Friday, March 14, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Homeschooling Family

Sometimes people ask me what a typical day is like at our house or what our schedule is like. I took some snapshots today so I could share a few thoughts on the matter with you. I like to think of myself as a pretty routine kind of person. I sort of like structure and so do most kids- some more than others. I'm an especially structured classroom teacher which I consider to be an excellent skill when you teach science to upwards of 37 students a fraction of whom to do not read a word on a page. A certain amount of control over movement and labs is necessary for safety and efficiency.

On the contrary, I find myself to be a rather relaxed homeschooler. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm an unschooler- no I'm much to school-y for that. Just look at our learning room and you can see vestiges of a classroom all over it. And why not? I mean there needs to be a measure of control over storage and movement for mostly efficiency with four kids one of whom is a toddler. Things need their places and people need their spaces for there to be some amount of harmony in our experience.

I've tried various schedules. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. I prefer to use a routine. A routine suggests that there is a plan and some framework of structure, but it doesn't own me. I can be flexible. I need to be flexible. At this point in our homeschooling journey, I play it by ear more often than not. Playing it by ear refers to our daily routine- NOT to my daily school plans. Let's not get the impression that being relaxed means I just wing it all the time. No...I'm definitely a planner. And just like an assembly or a snow day could mess up my plans when I was a classroom teacher, so too, a toddler can derail my plans with a melt down, a poopy diaper (oddly occurring just at the good part of our read aloud for the day), or a crash from an unsuccessful stunt. So for this year, the year of the two year old stunt boy, I take an opportunistic approach. I have a set of goals that need to be met for the day and we seize any moment to accomplish said goals. Not my first choice, but it sure beats feeling defeated regularly because I can't keep my routine. That makes me feel bad and it produces ill feelings toward a certain 2yo in residence. No...we finish breakfast and I quickly assess our starting point and it goes on from there.

While walking on the treadmill at the Y last night, I listened to a recording by Steve Lambert titled, On Becoming Teachers. The description on the web site read something like, "Things you won't learn at any teacher's college." I've heard three of Mr. Lambert's talks (he is the publisher of Five in a Row and husband and father to the program's creator and authors), but this one I had to listen to at some point. Now if you know me at all, then you know that I had some undergraduate teacher training (my degree is in biological sciences but I certified myself to teach 7-12th grade through additional course work) and I have a masters degree in curriculum and instruction- secondary ed. Just the idea that I hadn't learned something that he was going to tell me meant that I had to meet this challenge! However, I was pleasantly surprised at his words and you know...he's probably right. Not too many places are teaching teachers to be engaging and relevant. It's a newer concept in the area of pedagogy. There's a fabulous set of classes that I took during my graduate work that addresses making things interesting. I even took a class entitled, Meaningful Activities to Generate Interesting Classrooms- MAGIC. Great class, but I digress. Last night one of the main concepts driven home was that we need to make learning for our kids interesting, relevant, and accessible. We need to bring them to the table and dialogue with us about topics. If our kids are not active participants in their education, they will stop being interested in learning. That pretty much describes E9's experience at our local public school.

My point? At the end of the day, I won't judge how things went by whether or not we followed our schedule or even routine. I will be able to tell it was a good day of schooling if we had good conversation and if the kids kept asking questions-wanting to know more. Did I help them to discover something new or master a particular skill they've been working on? Did they help to decide how an assignment would be reported or change my mind by presenting a solid argument? Did they go above and beyond because suddenly something made sense to them? Did they get so excited about something on their own that I let them go with it for a while until they were satisfied? Or did I squelch that zeal by sticking to my schedule? Almost anyone can rehearse and regurgitate facts and a schedule will most likely help you to get that accomplished. Sometimes the extraordinary happens when we allow ourselves to be flexible. Don't get me wrong. Basic skills are important. How we arrive at them is not. I want my kids to be excellent communicators and we work on that in relevant ways not necessarily so traditional. For example, who cares if my kids can name every single rule for commas if they can correctly use them in their writing all the time. Isn't the goal to be able to master written language not just to name the ways you should use a comma? Ahh...that is a post for another day I'm afraid! My message? If you allow yourself to make learning relevant- even grammar you might just experience something brilliant! Otherwise friends, I could send them on down to the local public school. My desire is to light a fire! How about you?

The pictures below will give you a snippet of today... I think we did just fine in the end!

J2 looking over his "diamonds" as he called the pattern blocks to ask for them. This was after he'd already been playing playdoh. He was really ready for some activity after I sat with him late in the morning and read to him for about 45 minutes- blankets all packed in around him as he listened to Usborne Farmyard Tales both Train Stories and the other big book of stories. I-5 joined us for that too. During all this time R7 and E9 were busy with contraption LEGOS. R7 also spent an extraordinary amount of time studying her American Girl craft books. I picked up tons at a library sale last summer and we are collecting all the story books. She likes to tinker with crafting and figure things out. Last week she made a spring lamb from her Pack o Fun Magazine. Hmm...maybe that deserves a post!

He loves to make shapes and say hexagon.

Here's I-5 after his reading lesson from RME and his copy work completing the illustrations using Draw Write Now on a book he'd just written. The best part is that his new book is a fabulous reader now that he wrote!

R7 is working on a FIAR/Math lesson on money. Storekeepers exchange money and this was a review of coins and counting. In front of her on the table is the second LEGO contraption E9 made this morning. He built a rubberband car (the directions said that it could go ten feet so he set about measuring his distances and tweaking the car- an engineer in the making!) and this is the hanging, trap door, parachute thingy. You tie up a string and when you let go a parachute wearing LEGO guy comes flying out.

E9 reads to us from a biography of Neil Armstrong off of the NASA web site. He was just sitting at the computer referencing Google Earth to find out where Deer Park, NY is. Turns out Neil Armstrong is 78 yrs old and retired to Manhattan Island. Interesting. He also pinpointed the satellite image of the bendy creek in the post below. VERY cool and of course we'll share our print out in future updates of Higgins Bend. After his discourse here, he read chapter six from Neil Armstrong and researched various methods of making fires. This chapter revealed that Neil went camping. Tomorrow we head to the Museum of Play to see Les Stroud- Survivorman. Timely, since he builds tons of fires on his show. E9 has some questions for him.

As things waned down the castle was covered and balls were thrown on top...which led to the question, "Mommy can we play with the parachute?" Of course I said, "Yes!"

In the evening, R7 and E9 bickered over Cool Math, a book about all things cool about numbers. She got to read it for part of the evening and he took it to bed with him. While this was going on, I-5 was walking around saying, "Two groups of two means two groups with two things and that's four." To which I would say, "Yup otherwise known as 2x2=4. Then he'd try another. That's the thing about homeschooling, there's a fine line between what's "school" and what's not.

And that's just cool.


Lynn said...

Heather, I enjoyed so much reading about your school day. I'm impressed!


foursomejams said...

Thanks for sharing, Heather. You helped me re-think my approach again. My children have been dragging their feet lately.

Mom to 4

Art Show For Kids . com said...

I love your home schooling site and the ideas diversity it has to offer, and the incredible energy it gives.

Please invite your homeschool readers to a wonderful childrens' art site at where children from around the world are sharing their art, showing their art projects, and participating in ongoing childrens' art shows and kids art contests.

Oney said...

Heather, I really enjoyed this particular post to your blog. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely wonderful!You are an inspiration!!!

Tomena said...

I loved it...I love the "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." quote. At some point I'm going to paint it on my wall...along with a Chicka-boom-boom tree ;)

Cathy said...

Great post! I loved reading this.

Rach J DeBruin said...

Inspired! I'm new to homeschooling myself, but finding I am getting more relaxed as the days pass.

It's nice to see you can be flexible, yet still get a lot accomplished in one day.
Thanks for sharing your day with us :)