This Homeschooling Thing

Once upon a time, I was a classroom teacher; I was in charge of 25 kiddos that I practically adopted as my own from September to June. In those days, the school day usually ran from 8:30am-2:45pm, +/- 30 minutes. This meant that I had to be prepared to keep my "kids" engaged for most of that duration, save for when they had pull-out classes and I had breaks.

Back then, long hours were the norm. I practically lived at the school on Saturdays, and did the bulk of my marking and weekly prep during those blessedly quiet, uninterrupted blocks of time. Sometimes, I'd even drag Hubbs to the classroom with me, where he'd try to siphon the WiFi to get some of his work done while I busied myself around the classroom and hogged the photocopier and printer with wild abandon.

Point is, it was a very heavy investment of my time to teach, and mentally, I was always preparing for a full day's worth of content to keep my class productively busy.

Morning message cloze activities

Fast forward to last week, when we finally kicked off homeschooling. Technically, we are distance-learning (DL), because I work in conjunction with an LC (learning consultant) who looks after the Student Learning Plans (SLP) and creates the provincially-approved units that I then execute. In my case, there is a ton of leeway because of my B.Ed.; my LC is able to let me essentially interpret the SLPs as I wish, and accommodate/modify to suit Little L's needs.

Here's the thing, though. I have been in the classroom for so long that my mentality is that of a brick-and-mortar, 6.5 hour-day schoolteacher, which is to DL what following a recipe is like to making a stir fry. While I'm not the quickest study around, almost two weeks into this DL life and I've already come away with a few big lessons.

< and > with candy corn

1. The school day doesn't have to be 6 hours long.
When you're managing a class of 25 littles, a lot of time is spent on herding cats classroom management. You learn to build in extra time for every task because of distractions and because sometimes, concepts need to be retaught and reviewed. There are also many school-wide events that interfere with the plans of a given day (hello, fire drills and lockdown practice and school photos and Christmas musical rehearsals), so there is always an element of "catch-up" on projects and assignments that need to be completed before the report card term deadlines.

However, when your class size is one, you can run through concepts really quickly, particularly if your pupil happens to be bright, or a fast learner. The same lesson that might take 45 minutes to teach and scaffold and work through with a class might only take 10 minutes when you're working with a lone kid. This means that multiple subjects may get covered in a much shorter period of time than a typical academic day. It's also a million times easier to assess one kid for understanding, versus 25.

In a Nutshell: We can get a full day's worth of learning completed in 2 hours, leaving way more time for playing.

2. The school day doesn't need to start in the morning. 
I'm used to 8:30am start times, so I had planned to kick off the day's learning at 9:00am. Right. Little L sleeps until 8:30am on most mornings, and then there are routines like morning snuggles and getting dressed and eating breakfast that have to happen. The reality is that the school day starts for us around 11:00 am. With a late bedtime, I suppose this is to be expected.

For school kids, the day starts at a fixed time and ends at a fixed time. Tardy arrivals get late slips, and for the purposes of funding and accountablility, attendance records have to be submitted to the province every year.

With DL, however, I can start with art or a proper puddle jumping if that's what I want to do that day. I can do some of the teaching first thing in the morning, and then again at 6:00pm in the evening for my little night owl. Or, if I want to do a bunch of subjects all in a row, I can do that too. I'm not limited by the clock in any way, provided I am meeting the objectives outlined in the student learning plans.

In a Nutshell: There's no need to follow fixed teaching schedules when you homeschool. No need to watch the clock.

Discovery Toys bug sorting task,  just for fun

3. You don't have to do it all in a day.
I am my own worst boss, and I have a habit of creating urgency in my mind where deadlines don't actually exist. Sure, in a classroom situation you sort of have to meet a "quota" of learning outcomes to make sure that your students are learning and that there is sufficient material to fill the report card every term, but when you're working 1:1, the productivity increases simply because a single child working on her own can get a lot more accomplished than a distracted group of littles.

Anyway, on the first few days of homeschooling,  I found myself rushing to make sure I had hit every subject every day. It was exhausting and needlessly stressful; I felt like I was rushing Little L to get things done so I could check them off my list.

Then it dawned on me (slow learner!) that I don't have to do 170 minutes of L.A. every week, because I probably do more than that on any given week just because that's our life. As it turns out, some tasks hit multiple subjects by virtue of design. When we did a family PE outing to the Apex Trampoline Park (something we are making into a monthly tradition), I had Little L draw a picture and describe the day for me (I scribed) just to keep a record of it. Voila LA, Art and PE!

When we went outside the other morning, because puddles! - we ended up finding snails and talking about how they camouflage. We also looked at the number sentence 3-1=2 (after someone squished one of them), and then Little L did a cloze journal entry and drew the snails for her journal. In that hour, we hit Science, LA, PE, Art and Math - and it was literally an unplanned activity; I saw the puddles and ditched my lessons for the day.

Likewise when we went for a walk in the sunshine yesterday (PE), I asked Little L to observe some signs that the seasons were changing (Science). As we walked down the pier, we saw signs warning against feeding the seals, which led to a good chat about natural habitats and seal diets (also Science). On our way home, we passed by the local police station and noted that as another part of our community (Social Studies). Then I did up a worksheet (close activity and colouring) for Little L to record her fall walk (Art and L.A.).

In a Nutshell: With homeschooling, there is no urgency to do everything in a day, or worry about "falling behind" if you miss a day here and there. Instead, you can kind of build the learning into everyday activities. 

On our walk, a break was desperately needed! LOL.

4. It's okay for kids to take breaks.
One thing I've never loved about the traditional classroom is the amount of time that kids are expected to be "on." With the exception of recess and lunch breaks, children as young as 5 are tasked with paying attention and working hard all day long. While some kids thrive under this kind of "go-go-go," many others (including Little L) prefer to take breaks in between. The experience of sitting and focusing and listening and doing writing/drawing/reading tasks for even 15 minutes can be exhausting when you're small. Sometimes a sensory break, or just being able to stretch and move around or veg out on an iPad app, helps the brain refresh and refocus. Unfortunately, the structure of school simply doesn't allow for frequent breaks, particularly when the Education ministry insists on a specific number of minutes per week to be allocated to each subject.

I've quickly discovered that Little L needs breaks; she needs to go and play on her iPad, or hop around on her hopping ball, or go outside for a quick scooter, or have a snack or read a book between tasks. At present, she can only complete about 3-4 activities/worksheets in succession before she needs some time off.

An added bonus of homeschooling has been that Little L's breaks also give me some needed prep time, and because I don't necessarily limit her "off" breaks to 10 or 15 minutes, she can get ample time to play or read or enjoy her snack. She finishes all of her food because she's not rushing to go outside for recess!

In a Nutshell: Homeschooling allows us to take frequent breaks in our school day. These are awesome for Little L and for me, too! 

Clearly, this is only the beginning of what could be a long homeschooling adventure, and there is much more for me to learn. However, I'm already really appreciating the differences that a flexible, home-based learning environment has been able to offer Little L. Sure, she's just in Kindergarten, and I'm sure that as the curricular requirements get more rigorous, there will be more work for both her and I to do. For now, however, we will enjoy the last remaining year(s) of her early childhood, and endeavour to cultivate a lifelong love of learning in our kiddo.

Next month, in our Loquacious Lemonade Life adventures: some Thanksgiving and autumn-related activities, plus a Magic Pumpkin Patch train ride, a visit to the Aquarium at the end of our sea life unit, and a visit to Science World for a playdate. :) We will also be carving a pumpkin, counting and sorting Halloween treats, and exploring our community for Trick-or-Treating. :)


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