Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't Let School Get In the Way of Learning!

What do you think about punctuality, schedules and routines? Boring? Blah? Beautiful? I have to raise my hand on the beautiful.  Especially in this homeschooling home.  Not that I'm over-the-top about it all. It's just that the reality of raising five boys is that they need a little bit 'o that structure as much as I do.  
But, last week, I just couldn't seem to get the punctualized scheduled order harmonized in my home.  Or, in myself for that matter.  My internal clock just seemed to be broken. The swing was there, but the follow through - not so much.

8:30 a.m. That's when I like to ring the bell. Or blow the whistle, or yell really, really loudly that it's time to get the brain waves fired up. Unfortunately, just as I would reach for the bell, a minor set-back would hold things up:

- Fight breaks out between #2 and #3....mommy intervention.... it is now 8:40.
- Charlie has a blow out...more mommy is now 8:45.
- Mommy steps on big banana chunk while cruising through the kitchen.  Really guys? Legos and Cheerios I understand, but a nanner? Okay, minor squishy setback.
- Phone rings, we missed yesterday's dental appointment....mommy apologizes.... it is now 9:00.
- Mommy had too much coffee, regroups in the "library" for 45 seconds, and comes out to find this:
Three boys, creatively cooperating on a mega building project without my assistance or referee skills. (For a moment, I thought I must have been dreaming!) Now this, this is more beautiful than my little polished punctual schedule!

The funny thing is, the night before I had stayed up reviewing the kids curriculum schedules.  I wanted to be sure that I hadn't missed something critical in their lessons, in my planning. This is the time of year when I toss and turn a little bit at night with worry.  My mind just can't shut the little checklist down....Present participles?? Decimals to fractions?? Venn Diagrams?? Latin Roots?? States of Matter??  LMNOP??? 

Maybe it's because I understand the ENORMOUS responsibility I have as a parent who has chosen to homeschool our children.  Or, maybe it's because I need some medication.

The boys' little industrious act, initiated on their own, brought me back to center.  Because, the truth is, sometimes school can get in the way of learning.  There, I said it.  Oh, and P.S. I HATE standardized tests.  And, I feel sorry for all of the amazing teachers out there who have to give up a month of their school year for preparation and administration of the tests.  But, that's another story...feel free to comment.

As I sat back and watched their method for organizing the construction of their neighborhood I was impressed with the logical strategy they used.  First, they brainstormed for a few minutes about what they should construct.  Then, after agreeing to create a Lincoln Log neighborhood, they went about building a model home.  
Andrew suggested that they take an inventory of the pieces used to construct the home.  He then asked Henry to sort the pieces according to size and put them in piles.  The sorted piles made it easy for Andrew to assemble "kits" for George with the necessary pieces needed to build each home. After their neighborhood was built, they used Keva planks to create a neat little fenced border.  
Hmmm....something's missing.  Little feet are sent skipping into the playroom for a plunder through the stash of goods. Henry emerges proudly with his favorite Hot Wheels and adds them as a finishing touch to their display. They were so pleased with their work and had fun playing with it throughout the day!
I sat sat on the floor with Charlie, my cup of coffee and my camera, careful not to interrupt their creativity.  I couldn't resist snapping a few shots of Mr. Chuckles' C-A-UTE chubbiness!  Hey, how did that Play Dough container get mixed in with the Lincoln Logs?? Um, probably the same way a Cheeto mysteriously landed in my make-up case.
This is us, good little citizens, following the government's "No Child Left Behind" standards. (Snicker.)  We elected Charlie as general contractor.  Thank goodness the boys could de-code his bossy babble!
During our 45 minutes of unscooling, the boys' self-innitiated tasks incorporated the following tools:
                                      1.  Mathematics
                              2.  Physics
                              3.  Teamwork
                              4.  Communication
                              5.  Enthusiasm
I know that many of you use curriculum guides as I do, and following those guides with their lesson plans and schedules can offer consistency and a sense of confidence, knowing that we are meeting all of the standards of learning for the particular grades that we are teaching.  HOWEVER, if I may make a few suggestions.....

1.  Don't be afraid to drift away from the guide on occasion.  Doing so may actually make your classroom time more efficient when you come back to the curriculum.

2.  Be confident.  You don't have to have a death grip on the curriculum, and your teaching support group/mentor shouldn't make you feel that way either.  You can still offer your children an enriching educational day or week without the use of your daily texts, tests and workbooks.  Begin by centering school around something that they are interested in.  For example, this is how I followed the boys' lead on a Lincoln Log themed day with a few enrichments:

After thee boys finished their Lincoln Log masterpiece, I sent them outside for a 20 minute recess.  During that time, I wrote down a few ideas to extend the lessons for the day with their creation as the inspiration. 
- MATH: I wrote a few story problems for Andrew and George that were appropriate for their grade level. We also reviewed skip counting, grouping, multiplication and division at the white board. 
- LANGUAGE ARTS: I printed an embellished lined paper from the internet for them to write an essay on about their cabin.  We reviewed words that signal order of events (first, next, then, finally) before they began writing.  Andrew was required to use a certain number of adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases.
- ART: We reviewed how to draw with perspective. After practicing at the white board, the boys used the techniques they had learned in a former art lesson to illustrate their essay. 
-  SCIENCE: On You Tube I found an example of an individual who built his own log cabin using only a hand saw, axe, froe, tape measure, level and hammer.  The boys connected this to our visit to Independence, Kansas where we saw a replica of the original Little House on The Prairie. 
- HISTORY:  We read a brief summary about the invention of Lincoln Logs online. 
- READING: I read the boys a book we had on hand about Abraham Lincoln who lived in a log cabin during his youth.  We were finished with school by 12:30 p.m., and the boys loved it!
-  ORAL REPORT:  The boys summarized their school day for Steve at supper time.

3.  Let you children take the lead!  Each one of your children can get involved! Take a one week "vacation" from your normal routine and center all of their subjects around something that they are interested in.  The internet has a wealth of information, printable worksheets, coloring pages and field trip guides.  Don't be afraid to call up the "experts."  Many garden centers, dairies, banks, athletic departments and food specialists such as bakeries are more than happy to give tours to individual families or small groups. 

4. You don't have to create huge projects for everyday.  Choose a couple of "stand-outs" such as a beautiful craft, exciting science experiment or special outing that the kids can look forward to.  Otherwise, supplement your subject matter with library books, music, poetry or coloring/activity pages.  There are a lot of science and craft ideas and links to other websites on Pinterest and No Time For Flash Cards.

5.  You don't have to stray completely from your normal curriculum.  Choose a few subjects that you would like to incorporate into your thematic lessons, and keep the remaining subjects on schedule.

6.  One thing I love to do is to interview my kids about their projects.  They love to hear their voices and/or see themselves on screen (we use Quicktime on our Mac).  It's a great memory-maker for everyone, and can be shared with family and friends.  

7.  Remember, not everyone learns through the textbook, worksheet, take-the-test method.  So, taking a creative approach to learning with more hands-on activities may help your students who resist traditional methods of learning return to the standard curriculum with greater focus.

8.  If your two day weekends are turning into three and four days, you find yourself hiding under the covers from your children, or you are in search of your white flag of surrender, then it may be time to step away from your current routine and try something fresh and new.  

9.  Don't forget to document your new "adventure" if the state you live in requires detailed record keeping.  Photocopy your lessons plans, your children's work, and take a few photographs of your outings, craft projects and/or science experiments.

10.  I feel that having a number 10 here would really round out the list, but I'm out of blogging just pretend that there is something super-instighful written here!



  1. Wonderful lesson for ALL teachers whether in a school or in a home! And YES, we just completed our state tests and standardized tests. 8 mornings filled with tests and 8 afternoons filled with tired students! We are ALL glad to be finished and are ready for the last 13 days of school!
    Take Care!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! Our oldest son, Ben, is in public school this year, and he was a little overwhelmed by his first BIG test experience. But, he did great! And, the parents brought in snacks and drinks so he felt so "rewarded" for all of his hard work ;) Great to hear from ya!