It’s about to roll into September and I thought this would be a good time to reflect on how this year is going. This is our first official year homeschooling – we homeschooled through preschool and kindergarten but compulsory schooling starts here at age 6. This is the year we needed to register for home education.
The initial registration process was easier than I was expecting – when I finally got around to it! :/ – the home education liaison was very approachable and seems to have an open-minded view of homeschooling; recognising the whole spectrum of learning from traditional through to natural learning as valid approaches. This was a huge relief for me. I’m committed to natural learning and following an emergent approach and so I really wanted to make sure we would be able to continue living and learning in the way we had been before registration.
Quite a few things have changed though over the year. I think it is important to be continually reflecting on our approach in order to stay open to any changes which need to be made.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote this post, which outlined our weekly schedule as well as many of the resources I was planning to use over this coming year. I have been extremely happy with most of the books I chose to use. They have suited our style of inquiry-based learning very well.
I have been particularly impressed with Building Structures with Young Children. It’s a science-based book that looks at engineering concepts through block play. I have been so impressed with this book that I have since ordered the other two in the series: Discovering Nature with Young Children and Exploring Water with Young Children.
I am also very happy with the teaching/learning planner I purchased. It’s open-ended enough to allow for emergent learning but detailed enough to be a great record for documenting (for registration renewal and annual reports). I am going to purchase another planner for next year.
One thing didn’t suit us though. At the beginning of the year I had planned to integrate the Christopherus Waldorf-inspired Curriculum into our inquiry-based style. The curriculum was engaging for the first few weeks but Jack and I soon became disinterested in the Main Lessons; feeling in many ways, disconnected from many of the themes presented in the stories. I know the Christopherus curriculum is well regarded by many homeschoolers, it just didn’t suit us.
I think it is so important to recognise when things aren’t working and make changes, rather than surging on with something and running the risk of your child developing a negative approach to learning. So we have stopped using the Christopherus curriculum.
This meant that our weekly schedule changed too. This is what it looks like now:
The greyed out areas are either free play or structured activities away from home. Jack and Sarah participate in two structured activities a week. We also go bushwalking, visit the library and the kids spend time with my mum.
Self-directed explorations has been the best change I have made this year. Instead of teaching by subject, I now offer Jack and Sarah a range of explorations and they can freely choose what interests them most. We have one small bookcase in our homeschool room which holds about 10-15 baskets & trays.
I offer language, maths, science/discovery, fine-motor work, handwork like sewing & threading, music and anything else that the kids are particularly interested in at that time. We work together for about an hour. In that time I don’t encourage one basket over another – language isn’t more important than music – if Sarah wants to play the glockenspiel or dominoes the entire time, that is ok.
Jack and Sarah also have a learning journal for this time which I’ll talk more about in another post.
Jack has been engaged in focussed inquiry work for about 4 years now and I can honestly say that watching him learn in this way quashes any feelings of inadequacies I might have around homeschooling. Seeing him, and now Sarah, learn in this way; with such unrelenting passion, is an extraordinary privilege. They have studied topics that – had I not been open to allowing them to really take control of their own learning – I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen. And definitely not at the time they were ready to learn it.
Inquiry work is a priority here. And will stay a priority for the foreseeable future.
Monday afternoon is activity time and the kids LOVE it! This is the time where they choose an activity or experiment from one of the many kids’ activities books we have on the shelf. It’s completely up to them and they love flicking through the books to find something. They then scour the house gathering all the materials and set to work on their activity.
I love this time too for a few reasons. Jack and Sarah have to decide together what they are going to do, Jack is encouraged to read as they try to work out the materials, I am motivated to try something fun and new and the kids are highly engaged in the activity because they have chosen it themselves.
Jack and Sarah spend a lot of time drawing, painting, collaging and making sculptures from clean recyclables. We also have one session a week where I offer them a more structured art lesson.
I started out working through The Language of Art: Reggio-Inspired Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings and highly recommend it. This is the best art book I have found for creating open art explorations with children. It also includes how to speak to children about their art in an engaging way – this is what I found most valuable.
We then started using 3D Art Lab for Kids: 32 Hands-on Adventures in Sculpture and Mixed Media. It has been a great follow on from The Language of Art. We are enjoying this book so much that I have also ordered Art Lab for Kids (it focusses on painting and drawing). These are such great books; authentic art presented simply for children.
You might have noticed that Jack does a maths book now. I think there is value in workbooks; it just depends on how you present them. If it is a non-negotiable; if you make the decision for the child, then I think you are going to have some problems. But if it is something the child chooses to do willingly, then workbooks can be a learning tool like any other.
Jack is working through the Math-U-See program (here’s the US version). I chose this program because of the book’s layout; a simple black type on white pages. It sounds a little boring but it’s perfect for Jack. There’s no colour, no pictures, no distractions.
The Math-U-See program is working well for Jack and I’ll continue with it while he is enjoying it.
I’m planning on writing a separate post or two on nature studies but for now there are a few really great books which I have been using to help inspire our studies. Along with Discovering Nature with Young Children, I’ve also been using:
Handbook of Nature Studies is a really incredible book. It’s very detailed. Some of the animals that are featured are more common to North America but in general, this book is wonderful with lessons that can be applied to other animals. It’s packed with really interesting information; want to know about why birds have feathers or the purpose of different beak shapes? Want to know about insects or how their colourings protect them? This book has it. It covers animals, plants, rocks, climate, everything.
Keeping a Nature Journal – I’ve just ordered this one (it hasn’t arrived yet) but I am looking forward to reading it. It has strategies for getting started with nature journalling, drawing and keeping a journal through each season. The illustrations look stunning too.
This is what our homeschool days look like at the moment. Quite different from the beginning of the year; a lot more open-ended and self-directed which is working well for us. Of course there is plenty of time for play, pottering in our kitchen garden, baking together, reading and hanging out with friends.
How are things looking at your place? What’s working well in your homeschool?
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