Time for School

My sister and I are ‘unschooling’ our kids, which means that under normal circumstances we don’t bother with things like lesson plans or curriculum.   Play is the best way for our kids to learn, so we allow, promote and encourage free play, and a lot of it.  Ideally, this play would happen in a great many different places and with a great variety of other people.  But, these are not normal circumstances.  The pandemic has imposed some serious limitations on our lives.  As the pandemic has dragged on, I’ve watched the kids with some concern.  We’re trying our best to comply with community health guidelines to the best of our ability, but there’s no denying the fact that being around the same kids and being in the same places day in and day out is having an impact on the quality of our kids’ play.   Play is a process of experimenting with new ideas, and the kids are beginning to run short of new ideas to play with.  

Ordinarily, I would respond to their need by setting up play opportunities with a variety of other children.  Other kids are absolutely the best and most interesting source of new ideas.  However, virus numbers are as bad as they’ve ever been, and there’s a vaccine on the horizon.  We’re going to try to hold out a little longer.  But I need to do something.   When the kids’ needs are met, they have little use for structure or guidance from me.  They spend the majority of their time fully engaged in their own creative or scientific pursuits, and imposed assignments or activities are just an annoying distraction.   But lately, I’m seeing less of that pure, child-led learning and more whining, fighting and complaining.  They’re bored. They need some new input. Fortunately, this is not a new problem. The same group of children, in the same place, day in and day out?  We have a name for that.  We call it ‘school’.  It’s time to put on my teacher hat. 

So, we’ve decided to have ‘school’ days twice a week.  On these days, we’re going to follow a *very* loose schedule.  Nothing too strict, but enough so the kids will have a sense of what’s coming, what they have to look forward to.  The ability to predict feels like control, so when kids are feeling groundless,  a schedule can be an amazingly useful tool.  

Current plan for our schedule (I may make adjustments as we see how this goes): 

Play – when my sister and her kids arrive, they’ll play together in the yard.  Hopefully they’ll release some energy as well as the excitement of seeing each other after a day or two apart.   The initial play session will likely run between 15 minutes and an hour, but there’s no set time.  They can play until they’re done playing and they feel ready to move on. 

Circle time* –  I’m calling it ‘circle time’ as a holdover from my days teaching preschool, but we’re not generally in a circle.  The kids come to the porch and we sing songs and read stories together.  

Discussion* We’ll cover one topic each school day, and our various activities will relate to it.  The topic will be chosen based on the interests of the kids.  If they request a specific topic or activity, I’ll do what I can to accommodate their request. I’ll introduce the day’s topic, and we’ll discuss it.  This should be a conversation, not a lecture. My goal is for them to talk at least as much as I do.

Outside Activity* – The activity should relate to the topic, but should allow as much freedom as possible.  If the activity inherently requires lots of structure and guidance, I’ll make sure to provide a 2nd activity that day that allows the kids more freedom. I’ll introduce the activity, explaining any rules.  We’ll engage in the activity for as long as the kids desire.  Unless there’s a compelling reason not to, the kids are allowed and encouraged to use the activity materials however they like. 

Lunch –  We eat together on the porch

Clean up / Play – The kids are expected to help clean up after the activity, as well as our lunch before we move inside.  Kids are encouraged to play actively for as long as they want before we head inside. 

Table Time* – We’ll move inside to the kitchen table.  The kids can take their pick from a variety of games, puzzles, art materials and toys that I set out beforehand.  Table time continues until the kids feel finished, but table time requires calm behavior.  If they begin to get antsy, we return to the yard. 

*All structured activities are voluntary.  Free play is always available as an alternative.  However, the kids are not allowed to disrupt children who desire to engage in the activity / discussion / etc. 

My main goal is to give the kids a sense of control.  Something to predict, something to look forward to, as a means of counteracting the current difficult circumstances.  I’m hoping that this little bit of structure will give their brains enough to chew on, and allow them to return to the pure play-based learning that is the true goal of our homeschool.  

We’ll see how this goes.  I’m in somewhat uncharted territory here, so I’m going to document as we go.