Choosing good curriculum and resources is only half the equation when it comes to successful learning in a homeschool setting – the other half is how you use it. What teaching and learning methods are going to work in your family. These are the things that helped my curriculum choices work for us.
Based on Charlotte Mason thinking, I used oral narrations – the art of telling back – as the basis for our writing programme (separate to learning to read, which we used a phonics programme). Learning to write is about three things: having words to say (thinking), knowing how to spell those words (phonics) and knowing how to pen the words (handwriting). I would read something – Bible story, Five in a Row story or something from a non-fiction book and then have one of my children tell me back what they heard. As my children grew older this moved into telling me what you heard, understood, or thought. This lead into discussions as we tossed ideas back and forth based on that initial reading.
Discussions were another key component of our learning tools. Narrations gave information, discussions took that information and thought about it some more and added other people’s knowledge or questions into the mix. Though I have trouble with Socrates view of ultimate truth, I value his concept of keep asking questions – open ended questions.
Open ended questions (where you are required to answer more than yes or no) are central to our family learning – regardless of the subject (history, math or wisdom) and regardless of the age. Questions make you think – I tend to call my style of questioning ‘prompt questions’ because I want to push them to keep thinking beyond their first answer.
My goal in teaching my children to write has been to teach them to think and put their thoughts on paper – the structure of essays or reports etc can come later if/when they need it. Talking helps clarify your thinking.
Lapbooks and Notebooking
Lapbooks and Notebooking were the way that we incorporated handwriting, technology, art, research and thinking into our studies – once again, regardless of what we were studying.
Lapbooks are a collection of mini books or folds of paper that hold a small amount of information. I love Dinah Zikes method of making small books, but there are any number of resources available online. Our favourite lapbooking memories are with Five in a Row. The reason lapbooks are so successful in primary school levels is that the children are recording small amounts of information and they can use any amount of creativity they desire. Our Joshua didn’t like colour – he was just about the facts and information, where the girls loved to colour, decorate, snip and glue. The biggest challenge to making lapbooks work is the mothers desire for pinterest worthy lapbooks – we must resist this and let it be the kids work – that means things will be glued on crooked, there will be wasted space, there will be spelling mistakes. The more children I had at the table the messier lapbooking became – I did find using scrapbooks instead of the folders made it much easier for the kids to glue in their own work on the day they finished it.
Notebooking was the next step for us – as our children became more confident with research, thinking and writing they created notebook pages. A notebook page includes a heading, an image and some words. It doesn’t need to be paragraphs – it can be labelled photographs and diagrammes, or it can be a full essay. There is still flexibility with notebook pages. I saw notebooking as collecting information, thoughts and questions on a page. There are many worksheet like notebook pages available though I incorporated technology by getting the kids to learn to use Microsoft Word and Publisher and make their own Notebook pages from scratch. <LINK>
Unit Studies are where you take one subject or theme or book and study many topics from that central idea. Five in a Row is a unit study based on a children’s picture book. Diana Waring history and Mystery of History were unit studies based on chronological study of history but at the same time you are incorporating language arts, science, art, geography etc. I found this very conducive to family learning when the kids were younger .
As the children grew older and their interests diversified they did more topic studies – a science lesson, history, technology, geography etc. The one thing that we always incorporated into whatever we were studying was our language arts. Our language arts lessons were fairly minimal (after they were reading and writing) as we used it. Ruth Beechick said that we ‘learn to read, and then we read to learn’. I took this idea and applied it to all language arts disciplines. We learnt the skill to research and then we researched. We learnt to write and then we wrote – finding context to improve these skills in all our other subjects we studied.
Another aspect that changed from unit studies as our children grew older was that they moved into project studies – and this depended on their learning styles – but the children who were more kinaesthetic learners – hands on and practical – moved to project units. Instead of a topic of knowledge (such as a unit study) the central point to their studies was a project, and they learnt many side skills, including academic ones, while they were busy creating.
Over the years we’ve moved from an assigned reading list to the kids making their own choices. In keeping with the idea that we wanted our children to have a broad general knowledge – and that you can never learn everything there is to learn – we’ve encouraged our kids to maintain a broad reading schedule. During their homeschooling years we set aside 30-60 minutes a day for reading their reading list books. I gave them general categories so that they could maintain variety: General knowledge (History, Australian history, Science), Christian growth, Interests driven.
Productive Free Time
Productive Free Time is a phrase I started to use many years ago that defined a time in the early afternoon where the kids could choose what they wanted to do, but it needed to be productive. It could range from reading a book, to playing a board game, practicing music, to pursing a hobby or interest. They had to be able to say what it was that they were doing and they needed to do that one thing for a set period of time. This stopped them from waffling through the afternoon not really being productive at all! This time in our day has been where the kids have consolidated their creative skills and passions – which have often influenced their studies particularly in their highschool years.
Create a Context
Learning doesn’t happen well in a vacuum. For long term learning, where the kids take ownership of it we need to create a context, making the subject relevant. We studied the Bible because as Christians that is important to us. We studied history and science because we wanted an understanding of the world and the people living in it. We learnt to write and speak well because we valued communication. This is the first level of context – a reason why.
The second level (which isn’t always there or easy to find) is finding a practical application for the things we want our kids to learn, and use that practical application as the lesson itself. For example: we wanted our kids to learn to write so they wrote letters to grandparents, in learning to write stories they published books so people could read their stories. Creative projects like building, or sewing, or card making it requires math skills. Having visitors come to your house requires learning how to introduce yourself – which is the basics of public speaking. Real life provides the context for much of our learning – sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes we may need to contrive it, but if there is a reason why we need to learn, if there is a practical use for what we are learning our children will learn better (don’t we all?)
These teaching tools created a love of learning in each of my children as well as giving them the tools they needed to become independent learners – a combination that will prepare them for their futures. But more significantly, these teaching and learning tools created a relational approach to learning, they gave me an opportunity to engage with my kids – not just on a creative hands on level, but on a heart level. I had opportunity to talk with my kids, to ask them questions, to listen to them grow in their understandings. Our homeschool has to be more than just information – our homeschooling has to be about growing the whole child, in the context of a family and how we teach the lessons we want to teach will play a big part in that.
Also sharing and linking with others throughout the week:
Throughout the week I share with one, or more of these blogs (see more details on my Link Parties page)
Mom’s the Word, Mom2Mom, Mummy Mondays, Monday’s Musings, Thoughtful Spot, Mama Monday Musings, Hip Homeschool Moms Blog Hop, Titus 2 Tuesdays, Coffee and Conversation, Finishing Strong (Middle & Highschool years),Women with Intention, Whole Hearted Home, Thriving Thursdays, Hearts for Home, Shine Blog Hop, All things with Purpose, A Little R & R, From House to Home, Fellowship Fridays, Homeschooling Highschool Linkup, Tip Tuesday with Debbie in Shape