This Week: Making Room for Spontaneous Learning

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This week we went to the zoo, attended the Tulip Festival, and of course, had our weekly art and gym co-op. A lot of our time was spent outdoors, playing and exploring, climbing and running. It’s easy to assume there wasn’t a lot of learning going on, but funny enough, with little to no effort on my part, a lot of learning still happened.

I failed to take very many pictures, but here are some highlights:

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Fractions.

Charles built some towers with our cardboard blocks, and he started a conversation about how four blue blocks equal one red block, and how two green blocks are the same as one red.

Learning place value.

I had a moment of intuition: I planned on doing a certain activity, but felt it wasn’t right. We did some spontaneous math instead. While doing this work, Charles said, “I really like this.” Typically when he gets excited about something, he jumps up and down, or his voice increases in volume with enthusiasm—behavior that sometimes distracts from the work at hand. So when he just grinned at me, and simply verbalized his enjoyment by saying, “I really like this,” it made my day.

First, we grabbed our math blocks and some number cards. I made a number with the cards, and asked him to show with the blocks how many ones, tens, and hundreds were in that number. Then, he built the numbers himself, and read the numbers to me.

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He didn’t want to bother with the math blocks after doing that a few times; instead he read the numbers and explained how many thousands, hundreds, tens, and ones were in the numbers. Over and over again. The bigger the better. It surprised me how quickly he caught on. And he absolutely loved it.

Let’s not forget about John.

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I have been allowing John to handle more materials usually kept out of his reach. He loves doing this version of The Silence Game, and I find it helpful with teaching patience, concentration, and mindfulness.

The boys have had some beautiful interactions this week; they feed off of one another’s imaginations, and have great conversations. I am grateful they are such good friends. John is always eager to learn more from Charlie, and Charlie is a kind and patient teacher. Most of the time.

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This Week: Homeschooling With Intention

We have always been learning, but I finally took the plunge where I feel like we’re actually homeschooling. By that I mean, I plan our days with intention, rather than just winging it all the time. It’s not that results can’t come from winging it, but there’s something steadfast and satiable when our rhythm of learning is more deliberate, at least, on my end as a facilitator of learning. Besides, I have accumulated a lot of materials in the last few years—when I don’t plan, materials and ideas are left alone, forgotten. And if I’m being absolutely honest, I tend to be lazy if I don’t have a plan for the day (especially when massively pregnant). If anything, homeschooling pushes me to improve myself, to stretch out of my comfort zone, and to explore all the things I want to do with my kids. It makes me feel brave.

Play is everything. I have seen more come out of play than any other method. So most of our intentional learning is play-based. Unintentional learning is also play-based, obviously. Here is what we are working on right now.

This is the summer of bilateral coordination. And midline crossing. All of that fun “brain gym” stuff. Charles has taken a long time to show a hand preference, so we will be working hard to get the hemispheres of his brain communicating with one another, to fine tune motor skills, and to bring out the dominant hand. I find myself eager to establish hand preference because this kid spends hours writing letters and numbers. Like this, he did all on his own, without any sort of prompting from me:

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The issue is, he’s definitely interested in writing, but his lack of hand preference and his immature grip make me hesitate to give any proper instruction. Last week, if you asked me I would have said he was left-handed. Today, he was writing all day with his right hand. Typing this, I remember now how I need to return to tracing sandpaper letters, because those things aren’t an issue with that type of work. I tend to over-think these things.

Anyway, so this past week we made playdough together. Then we practiced rolling a lot of playdough snakes and balls, doing some bilateral coordinative work.

We also explored different art media and materials, both in and outdoors.

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There was some impromptu counter work, using sandpaper numbers and color chart blocks.

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The boys began setting this up in the play room by themselves. I stepped in to slide my finger down the middle to differentiate between odd and even numbers, which Charlie picked up on immediately—another testament to the beauty of Montessori work.

I stayed up late a few nights to reorganize and purge our play room. I have yet to take a decent picture of the space, but already the room feels fresh and inviting. I removed a lot of the excess, and pared things down. The idea is to make the space ideal for block exploration, to bring to focus science, mathematics, art, geography, language, and physical development, primarily through block play. I prefer a more austere look to the room, to wheedle out distractions; however, I bought some posters of famous buildings to inspire; I printed and taped pictures to the walls of previous structures the boys had made; I scattered some books about the room for browsing. I have been reading up on block play, and I hope to save my pennies to buy a nice set of unit blocks soon. We already have a variety of blocks, but a set of unit blocks is necessary for this kind of work.

One goal we have with Charles, is to help him with his expressive language.

A treehouse.

A treehouse.

He tends to be the strong silent type, it’s true, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even so, at times he has difficulty communicating and expressing full thoughts verbally. I’m hoping to encourage active dialogue about his block play, not only to help point out new discoveries, but also as a means to help his expressive language skills flourish.

Charles is describing the ladder that goes up to his treehouse.

Charles describes his drawing: a ladder going up to his treehouse.

"Big boys" live in these houses. He uses the triangular prisms for "roofs" and the cylinders for "chimneys." (Note the terrible bruising on his face from a horrid mouth injury. Ouch!)

“Big boys” live in these houses. He uses the triangular blocks for “roofs” and the cylinders for “chimneys.” (Notice the terrible bruising on his face from a horrid mouth injury. Ouch!)

The boys also enjoyed a snow day, in the middle of April. Typical Spring weather around here. We’ve had a sparse winter, so it was nice to put those shovels to good use. Charles was ecstatic to build a snowman. And finally, we used those little espresso mugs I got for Christmas to drink some hot cocoa!

Let's be honest: watching a two year old waddling about in a snow clothes doesn't ever get old.

Let’s be honest: watching a two year old waddle about in snow clothes doesn’t get old. Although getting him in and out of said snow clothes several times in one day gets old pretty fast.

Waiting for Papa to launch a bean bag via catapult to knock down the tower.

Waiting for Papa to launch a bean bag via catapult to knock down the tower.

Homeschooling with a Two Year Old

Sometimes it’s hard to let go of certain fears, particular doubts.

John, age two, is an absolute joy to have around. He’s the perfect little sponge, too. Since Charles took his time speaking, it’s been a fun (and funny!) experience having a two year old who speaks exceptionally well. He’ll basically repeat anything said to him (I need to get a recording of him singing The Seven Continents Song, because it’s just beyond adorable); he has learned the alphabet song and is counting pretty well, all from hearing it, mostly from his older brother. I think this is rather typical, but since Charles had no interest in talking for the longest time (and then when he would speak to me, a lot of times he would just whisper), it is different and new to us.

That being said, Charles was doing jigsaw puzzles before he was two. He has always had an ability to focus deeply, calmly, and with an immediate respect for the materials we might be using. For example, I introduced a movable alphabet to Charles at a very young age: he returned letters back to their proper places; he kept the material in the intended space (never carried a letter or two into another room); he never threw or broke or played with it inappropriately. This, at age two (or even before age two). I didn’t teach him this, it’s just his personality. This may sound silly, but I really didn’t understand how unique this was until I had another child.

John is learning to be more respectful with our learning materials, but he has a long way to go before scattering pieces all over the house, and throwing things occasionally when he’s tired of it (or just to get some attention). I bring all of this up because like any other mom, I’m dealing with two very different personalities, learning styles, and levels, and I’ve had to adjust my expectations. A lesson on place value with Charles can go quite smoothly—if John isn’t around.

Now when I’ve asked some homeschooling friends what they do with their littles during lessons, they give them something like a coloring page, and tell them it’s their lesson, etc. My problem is, we favor more Montessori type lessons (when doing something more “formal” and not entirely play-based), with different materials and manipulatives. I’m not just handing out a worksheet. John wants to be doing whatever Charles is doing, and sometimes that also goes vice versa as well. If I gave John something separate to do while we do a lesson, Charles may want to do what John is doing (Charles being just two years older). My point is, no kid wants to be stuck coloring while his brother gets to play with math blocks.

Anyway, I’ve been struggling with how to approach this. John will still take a nap, mostly, but it’s starting to phase out a bit, so I can’t always count on naptime for more “formal” lessons. (The other issue at hand, I’m in my third trimester at the moment, and by the afternoon, I’m ready for a nap, too! But I am guilty of not getting to bed on time, so I’m shooting myself in the foot there; I need to correct my bad habits.)

My solution for now is to just do it. I will limit my expectations, drink a big cup of patience, modify our play, and try to take advantage of naptime more. I suppose if anything, I’m learning an important lesson not to rush things, to take our time. To respect a careful, steady, slow pace.

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Blue in the Face

Holding our breath—tight! Lips pursed! Cheeks stretched like bulbous drums! We are venturing into the crazy-go-nuts–never thought we’d be that family—amazing world of homeschooling.

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I hadn’t planned on blogging again, not ever—no, never, but as we prepare to take this great, unconventional leap, splashing about in the water, I have realized it would do me well to have a place to come up for air, to take a deep breath, and to document our bright spots, our discoveries, our triumphs. Homeschooling is something I love talking about—but I pity the persons in my life who have to give ear to my enthusiasm when they’d rather be listening to just about anything else. Curriculums! Philosophies! Early Childhood Education! Montessori! Reggio Emilia! THE LOVELY CHARLOTTE MASON! LIVING BOOKS!! If you’d like to hear me talk about the subject offline, I will still happily wag my tongue. But here, no one expects or rather, longs for me to change the subject, and therefore I shall take a big, burpish gulp of fresh air, grin like a fool, and wax on and on about the joys of homeschool. Like I actually know what I’m talking about. Because, really? My oldest is not yet four.

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Okay, so I may have yet an abundance of experience tidied up in my meager reserves of home education knowledge and wisdom, but I have studied the subject for the better part of three years, and continue to do so. Yes! So stay tuned, Mom!