – to keep Lego, Geomag and Hamma beads out of doggie mouths
* Quiet area – for the easily distracted, or those who want some peace to help them focus.
* Messy zone – we usually do short messy activities like science experiments at our kitchen table
* Craft desk – for longer projects like papier mache that I don’t want cluttering up the table
* Computer desk
* Comfortable read-aloud area
* Sewing area
* “Gallery” – We display our most recent artwork on the window sill by our table, in the centre of our open-plan space
Once I’ve been through our supplies and had a fresh look at our learning zones, it’s time to decide what goes where.
Here are some examples of what made the cut in my most recent reorganisation. All the trays, tubs and clear plastic containers are from IKEA.
Books – on shelves categorised by subject, e.g. art, science, maths, English, chapter books, picture books
Science supplies – in a tub in a cupboard
Art supplies – as far as possible, in clear containers on display and within the children’s reach. Bigger things in a box in a cupboard.
Maths manipulatives – in their own tray
Paper, pastels, charcoal etc – in trays
Art journalling supplies – everything together in a deep tray
C(9)’s current work – in her own tray
Books we use every week – in a big floor crate. Includes J(8)’s current work, our read-aloud, The Story of the World, an Atlas and the children’s French folders.
We keep a stack of individual whiteboards alongside, ready to grab and go.
Board games – Adult games relocated to an upstairs cupboard. The rest in cupboards.
Educational toys – Lego, Geomag, wooden blocks and Play Doh in trays
There’s no point storing everything in the “perfect” place if – out of sight, out of mind – you don’t end up using any of it. (Guess how I know?)
So I’ve set up calendar alerts on my phone to remind me to browse our various storage areas regularly for strewing inspiration, and to get the kids to do so too.
Finally, in the interests of being real…
…here are some of the “before” shots!
How are you organising your learning space this year?
More from the Homeschool Help team:
Next week the Homeschool Help topic “What’s new in your teaching style for the new year?” and I’ll be talking about our step closer to unschooling.
I’m joining these great link-ups:
We’re not using any curriculum in our homeschool at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I don’t set goals for what I want us to achieve. In fact without a textbook telling us what we need to cover each week, it’s even more important for me to be clear about where we’re going.
Detailed plans don’t work well for me, but I thrive on routines. A good routine offers a perfect balance of flexibility and structure. Routines allow us to spontaneously take a sunny springtime day off to play outside with friends, and then to jump back in the next day without worrying about “catching-up”. Routines can be adjusted to accommodate extra practice time for upcoming music exams, and we can make the most of the perks of homeschooling by taking term-time vacations without having to work double-time on our return to cover “missed” material.
The whiteboard in the picture above shows my big-picture planning for this term. Some subjects, like history, science and art, aren’t listed because we were already in a comfortable groove with them. On the whiteboard I wrote new ideas and things we’d been letting slide, but which I knew I wanted to reintroduce into our regular routine.
We listen to a lot of audiobooks together and individually, but there’s something special about family read-aloud time. This term I’ve prioritised getting together every day to read from a novel or non-fiction living book. We’re finishing The Return of the Twelves at the moment (it’s good as everyone says). Sharing a novel in this way helps get us into the swing of reading aloud, so we’ve read more of all kinds of living books together this term.
I’ve written a lot recently about the fun we’ve been having with our new living maths routine. Definitely a success!
I’m a big fan of copywork for teaching kids the elements of good writing. J(8) turned eight at Easter so I thought he might be ready to join C(9) doing copywork. Despite his slight dysgraphia and dyslexia, he seems to be quite enjoying it. He chooses his own book, props it up on a cookbook stand, and writes a sentence using his handiwriter pencil grip. Most of what he’s written comes from a Benny and Penny graphic novel, but that doesn’t worry me. As long as he’s practising writing, punctuation and spelling I know he’ll get there in the end (wherever “there” is).
C(9) has also been selecting her own copywork passages. She picks a book off the shelves depending on her mood. This term she’s written quotes from Magic School Bus books, Usborne science books, Homer, poems and even the back of an acrylic paint pot. Variety is a bonus!
This term I’ve been doing copywork alongside the children – an inspiring quote, a favourite poem or a great line from a novel. I enjoy it, and it reinforces the value of what the children are doing.
I love the idea of the children spending large amounts of time driving their own projects, with me as their learning mentor. After we rearranged our space to make materials more accessible, C(9) spontaneously creates much more often. I’ve been managing to have project time with each child individually a few times a week, but ideally I’d like us to spend more time doing project work. I’m still working on where to find that time!
Like copywork, freewriting is something we all do together. We set a timer for five minutes and, sometimes using Bravewriter Friday Freewrite prompts, keep writing until the beeper sounds. J(8) doesn’t follow the “rules” exactly – he prefers to tell stories using a mixture of pictures and writing (complete with his own “phonetic” spelling) – but he’s been really enthusiastic about freewriting so I’m not going to interfere in his creative process! Sometimes, in an unusual reversal of roles, C(9) gets cross because J(8) carries on writing well past the beep.
My final goal for this term was to provide J(8) with a daily schedule. Whereas C(9) and I are fairly free-wheeling types, J(8) seems to work best when he knows what’s coming up, and when he’s done for the day. So for his benefit I’ve been making a daily whiteboard list of subjects which we cross off as we go along. This seems to have been working well.
Julie at Highhill Homeschool has launched a new link-up series to help homeschoolers inspire each other in lesson-planning. For the next month, the link-up theme is successes in your classroom, then beginning 4 July there’s a schedule for sharing planning different subjects across the curriculum. I hope you’ll join me there for more inspiration.
“Do you make your daughter do so many extra-curricular activities because you feel guilty about taking her out of school?” asked a rather blunt acquaintance a few weeks after I began homeschooling my seven year old.
The question took me aback. For a moment I fell into anxious self-examination.
Was the woman right? Was I enrolling C(7) to every club going out of some paranoid fear that she was missing out, now that she was home-educated?
Then I remembered why C chose to be homeschooled.
Here was a child who enthusiastically threw herself at every opportunity (the more physical the better). Who at age six, looked up local judo clubs when I (concerned about our already busy schedule) dragged my heels following her request to learn it. A child so busy trying to fit in school, homework, her many sports, her artistic activities and playdates, that I barely saw her.
And when I did see her, it was as chauffeur and personal assistant to a tired and all too often grumpy little girl. Clearly, something had to go.
After some discussion, we realised that the obvious thing to let go of was school.
Without school and homework taking up the bulk of each day, C(7) was free to throw herself into her passions, see friends, enjoy plenty of downtime, have a relationship with her family and learn everything she would have at school in much less time.
“No. My daughter left school so that she would have time do all these ‘extra-curricular’ activities.” I told the blunt woman.
Looking back, I wonder if the woman (who was planning to homeschool her two pre-schoolers) was feeling insecure about how few activities her own children did.
But comparing ourselves with others is a sure path to an unfulfilling and unsuccessful homeschooling experience. Only we know the needs of our own family.
In our home, my challenge is to balance the needs of the introverts (my son and me), with those of my extremely extroverted daughter. While J(8) and I crave quiet time immersed in our interests at home, C(9) wants to be out trying new things and meeting new friends.
I would love to be one of those homeschoolers who manage to limit their outside activities to one per child. But to C(9), sharing a house with a couple of introverts, that would be torture.
Here’s what our extra-curricular schedule looks like this term:
Monday – karate
Tuesday – group guitar lesson, home-ed centre, gymnastics *
Wednesday – Cub Scouts, free swimming
Thursday – climbing
Friday – Stagecoach (3 hours of singing, drama and dance)
Sunday – rugby (September – April)
*Tuesdays also involve 2 hours driving – just don’t ask me to string a sentence together after 6pm
Tuesday – home-ed centre
Wednesday – Occupational Therapy (1-1), swimming lesson
Thursday – climbing
So how do we introverts cope?
Some of C(9)’s activities are close to home, others involve J(8) and me waiting around for her. We use waiting time to listen to audiobooks, walk in nature with our dog, read, write and meditate (me), and play iPad games (J). We have our own headphones and, frankly, while C(9) – we love her very much! – is off talking to other people, we enjoy a bit of peace!
As C(9) gets older I know her social needs are going to continue to challenge me – but I love that I get to spend so much time with my young bundle of energy.
If homeschooling her through the years to come means organising teen clubs and writing groups, art workshops and science co-ops, I’m up for it. She won’t be at home forever, and I want to make the most of every moment.
How many activities should your child do? Only you and your family can answer that. If two activities a week leaves you with no energy to do what’s important to you, then two is too much, no matter how outgoing your child is.
And if someone asks why you’re “making” your child do so much, just smile and know that you’re doing what’s right for your family.
This post is part of the Homeschool Help series written by six different home-educating mothers from all over the planet. I’ve been enjoying reading the series immensely, so I’m delighted to have joined the team.
The Tiger Chronicle – Any Room For Extras? A few ways to look at extra-curricular activities.
Barefoot Hippie Girl – Just A Homebody. Picking and choosing what’s best for your family and life season.
Every Bed of Roses – It’s All About A Science Of Relations. It’s not about how busy, it’s about building a memory.
Highhill Homeschool – Benefits Of Extracurricular Activities. Extracurricular activities are good for kids – mostly.
Hammock Tracks – Extra Curricular Activities And Family Goals. How do you choose when and where your children (or even you) participate in extra curricular activities?
We started puppy training classes this week with Harvey, our four month old cavalier spaniel/bischon frise cross. The classes are on a Wednesday morning and take out (for the next few weeks) one of the six half-days we actually spend at home. Of course all of us, not just Harvey, are learning at the classes, but it is putting a bit of a squeeze on our week!
The solution, it occurred to me, was a schedule! (Colour-coded, naturally.) Don’t you just love the beautiful dance between structure and free-wheeling that is homeschooling?! At the start of September (all those many – er, weeks – ago) I happily shared with a good homeschooling friend that we were taking a fairly autonomous approach this term. She said that her family were doing the opposite, and had begun the new school year with a very structured timetable. At the time we laughed, and said we’d each probably be doing the opposite before too long. And so here I am, colour-coded schedule proudly in hand. 😀
I wrote a few weeks ago about how we’ve been using the big rocks time management system to prioritise project-based learning around the good maths and English habits we already have in place, and that’s still working well as a guiding principle. But recently my left-brain had begun to get a bit antsy about how weeks were slipping by without Cordie doing any copywork or dictation, and then she decided to try a new approach to learning maths, which was great but required a bit more planning … and my free-wheeling right-brain decided it was time to take a back seat for a while.
And guess what? Just like when I move around the furniture to the exact same position it was in 6 months earlier and declare joyfully that it looks “So Much Better!” – we’re getting so much done!
On Thursdays we only have until 1130am at home, but by the time we left the house this morning we had done a stack of English and maths, Cordie had had her project time, the children had enjoyed plenty of time playing in the garden, and we’d even done some history notebooking and had the paints out making Anglo-Saxon coins!
Here’s how a schedule works best for us:
In short bursts. Once it’s helped us find our groove, I’ll happily let the schedule itself fall by the wayside. It’s served its purpose. “Tools, not rules” as my friend Sarah and I say. I can always create a new schedule when the need arises again. (And that colour-coding is so much fun :-D)
A schedule saves time spent arguing about “who goes first” with mummy in the morning. Even though both Cordie and Jasper enjoy their one on one time with me, tearing themselves away from their book/lego/trampoline and getting around to actually starting is a different matter.
I see a schedule as a set of goals rather than a strict timetable. Although there are times written on our schedule, I rarely look at the clock. The timetable just serves as a rough guide to who does what next. There’s plenty of leeway for following rabbit-trails and spending a whole afternoon doing projects or partnership writing a long story if the mood takes us (right brain satisfied), but the timetable helps me remember what else I’d like us to cover in a week (happy left brain). Win win. 🙂
Where are you at right now in the scheduling/free-wheeling dance?
One of the many things I love about project-based learning is that it can fit into any homeschool style. This term I have a much more relaxed approach to curriculum – I’m using it as the tool I always intended it to be, instead of being a slave to it – leaving a bigger space for more natural, child-led learning.
But starting something new – no, sticking with something new – takes commitment. Now that our intense start-of-term enthusiasm has subsided, cold viruses are doing the rounds, and wet weather has kept us indoors for days at a time, there have been mornings when it’s felt so tempting just to snuggle up with the children for quiet English, maths and read alouds. It’s not that I don’t love seeing the children caught up in a wave of passionate creativity; it’s just that the lure of the familiar, the comfortable path of doing what we know, is sometimes hard to resist.
By the side of the jar he placed a bucket of gravel, a bucket of sand, a bucket of water, and three big rocks. He then challenged his participants to find a way to fit everything on the table into the jar.
After numerous attempts, it became clear that the only way to fit everything in was to start with the big rocks first. The gravel filled the space between the big rocks, the sand filled the gaps in the gravel, and the water filled the gaps between the sand.
When it comes to what we choose to make important, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the daily gravel, ground down by the sand, and swept away by the water. What can be tricky is finding ways to prioritize the ‘big rocks’ – those things in your life that matter most.
Over the summer (using a fantastic process I’ll share in another post) I identified what are the biggest “rocks” that I want to fit into my life. One “rock” was doing more natural (interest and child-led) learning with my children, and project-based homeschooling has been the perfect way to do this. Of course maths and English are important, but (I’m happy to say) doing them has become a comfortable habit – they get done easily without needing to be prioritized.
Michael Neill suggests that there are three ways of prioritizing something: (1) Do it first (2) Do it now (3) Do it often. Common sense, but a good reminder nonetheless.
And that is how, as well as practising multi-digit subtraction and discussing the beautiful metaphors in Where the Moon Meets the Mountain, last week Cordie experimented with home made light bulbs, and made kites and tepees from wood and hot glue, and Jasper began to learn computer programming with Scratch in between practising his spelling, handwriting, and learning about the differences between rhombuses and trapeziums. 🙂
What are your big rocks?
Like many homeschoolers, there is no “typical” day in our household. Our week is loosely structured around external activities like sports classes and our weekly homeschool group, and there are certain subjects that I aim to cover in a week, but other than that, I like the flexibility of a routine rather than a fixed schedule.
Having said that, here’s an example of a typical, non-typical day!
530am I get up. I’m not normally this early! But it’s such a beautiful morning already I decide I’ll enjoy some quiet time to myself.
645am I go back to bed and meditate/play Words with Friends until 730. I love how my iPhone lets me have a permanent scrabble game going with my mum who lives in Wales!
830am We’re having poetry tea with friends later, so I bake some gluten free/sugar free cookies with the children. J has been so much calmer since we reduced his dietary sugar, gluten and dairy five months ago (on the advice of a complementary health professional) . Since most bought products are either sugar or gluten free, I find myself baking a lot. I’m not an experienced cook, so the recipe substitutions I make can be a bit random, as can the end products. Luckily the children are very forgiving.
850am As we put the eggs away, J asks if we can make pancakes. I promise him that if he gets on with his maths and English without any fuss, there’ll be time to make some before we set out for our friends’ house.
855am Incentivized by pancakes, J physically drags me into my office, where C and J do most of their individual schoolwork. He does copywork from “Fox In Socks” and we practice phonics and spelling using The Wand. For today’s maths we look at negative numbers in Primary Grade Challenge Math.
915am J makes pancake batter. He and C got very good at making pancakes shortly after we changed his diet – gluten and sugar free English pancakes, made with goats’ milk, work really well!
10am We arrive at our friends’ house. C and J run off to play with the other children (aged 12, 10 and 9) while I catch up with my friend. Later we sit at a beautiful table and eat cookies, drink tea from fine cups and saucers, and take turns reading poems aloud. These are the friends who introduced us to the Brave Writer lifestyle, and I love sharing Poetry Tea with them; it’s such a pleasure hearing the poem each person has chosen.
I read “A Summer Morning” by Rachel Field, because even though it’s only May, temperatures have been in the 80’s today. After the weather we’ve had in England recently, it definitely feels like summer!
1130am On the way home we stop off at the park to enjoy the sunshine.
12pm We make another stop, this time at the garden centre, to pick up some compost: it’s finally safe to put the tomato and pepper plants outside!
1230pm Lunch. J learned how to make cheese and ham tortilla flatbreads at our homeschool centre yesterday; he decides to make them again today. It requires a brick, apparently. C obligingly finds one in her den at the end of the garden. J teaches C how to make his new dish. I do the bit at the hob, involving flattening the tortilla between the griddle pan, a saucepan and a tea towel-wrapped house brick!
1pm C waters her vegetable patch while I plant out the tomatoes. J bounces on the trampoline then retreats from the heat inside.
145pm C and I go to my office for her English and maths. We continue our discussion of literal versus metaphorical meaning using The Arrow and our novel, The Phantom Tollbooth. We discuss what clichés are and pick out a few from a list I had printed out; then we start an exercise from The Arrow, creating a story taking metaphoric meanings literally. It’s about a king standing on the tip of an iceberg. C enjoys this so much that when I suggest finishing, she begs to do a bit more! Always a good sign 🙂 We finish by reading aloud a chapter of The Phantom Tollbooth.
We use Primary Grade Math Challenge for maths and C answers the level 2 questions on negative numbers.
245 pm Science: we continue our space travel project. The children make edible space shuttles following directions in this NASA Educators’ Guide.
We watch a You Tube video of the shuttle taking off and look at a printables of the parts of the space shuttle and the sequence of take-off, orbit, and landing. C and J then assemble their own shuttles using bread, carrot, celery and hummus. I video them “narrating” their own take-off to landing sequences on my iPhone. C leads the narration but J contributes a piece of information he remembered from our recent visit to the Kennedy Space Centre – something I hadn’t even realised he’d taken in at the time – I love it when that happens!
J follows his space shuttle snack with a plum from the fruit bowl, and then asks me to point out to him the plum tree in our garden. We look at the hard, grape-sized plums on the tree and I tell J how I ate the sweetest, juiciest plum from it on the day we moved into our house on 31 July 2007. He said he is going to keep an eye on the plums’ progress. Sometimes I wish I made more time for formal nature study in our homeschool; then I realise that thanks to the huge amount of free time they have to spend outdoors, C and J are actually quite in tune with nature and the seasons.
4pm History: I decide to squeeze in a bit of The Story of the World before swimming classes. J groans (he never likes the idea of history) but he soon joins C pleading for more when I stop after half a chapter on the Celts. Half a chapter is all the Celts get in The Story of the World, but as they are our bit of ancient history, we’re spending a bit longer on them than our curriculum suggests. I read from our living book on Boudicca while C spontaneiously makes a Boudicca “doll” from a feather the cats brought it.
5pm C and J go to their swimming classes while I squeeze in half an hour in the gym. When the children were at school, exercising often felt like a chore. Now I cherish my gym time! We eat dinner at the sports centre cafe, and C and J have some time jumping around in the soft play area.
7pm We go straight from the sports centre to take C to Cub Scouts (where she is one of only two girls). Normally this signals the end of my day’s “work”, but Big J’s commuter train is delayed tonight so J and I go back out to collect C from cubs at 830.
930pm I’m relaxing with an alcohol free beer and watching The Vampire Diaries.
A good day!
“Ahhhh”. That’s the sound of me basking in the wonderfully satisfying feeling of everything working out perfectly. 🙂
After months of dreaming up how I wanted our homeschool to look this year, and slightly trepidatious wondering what the children would make of my plans, anxiety is giving way to excitement at the prospect of the great year we’re going to have.
As I made lunch earlier I casually (?!) asked C and J separately what they’d thought of the week – what they’d especially liked and if there was anything they’d like to change. In the understated way children have they both gave the thumbs up. J’s verdict: “fine” (in the tone of voice I can just imagine him using when he’s keen to leave the house and his future wife asks “how do I look?”). He particularly liked the maths and art apparently (we had just done those two subjects so that may have had something to do with it!). One thing I know is that J does not hold back from letting his feelings known when he doesn’t like something! C said she’d liked it all apart from one specific book (“and that was just because I was feeling tired”), especially maths, and asked for more art. Next week our history curriculum gets very art & crafty (yikes!) so she should like that.
We each celebrated the wrap up of a successful week in our own ways: C and J went crazy in the paddling pool (lucky neighbours!), while I reorganised a cupboard in our open-plan area to create a new shelf for our colour-coded notebook ring binders, which gave me enormous satisfaction. I know how to live!! 😀