Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Teaching Outside of the Box

There are a lot of articles about "learning outside of the box", but I've seen very few about "teaching outside of the box".  Yes, there is a difference.   In one instance, you are focused on how the child is learning and finding creative ways for the child to learn.   But in the other, it's learning as a teacher, to let go of the preconceived ideas of what it means to teach and to be a successful teacher, and figuring out how to teach in a way that you feel best suits you as a teacher.

You know the drill, get the kids up and dressed and fed, and sit them all down at their desks.  They have a schedule and a routine and everything is tested and recorded and all those details that everyone says has to be part of school.

Now, if your state requires a lot of paperwork, then you have to do it.  If the state requires testing, then you will need to do the testing.

But after that ... just how much does your homeschool have to look just like a "real school".   In my opinion, it's your school.   Teach in a way that is comfortable for you!   And in a way that is comfortable to your children learning!

Now, for me, I'm an INTJ personality.  I thrive on structure and routines, I make lists and plans and get very frustrated if everyone isn't on board with my plan.   Story is an ENFP, and they thrive on living in the moment.   She hated my lists and plans.  She had SO MUCH ENERGY!!!!    Song is an INFJ, she would get frustrated when she fell behind.    Scholar is an ENFJ, he's fine with the lists and thrives on the routines ... when he remembers them.   Sunshine is another INTJ.   Squirrel is an ISTJ, and he also thrives on schedules and routines.   Star is another INFJ, and only this year has she begun to understand the power and freedom of her lists.  

And that is a LOT of people to keep happy!

When I started homeschooling, I ran it just a tad off of how a traditional school operated.   We worked at the kitchen table, we had set times, we worked first thing in the morning until 3 or so in the afternoon.  I used Alpha Omega Lifepacs back then.   Awesome program really, until we couldn't afford it anymore.   We also tried the computer curriculum.  Story did well, Song did not.  And then there was the problem of not enough room for 4 computers in the house!

Over the years, I've developed a whole new style of teaching.    One day, after many dismal failures and frustrations, I sat down and the thought (maybe it was God) came across ... What is your purpose?    ....    A purpose for what?     .....   The purpose for school.

What was my purpose?   What were my goals?   Why was I putting myself and my girls through this in the first place?

So I sat down and prayed and thought about it.    If you can include your husband, by all means, do so.   But I do understand that not all husbands feel led to participate in the education decisions.

Eventually, I came up with the following...

1.  I wanted my kids to have a strong understanding of the Bible, how it fits in today's world, a Biblical World view, able to discern false doctrine by studying scripture.  I wanted them to be aware of various resources and how to use them.   I wanted them to know how Scripture worked from beginning to end and how it fit into World and American History.

2.  I wanted my kids to know how to communicate well.    This included writing and speaking and listening skills.   This meant that I wanted a really good English program.  This was also my weakest area.  So I needed to find back up help.

3.  I wanted my kids to know how to use and understand resources.   I wanted them to be able to read and use what they read.    And I didn't just want them to know how to use a dictionary and an encyclopedia, but I could see that the internet was shaping up into a potentially useful item.   I wanted them to be able to use any resource available to them.

4.  I wanted them to be able to write well.   Both typing and by hand.

5.  I wanted them to have a sense of their strengths and weaknesses and how to use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses.

6.  I wanted them to have a good understanding of how mathematics worked - not just memorize the answers.  Just because our family is flooded with mathematicians, didn't mean that they would naturally be good at it.

7.  I wanted them to get enough exercise and sunshine.

8.  I wanted them to be able to function as knowledgable adults by the time they were in their teens, in case they needed to be able to help hold the household together.

9.  I wanted them to be able to explore their gifts and personalities.

But the traditional hard nosed approach was not going to work.   There were too many days where we were not getting the work finished, and all of us were very stressed.  I have vision issues, so I didn't drive.   Trying to adjust the way I taught was not going to be easy.   And once we left Colorado Springs, field trips became nearly impossible.

I did not succeed at this overnight.   In fact, I still struggle.   Something in my programming says that it has to be a certain way, that if I do it a different way, then they might miss something.

The first big change that I made was in History.   I just threw out most of the curriculum!  I purchased a book called, "All Through the Ages."   And we started back at Creation and started working our way forward.    We started with Creation, using any resource we could find, and at the time, there wasn't much readily available.   An amazing thing happened though.  Story didn' t like the formal learning and testing, and balked at every method I used to teach her, but she could not get enough of this new style of learning.  There were no tests, she didn't have to memorize anything.  But we poured over maps, listened to videos, read books, and even did some crafts.   We talked about what they were learning.   And she absorbed it all.   I planned a month learning about Egypt, and when Song and her best friend moved on to the OT history and Babylon, she refused to budge!   It would be 3 full months later when she was "ready to move on".   She loved learning History this way and she flourished.   The downside to her moving so slowly is that she's not learned much history after WW1, the best part though, she knows how to learn anything she needs to know, and she has a huge world picture in her head to make that knowledge work together.

The next area we relaxed in was Math.   We switched over to ALEKS, which was really awesome, but expensive for us.   Now they all use Kahn's.   When we started using it, it was the only free Math program available.

Eventually, English and Spelling were the only two subjects that I kept as completely formal.   English is my weakest subject, so I was more worried about missing something there.    We chose Rod and Staff for our curriculum, and I flex it as we need to, mostly we adjust by reviewing, going faster or slower, and not worrying about the grades as much as making sure they have a good grasp of each concept before we move on to the next one.

Some things we have incorporated into our curriculum

Books - we choose topics every 2 - 3 weeks and pull a dozen or so books from our public library on those subjects.   We look for books that are picture heavy rather than detail-heavy, though it is common for them to ask for thicker books or go online to learn more.   This includes Books on Tape.

Videos - At first we used videos we could get from the public library, but the internet has so much available.   You can pretty much find any topic in a video on YouTube.

Crafts - This is one of the weaker areas, but if they want to do anything experimental or crafty, we try to give it a go.  ..... We still have a skeleton in the closet to put together someday.

Mini-Breaks - If they get wiggly and giggly, I send them outside for a run.  On rainy days, they go outside every time the rain slows down.  (At least, that is the goal, there are days the "school routine" takes over.)

Coloring Books - My kids don't care for as much coloring, but our friends love it.

Open discussions - We don't fight the bunny trails, but attempt to use them to answer questions and teach Biblical values.

Outside experts - usually, this means a long video.   But the kids are encouraged to ask people we know for answers.   There is a physics professor at our church that Scholar has pounced on a few times with questions that made my head spin.  Some of their math questions go to Grandpa, even though I can answer them.   The older girls frequently join chats to investigate what they want to learn, or even join classes online.

Flexible days - as they get older, it has been more common for them to work in the evenings.   I don't know if any of them know how to "cram" subjects together and "just get it done".

Volunteer Work - so far, only Song has kept at it, but it's HORSES!    And Story bailed out after only a few weeks because it was HORSES.    They also help out at church, and with cousins.

Some elements we kept

The Schedule and Chore Routines  -  It turned out that I could not teach without a schedule.   Open ended teaching just was not my style, so I did not function well as a parent or a teacher.

Working in time frames - Left to themselves, they would do 1 or 2 subjects and ignore everything outside of that box.  So they have a schedule and a set amount of time to get the items completed.   If they finish early, they can go outside and play, but we are not spending every day on just Science and Penmanship.

Workbooks - I like the concrete feel of the workbooks.   Sometimes we print worksheets.   This is especially true from K - 4th grades.

Lesson Plans - We have a plan and we make every attempt to stick to it.

An Assigned Seat - they might not stay in that seat all day, in fact, there is a lot of moving in and out of the computer stations, and sometimes they go up stairs to their aunt's house or next door to our house to use kitchen tables.   But they have their assigned areas for their books, pens and pencils, etc.

Elements my sister's use 



Park Days

Field Trips

Farm Work

Music Classes




Garage Sales

Honestly, anything you do can be turned into a learning experience.   And  any curriculum can be "tweeked" to make it much more learning friendly.

What ideas can you come up with to "Teach Outside of the Box"?

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