Recently I've posted on instagram periodically about how i'm transitioning our home education systems, and just hearing the term 'systems' in the home ed context seems to bamboozle a lot of people.
It's true that a lot of home education in the UK is very natural. It's often child led at appropriate ages, and a lot of people choose to unschool, certainly up to the age of 7 or 8. These methods of learning would be minimally 'intentional' in the sense of organised provision and table work, and that's absolutely amazing for those families, but doesn't always suit every child.
My son is a freesy-breezy kid. He loves day trips, being out in nature, playing roleplay games, minecraft, museums and plodding through doing life with us, but he does like some guided learning time. He enjoys reading and discussing topics, and LOVES activities I set up for him. So he has a certain desire for a sort of structure of learning where I can give him this kind of provision as part of our early learning.
But people see me, I'm artsie, I'm 'a bit out there' and some of the sweet dears in church sometimes fondly describe me, and perhaps immediately I don't strike people as an organised person.
Well they'd be right.
Let me explain.
I'm not an organised person in the sense of someone who can conduct an event with ease, or maintain a proper bullet journal, or, you know, actually remember birthdays.
But systems are a bit of a life line for me, and when you're in need of a life line, you tend to get familiar with them. I'm a chronically ill (and therefore pretty stretched to begin with) full time mum, trying to get a business with two store fronts off the ground, write a book, keep a home, actually look my husband in the eye occasionally, socialise with friends with my son within our circles, keep him curious and up to fun stuff, and home educate him, as we've chosen to take a semi structured route.
In order to get my brain around all of that, I need a lot of note books, a lot of calendars, and some sense of order that I can refer to, otherwise, I'm a puddle with full and unlimited control of Netflix, and it ain't productive.
I feel like I need to allocate time to Leo which is rich in nurturing his interests and introducing learning where I can discipline myself into focusing on just what we're investigating, and being a role model for enthusiasm and exploration.
In order for me to achieve that, I'm sorry folks, but it's not always 100% naturally led with my son bringing me a book. Sometimes I bring the book. Sometimes I bring more than the book. And you know what, it works really freakin' well.
So, aside from the google calendars, phone reminders set to budge my butt from task to task, prompts to dip into housework, etc, the key thing here I've been asked to elaborate on, is my home education systems, and so, off we go. Let's not forget of course, that I am FAR from an expert. This is just my experience!
If you'd like to explore more of my life management habits with me in another blog, please do feel free to contact me and let me know of your interest!
1) The Window
Whether we're going out later or staying in all day, I have a loose schedule that I keep which blocks out hours of the day, in which I try to achieve certain things and have certain focuses. After that window passes with a reminder alert on my phone, I put those tasks down, and i move on. Leo does too. We know what to expect of each other in those windows, and we have colourful printouts which we keep on the fridge for him to refer to. When we hit the home ed block, he knows I'm going to stop sorting laundry or doing whatever I was up to, and we both meet at the table and we explore whatever I have intentionally allocated to that day with no excuses for either of us to get too distracted. This also helps me maintain my enthusiasm and attention to either leading or helping him through challenges or work as necessary, rather than half looking at my phone or thinking about what I need to get done for the shop later. I am intentionally present.
It also helps for less to be pulling at Leo to distract him, as he knows that is our time to sink into our interest, and that we can talk, properly converse and challenge ourselves in that window, and relatedly, I can spot when he is genuinely out of steam or interest, or is struggling, and can interject however he needs me to, or divert him to what is healthy at that moment.
Yeah, I know, it sounds just as teachery as 'systems' but work with me here for a second. Good things happen when you consider a spot of planning. If you expose your own mind to creative ideas of how to convey a skill or topic to your child, and it excites you, it may excite them as well be extension. And it doesn't need to be hardcore. In the past I have worked with a folder system which i planned down to the last page for regular work, and it was great, but it was tiring. Now I need to trim the time I spend planning, so I need to be resourceful. I now use either workbooks or topical books by reliable writers and publishers that are reknowned for their talents for communicating with kids. DK, Usborne, Nat Geo, I'm looking at you. Get in touch, I'll do sponsored work til the cows come home, my dudes.
Following those for key skills or topical learning, and embellishing them along the way is a dynamite way of using your resources. It's half the work done. The information, the key tasks are there.
Now you just have to pep it up a bit. Make it less 'table-y' and more playful and creative.
I get onto Pinterest, blogs, Twinkl, and I have find related crafts, chemistry experiments, STEM challenges, and other activities, and I bring it all together to extend it from the page and into the environment.
Keeping a child's interest during the window isn't always easy, but in truth, the formula is simple, and once you've got it you can hack it and use it to make learning fun.
Learning Subject + Colourful Interaction + Quick Pace = Happy Learning Experience
This took some refining for me to get my head around, because I starting providing learning time and materials a little too early with a little too much expectation, and because Leo enjoyed it half the time, I expected him to get the most out of it all of the time. Which just didn't float his boat, because I didn't have the right head on for it yet.
But the truth of the matter is that once you find a good learning base in the form of a book or two, find the face and tone that best suits and soothes your child (for Leo, it's a floating scale of clowning around and laughing down to calm, soft, slow voices depending on his mood) and you find the supplementary 'fun stuff' to aid the learning, that being the crafts, stem, etc, the honest to goodness next positive step is to keep it it a short encounter, so they never get too bored, or bored enough or slugged enough to register that the glow of the interaction has gone.
I don't mean 2 pages of a work book, paint a picture and done.
A typical pace for us might look like this:
10 minutes of Lego, Linking Cubes, Numicon or counters with fun challenge cards related to topics he loves, so animals, superheroes, Disney.
5 minutes of reviewing a page of Animaths books to solidify Math concepts with animals, doodling on white boards and using counters to experiment as we read and talk.
2-4 pages (about 10 minutes) of his on going Maths workbook, chatting as we go if he needs it for encouragement.
20 minutes or more of playing MathSeeds on his tablet, or a board game which entails some mathematical actions to proceed through the game.
Boom. Done. At the moment we're doing this once a week while we build up some level of comfort in math for Leo, because he's spent about 8 months getting really happy with reading and some handwriting that he can steadily build on, I'm hoping to shift a little bit of focus over to maths in the coming months.
A topic day planned could look like this (actually this is pulled right out of my school planner):
World Geography Day
10 minutes reading our Explore Continents: South America book on the chapter we've reached, eg Peru.
(20 minutes roughly) Listen to local music while we have a go at simple traditional Peruvian bracelets.
(20 minutes roughly) Watch an exploration of Machu Picchu on youtube while we make wool wrapped llama and alpaca pompoms, wrapping in a sample of real alpaca fleece that I ordered on ebay.
(10 minutes) Build a Lego landscape of Machu Picchu if he fancies it to finish with.
Attention spans for 6 year olds are typically limited anyway, even if they're keen for the topic, so I keep it snappy, with short periods of explorations and activities, then it's technically done unless they want to explore further.
At the end of the day, it's the whole 'stop while the goings good' gem. Timing brings a whole new model of learning to young children, and a different feeling of satisfaction between you both.
These are the 3 key prompts (rather than rules) that I try to bare in mind while mapping out our learning.
If you've chosen to learn in a similar style to us, you might be interested in some of the more detailed systems that I put into place in our home to help me step through everything I have to juggle from the home ed point of view.
Blogs coming up include:
How to use a diary as a simple learning planner.
Great activity inspiration sources and good components to keep in the house.
Morning Baskets to fend off 'telly jelly brain'.
Home learning environment tour and shopping list.
If you've chosen a different course of home education, you might find these types of strategy in the home would be a useful route if you feel like the plates you're spinning are getting away from you. You can omit the detail and depth, but you might find having pathways in place for your proactive mind to take helpful. It's not for everyone, but all our minds and circumstances are different.