Sunday, July 2, 2017

Flexibility and Our Ever-Evolving School Plans

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is how flexible it is. As someone who really loves her routines, schedules, planners, etc, that actually might be a little surprising. It can be hard for me (really hard) to fly by the seat of my pants and go with the flow, if I'm being perfectly honest, and still it's the ability to do just that with our school days that I love so much. I love to sit down on Sunday afternoons and fill in my planner with our week's plans, but I appreciate that if everybody wakes up with grumpy attitudes we can scrap the whole thing and go play in the rain instead.

Around Christmas this year, I started to feel the itch to change things up with our homeschooling. Our school year was going really well. Sam was learning a ton, and I was able to keep Kate and Henry (mostly) occupied with purposeful activities. It didn't really feel like anything was lacking necessarily, but I just felt a tug to explore our options a little bit. I felt like we were only scratching the surface. During what I like to call "Pinterest Week" (the week between Christmas and New Years when I spend all of my downtime scouring Pinterest for all of the ways I'm going to completely change our lives for the better in the new year) I really dove into finding some new and different ideas for us. Everything I typed into the Pinterest search, "minimalist homeschooling", "laid back homeschooling", "literature based homeschooling", "nature based homeschooling", was bringing up results for the Waldorf, Montessori, and Charlotte Mason models of learning. I kept coming across the same thing, particularly for Waldorf and Charlotte Mason, "No formal learning until age 6". All of the millions of pins I scrolled through, all of the new pin boards I created, all of the ideas I was starting to semi-pull together, and that's what was standing out most to me. No formal learning until age 6. It just made sense to me. I just kept reading, "Take your kids outside every single day, read them quality literature, give them free reign to create." This was what I had been looking for. This is what I really felt my kids were looking for. As much as Sam truly enjoys the sit down work you automatically think of when you think "school", I could see how quickly he could get burnt out if we didn't ease back a little bit for now. I decided to keep going with his language arts and math programs because he was doing so well, but I wasn't going to structure them quite as much. We'd do them when he asked, or if we were having a particularly quiet day, but other than that I wasn't going to stress about getting through the whole math book, or halfway through the language arts book, by springtime like I had originally planned. I put together a pile of books I wanted to read aloud to everybody, and we rearranged all of our school and craft supplies to make paper, crayons, markers, glue, and scissors easily accessible (to the big kids anyway 😋). I was getting really excited for all of the holiday buzz to be over so we could settle into a new, more laid back routine. A big motivator for all of this was the fact that we had just found out we were expecting baby #4 in the summer and I was starting to feel all of my usual 1st trimester symptoms starting to creep in.

So the new year rolled around, and so did morning sickness. I typically experience terrible, all-day nausea and this time around was no different. On top of that, we all started passing around various illnesses and, for a large portion of the winter, it felt like at least one person was always sick. I was incredibly grateful during this time to have already decided on an easier school plan for us. Most days, Sam and Kate would quietly go to the craft/school closet (what used to be our front coat closet) when they woke up, and would draw and create various masterpieces while I nursed Henry and ate enough saltines to be able to get out of bed without dry heaving (isn't pregnancy glamorous?) Later on in the morning we'd all get on the couch together and I'd read from a few different books (their favorite was Little House in the Big Woods!) until I got too dizzy and needed a break. On really cold days we'd take blankets in the playroom and everybody would sit in their own sunspot while I read. Sometimes Sam would really want to do his math and/or language arts, so we'd sit down to do that somewhere. In the earliest days of my pregnancy, we'd do his work on the couch, or on the floor of the playroom. As we crept closer to spring and I started feeling marginally better, we moved back to the dining room table. Henry and Kate were becoming less and less likely to play on their own while Sam did his sit down work, so I'd get out some math manipulatives for them to sort and stack, or give them pencils (they refused anything but a pencil when they knew it was "school time") and paper to "write" on as they wished. Kate, for the first time, expressed to me that she wanted to learn how to write her name, so I started giving her some tracing pages to do on days she asked for them. She still isn't writing her name on her own, but she does recognize all of the letters in it now and is starting to be able to form some pre-writing type shapes on her own. It's been really cool to completely let go of the reigns as far as teaching her anything really, and watch how she picks things up on her own.

As you can see from these pictures, much of our winter was spent wearing pajamas 😉

Even more important to me than any of our reading, or sporadic sit down schoolwork, was giving Sam much more freedom to create, as well as a lot more "alone" time. I had been noticing he was starting to get frustrated more often when playing with Henry and Kate. He had gotten a Lego table for Christmas, as well as Tinkertoys and K'nex to add to his growing Lego collection, and we were keeping all of that upstairs in his and Kate's bedroom, away from Henry's fingers (and mouth). At that point, Kate was having quiet time up in their room, and Sam was staying down in the playroom while Henry napped, but I decided to switch that and give Sam some quiet time upstairs with his building sets, while Kate played with a select few toys on her own in the playroom, with the doors shut. This didn't seem like a "school related" decision initially, but it ended up being one. Sam started spending more than just his afternoon quiet time upstairs creating and building and I could clearly see how it was helping him learn and grow. He went from needing help following Lego instructions, and only building a couple little things here and there without having instructions to follow, to being able to build whole Lego sets himself without any help at all and bringing down increasingly complex and creative designs of his own to show me. 

As we got closer to the end of winter, I started feeling better, the kids stopped passing around various viruses, and I slowly started doing less and less actual sit down work with the kids and let them just do their own thing. Drawing, crafting (I didn't do anymore structured crafts with them, but they made up their own), cooking, helping with chores, spending more time outside, looking through books on their own or with me. We had watched a lot of tv and movies while everybody was sick, but I stopped using screen time except for maybe an hour 2 or 3 times a week. Besides seeing a drastic improvement in everybody's overall behavior and attitudes without any tv, I saw an increase in the creativity of their playtime. 

So what does all of this look like going forward? Sam turned 6 this June and, with a baby coming the end of August, I'm going to want to start his 1st grade year at the end of July/very beginning of August. All throughout the spring I've been reading more and more about Charlotte Mason and her education philosophy. For the first time since I started this homeschooling journey I feel like I've found something that fits. All of our school plans for next year will be detailed in a different blog post once I actually have them all finalized, but we will be following a full Charlotte Mason "curriculum" and incorporating her philosophies in our day to day life. To sum up, Ms. Mason believed that children are capable of much more than we give them credit for, that quality literature and living books should be the basis of every education, that young students shouldn't be spending more than 15-20 minutes on one subject, that young students should be able to complete all of their day's work by lunchtime, and that all children should spend hours out doors every single day. Nature journaling is a huge part of a Charlotte Mason education. Kate won't be doing any formal work until she's 6, but she'll start a nature journal alongside Sam this year. I'm really excited to see what they chose to study and draw! Like I said, I'll write a new post when I have everything together for this year, but I've started collecting the books we are going to need and I am so excited to start digging into these together!

Our school year changed so much over the course of this year, and there were plenty of days where I felt incredibly guilty for not doing "enough", but looking back now I can see that all of the kids learned so much and that all of the changes worked out for the best for the whole family! I am so looking forward to what this upcoming school year is going to bring!

They all changed so much this year!!

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