Thursday, August 16, 2012

Our Home School "style"

One question many people want to know is what is our homeschooling "style", or how would we classify our home school approach. An easy way would be to identify ourselves as eclectic, or an approach that draws from a variety of different sources. However, that really doesn't help to identify exactly what we do.

I have always been a fan of unschooling or child led learning and we do use a bit of this approach. It's just that "I" need structure, even if my kids don't. So, I incorporate unschooling by allowing my children to have some freedom in when they choose their assignments as well as some of the topics that we tackle (like my eldest choosing to study world geography and my daughter choosing to learn about weather).

Our need for structure isn't just a personal preference, there are some choices that the children have made that require a more firm routine. For instance, all three of my children are learning at least one instrument, with two of the three learning two instruments. Instruments require practice at least five days a week - there is just no getting around that. If you love an instrument, you either learn to love to practice or you give up on the instrument. My children are still young and while they always have a choice in whether or not they will continue to play their instruments, they don't get a choice when it comes to practice - they must practice every weekday. We are also doing remediation in the areas of vision, auditory processing,  and dyslexia. While it isn't always fun, doing the hard work now means they won't have disabilities holding them back when the real learning and adventure starts as they get older and more independent.

We tend to do math everyday - although we do it in a variety of ways. Sometimes it's working through a math textbook or workbook, other times hands on games and activities, math videos, and even math story books. We do something with reading/phonics daily as well - but this is also done utilizing variety. Sometimes the kids are reading aloud, sometimes they are doing a CD-ROM based program, sometimes doing a hands on phonics exercise, and sometimes even watching a phonics or reading based video. Variety allows us to not get into a rut and allows for depth of learning as well.

We incorporate creative expression and outlet as a part of our weekly home school routine. So arts and crafts, music appreciation, dramatic and role playing are all a part of things we do. Arts and crafts can be anything from painting to clay work to beading crafts or craft kits. In music appreciation we may learn about various instruments, learn about artist, or learn about a music genre. Drama and role playing comes from the kids acting out scenes they seen in their favorite videos or simply role playing life situations. Just having an outlet for expression with no hard and fast rules is an important thing in our home.

We also combine science and art through things like snap circuits, zometools, legos, K'Nex and other building mediums. We can explore them using physics, engineering, and chemistry to learn, grow, and explore. I am constantly amazed by what the children are able to do. They generally start with the guide provided in the kit, but quickly master the basics and go off building on their own. It is beautiful to watch their minds come up with new ways of thinking about objects.

The kids also do unit based "specials". There are topics they choose that I simply provide a lot of materials so they can go as deep or as wide as their passion takes them. A passion for geography brings out a globe, various different atlas books to view maps, learning to read maps, learning to draw maps, doing map puzzles, mapping out various routes, or just learning interesting facts about various countries. We dug deep on a number of topics including the human body where we even put together medical grade models, ferrets where we learned how to take care of them, set up habitats, and even went to visit and hold them at a local pet store. The big thing is the children pick the topic and I gather the supplies. This has been the most interesting part of our home schooling journey as the children have chosen to learn about things well before I would have scheduled them or even chose to learn about things that I wouldn't have come up with. The big thing for me is that they enjoy the learning process.

Physical activities are also a part of our weekly routine. In addition to them taking gymnastics, we also make sure to move our bodies as much as we can. From doing yoga to running laps at the track - we understanding the exercise is not only fun, but an important part of life as well.

So, our style is quite broad. I use what I call the "label" system to determine our daily schedule. Basically, I add 7 labels to their boxes each day. The labels might say a standard - like vision therapy or Singapore Math. They also have labels title "build/create" where they pick the medium or "logic" which can be a game, a book, or us getting together to solve some pressing problem. They also have free choice labels. Once they have finished their 7 mandatory labels, they can pick as many free labels as they chose. These might say "build a bridge", "make a story up about a sibling", "write a letter to grandma", "build an animal habitat", or "run a lap". They get rewarded in various ways be finishing their labels - kind of like adults earning a paycheck for the work that they do. The system has been working quite well and it keeps the kids' interested in what we are doing. It provides us the structure we need while still allowing for lots of freedom and personal responsibility.

So - that's our "style" and there just isn't one or two words to describe it. All I can say is that it works for us and it definitely isn't for everyone. There is a lot of planning on my part that goes into making this work and the kids are probably working harder than most children their age. But, they are thriving, having fun, and constantly asking for more work. I think we found our happy medium!

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