What Do You Do With All That. . .

Way back at the beginning of my life as a teacher, one of the biggest sources of angst that my colleagues and I experienced was about time. What could you do to avoid scary empty space? The problem often seems similar for folks who are beginning with learning at home. Only that one person is facing hours and hours rather than an hour or so per class. So what does one do with all that time?

The good news and bad news of it is that this problem is very similar to blank space syndrome that we experience facing a piece of paper when writing or designing a picture. The typical difficulty is that we are approaching the work of a discipline without being fully steeped in its context or being aware of methods for momentum building. Think of it as having no place to go yet wanting to get there-- chances are good that you won't. Admittedly, there is a certain charm to wanting to do things serendipitously, but very few of us honestly have the luxury of being able to wander aimlessly. So about that context mentioned earlier, a good way to begin is to have an overall idea of why you are doing what you are doing. The next is to become familiar with the ways people do things.

Since knowing why you are doing what you are doing is largely up up to you, I will attempt to avoid presumption and work on helping with the second task. The remainder of this piece will be used to describe activities that I employ in our family learning. This is to help you see different options that you might not have considered. You are not me and your kid is not mine, so this is not a recipe for how you MUST conduct learning. Further, please do not confuse this as a "standard" approach to the matter.

Many people use commercially available curriculum for their learning activities, but ours are designed entirely from scratch. There are basically three categories of activities that we employ in our family learning, each with specific reasons behind it: current, special and ideal activities. Here, I will discuss the distinguishing points of the categories, list the activities relative to each, and briefly discuss the reasons why some of the activities are used.

Current

Because of present circumstances, there are a number of limitations on what I am able to do. This is pretty much standard for any given moment and is one thing that differentiates the category from "ideal". At this point in time, however, the circumstances would probably fit into the label extenuating, but we continue on as best possible. These are mostly regular activities that we follow every day in a specific order. Having a standard structure to learning activities generally seems to be a good practice, as it gives both a familiarity and stability that can benefit both kids and parents in the learning process. Right now, each day is spent like this:

  • Video from Internet
  • Spelling
  • Reading
  • Thai reading
  • Writing practice
  • Project time
  • Chapter book listening
  • Chapter book reading
  • Story illustration

  • In the video section, 15-20 minutes is spent each day in viewing video content that can be connected to past or current topics of study or they can be interests that may be unrelated as well. The Internet is a grossly missed opportunity which can expose learners to subjects which may be out of range of our resources and a doorway to knowledge about the world and things happening in it. Some video sources which have been used have also been reviewed here on LW with more to come.

    My tendency in designing learning material is toward higher level activities. So to balance things out, spelling has been included since the very beginning of our family learning. I originally had to push myself to do it, but spelling has become an essential part of the daily schedule. For one thing, it is a concrete activity that increases vocabulary and helps with detail ethic. On top of that, my son showed particular interest toward it (almost to my surprise and dismay). Since our learning is approached in a very project based manner, the vocabulary used in this activity is taken from regular reading and learning activities, which helps to add continuity. Most recently, spelling has turned out to be helpful as we have added Thai language to our studies.

    As mentioned earlier, many of our efforts are project based. So selected reading material typically follows a/the current theme for spelling, writing practice, research and anything that might be included in project time. Usually, the learner reads materials out loud in a scaffolded manner, especially if materials available are above reading level. Reading can be taken from related academic books, fiction and/or non-fiction books, various internet sources or anything that may be even mildly relevant. Depending on the subject, there may be limitations on what is available.

    Writing practice is taken in a fairly broad scope. Everything from cursive writing to Thai practice is included and depends on the needs of project work. Writing with a practical purpose is preferred, so results are published on posters, website or other ways when appropriate.

    Project time can involve anything from research to production and presentation of projects. As mentioned before, this is interconnected with most other learning activities in one way or another. Project time is often where the subject material (which most people would consider math, science, history, etc.) is contextually addressed.

    Chapter book listening and reading are generally more freestyle than other activities though they may occasionally be tied to project content. The emphasis is on biographies, but book selection is mostly open within reading level constraints.

    Story illustration demonstrates understanding gained from chapter books. Illustration is usually just that: drawing or painting. This can be more structured in the form of posters and can also be done though various media as well as implementing technology of various types.

    Special

    The title "special" is pretty much used for lack of a better term. These activities are outside the regular schedule and are inserted to help fill out and complete project studies as well as to connect with the outside world. If possible, a much larger percentage of special activities would be included in regular learning, but limits in time, ability to research them, not to mention funds are often barriers to this. Special activities are often determined based on subjects of current study and life needs. Large activities such as trips, field trips, interviews, etc. are used to add real world experience to learning. Longer term and one-time experiences such as computer projects, videos, crafts, light construction, outdoor activities, hands-on, cooking and online tutorials can be used to nurture skills that might aid in the learning process or contribute detail for learning projects.

    Ideal

    Our current activities actually occupy an entire day worth of time when coupled with exercise and recreation breaks. For what they are, they also turn out somewhat balanced. Music activities have been on hold for awhile and there is almost always room for diversifying support for subjects to be addressed within project context, which would require expanding project time. Where that time would come from is uncertain. Undoubtedly, things will also evolve as we push into the needs of higher grade levels.

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    When viewed from a global perspective, the learning activities used in our family learning generally come with two different feelings: 1) that we are doing a lot, and 2) that more could always go into it. At first, you may be dealing with a rush of time flooding at you, but that will likely turn into being overwhelmed with all of the potential alternatives. The big issue actually turns out to be "what not to do" as opposed to not having enough to do. So no matter where you are now, your need will be in prioritizing and editing out (probably sooner as opposed to later). In both cases, having an overall idea of why you are doing what you are doing would likely help with a mass of decision making. In the meanwhile, you have my framework as a place to start and a model to experiment with if necessary.

    What Do You Do With All That. . . original article at learningwilds.net

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