Easing in Flexibility

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Our first week has come and gone. We are now approaching our second week of learning at home and in the world. It has been a much smoother ride this time around. There are a few reasons why this is so, however I would like to share the most important one I have found in our journey. The biggest piece of advice I could give new homeschoolers is to ease into it while building flexibility. You nor your children will benefit from having a rigid schedule packed full of things that need doing. It will only stress you and your learners, which rarely leads to a fun experience.

The best learning experiences that have happened in our home have been the ideas that come up during a lesson or outing. The ability to be flexible is a key factor in our learning environment.

For example, I had planned to have our second art day include a still life drawing of an object, the first day we had completed our annual self portraits. However, while the kids were figuring their allowance (counting earned beads) Blake mentioned that he needed a wallet. I’m unsure how or who brought up duct tape, but in the end we decided that on our next art day we would be making duct tape wallets.

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The ability to be flexible with your lesson plans can lead to multifaceted learning. Our wallet project ended up as not just an art lesson, but a lesson that included math concepts, money, typing and internet skills. Before we went out Blake searched online for wallet tutorials (typing, reading and internet skills), I gave him a budget of $10 (math, money management and accountability) he ended up buying 8 different colors/patterns of duct tape! While making the wallets he had to follow directions, use a ruler, and improvise when things didn’t go as planned. He also helped his sister change her wallet into a purse, innovator in the making. In the end we were able to reinforce life skills through an art project while encouraging ideas and self-sufficiency.

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It can be easy to get sucked into over scheduling especially if you are a first time homeschooler or just plain ol’ excited about the new year. I recommend covering one or two main subjects daily, with short burst of daily work. This way when ideas are thought up you’ll have the time to discuss them and maybe even plan a project of your own.

Homeschooling in Minnesota with an eclectic unschooling twist.

 

Our little home-school family lives in Minnesota and so we have a few regulations we must follow in order to homeschool. The first thing we must do is let our local school district know that we are schooling at home. This is a very easy process, basically, we just fill out paperwork that states the grade and child(ren) to be schooled, include their immunization records, and what standardized testing we will be choosing for the year.

Minnesota also requires home-school families to “teach” on these subjects: basic communication skills (including reading, writing, literature, and fine arts) mathematics, science, social studies (including history, geography and government) health and physical education.

When I first read this I was a totally intimidated. How the heck was I going to get all of this in everyday? Here’s the answer: You don’t, and that’s okay. These topics will not be covered everyday. Unless you have some crazy schedule I have not (and most likely could not) seen or followed. As long as they are covered in some capacity in the “school year” or even monthly you will be fine. In my opinion if you are cramming it all in (everyday), the children are grasping at straws and very little of it is being internalized. Home-schoolers and unschoolers are as varied as pie. Although its all considered pie, each has its own flavor and none of them are wrong, some people may like key-lime others french silk.

I am within reason a believer in unschooling, and have found books like John Holt’s Schooling At Home to be a great resource; not just for homeschooling, but for parenting and child-rearing in general. So after our experience of unschooling I found that if at the end of the day I tracked what Blake did during the day; be it playing with legos, searching online, coding, playing outside, watching a documentary on Neanderthals or creating a kite out of plastic bags and sticks. He alone covered almost all of the criteria ON HIS OWN.

The only thing that wasn’t happening was the inherent proof through paperwork or testing that prep-made school work creates for itself. And so record keeping became very important. When I noticed that not much math, or history was happening I would use strewing (the act of setting out items like books, movies, toys, etc, to invoke interest) to help him along.

I cannot however say that we are unschoolers, because although I use unschooling practices in our home-life. We also use curriculum when we feel its needed. We keep somewhat of a schedule to our days and we set personal and academic goals.

Minnesota requires standardized testing, there are various choices to choose from, however the school district must approve of your testing choice. No matter what your views on these practices are your child should be able to test through this material. This is especially true in the lower grades as much of the material is core knowledge learned through life experience. I cannot confidently say this about middle and high school testing as I have not experienced this testing process. However, even if they are low in one or two subjects they should not be failing all or the majority. If they are there needs to be some form of intervention or further assessment for disability happening, which is why I am not against standardized testing. (I am against the practice of funding schools based on test scores, and forcing teaching methods on teachers for the sole purpose of testing.)

Eclectic Homeschool – Learning Items

I am an eclectic decorator.  Because of this our home is filled with items that scream “us”. The things we like we keep, for a LONG time. It has taken me years to realize that I am not happy with a cookie cutter home, that showrooms and magazines rarely speak to me because the items have not been accumulated over time. I could care less if my end tables match or that I have ten different pillows on my couch. Much of my decorating includes boxes to hide the stuff crap I accumulate, Ikea organizers, a plethora of books and science items. As an artist, mother, homeschooler, I have noticed if I LOVE an item it has the following qualities: it will FITS the space well, it is USEFUL, and I gather ENERGY from it.

The items that speak to me in such a way are the ones that stick around for the long haul. My design aesthetic is much the same for our curriculum and learning choices. Shopping online, thrift stores, yard sales, using Netflix or YouTube, it truly runs the gamut. Instead of selecting a curriculum for the year and following it day to day, I prefer (as do our children) to set goals and let those guide our days. Last year was our first year truly homeschooling, and man it was a wild ride. I had already tried the whole k12 thing, which didn’t work for us AT ALL. We then moved on to a sort of unschooling/deschooling philosophy. During this time, we exploited our freedom and spent time getting used to just being together. This summer when looking forlearning itemsinstead of curriculum I followed the same rule of thumb as I do when decorating.

  • Does it FIT with our goals? And our space. . . Small home woes
  •  Is it Useful?
  •  Does it give me/us ENERGY?

Our learning items don’t have to have all these qualities. However the ones that do seem to get used over and over with enthusiasm!