I have a nice little growing collection of homeschool questions, gathering for a homeschool post, but one question that comes up again and again is how and what do we do for family school. How on earth do we all learn together, with such a wide age spacing of children, the youngest is 6, the oldest is eighteen and everything in-between. We have always done a good dose of family school, right from the time my kids were tiny we have done some sort of family learning. I can’t actually remember a time when we weren’t in school, how does one define when exactly school starts other than when my kids are born they are part of the family culture and they may begin in my arms at the table, and then graduate to their own spot, but I am guessing even before they were born they were part of family school and will have always heard the lilt of the day from their own special place at the table.
School in our house is very clearly divided into different sections, where there are different expectations. One area is family school where we learn all together and we cover all the things that can be learnt as a family, and then there is what my kids call “real school” where they work through their own reading, history, math and science.
How We Do Family School
- Where: Around the kitchen table, it really is the place we call home and where we spend most of our days. Honestly mealtimes would pass in a flash if we didn’t spend time doing a little learning while we were there… if I have everyone in one spot then I am going to make the very most of the moment and grab everyone’s attention while I can.
- Who: Well everyone who is home… we have all our meals together and family school is tied very closely to mealtimes, when everyone is naturally together. Sometimes kids are here, there or every where, off for day outing or for my older ones, off on a course… and the father person is typically at work. But whoever is home on a given day will have breakfast…
- When: My kids are not the best at transitions… if they are doing one thing it can take an age to move to another, if they are doing school it can take an age to stop for lunch and if they are at a mealtime it can take an age to move from the table. So I naturally took advantage of that, especially when my kids were tiny and I either couldn’t move from the table because I was nursing or a small person was lagging through a meal… we kept a few books beside the table and just gently began reading them to keep folk at the table and engaged and stop little folk wandering off while we waited for one person to finish up.
- Why: A family culture is important, I want my kids to grow up knowing similar things, I want them to have stumbled their way on a great adventure together, discovered a huge event by surprise, have learnt the details of a person’s life, which turns that person into a family hero, together and battled to learn a long and epic poem together, for instance. We can do this with books around the kitchen table. One of the great advantages of homeschooling is that you can teach the things that you think are important as a family that you wouldn’t necessarily have time for if your children were in school… I have a handful of topics that I think would be an advantage for my kids to know in their hearts… not so that they can all become rocket scientists or get ahead but because some things are beautiful and need to be placed on our hearts from an early age for us to embrace them. Things that are useful to the whole person.
- How: In my ordered mothering mind it would begin with the table fresh and cleared and ready to go… but I appear to be the only one who hunkers after such order… so it is more like as a meal begins to end so I begin to read from the pile of books… my kids generally just listen away. There maybe side conversations and there may be clatter and noise at first, but I just read on and it quietens down really quickly, they want to hear what I am reading. Occasionally someone will move away from the table and cook something at the play kitchen… but I have a very low tolerance for things going on around me while I read, so mostly they sit quietly and listen. Otherwise my teens might move away to the next table, but never too far… they like to ensure that their younger siblings are listening and have no trouble interjecting a few explanations of their own as we go along. Once I am finished reading, if there are a few things they want to pop into their family journals, which are a record of what we learn together then, we clear the table and the work on their journals a little as we transition into our real school for the day.
- The What: Well this is the fun part… you can go wild and really choose anything you would like to teach your kids here. With most things we do, we go really really slowly… some books take us the entire year… there is no rush when it comes to a lifestyle of learning, you don’t have to learn everything at once. I make sure that we do things that I am interested in and I share materials that I have loved… how else will they catch the love of learning. Also, this is a time when I am learning as much as they are… I am diving in and part of learning alongside them. I firmly believe that excellent materials are excellent for every age… if a book is great and engaging then it will be great and engaging for all of us. I mean, have you seen some of the great books available to learn from… grade level or age level are really not a prerequisite for loving a great book or mastering a new piece of information.
- What We Might Actually Cover:
- Bible Teaching: A bible reading, or a bible study, or a christian biography;
- Poetry: Because everyone loves poetry and it is a way to cut straight through any age barriers… a good poem is a good poem, whatever your age.
- Memorisation: A bible verse, a hymn, a poem, some Latin, or a little Afrikaans. There are millions of things to think of memorising… it is cool to learn certain things off by heart. Trust me on this the sense of achievement when you have learnt something well… The big thing is OR… we learn a few things out loud, slow and steady… rather than heaps of stuff all at once and then forgetting. And honestly, the smaller they are the easier it is for them to memorise things… and so there is no getting off learning things based on age (unless it is my age!!!).
- Math: We have started at the Beginning of The Life of Fred this year and everyone is loving it… great in so many ways!!!
- Word of the Day: One or two words that crop up in our daily reading… we use them in sentences and we learn how to spell them.
- History: We are slowly but surely working our way through The History of the World in a 1000 Objects and we read a double page spread each day.
- South Africa: We don’t have a South African Curriculum, so we have to find ways to include it into our homeschool. We use a lot of resources from the library and usually have some sort of South African interest book that we are reading together, either nature study or social studies, cook books and story books. One year we virtually explored all the Game Parks, other times we have taken virtual road trips. This past year we have explored the coast of South Africa… from Namibia to Mozambique.
- Family Read-A-Louds: These are books that I love, or loved reading as a child, and I think our kids need to hear together and we read them together, a chapter or two a day.
And Most Weeks
- Monday: Country of the Week… we use the Window on the World, and an Animal of the Week, which they tend to look up in our field guides… to get all the facts.
- Tuesday: Introduce our Musician of the Week: With eight kids all whistling, humming or drumming their own tunes around the table during school time it can get a little crazy… so I started playing classical music in the back ground… it definitely quietens things down significantly and so now we do a musician of the week and then play that musician’s music when we need a little music throughout the week.
- Wednesday: Artist of the Week: We change this up and down quite a bit, we love art appreciation books… right now we are doing Artistic Pursuits, which we love and then try and find out more about the artist in our other art books.
- Thursday: A Journey… this is how we introduce a little more geography to our school… because everyone loves to travel, we virtually travel around South Africa and Southern Africa a lot and we are about to go back and retrace the Hokulea journey.
- Friday: Nature Study, the Great Outdoors, Science Experiments, something different.
This is a part of our school that is fundamental to our school, and yet we have very little to physically show for it… it really is learning for the sake of learning. It is also not perfect school, we aren’t filling in a bazillion activity sheets or producing exquisite journals, it is just reading and learning together, because it is fun. We do a lot of quizzing, to make sure that folk are listening and remembering what they have learnt. We always ask for a fact or two about the country of the week or the animal of the week… in the read-a-louds, we ask what happened when we last read… and we ask from the youngest to the oldest. The youngest person might remember a fact or two, by the time we get to the older kids they have to really stretch their memories or bring in their knowledge from elsewhere…
And that’t it… Family school around the kitchen table… making memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.