I’ve been talking about our educational plans since I first started this blog, in late 2009. Back then, I had just two kids, and my oldest wasn’t even 2. I had “plans.” But…other than having done some reading, what did I really know about education or how things would turn out?!
I have to say this, because now that I’m a little bit on the other side (I have five kids, who are 9, almost 8, almost 6, 4, and almost 2), I see moms who are in those shoes and who are asking the same questions I did, and I cringe.
“What curriculum should I be starting my 2-year-old on? How should I get my 3-year-old to sit down and pay attention to our reading lessons? Why isn’t my 5-year-old writing more than he is?!”
Oh, please stop. Please. I really was the same way, I was. And I learned the hard way. That’s really a separate post, though.
For now…I just want to focus on where we are with our education.
What We Believe About Education
As I mentioned, my oldest is 9 and is finishing what would be her “third-grade” year — if we counted grades, anyway. We don’t.
What philosophy do we use? I can’t even say anymore. I’ve explored all different philosophies, and have found some I identify with more than others. I’d say we lean to “unschooling” the most, as we don’t assign our kids curriculum or have defined plans. It’s just not how we roll. But I hesitate, also, to say we are unschoolers, simply because I fear I may describe some of what we do and face purists saying “That’s not really unschooling!”
I have no desire, at this point in my life, to answer to anyone who rigidly adheres to a particular philosophy and wants to tell me I can’t or shouldn’t claim a label because I don’t fit their understanding of the philosophy.
I fact, I felt so strongly about this, that I covered it pretty extensively in another post.
For that reason, I won’t use a label at all. My educational philosophy, though, is fairly simple. I believe that children will learn what they need, when they need it, if exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking on a regular basis. How can they explore what they don’t know exists? I believe in partnering with my kids for their education, constantly talking to them about what they need and where they are and how I can support them. I believe in giving them time and space to discover what they need to discover, and not pushing them to do or learn things they aren’t ready for. I also believe in asking them to do things that are meaningful and work towards something, gaining a better understanding of certain topics and the world around them.
It doesn’t really matter to me if anyone thinks that’s “too much” or “not enough” of whatever. There are those who would say I should take a firmer hand in my children’s education, prescribing to them what they need to know and making them sit down and learn when I want them to, simply because I’m the parent and I know better. And there are those who would say that asking them to engage in meaningful work ever is unacceptable because I don’t get to define what “meaningful work” is for them or push them in any direction whatsoever.
Meh. I’m over it.
Look, every family is a bit different. They have different personalities and desires and needs. What works for one won’t work for another. I’m beyond the point where I care about adhering to anyone else’s philosophy or trying to ‘belong’ to some kind of community. We do what we do.
What Education Looks Like For Us Now
So for real…what does this look like?
It’s kind of hard to even define, because every day is a little bit different. But I’ll try to describe it all.
#1: A Rich Educational Environment
I’ll admit I’m still building this, but I’m sure that will be the case basically forever, as my kids grow and their needs change. It’s my goal to have my kids surrounded by lots of different materials and options to dig into. Right now, this includes:
- Art supplies
- Board games
- Computer games
- TV shows
- Recycled materials
- Science kits and experiment books
- Math workbooks and sheets
- Reading books
- Outdoor toys (bikes, shovels, balls)
As my kids get older, we’re adding more hands-on projects (right now, we’re raising caterpillars), and more “special” stuff (like my husband kept some electronic components to show the kids how they worked). It’s my goal to always have something for the kids to do.
#2: Regular Social Times
We think it’s important that the kids spend time with their friends, so once or twice a week, we get together with other families. The kids have time to play inside or outside (depending on weather) and/or work on projects together…their choice.
#3: Outdoor Play Often
Our kids have a trampoline in our backyard, plus some outdoor toys. They like to dig in the ground in certain areas and “grow” things or make things. We also try to hit a park or playground a few days a week, so they can explore different toys, the woods, etc. They’re encouraged to play outdoors as much as they want to.
#4: “Learning Time” Occasionally
We’re just starting to implement this, and it’s the kids’ idea. We’re doing some short unit studies that are hands-on. First, a study about butterflies (we’re growing caterpillars, learning about the life cycle, what they eat, watching Wild Kratts to learn more, etc.). In a few weeks, we’re going to do a study on owls (dissect owl pellets, hike and look for signs of owls’ habitats, etc.). It’s all very casual and hands-on and the kids and I choose activities together.
I also printed the kids some math and spelling sheets. My 7-year-old requested to do spelling recently, which we’ve never formally done, so I thought — why not. We’ll give it a shot. The kids all really like doing math worksheets, so I’ve been printing those for them, too. Our 9-year-old is working on 3 and 4-digit addition and subtraction with borrowing/trading as well as memorizing the basic times tables. Our 7-year-old just started doing 2-digit addition with borrowing/trading. Our 5-year-old has been doing 2-digit addition with no regrouping, counting and adding 10s, and some other stuff (he’s good at math and will be moving on soon). We don’t do any formal math or spelling with our 2 or 4-year-olds.
We also read with the kids — not every day, but whenever they ask. We have a variety of kids’ chapter books (that we mostly read to them) and early readers (that they read to us). Each is building their skills in their own way right now. Our 9-year-old does struggle with this a bit, but she has always struggled with things and then suddenly will “get” them. Our 7-year-old is doing fine, sounding out words and building his vocabulary. Our 5-year-old is just showing an interest in sight words and has started to pick up several that are important to him or show up frequently. The little ones don’t read yet, of course.
For learning time, we’ll sometimes sit at the table, sometimes in the living room. I’ll work with kids one-on-one if they need help, but they do what they can independently, too. Reading usually happens at night, once the little ones are in bed. (Otherwise, they like to interrupt and grab the books!)
#5: Following the Kids’ Interests
The kids often ask us random questions, and we try to honestly find them answers. They’ll ask our phones questions so they can google the answers. Or, we’ll pull up YouTube videos and show them how things work. Or, we’ll go on a field trip, or do a project, or whatever makes the most sense.
They often get something in their heads and want to do them — so we facilitate. For example, our 7-year-old decided he wanted to write and illustrate his own book the other week. He asked me how to spell several words, and drew pictures for his story. My 9-year-old wanted to create her own recipes, so we watched several cooking videos, I helped her spell the names of ingredients, and she began to write down recipes she hoped would work (and we talked about why the proportion of each ingredient is so important, what each does in the chemistry of baking, etc.).
Our Learning Materials
Next week, I’ll be sharing with you where we get all our learning materials! I have a ton of them, so that any time my kids say “Hey, I want to know about…” I have something to pull out for them! Be sure you don’t miss the announcement on May 22. 🙂