wonder and inquiry

Rhythm and grounding…

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Thought breeds thought; children familiar with the great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education. – Charlotte Mason 

I said the other day that I could not imagine our life right now without homeschooling. It truly provides us with a rhythm and grounding that we wouldn’t have otherwise. I continue to stand by that statement, but I’m sure you may be wondering how in the world it all comes together for us right now in the midst of these continuing storms. How do you learn together when the schedule is hardly ever predictable, or when one or more students may be too sick to “learn”?

First of all, it isn’t easy. However, I know that my children are constantly learning and absorbing whether I am directing their learning or not, so I try not to stress too much when things get really whacked out. The environment I’ve built here is very rich. We have an extensive library of good, solid books that they can pick up any time of the day- books about nature, astronomy, history, biography, art. There are drawing materials available all the time. We have a microscope; we have lots of hands on manipulatives to work with- tangrams, popsicle sticks, clay, pipe cleaners, and the like. We recently added some magnetic blocks and an abacus. On any given day whether “proper” school happens or not, you will find the kids engaging with all of these things. While we’ve recently gone back to being tv-less during the week, my children also are allowed to access learning sites like Prodigy, Khan Academy, and others whenever they wish. They all love Prodigy, in particular, and will beg to play on it daily. It is a Pokemon style math program that challenges the kids’ skills while they battle- using their math knowledge. If our day has gone completely sideways but I have seen creative work in these areas, we’ve read aloud a book or two, and some children have worked online, I call it good and let it go for the day. Even if this is all they get during a particularly tough day, I know they received solid, good food.

Obviously, I’d like a bit more structure to our “normal” school days, but it isn’t always possible. I’ve also found that many of the ideas for planning just don’t work for our particular situation. I used to be a plan the whole year or at least a semester type of planner- the smallest chunk of time I was willing to go was about six weeks. I learned very quickly as we all started here at home last July that my planning, while wise, just wasn’t granular enough for the needs of my children. In the long run we have generally accomplished what I originally thought we’d do, but in the short term, it seemed really outlandish. I would describe our planning as a cross between block scheduling and looping.

With the exception of my eldest, none of the children could really properly work independently, and I had planned with that expectation at the beginning of the year. Aside from my eldest, none of them could really read or write in a way that would allow them to pursue their own interests. This was my first and absolute bedrock goal. July to January was spent rolling back to foundational skills and building confidence in those areas. I found that two weeks was as far as I was willing to extend my planning because the needs were constantly shifting. One child would make epic strides, another would struggle. I found two weeks was a small enough chunk that I had a plan but it was flexible enough to account for this.

In the mornings, we have a Circle Time that includes Shakespeare, History (Story of the World: Modern Era), and a current read aloud based on where we are in History. We work through Montessori-style grammar lessons based on our Shakespeare memorization. Sometimes they help write the symbols on the large white board- sometimes they work independently on the sentences and compare notes. When that is done, we generally split into writing groups. Ben works off by himself using Writing with Skill (Well Trained Mind); Isaiah and Lorelei work with me using IEW Primary; and the youngest boys copy a sentence or paragraph from a white board that we’ve previously created (this comes from a section of IEW Primary as well). When I do my planning, I plan both this ‘chunk’ of time and our afternoon chunk. I order the library books for the next two chapters of History, look over and decide what grammar will be based on, what concepts I’d like everyone to focus on for writing.

By this time, it’s nearly lunch usually. The children will pull out their Explode the Code (Ben works in a Spelling curriculum), and when they finish that, they will work through their next lesson of Math. (We currently use Math U See.) Whoever finishes first prepares lunch- that’s often Ben or Lorelei. The rest of us wrap up by the time lunch is ready.

After lunch is when most of our one on one time occurs. I tutor Ben through Latin, Ben and Isaiah through Physics, and work one on one with Lorelei and Isaiah in reading and writing, and we do our All About Spelling work during this one on one time. We often work through and edit the writing we’ve done earlier in the day. All three of the older children will work through some Logic. I check in with Ben on all of his work and the projects he’s interested in, correct work, discuss interests and options. He works entirely independently and is often pursuing interests beyond what I’ve assigned him, which is absolutely as it should be! I love it. We are definitely reaching the stage where he feels more like a colleague in learning than a student, even though he’s only thirteen. I love some of the discussions we get to have. The kids not in conference with me are often are using Prodigy or Khan Academy during this time or reading.

The younger ones are often playing during this time, but sometimes they’ll be working right with us at the table on their own little projects- drawing, building, threading beads. When the older children are done for the day, I switch off to our afternoon chunk. This often falls just before our afternoon tea time, which is roughly at three o’clock. We stop what we’re doing and clear the decks, put all the books and projects away (our school table is our dining table), and we have a small snack: cheese, fruit, and a cookie, usually. I found some strong yet small little mugs with plates from Ikea that is dedicated for snack time. They eat and I read- usually more of our current read-aloud- sometimes poetry.

Afterwards, the younger boys and I (and almost always Ellianna) play math games and reading games. I base these games on what I see the children struggling with in their more formal work. Sometimes we count M and Ms or Cheerios by 2s, 5s, 10s, or play hopscotch, jump on vowel teams or play games from IEW Primary’s Phonics Game book…the possibilities are endless, but I’m usually focusing on a particular skill. The point is always PLAY. These I plan in two week chunks as well.

This probably sounds intense (really? All day till nearly five?) but it’s work spread out over a whole day. We are very laid back. I’m sure we could buckle down and get all of that work done in two or three hours if we wanted to, but we all like to wander and change tack for a while, come back. With his Sensory Processing Disorder, Isaiah definitely needs breaks in between subjects to pause and absorb and the other children seem to benefit from the slow transitions as well. I don’t set a time limit on it, but I generally pull them back into the next subject or task when they start to get buggy with each other.

So what happens when it all goes sideways, as it seems to do more often than not? Our basics without fail are Explode the Code and Math. Even if I’m at the hospital, my older kids can help my littles do their work. The last three weeks, for example, have been basically this, plus some reading aloud and a some writing work when we get a chance. They are still making steady progress. Benjamin continues working on his assignments- Latin sometimes has to take a back seat, as does Physics sometimes- but often Physics we can maintain because the boys read and then we discuss, often around the dinner table. We do the Physics related math as we can, often in the late, late afternoons. We use the Tiner series from Memoria Press.

As things settle down, I will re-assess needs. If we’ve completely departed from my last two week plan (and I haven’t been able to keep planning forward), we start there and finish whatever is left there. Then I will reboot and plan the next two weeks forward. As this year has progressed, the older kids are starting to say, hey, I can do that with so and so, and so we’re not falling so far off the track when things get wackadoodle. I love that this is happening. When Isaiah and Lorelei are ‘teaching’ or playing the games with the younger ones, they are getting lots of wonderful reinforcement of areas they are weak in while boosting their confidence in what they know. It is so much fun to watch. Both of them are starting to own their educations and seeing their confidence in telling a younger student what thus and such is and know it for sure is just awesome. I really hate that this medical stuff really throws us for a loop, but there are always silver linings.

Because of the steady, incremental work we’ve done in reading and writing skills, all of my students can now read and write independently. As Spring comes on I think we will begin to include some more of our favorites like nature study and formal art and composer studies. These have all been happening on their own, essentially, but I think we will begin more formal studies now that everyone feels a bit more solid. I’m looking forward to it- if the medical shenanigans can calm down for a while. Josiah’s next big surgery will be mid-April, so we have a bit of a break to breathe for a bit and focus solely on our learning.

This is a post in the continuing series, Wonder and Inquiry.




  • Sandi

    So enjoyed reading about how you flow through your day. I have started recently using IEW with my son who struggles with writing and it has helped SO much. The keys words have changed our world. Did you sign in for Prodigy as a teacher or parent? Thanks for pointing me there. It looks very promising for my math phobic kid and my math brained kid 🙂

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