I’ve mentioned before that our sort of learning tends to be a bit toward the “unschooling” end of things, with a healthy dose of the “living books” and “twaddle-free” philosophy of Charlotte Mason; we’re largely interest-driven, with only minimal structure, a lot of self-direction, and very few textbooks enter our home. I like real-world application, and real-world exploration.
However, I also love well-ordered, peaceful days, and with our four offspring all in learning years, and the addition of our Spare Teen (a young lady who lives around the corner, and comes down to learn alongside us most days), means that a bit of routine and some pre-planning really does make the days go more smoothly, and more fully. I love the days that are replete with “stuff.”
I’m trying to be surreptitious with myself here (hard to do, as I’m… well, me, and thus aware of my nefarious plotting): laying out our learning goals for the coming season helps me get the notes together for myself. It’ll also give a snapshot of just one set of ideas to blend the learning needs of two (very different) teenage girls, one young teen boy, and two (very different) little girls.We tend to tackle topics as a group, and don’t always gear things to the littlest learners. Instead, we talk at “teen/adult” levels for the most part, and then adapt for younger learners as needed. One of the biggest adaptations we do with the Little Girls is to incorporate a great many “living books” into the mix. We hit the library, and check out fiction and non-fiction related to our studies, and also look for hands-on crafts and activities that illustrate or celebrate the topics. Very little of our learning looks like “school,” generally.
Science: Geology (Winter, Spring, Summer)
We’ll explore the structure of the earth, land mass formation, tectonics, volcanoes, rivers & waterways (including erosion, silt deposits, and the like), Rocky Mountain geology, Idaho geology and gemology. We’ll attend the annual gem and mineral show in mid-April, try to identify rocks in our yard and neighborhood, look at geologic formations in our area and on trips, make relief maps with paper mache clay and paint, grow crystals, and watch documentaries about geology topics. We won’t be using textbooks. We will be using good old Dewey Decimal to make the most of our library, and also using the local gemological society as a grand resource.
As with most sciences, it’s fairly easy to blend ages and learning styles with these topics. My goal is to help them explore the world about them, and understand how the world is shaped and re-shaped. Looking at the bones of creation is exciting, and in my opinion, is best experienced hands-on. I’ll even tolerate getting a little dusty and dirty. I anticipate at least one shelf full of “specimens” for each child, and at least one pocket ripping off due to rock overloads. Who knew a geology study would require a portable sewing kit?
Science: Botany (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall)
Botany is delightful in its practical application. What better way to learn about plants than to observe the natural cycles? We’ll be making seed-mats for the plants we’d like to grow in the kitchen garden (as well as carving out some more ideal spaces for that kitchen garden), learning about organic, sustainable gardening, adding lavender and dahlias to the cottage garden beds out front, planning shade-tolerant additions to the edges of the back garden, adding some grain plots to the back garden with an eye toward delighting the hens at fall harvest, observing the life cycle of plants as we go along, identifying and classifying the plants in our yard, neighborhood, and region, perhaps creating nature journals, exploring how to draw from nature (along with plant anatomy).
We’ll make some plant presses (though we will likely free-style ours with the help of the Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow I married), and perhaps scrapbooks or framed plant art… there’s a lot to love about botany, and we’re going to have fun loving it. I anticipate field trips to farmer’s market, to area parks, and get-togethers with friends for seed-sharing and food-sharing, too. Botany and picnics seem to go right along together, don’t they?
And again: no set textbooks. We’ll use real books about plants, thanks.
Science: Astronomy (Spring, Summer, Fall)
We’ll study the planets and other heavenly bodies, their orbits and movements, this history of astronomy and astronomers, and why light pollution is becoming a problem; then we’ll escape light pollution and take the telescopes to the mountains in Oregon, and out on the desert in Central Idaho, and gaze to our hearts’ content. There’s bound to be at least one planetarium trip, and likely a few very late nights with friends, meteor-spotting.
Again, each child will approach our study from their own experience level, and will progress to their own satisfaction. I’m simply the mentor with a goal to spark discovery and curiosity. If one child spends most of our study time drawing, and another reads multiple biographies on various scientists, and another rigs up a planetary mobile suspended from the ceiling fan, I’m happy. None of these topics are a single-shot, high-stakes-testing situation. We’ll revisit them over and over, and small and large ways, through the seasons, and each time, each child will experience them in slightly different ways.
Literature: Genre Studies (Continuing)
As a literature major, I despised most of the philosophy for the department.
I know. Rebelling again.
But really, I can’t think of a better way to kill the love of reading than to test on every book! So, we don’t do that. Instead, we’re devoting this year to studying literature genres. Each Big Kid is choosing a genre they particularly enjoy. We’ll examine the scope of the genre, its particular conventions, and its history and development. Each will identify and read a few “foundational” works, as well as a selection of increasingly modern pieces (of their own choosing). Instead of book reports, we’ll enjoy book discussions and book reviews (which can be submitted for publication on Amazon, for instance). They will complete a few longer written reviews, in which they discuss what they’re absorbing with regards to genre formation and development. All through the process, my goal is to help them really enjoy their reading, and to be able to analyze why, and to communicate their ideas as needed.
So, no vocab tests and character sketches and point-by-point plot re-hashing: instead, we’ll enjoy books together. That works.
Scripture: Old Testament (Continuing)
This is one aspect where we’ll largely divide into Big Kids and Little Girls. The Littles will learn more about foundational scripture stories through story books, puppet play (yay, more homemade fridge magnets!), memorization, and songs.
The Big Kids will be continuing to learn to study and research in the scriptures, both together and individually. We’ll be keeping scripture study journals, the contents of which will not be tested or evaluated, because we’re a learning home, not a testing home, and scriptural insight is personal. However, I anticipate quite a few group discussions on a variety of topics, and I’m looking forward to the brainstorming that will happen.
If you want to explore some great scripture study ideas with your family, or for your own edification, I recommend reading at The Redheaded Hostess, who is pretty amazing and encouraging. Latter-day Homeschooling also has some great ideas for scripture study with many ages.
Eldest will be diving into the Culinary Math book she’ll be expected to understand when she’s old enough for her culinary arts programs. Tackling it now has several benefits: one, it gets her interested in math in concrete, useful ways; and two, with that knowledge under her belt, she’ll have a leg up on the subject in her higher education, and might be able to challenge the course, or just get an easier high mark (and maybe make a bit of cash tutoring others.)
The Boy and our Spare Teen will progress at their own pace through the math instruction at Khan Academy. The module tracking is fun, the instruction high-quality, and it’s very easy for each to work independently.
All three of the Big Kids will gain additional real-life math experience through their choice of entrepreneurial adventures. They’re at a perfect age to experiment with micro-business.
Spicy and Lefty will do a bit of basic work at Khan Academy, but the majority of their math learning will come through real-life games and experiences: making quilt blocks with magnets on the fridge, building with LEGO, counting money and playing store/restaurant/bank, learning measurements in the kitchen and around the house and gardens with a variety of measuring tools, and dozens of other real-life math literacy experiences.
With a few new chess sets in the family, I anticipate some friendly neighborhood tournaments this year, as well. My goal with our math exploration is to support math thinking and literacy, not necessarily to get every kid through calculus at twelve.
While the Eldest will have a more formal approach to art (as she leans strongly that direction under her own steam), art and art history are woven into the experiences in every topic. We’ll look at historic pieces, create new work, and use drawing, painting, modeling, etc to explore our science, math, history, and literature topics. I don’t like to separate the humanities from the sciences. They co-exist; neither is truly complete without the other.
Here, each child has their own program. Eldest will continue voice lessons. Spare Teen will be studying voice, Scottish drumming, and independent piano. The Boy continues in piping, pennywhistle, and Scottish drumming. Spicy and Lefty will join me in learning more songs to sing, and we’ll toss Scottish Highland dancing into the mix as well. The entire family has many upcoming opportunities to play and perform together, and I’m terribly excited about those!
Right now, the instrument count at our place is as follows: one upright piano, one electric keyboard (thanks, Daddy, lo these many years ago!), one coronet, two trumpets, one bugle, one set bongos, three or four pennywhistles, four snare drums, eight tenor drums, one small guitar, one 3/4 size violin, two sets Highland great pipes, one set of shuttle pipes, and some shaky eggs somewhere in the Little Girls’ toy box. I think there’s also at least one harmonica around here. And The Boy wants to make a PVC didgeridoo. And I have Band Sons who add other stringed instruments, more drums, another PVC didgeridoo, a flute, and a wide variety of noises they make with their mouths.
So music sort of… happens around here. It’s not quiet very often.
I’m dirt-cheap. Cheaper than dirt-cheap. So, we’ll continue to use the library and other free resources as our primary items, so our budget continues to be pretty much free. Though, I do have a bit of a thing for used hardcover books, and I’m sure we’ll add some select volumes to the household library through the year. I would like to find a good used microscope (not toy quality!), and we need to hit Harbor Freight for some handheld magnifying glasses, so we can have a lot of fun exploring the world of the tiny as we head through winter and into spring.
Still pretty loose. We tend toward routines, rather than schedules. Some of those routines need to be refined, as we have increasingly-capable minions around here, and it would be a shame to forget to harness their powers for good, rather than for the evil they are prone to when left to their own devices.
The Learning Space
All 780 square feet of our little mid-century cottage, plus the front and back and side gardens, the sidewalks, the garage, and the driveway! Learning can happen at any moment, in any space, and I’m excited to keep up with that plan. I have a decent vacuum. I’m set.