We are a homeschooling family, so our life might look very different from those who are not home with their children all day every day. But I hope that ALL families, homeschooling or not, can benefit from these ideas. When I refer to our classroom, this can apply to any learning space in your home. The dining room table, an office desk for homework, the living room floor, etc. And while I have an entire days' worth of routine, your routine with your kiddos may just be in the morning or evening. Either way, these tips can apply to you.
Here are a few things we do to start our year off right:
1. Identify Individual Goals
Each of us trace our hand on a piece of paper and come up with 5 goals (one for each finger). The kids are asked to come up with things they want to learn this year. There are no wrong answers here. This is how I discover what is most important to each of my children. I write down my goals and share them with the kids and they are invited to share their ideas as well. We also discuss HOW to reach these goals; what we need to do daily, weekly and monthly in order to achieve each one. We then display them and can ask each other throughout the year how our goals are coming along. Our goals included things like: saying OK, going on the potty, doing yoga, learning to read, doing origami, riding a bike without training wheels, learning to read and write Japanese symbols, memorizing all the sates and capitals, learning to tap dance, improving at spelling, learning french, and learning to cook.
2. Create Classroom Rules
Our rules are very basic. Listen to instructions, Enter and exit prepared, Always try your best, Respect yourself and others, No excuses. We work together to come up with them and talk about what they mean and how they would look when exercised properly. ALL of the kids are included in this. Even the 3 and 4 yo. They love being involved and are much more respectful of their siblings when they know what is expected of them. Even if you do not homeschool you can come up with some general house rules.
3. Introduce a Routine & Be Consistent
This one definitely looks different for every family. Our mornings are very structured and the kids have it down. They know what is expected of them every morning before our "school work" begins. (I consider our family work and chores to be just as beneficial as the rest of our learning). Rooms are cleaned, beds made, laundry started, floors swept/mopped/vacuumed, animals fed, breakfast served, dishes done, garbages out, kids dressed, teeth brushed, & everything in it's place. Once the morning things are done and we are in the classroom, we typically do the same things as a group every day. The pledge of Allegiance is said, we have a prayer & Devotional, we recite any memorization work, we read from a classic, and then spend an hour on a different subject (these include music, art, grammar, history, math & science and change depending on the day of the week). By now it is lunch time and the kids have outdoor time while I prep the meal.
4. Have One-on-One Time
Spending time with each child individually is the most important part of my day. They learn that they are each special and that I love getting to know them. During One-on-Ones I work on math, handwriting, reading & spelling, with one child at a time. This is also a time to visit and discuss any other worries or interests. I generally spend around 30 minutes with each of my kids. (The time limit is not set in stone, it's just a general guideline).
5. Keep Little Hands Occupied
Learning with 5 kids is challenging, especially when you have toddlers involved. I try to give my 3 year old tasks that he'll enjoy and find interesting for long periods of time. Last week his assignment was to cut out pictures of food. This week he will sort them and glue them into a collage. This is something he can do with minimal assistance from me. My 4 year old can work on it with him as well. Having quick, easy activities like this is especially helpful during One-on-Ones. Again, if you don't homeschool, but have evenings full of assisting with homework this can still come in handy.
6. Get Outside
Just because school is in session again doesn't mean we have to be trapped indoors. We spend at least one day a week doing a majority of our learning outside. This usually falls on our science/nature club day. During our first week of school we began our Biology study by discussing habitats and hiking a nearby trail in search of micro-habitats. This hands on learning about their world is so vital to their development. It also helps with retention. For those who don't homeschool, be sure to include these outdoor activities on the weekends. Or fit in a trip to the park after dinner.
7. Take A Field Trip
For our Music/Art day we went to the Chuck Close exhibit at the Schack Art Center in Everett. It was pouring down rain that morning and we had to park a block away, but it made for a good adventure.
The kids are able to appreciate great artists and have fun with their cousins at the same time. Throwing field trips into the mix is so important to our family. Being in the real world, learning to interact with other people of all ages, and supporting local businesses are all benefits of field trip days. Again, weekends might work best for your family, or you can try out the FREE admission evenings at the Seattle museums on the first Thursday of every month.
8. Let Your Child Take the Lead
When your emphasis is truly on fostering a LOVE of learning in your home, you will naturally allow your kids to guide you in a lot of ways. Our first week of school was so successful because there was less planning and more doing. The children felt respected and listened to and were able to give input as to what they will learn and do this year. This takes flexibility and the willingness to let go of my own agenda. These years will fly by and it's important to instill a joy of figuring things out, problem solving, and finding answers to questions. This curiosity they naturally have as young children can be rewarded, leading to a lifelong pursuit of knowledge, or rejected, leading them to stop questioning things in their world, thus ending any further learning. Prepare and plan, but be ready to go off on tangents and explore what THEY are curious about. That is when real learning takes place. No matter what schooling looks like in your family, make time to really allow your kids to explore their true interests.
So, as the hustle and bustle of the new school year begins, don't forget to set some goals, create some household rules, settle into a routine, have one-on-one time, get outside, take field trips, and let your children guide you in their learning. Doing these things have really helped my family feel calm and excited for this new school year. I hope they can be helpful for you too!