I promised a school tour at the beginning of the our school year and realised as I closed the last book of our thirty six weeks, that I hadn’t actually posted it yet… So after a lazy Saturday, I gathered my camera up and went for a snap around our home. The result is our grand school tour. We don’t have a dedicated school room and our home isn’t inundated with educational material everywhere. We don’t have a lot of space for school materials and I think after years of schooling we have found a balance between the stuff that we really need for school and the stuff that everyone thinks you need to homeschool. Pretty much all our schooling happens at our kitchen table, that is a good place to start our tour…
Now our school normally looks much more like this, my kids like working together around the table – it can get a little intense… think open-plan office space, but my kids are learning to get their work done with plenty of distraction – probably not a bad life-skill, and they are learning so much from each other that it is well worth the interruptions and endless discussion.
We did get our school things a little more organised this year… and kept things where they belonged pretty much all the way through the year. Most years I start the school year and our materials land wherever we work and then lurk there – about forever. We have found that the trouble with that method of “organising” is not very useful when you have a number of folk using the same materials and quite honestly, it just isn’t inviting enough for little people to want to step in and satisfy their energetic curiosity… In the past I kept most of our school materials in our back room off our kitchen in order to keep our kitchen from feeling like a school room all the time… but this year we shuffled our furniture around a little bit and we were able to store a lot of our materials right where we work… it is was a good plan…
Before we dive in with the tour I should say that while we use Sonlight Curriculum for thirty-six weeks of the year, our days look pretty much the same during school time and when we aren’t doing school. The only real difference is that during “school time” my kids reading is directed according to a schedule and the rest of the time it just isn’t. So here we go, on the school tour:
For years I kept our science kits in well marked boxes in our room off the kitchen – it was just too far and we hardly ever opened them. This year I kept all their science kits in draws under a work surface… and it actually worked. The old “if it is available you will use it” works for school materials as well as kitchen appliances. Whenever we read about an experiment we could just reach into the drawer and grab whatever we needed – a balloon or a straw or a battery or whatever… and do the experiment. I thought availability would inspire my kids to do their experiments on their own – it didn’t. Most of my kids still like to do their science with their mother along side them… so availability really helped me to keep up with their science, whereas before we haven’t always managed to keep up with our experiments.
We made every effort to keep the surface above the science kits clear – because there is nothing like open space being an open invitation to try out an experiment… We did keep a collection of things we might need for instantaneous discoveries and the microscope and so on…
And on the science surface we kept a tray that we could move out of the way packed with things we had found… best investment were these petri dishes. They were brilliant for containing our growing collection of finds and also for observing things like mould growing and crystals forming…
We also needed a place for our experiments to sit and linger… experiments need time and a spot with a bit of sunshine and a bit of shade in a pretty wind free zone… One thing I can say, we may not be able to get a single radish to grow, but we are exceptionally good at growing mould!!!
Arts and Crafts
In the drawers under our science experiments we kept our craft materials… A drawer for wool, another for sewing things, and beads and so on… the biggest source of all craftiness in our house continues to be the recycling bin…
And then our dresser housed the materials that we used every single day – scissors, pencils and markers… I am a firm believer in having all materials available to everyone all the time… no one is too small to tackle the watercolours or the markers. By having the materials readily available my kids appear to have learnt how to look after them and they use them when they need them and don’t obsess over not being able to get to them. It is also much easier to pack things away if you can see exactly where they belong.
And our art box… housed the materials for art and that is how we begin almost every school day. The materials in this box have special status: our crayons, pastels, charcoal, watercolour crayons and drawing pencils are used just for art and not for every day use at all… I haven’t stated this invisible line – but clearly art materials have a higher, more precious status than our “everyday” materials.
We never got round to a specific art program this year… but we did more arting and drawing than ever… taking the time to do observational drawing and winding our way through the projects in this book. Honestly, we really enjoyed it, easy and accessible projects that kids of all ages can enjoy at the same time… my kind of book. There are more in the series and they are on our wish list.
Admin and Workbooks
And I can hear you saying – what about the workbooks, the math and grammar… the actual school…
Well these we keep out of the kitchen, in the “back room,” they don’t need to be there!!! Because we use Sonlight, each of my kids have a large file with their entire school year’s instructor’s guide, sorted and ready for them to use as the time rolls along. They also each have a smaller file, where we keep a couple of weeks work at a time and anything else that they might need throughout the year, without having to lug a huge file around with them. On this shelf we also keep their journals, and any project books we might be using as a family and paper boxes: scrap paper, note paper and project paper. Accessible, but not in plain site in the kitchen otherwise we just go through copious amounts of paper… my kids are firm believers in the statement: “If it is there, then use it!!!”
And of course workbooks… in there are their math and grammar workbooks, everyone has their own box file for the year, at the end of the year I just box up their files with the work they have done in them and store those right out of the way and get new box files for the following year. We tend to work through a couple of pages a day of a workbook or two each day… mostly math… but they certainly are not the focus of our school day and we all consider them to be “busy work”… something to do if and when they are waiting for help from me.
Welcome to the heart of our school… books!!! For years I said we would not have any school books in our bedroom… but that is where they always were…piles and piles of favourites lined every flat space. So, a year or two ago we popped the book cases in there and never looked back. We do a lot of our reading after lunch collapsed on the bed… “resting”!!! And so it makes sense to have all the books where we are… the same old organising tip: “Store it where you use it.”
And if you are new to Sonlight, hold your breathe, because this is how your library will grow… just a shelf a year slow and steady… packed with classics, favourites from your childhood, books you wish you had read as a child and heaps of your kids’ favourites that they will read again and again and again.
In previous years, for each student, I have kept their reading for the week to one side on their shelf… but the problem is that whenever I send a child to fetch a book they get distracted as soon as they get their and vanish into their favourites, sometimes never to return. So this year I introduced a crate per grade. Each student had a crate with their current reading – for the week or whatever. It worked… also for some I could see which books weren’t getting read, when I came to add books to their crate and they hadn’t finished the ones that had been scheduled yet, it was a clear indicator that someone needed a helping hand.
And the other fundamental resource for our school is – you guessed it… more books. We are each allowed se7en books out of the library at a time. So seventy books are dragged to and from the library each week. And yes we have a dedicated library shelf to keep track of them. All library books belong on the library shelf at all times unless they are actually being read.
Our school really happens anywhere… on the couch if it is too wet outdoors, in the garden if it is sunny.
Our incredible sport’s program (I am kidding folks) all happens on the beach… Nature study, well we live in a place of incredible natural beauty… with a mountain right behind our house. A monthly trip to the nature park and weekly nature journaling seems to be doing the trick!!!
And that folks is our school tour. Looking back it doesn’t look too much like a place of incredible academic excellence and achievement… but as my children say to me, “We are learning and having fun while we learn.” My goal has always been to create a place where my kids were free to explore and create, collect and research… read and discover. Really this school is perfect for us right now, with six, nearly se7en students actively involved in school.
I have to add that this school is nothing like the school that I imagined we would have: Each student with their own desk and their own lamp. And I have to say our school didn’t look like this when we had one or two students. In those days we had a shelf of books for each grade, a tray of arty materials on the kitchen counter and a basket of books that we dragged around and followed where the smaller people were playing, to do our daily reading. Times have changed but not that much. If I have left something out, or you have a question that you are wondering about, then feel free to ask away in the comments, I will get back you!!!