I’ve gone the furniture angle. We started with one small work table and switched to using individual desks. I rearranged our work space in the front room two or three times to increase efficiency. This past winter I even switched our work space to the family room at the back of the house by the kitchen, combining play space with work space and moving our living room furniture to the front room where (ideally) it makes for a more formal, cleaner-looking entry (except when the kids colonize it as their fort-building space).
I’ve gone the curriculum angle. We’ve switched writing curricula, math curricula, history plans, spelling materials, Spanish tactics… Frankly, I’ve discovered that I’m a bit of a rebel when it comes to curriculum, and I can’t seem to use anything as-is; I find myself always adjusting techniques or cobbling a few resources together into something that better suits us. Perhaps I should bill it myself as “confident and adaptive” rather than “unwilling or unable to follow established plans.”
I’ve gone the scheduling angle. We used to start promptly at 9:30 with a snack and read-aloud. That time has gradually moved later (and later), since I hate to interrupt productive, happy playtime. I’ve also adjusted the content of our days, spending a full week on science followed by a full week on social studies, testing out alternating subjects on various days, lengthening or shortening our lessons and work time.
Last fall I felt like I was simply trying to crowd too much content into our lives. I was burnt out from trying to plan math and history and writing and grammar and science and Spanish and art and… You get the idea. Even with many of those subjects being only once or twice a week, it was a lot of juggling–particularly since for most of it I’m either creating my own curriculum or heavily modifying existing materials (and, like a perpetual first-year teacher, I’m always preparing new material). I felt like I wasn’t really doing any subject especially well, and worse yet, the kids had lost some of their joy for learning. There was no way I wanted to quench that spark so early in their educational careers!
After pondering what had made learning together so magical when the kids were younger, I decided that it was mostly because it was instigated by their interest and thus had their complete buy-in. I realized a few other things as well: first, I tended to get restless and need change every month or two; secondly, if I changed our subjects of study every couple months, we could cover fewer subjects at a time and still rotate through a full complement over the course of a year.
Thus, my six-week block scheduling began in January. In a way, this is like turning back time, reverting to the priorities I had when they were preschoolers: following their lead and being willing to shift focus as their personal goals shifted. (It sounds odd to think of preschoolers as having personal goals, but if you watch carefully, they’re always working on some skill–even if they themselves don’t realize it.)
I started by soliciting ideas from the kids of things they’d like to study; near the end of each block, this process is repeated. If they run stuck on ideas, I make suggestions–which they often tweak. Sometimes the kids choose separate topics–Liddy wanted to draw and learn about animals while Asher was interested in math and the geography of South America and Australia–but in general, I try to limit us to about four topics and combine as many as we can.
It’s working. Both the kids and I are still facing each day with excitement over what we’re going to do, even though we’re nearing the end of a semester (or trimester, since I tend to think of summer as its own academic time), when we’d usually be rather blah. In fact, each evening the kids are eagerly asking what our work will be for the next day!
While I do keep a review rotation going so we don’t completely forget our parts of speech or basic math, most of what we do is kid-driven. And as soon as we so much as start tiring of what we’re studying, we discover that it’s already time to think about what we want to learn next. Hooray for excitement and motivation and learning and joy!