A couple of weeks back I wrote a post about “A day in the life of our school,”… I blogged a little bit about our start to the day with family school and the question that came up was, “When do we do all the real school?” I smiled at that… I am guessing that when most folk think about school they think mostly about the reading, writing and arithmetic aspect of school. I also think when most folk begin homeschooling they are very concerned about their kids keeping up with the basics and not falling behind… but years down the line, we are not that concerned about our kids keeping up with the Homeschooling Jones’s, it is just as important that our kids spend hours of their day in free play, in the great outdoors and immersed in heaps of books. Real school work progresses at whatever speed our kids’ work best at, but really lessons seem to come naturally through playing… numerical skills from games, reading from being read to. Living life seems to be the best place to linger a little and get a whole lot of learning done.
The question still remains, when do we do “real school?”
So a typical school day begins with our family school time together, and that takes us from about nine to ten thirty… then we have a little break, maybe hang the laundry, do a few chores and run and jump and leap about… because sitting all day is for the birds… then the kids spread out to their favourite spots around the kitchen and get on with their “real school” until lunchtime, so that’s from about eleven till one pm.. During this time I have a one on one meeting with two or three kids, one after the other until lunchtime. I very often play gentle music here, often just the greatest hits from our musician of the week, this week was Beethoven… because let’s face it, open plan offices and every individual humming to their own drum can drive everyone a little mad.
Let’s Talk About What Folk call Real School
So the real school being the reading, writing and arithmetic part of our day… If I were to look at all the school that our kids have to get through in a year, or in a week or even in a day… I might be somewhat overwhelmed, so I chunk it into small manageable time slots. To explain how we do our school you need to take a peak at what we actually do. It is no secret that we are huge Sonlight fans and for thirty-six weeks of the year they each power their way through their grade of carefully selected Sonlight readers. Normally our kids begin their school day with their bible, history and science reading and then they dive into their files and tackle a handful of workbooks. For math we use Singapore math and for the younger set Miquon as well. For language arts they use Explode the Code and Wordly Wise. Everyone over here has a notebook, just an ordinary old notebook, wherein I keep a running list of the school they are doing, and the school I expect from them before their next meeting with me. I start by looking at their work where we left off before and then we look at the work ahead and we learn together and prepare everything we need for the week ahead.
The One on One Meeting
I begin working with our littlest guy, this is his year to get a handle on reading… so we are winding our way through The 100 Lessons together. He has about three workbooks, he calls them activity books and likes to be read to, while he does a page or two from each… so this is when I read him his history and science pages for the day… it literally takes ten minutes. Most days we spend a little time in his school journal, which is a big fat book where we stick and glue all the little bits of paper that seem to accumulate, we either write a couple of sentences about what we have read, or an outing we have been on… And then we are done, and he is off to play, twenty minutes max. He very often chooses to stay at the table so that he can listen alongside to the school I do with his older siblings. Oh, the heady thrill of conquering an older sibling’s math problems!!!
So a typical meeting with my primary school girls… begins with me looking in their notebook and then reading their history and science together from where we left off the previous time. At this stage their reading isn’t proficient enough to do their own school reading. But they are beginning to read their science books to me, honestly their science books are mostly usborne books and so fun and easy to read, a good way for them to suddenly realise that they will soon be able to do all their own reading. Then we open up their school journal and I admire any new work that needs admiring… usually there is a new story for me to look at, or some sort of book review. Then we take a look at the language arts and see what story they will be writing next… and we prepare and plan it and create a little word bank for them to use. We learn the next step in math together and then I make a list of problems they should be able to do after the lesson and they are free to go on their merry way, this doesn’t take more than about 45 min for each of them… and that’s about the maximum stretch of school work I would expect from a primary school child anyway.
On to the late primary/middle school boys… I try and see them on alternate days to their younger sisters… so we meet together at least two, if not three times a week. Both boys are fairly competent at getting their history and science reading done at this stage, but I do have to ask them to tell me about what they have read and to show many any notes they have made in their journals… because, well boys!!! They have exactly the same subject list to work through as their younger sisters, but getting this sort of thing done is not their top priority in life… in that regard, I accept any progress as good progress. Sometimes they are caught up in the moment and they read ahead and sometimes they don’t… I’lll take what I get and move on. So I look in their journals and see what they have been up to since we last met and then we take a look at their workbooks. At this stage we don’t just use vocabulary books, they begin Winston Grammar alongside me. And they do this over a period of years… there is no rush to get the book done this year or any year… by the time they are finished high school we will have grammar basics under our belt. Then I take a look at their math… look at what was difficult and help with any problems and then move on and teach the next steps. The thing with this way of learning is that it is incremental, sometimes they don’t realise how much they are learning and they shoot ahead… then we have to wander back and review a little. But mostly they just plod along. Lastly I help them with whatever writing project that they will be doing before I see them next and we get a slight outline going before I send them off to work on their own.
Now high schoolers are very different students and the last thing you want from a late sleeping teen is a morning meeting with them to see how their work is going. Trust me, that is a recipe for frustration on every side. By definition, nothing is going well first thing in the morning with teens and the fact that they join us all at the table for family school is our privilege. I don’t take it for granted and I do appreciate their efforts, because at this stage they have heaps to contribute to what we are learning, and they can add a lot of fun to our school. One of our high-schoolers love lists and ticking the boxes that’s pretty straightforward to keep tabs on, the other is all about progress. If there is progress it’s good. At this stage I feel that their school is there responsibility, and I don’t oversee every step of their journey, I do however ask them about their work and ask them to show me what they are working on. Immediately after lunch we always have a school break, a “read your own books, and have a rest from the crowd” kind of a break, and after that I will usually grab a teen and ask them how their work is going. I try and have an actual sit down meeting with them once a week or so, basically a progress meeting and a “teach you whatever you need to know to move forward” meeting, but honestly chatting with them while we get ready for dinner and so on, is usually enough for me to see that they are wandering forward on their educational journey.
How Do You Measure Progress
I think a very real part of most “real schooling” is that children are tested continuously, to ensure that they are learning, and if I had a class of thirty kids then I would rely on tests to see if my kids were doing their work as well. We find that our kids don’t need tests, they know what they are learning and they retain it. They talk about what they are reading and learning so much that you can’t help knowing that they are learning. The very nature of a one-on-one meeting with each of the kids, makes it quite apparent to see if they are progressing forwards or not. For the little ones skills improve all the time… and that is easy to see in jumps and spurts, things that were difficult do get easier. My principal measure of progress is really in the lunchtime conversation – the student that has nothing to say about what they are learning is the student who was probably reading through their pile of library books, rather than schoolwork. Well reading is reading, and eventually school work gets done.
Hopefully that answers your questions about when my kids do their “real school,” we do only spend an hour or two on it every day, but that is plenty of time to get a heap of work done. For those folk that are worried about whether our kids are learning their a.b.c’s or their 1,2, 3’s… because it appears as if they never stop playing… they seem to be getting the basics covered and that’s enough for me right now.