Wednesday, September 26, 2007


A few days ago a family member asked me how my "teaching season" had gone. School holidays just started here so he meant how had the last term of homeschooling been for me. I didn't understand his question at first. Partly that was because I don't organise our homeschooling into terms ... it tends to constantly change and evolve throughout the year.

The other reason I didn't immediately understand my relative's question was that I don't always associate the word "teaching" with what I do; I forget that that is a word my extended family associate strongly with me. It's funny: when Tessa left preschool to begin homeschooling at age 4.5, she couldn't read. A couple of years later she could, yet I don't think of myself as having "taught" her to read. I think of the achievement as belonging to Tessa. Sometimes I even feel a little miffed that I can't claim the glory for such a wonderful thing, which did after all occur on my watch, but as time goes by I become more and more certain that Maria Montessori was right that if we want to help children's learning then, rather than "teach" children, we need to observe them, presenting activities in response to the individual child's interest - activities that are just easy enough for the child to explore independently and just challenging enough to engender the satisfaction of achievement, activities that entice the child. We need to hold back, allowing the child to work in their own way in their own time, while we continue observing so that we notice when the child is ready for us to demonstrate the next new activity.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Our new, looser schedule

I haven't really spelled out our new routine, have I? We didn't pursue it for enough days before the school holidays started for it to get properly established and now we have a pleasant break from ordinary routine while my 14 year old niece is here for a visit. This is how I see our days flowing come the end of next week:

  • Morning meeting over breakfast to establish each child's plan for the day. Originally I thought we might also have a weekly meeting to plan the week but that seems a bit over the top: we can easily discuss any plan for the week at the first morning meeting of the week.

  • Then the large part of the day is made up in approximately equal parts of free flow time and planned study time. I believe the free flow time is important so that the children can truly go where their interest takes them, have time to think and relax; maybe we will go for walks and bike rides, play games. Plenty of unplanned - spontaneous - study and work has always gone on during our free flow times; the purpose of the planned study time is to enable progress to be made towards the children's longer term goals.

    What is different in this from our old schedule is that we used to have a list of subjects we attempted to cover every week, but we have now agreed that if Josiah or Tessa wants to work, for example, just on maths for a while, or just on science and geometry, then that is fine. Every month or so we will look back and if there is a subject that has been neglected, we will make it a priority.

    I'm not entirely sure how this will pan out each day. I think I will need the kids to commit at the morning meeting to doing their planned work at a certain time, otherwise I can see end of the day arriving before the kids get around to carrying out their plans.

  • Despite ongoing efforts to minimise our commitments, we still never have enough time for everything we'd like to do. For that reason, I intend to take advantage of the captive audience the children present during meal times - by reading to them. We all eat dinner together in the evening but other meals we eat independently whenever we are hungry. As long as I notice when either of the children stops what they are doing to eat, I'll be able to sit down with them and read to them. Our history and science work is mostly reading at the moment so that will give us some guaranteed regular time on those subjects. In addition, we have a climbing book we are reading together and the Bible.

  • Next, we have agreed that chores must be started one hour before dinner or, if we are going to be out at that time, one hour before we depart to go out. This will sort of mark the end of the working day. After chores, hopefully there will be time for me to read to the children - that will be when we read fiction together.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


My poor transitioning was an issue again on Friday. After breakfast, we got into a discussion about the kids' climbing training. Josiah has brought up several times that he misses being pushed by his coach, who has made the lessons more relaxed lately than they were. When Josiah first joined up there was quite a bit of strength and fitness training: the class went for a jog together and there were challenges to do press ups, dead hangs, pull ups, v sits etc. Josiah and Tessa both got talking about what they wanted from their lessons. When the discussion came to an end, I sat down to note what the kids had said and to develop a list of what they want in their training. That is what I do: writing notes and lists is how I think - how I reach decisions about what action to take. Meanwhile though, Josiah had started on his climbing diary and it wasn't going well; he really needed my assistance. I gave him some half-hearted help but my attention was still on the climbing training lists I was coming up with.

I think what I need to do in these situations is put a metaphorical bookmark in my own activity, eg write it on my To Do list, so that I can easily come back to the activity later and can oust the feeling of urgency connected to whatever it is I've been doing.

Friday was a beautiful day so we thought we'd all go for a bike ride. Josiah seems to have injured a finger tendon though and wanted to rest it rather than use it squeezing bike brakes, so he and Geoff stayed home. Tessa and I had a lovely ride following the Waiwhetu Stream down to a local cafe. We saw several families of ducklings on the way and lots of beautiful spring flowers. We had lunch at the cafe then returned home, stopping to sit on the bank of the stream and eat biscuits we'd bought at the cafe. The only blight on the journey was that the traffic was a little heavier on the way home - we hit the after school traffic - and we were unfortunate enough to cross one of those drivers who think the road rules don't apply when they meet a bike - only when they meet another motor vehicle. Tessa pulled out in front of this driver quite correctly at an intersection and had to slam her brakes on and swerve around the back of the car to avoid being hit when the car moved forwards without giving way. I was slightly behind Tessa and was able to suggest loudly but reasonably politely that the driver learn the road rules ;) My heart hammered for the next few minutes at Tessa's near miss but she seemed unperturbed except for feeling annoyed that swerving had caused her to scratch the back of her leg against something sharp on her bike.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Daisy wrote the other day about the importance of the inner preparation of the teacher, including identifying our faults. I think one of my big faults at present is that I am very slow to transition; this wastes lots of time. How many weeks ago is it that our routine fell apart? And I have only just succeeded in instigating a new plan. The kids haven't been doing nothing all this time of course - some days, the days they worked on their lego stop motion movie, have been highly productive. But a lot of days have been unsatisfying for all of us.

I'm slow to transition between specific activities too. One day last week, I took the car in for a warrant. I got home around lunch time but didn't manage to do anything with the afternoon. One morning a week, Josiah has Technicraft class - an ideal opportunity for Tessa and me to work together - but when I get home from cycling to class with Josiah, I struggle to transition to focus on Tessa. There are probably steps I can take in that last case: like start thinking about Tessa on my way home and set my alarm for the time I need to leave to meet Josiah so I don't have to clock watch during the morning. I would like to get better at transitioning.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Plan?

I have had a cold this week - yet another delay to us getting "back on track". The kids are now positively settled in our current routine-free state. I am beginning to realise that they are unlikely to return contentedly to our old routine (in the foreseeable future at least); therefore we need a new plan (or to decide that we don't want a plan). I am wondering about suggesting a weekly planning meeting with each child, probably held at the weekend sometime, to discuss their plans for the week. This would allow the children to continue to take up their own projects as they have been doing over the last fortnight but would also allow them to set aside time to work towards their longer term goals that tend to get abandoned when we have no routine at all.

The kids' lego stop motion movies are now in post production (the photos have all been taken). Josiah spent about three days shut up in his bedroom with the curtains closed (to ensure uniform light across all photos), setting up scenes then moving the lego, with Tessa as cameraperson and general assistant during most sessions. Geoff set things back by an hour or so on one day when he went in to help with something and accidentally sat on Jabba's sail barge. Fortunately nothing was broken and Josiah was able to rebuild it.

Geoff is to start the next step - putting the photos together into a movie - before the kids add the sound.

Someone is selling a set of cylinder blocks on Trade Me today at the lowest price I've ever seen cylinder blocks. As I mentioned in a post on my other blog a few days ago, I hope one day to run a home preschool / daycare. I can't decide whether this is too good an opportunity to pass up and I should buy the blocks, or it is silly to buy something now, which I will have to store for years before I use it. There's one cylinder missing that I would have to replace and the blocks look pretty battered and scratched.