Starting Fresh

As the kids and I approach the end of this school year, we’ve been making plans for what we envision in 2020-2021. This year, we tried unschooling, which I adored. It was by far our most peaceful year and, on top of that, it was so valuable in helping each child take ownership of his or her own learning (more on this topic in a future post). But for next year, the kids would like me to go back to overtly teaching them. That suits me fine, too, because I love it; it’s the best and most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

I like variety and I’m always looking for ways to keep the learning fresh and invigorating for us all. So I proposed that, for next year, we change it up from our typical school year schedule and try doing only 4 subjects per six weeks, each subject ALL DAY one day a week, throughout the six week block. Then we pick 4 more subjects for the next six weeks and so on, until the school year is over. I suggested that we start now to get a taste of what next year might be like and really, just to see if it would even pan out as a doable system. I mean, logistically, can we spend all day doing art or science or math? We’ll see…

So far we’ve completed two days, which have both been great. The kids picked Nature Study and Fine Arts as day one and day two.

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Day 1: Nature Study

For nature study, my plan was to read a chapter of Owls in the Family and of That Quail, Robert, both of which we’ve already started. Then I wanted to play some nature games; we have lots and I got a bunch out and let the kids pick. My youngest loves Bird Bingo. In fact, I think she suggested Nature Study in part because she wanted to play Bird Bingo. So, of course, we played it. We also played Animal Linkology, (which seems to be out of print, sadly). Animal Linkology is sort of a cross between an animal knowledge game and a critical thinking game. For example, say you have the card “omnivore” in your hand and there are 3 picture cards on the table: a flamingo, a frog, and a cat. You need to play your card on one of them if you can. Are any omniovores? If so, which one(s)?

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During lunch, I popped open the Professor Noggin’s “Life in the Ocean” card game and asked them nature trivia while they ate. Two of the kids have been making a study of our local beaches all school year, and I was honestly pretty astonished at how much they’d learned. They rocked the ocean trivia.

Professor Noggin's Life in the Ocean

And then the weather changed. What had been a dismal, drizzly day became a glorious day of warmth and sunshine. Trust me, when you live in BC, you are dying for warmth and sunshine for a good chunk of the year, so when you get it, you take advantage. We all spent the rest of the school day, and indeed the rest of the day, outside in nature. Two of us opted for gardening. The others decided to explore their favourite beaches and tide pools. It was pretty great.

Our veggie garden: my personal project.
Our 11 year old’s summer bulb garden. If you look closely, you can just see the leaves beginning to pop up.
This box crab photo was taken by our 9 year old, who also correctly identifed the type of crab.
This is an underwater shot of a seastar; the kids think it’s a spinulosida.
A river otter playing at the beach. Kinda funny. Shadow of the 9 year old in the foreground.
A close-up the 13 year old snapped of a river otter eating a fish.

Day two: Fine Arts

We started out, like we often do, with some read alouds. I read about the history of the orchestra in general and of Johann Sebastian Bach’s orchestral music in particular, from Music of the Great Composers. We listened to one of his famous orchestral pieces, Orchestra Suite no. 3 in D Major. We talked about the aspects of the song that we’d learned about from the book (which parts were overture, which were more dance-like, etc). Afterward, we reminisced about the time we’d gone as a family to watch a production of Handel’s Messiah in full. IN FULL. It’s two and a half hours long and I’m pretty sure our oldest child at the time was around 11, which makes the other kids 8, 6, and 4. Yeah, it was a flop. BUT…even though they hadn’t enjoyed seeing the Messiah performed, now that they’d been exposed to just a smidge of great classical music, they all thought they’d like to try another classical music concert. Sweet! To wrap up the read aloud portion of the day, I read a short biography of Bach from Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers.

We’ve been playing a lot of Go Fish: Modern Artists lately, so I was pretty confident that’s what they would choose to play, but they wanted something different, so I pulled one that I haven’t gotten out since our oldest was in elementary school: Child-Size Masterpieces . I think it’s really meant for younger kids, but we played it like we do all other art games: primarily to engage with art in a fun way and secondarily to become familiar with the works and style of famous artists. We played level 1 and level 2. The game is played like memory, with all the cards face down. Level 1 features 2 of the same pieces from several different artists and you match identical cards (same artist, same artwork). Level 2 features 2 different pieces from several artists and you have to figure out which pieces are from the same artist (same artist, different artwork). I love trying to memorize the names of the art and the artists, so my kids naturally do that too, and by the end of maybe 20-30 minutes of playing, we were all familiar with several artists and some of their well-known pieces.

barb1

We spent the beginning of the day learning about composers and artists, and we spent the end of the day learning a new art form. I’ve had this really great looking Chinese brush painting kit for kids just sitting on the shelf for ages. It’s a fairly detailed kit, so I needed a day when we would have lots of time to really delve in. First, everyone practices the proper method for getting the watercolor paint on to the brush–the first color goes on the whole of the bristles, the second color on the lower half, and the third color on just the tip. This took a few tries to get right. Next, we had to practice the proper brush strokes. I wouldn’t say that we nailed this portion of the instructions, but we did do much better than we would have, had we not practiced it a fair bit first. Lastly, each one of us (including me) chose an animal to paint. Each animal had several pages of detailed instructions so this project took us at least an hour and half, all told. That said, we were pretty happy with the results and some of the kids tried again today, now that they are more familiar with the process. I’d call that a win.

Before we finished for the day, I asked the kids what they thought about the new system. They all loved it and thought that doing a whole day on one subject afforded them the opportunity to learn, remember, and make connections much more easily than in our regular schedule, as well as giving them extra time for things that were lengthy to learn and do like the brush painting. So far, I’d say the experiment’s been a success.

For next week, I’d like to dive into some more academic subjects. I’m thinking Language Arts, Math, History, and Foreign Languages. I think the real test of this system will be math. Can I make a whole day of math that is engaging for 4 completely different math levels to do at once? I think so, but I’ll find out for sure next week. If it’s a success, I’ll report back with an update.

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