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.