Routines, Resources and Structure in our Natural Learning Approach to Home Education
By Beverley Paine, 2004
Following a learning naturally approach to education doesn't lend itself easily to establishing routines, other than those we naturally use in everyday life. These tend to revolve around getting up, eating, and fitting our activities in and around outings and work commitments. We've always encouraged self reliance and independence, so my daily routine doesn't necessarily coincide with the children's. We each get up, have breakfast and lunch according to our individual needs. Sometimes these coincide, but we always eat dinner together, and generally watch television and videos together.
But they aren't strictly educational activities! In thinking about this topic I considered what has stayed constant in our lives over our fifteen year homeschooling adventure. Our lives are governed by an underlying structure, a well developed organised physical environment. I am a great one in believing that if the foundations are right the resulting structure will be self supporting. With this in mind I created a learning environment that basically became the curriculum!
I guess you could say I used the 'learning centre' approach in the early years. First of all these complemented learning from books, but they soon took over completely. For four years we lived in a small, double garage while we were building and I found the learning centre approach invaluable, as it helped me to stay focussed and organised.
Our learning centres are essentially boxes and deep plastic trays in which I keep various learning materials related to broad curriculum areas or areas of interest. Many are still in existence today.
We have a "science stuff" box, which holds lots of interesting things, like clear plastic tubing, paper filters, silly putty, slinky springs and so on. Then there is the "natural history" box, full of delicate frog and sea dragon skeletons, fossils, driftwood, interesting shells and seaweed, small rock specimens, leaves, dead beetles and other amazing things. There is box of magnets and other related items for investigating magnetism. And one for prisms, magnifying glasses, microscopes and so on. We have an "electronics" box, that houses the Dick Smith Electronic Kit plus a whole heap of components from broken appliances and toys.
For many years we had a huge box called the "junk box". Other people have used old cardboard washing machine boxes, but ours was plastic, given to us by my father. I remember Roger falling asleep in the box when he was two! We'd put any packaging item from the kitchen into this box, toilet roll tubes, corks, scraps of foam and rubber, fake fur off cuts, bottle tops. Anything the kids could use to turn into boats, cars, dolls furniture, space ships.
Nearby was a shelf full of paper craft items - a tray for coloured paper of varying types and thicknesses; a tray for coloured, foil coated or white card in many shapes and sizes; a tray for tissue paper and cellophane; and a tray for glitter, stars, gummed shapes - all those things that kids love to past on paper and card! This shelf was topped by a whole array of tapes, glues, staples - anything you could use to fix paper to card or anything else!
Then there were there was the "miscellaneous craft" tray - that took anything that didn't fit into any other category. Those other categories included a sewing tray, embroidery box, knitting and wool tray - I'm sure there were more! I know we also had an ice cream box collection - full of things like buttons, beads, wooden beads, toothpicks, coloured and plain matchsticks, coloured and plain pop sticks, raffia, carving tools, coin collection and so on.
We had a maths area too - but all of our mathematical things couldn't fit into one box so we had a shelf dedicated to them. M.A.B. blocks, cuisennaire blocks, tessellating blocks, clock dominoes, number square, peg board, number line, bingo games, Mortensen maths manipulatives, set squares, rulers and calculators, abacus, fraction game, clock - a lot of these things were home made.
The children even had their trays for their folders and work books. Later these changed to upright box files that fitted on the shelf with all the reference and curriculum books.
Every thing was arranged so that the children could easily access anything they needed or wanted without needing much help or direction. Labels featured prominently. But then again, everything in the house was labelled to encourage early reading!
We had two six foot bookshelves totally full of picture books and novels, encyclopedia, dictionaries and reference books. The photograph albums were always handy too. The books have found themselves scattered all over the house now - our home is no longer one crowded room, but rambles over two buildings!
When we got a computer it had its own very well organised corner too. Now we have an office dedicated to three computers, where three people can work very comfortably - once again with everything in easy reach. The only thing that is missing is an automatic coffee maker!
I've found that this very busy, but organised, environment lends itself to encouraging learning activities. To keep the flow of activities happening I simply needed to keep an eye on what materials needed replacing and which new ones were needed to add that extra spark of stimulation. The creation of this learning environment was a deliberate effort, but took years to perfect. I responded as much to the children's needs taken from my close observation of them as I did my own needs.
In all this I haven't mentioned the external environment. Outside play was a huge feature of my children's lives. I made sure the sandpit was huge, with opportunity for really great water play by lining it with plastic before the sand went in! Swings, cubbys, balancing bars and logs, steps, slippery dip, bike track, flower and vegetable gardens - these are a part of our built outside environment. Over the years we've engaged in a lot of tree and shrub growing so we now have our own one acre forest. There's a seldom used underground cubby among those trees now! Not everyone can duplicate this idyllic country existance, but I've seen suburban gardens full of the same kinds of exciting and interesting play opportunities.
Even now, with teenagers, I tend to follow this approach to education. Making sure the materials are there for the kids to use, making sure they have the time they need to explore those materials; making sure either Robin or myself is available to answer questions, demonstrate, watch or just sit and talk about the activities the children engage in.
I learned about the importance of providing a stimulating and rich environment when April was at playgroup, which was held in the local kindergarten. I was very impressed with how the children naturally moved from area to area, often staying and creating or playing for hours. It seemed very sensible to me and I wondered if access to this kind of learning environment was continued throughout childhood how it would affect how children learn.
I am very happy with the results.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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