Monday, 13 June 2016

This is how we do it - contribution for Otherways magazine issue 148

Hi all, this was my contributions to the latest issue of Otherways, the quarterly magazine published by the Home Education Network (HEN). I highly recommend becoming a member, over the years it's being an invaluable source of information and reassurance for me, and you also get good discounts on resources such as Reading Eggs, Skwirk etc. Go have a look for yourself :)


Each January I take some time out to sit down and do some thinking and planning for the year ahead; I always check with the kids whether there’s any new activity they’d like to try, or what they did enjoy or not so much from the previous year.

When we started homeschooling 3 years ago, we had a look around to see what other homeschooling families were doing, both for guidance and inspiration.
We had friends attending drama classes, ballet classes, pottery classes, Lego, horse riding, soccer, robotics, gymnastics, violin… the world truly is your oyster when you can set your own schedule!
So we did what I thought we had to do: we enrolled in a few classes, a few excursions, many organised activities. I think I felt compelled to do so also as a way to justify our life choices with the extended family. I was probably thinking, “I’m sure they’re not going to bug me about the whole socialisation issue if the kids go to classes”…
For two years we did lots of stuff. But I thought we could do more, there are so many interesting things to do out there! So many more things we could try!
But for those two years we also had lots of fights over trying to be on time for the classes and activities I signed us up for… and even knowing that we had to go to a class would get us in a bad mood from early morning!
At the end of last year, I realised things weren’t really working out…

I had to face the facts: my kids (8 and 6 years old) did not enjoy these activities; they really liked the idea of attending the classes, but really weren’t benefiting nor learning much. Because of their wiring and genetic make-up, they really don’t enjoy classes or being in an environment where someone is trying to teach them, particularly in a group setting where there are too many sensorial distractions, but they benefit much more from a relaxed environment, or where they have the ability to have free conversations with others.

This is how, last January I decided this year we would do… nothing. No classes, no commitments.
So, instead of planning our week based around pre-set classes, this year we have the freedom to do things when it works best for us. And it’s been great! Clearly we aren’t the sort of family who thrives on a schedule…

We now have more of a rhythm to our weeks and our days, and it seems to suit our personalities and our biorhythms pretty well.

On Thursdays we have our social group meet up at the park, and that pretty much is non-negotiable, we have to be pretty sick for any of us to not want to go…
Every second Tuesday we have another park meet up, which many of our close friends attend as well.
Monday tends to be our library day, and every week we have at least one playdate at home or one excursion with friends. At first I didn’t think we were seeing friends enough, but I counted the hours, and realised that through the various catch ups, my kids are having at least 9 hours of QUALITY time with friends. Which really is more than they would be getting at school!

All the other days are flexible, for shopping, outings, our own adventures, family time, and most importantly, I always ensure we have a home day after every two days out. We really need that quieter time to decompress...

As much as I love our outings, I really love our days at home, they are the days where we do most of our “homeschooling” per se and where we have the time to connect and learn together. We have a very relaxed approach to learning, and what really works for the kids is when I strew many things, or propose activities which will inspire them, rather than me setting a curriculum in stone.

As I said, we don’t really function well with a schedule, so our days aren’t planned in detail, but we tend to follow our natural patterns, so the day has a certain organic flow to it.

We start our day with a Morning Activity set out on the kitchen table: this is always something I organise the night before, which has both the task of getting the little brains started for the day, and most importantly keeps them busy while I prepare my pot of coffee… Sometimes the morning activity will be based or loosely inspired by the bedtime story we read the night before, sometimes it could be as simple as an activity book or just a game that I pull out of our not-so-commonly-used stash, but I like it when I have the time to set up an “invitation to play” sort of playset.

colouring pictures of Australian animals; 
in the background, Kitchen Science kit, ready for later on 

magnetic mosaic: yep, the boy is writing "poo" with magnetic tiles; 
also, a clearly visible "poo" in washi tape... ah the joys...

S doing an activity book (word puzzles etc), L making pictures with stickers 
Goldilocks meets three Bengal tigers...

a long time ago, an invitation to play with hazelnuts, 
gnomes and a few measuring tools and containers

Then we have breakfast and get ready for the day. Depending on the appeal of the morning activity, the kids might continue with that or start their own imaginative play, usually in their rooms or in the Lego area (formerly known as  “the lounge”…). They usually don’t need me for at least an hour and a half, so I take advantage of that time to do some housework, do some baking or food prep if needed, and then organise another activity, which we’ll do at the kitchen table if the weather isn’t inspiring us to go out.
If the weather is nice, we’ll have morning tea in the garden, and will usually do our next activity there for another hour and a half. This is usually some craft or something creative or messy: I started storing most of our supplies outdoors, both to curb the mess in the kitchen and to encourage more outdoors time, and it’s been working wonderfully.

a few books on ancient Egypt

outdoors, painting a portrait of her brother

a bit of astronomy, still in PJs...

still on Japan: origami and a couple of Japanese language books
 (and the omnipresent "poo" table cover...)

L reading, S painting her wooden dominoes from the Clever DIY craft box 

kids made up their own game using world coins and blank wooden dice

After lunch the kids have some quiet time. Some days that might be watching a DVD, but most days the kids are naturally drawn to their own bedrooms: both rooms face north-west, so in the early afternoon the kids thoroughly enjoy some alone time reading their favourite books in a cosy spot in the sun in their own bedrooms. And some days they have their quiet time together, just doing their things together in silence. As a parent, that is really one of the nicest scenes, just the two of them quietly enjoying each other’s company.

S reading in her room, L quietly drawing 

Around 1.30pm, the kids re-emerge from their rooms ready for action… We often start the second half of our day snuggled on the couch, reading a reference book that can inspire our afternoon activities. This can be something as simple as a Magic School Bus book, or a story from a different country or culture, or a historically based story, or something on a specific topic, such as seeds or amphibians or minerals, or a book that I don’t think the kids will spontaneously pick up to peruse. We have a very assorted home library, and with weekly trips to the library as well, there is no shortage of books to read in our house!  
Our afternoon activity will either be something based on that book, or something continued from the morning, or whatever the kids come up with. Some days we have a certain topic that we’ll carry through the whole day, like a Japanese inspired playset, then Japanese stories, origami or other craft, and if all goes to plan then we might top that with Japanese takeaway for dinner.

geography: puzzles and books

anatomy with "Ghost", the squishy anatomy model

it's raining, perfect excuse to go out with umbrellas

learning about Egyptian gods while eating lunch

sinking dinosaurs & mini lalapoopsys in a non-Newtonian fluid, a.k.a. cornflour quicksand 

a variety of toys

L playing a coin matching card game

a Japanese inspired play set 

 L reading some comics from his wimpy kid do it yourself book; S writing a story in her new workbook

After dinner, they both enjoy working at the table, either drawing pictures, or writing stories, or even doing bookwork: my eldest is a bit of a night owl, and she seems to only get interested in maths workbooks after 7pm…

With the kids being still young (they’re 6 and 8), bedtime consists of snuggling up together to read two picture books. I like to choose 2 books that have something in common with each other, whether it be the author or the illustrator or the theme, or maybe if they relate to something we’ve done recently or a topic that’s of interest to us.
It’s a lovely to unwind for the day, as we also use it as a moment to discuss the stories and to talk about what we’d like to do the following day.

Both my kids are much better at self-directed learning than direct teaching, so most of our days are about me guiding them or offering support in their endeavours and discoveries, rather than methodically planning a curriculum.
I know our days are quite unconventional and indeed very different to what many consider “normal” homeschooling, but I found that creating an environment that plays to their strengths and fosters their interests really works for us, and it definitely makes for an interesting ride!

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