Apathy, Reluctance and Active Avoidance

Not here, Sam is quite happy reading, musing, asking lots of questions, drawing, making stuff and dismantling things.  I am very much in back seat mode at the moment.
I’ve talked many times about why we don’t fully embrace unschooling so I won’t go into that.  Knowing that I do go in for a bit of structure I get asked quite often how that works for us, do I have to put up with apathy, reluctance and active avoidance?

The answer is yes sometimes.  Not often now at all though I think we have reached a good balance of reasonable expectations, easy routines, understanding what is negotiable and what isn’t and a feel for when I can sit back and let him lead and when more prodding is needed by me.  Not saying it is all rosy all the time but bad home ed days are very, very rare.  Bad days when they happen now are usually the result of external influences or internal issues, lack of sleep, raging hormones in other words I make things go wrong by not reacting well – I am human it happens, those days would be bad whatever we were doing.

I can’t give a a simple answer of how to make structure work children are all so different.  The three key points I think are:

  • Work with your children.  Different children work best at different times of the day, learn in different ways, have different interests.  Some benefit from the security of a detailed, almost timetabled routine for others that would be a nightmare.  Know your children, talk to them about what they want.
  • Education should be fun!  If resources aren’t working for you change them. Be inventive and have confidence in yourself to set your own agenda and standards for your child.  Structure doesn’t have to mean workbooks and sitting at a table writing.  Anyone who follows the blog knows that workbooks and the National Curriculum are not my favourite things 😉
  • Expectations – keep them low!  I think as home educators we sometimes over estimate what others (and particularly schools) are doing.  Have your bare minimum of what to ‘you’ makes the day/week a success and keep it low and non negotiable – let children know what is expected.  It will change as they grow older.   You can build up and out from there.

Here are some of the practical  things that work for us.  They may or may not for others, they are just ideas.

We keep things short and have lots of variety. For example for English we do a page of a workbook (handwriting, vocabulary or spelling depending on day of the week), a grammar exercise – usually verbally, we’ve been doing prepositions lately which have involved a lot of climbing on and under and behind stuff and either a narration exercise or dictation/copywork. All in usually takes about 1/2 hr.

Over the years I’ve learnt to focus on the process not the end result. I am only just starting to reintroduce the idea of him writing stuff down as he’s getting close to 11. I gave it up as a bad job and a source of unnecessary conflict when he was about 7. So for about 3 years we’ve done writing practice in the form of handwriting books, copywork and dictation pretty much daily but we’ve not really done any of writing in other subject areas really. I found that his handwriting improved massively when he wasn’t having to think about what he wrote down. I’m a big Charlotte Mason fan and we do a lot of reading and discussing.

Another thing that works for us is having idea of ‘school hours’. It was a side effect of the older one going to school that we needed it. The idea is that from about 9-2 four days a week about 32 weeks a year (with a lot of flexibility) during that time we are doing something! The something is vague – we might go out (we go out a lot!), we might be playing boardgames, we might be doing maths and English. I don’t do housework or ‘work’ work in that time and the computer, tv etc is educational use only.

Using his interests.  He loves computers so we have done a lot of art activities on the computer this year.  I want to start moving towards recording stuff more next year as we are getting closer to secondary school age.  I am thinking typing and a blog might be the way in.

Planning ahead so I have an idea of the day/term in my head helps. Preparing so I have resources to hand for a range of craft projects on say the Tudors or experiments on electricity, whatever chosen topic is, has been a big step forward. We don’t have as much time for interest to wane while I set up or ‘what shall we do?’ moments. The trick is not to be wedded to the plan, these happen outside of my non-negotiable bare essentials I wouldn’t insist we do the activities I’ve planned.  I see it as a safety net, if he isn’t leading I’ll come up with ‘lets…’

My bottom line is that I need to feel like I am providing an education as that is my duty and I tell Sam that. It isn’t a threat as in if you don’t do maths I’ll send you to school. Just a ‘this has to happen it isn’t negotiable, so how do you want it to work?’ way. We’ve chopped and changed the resources and routines so many times over the years to establish ways that work most of the time.

The last bit of advice I will give is if you are trying to move to a more structured approach do it gradually, small maintainable changes.

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