JC’s January: New Year, New Pattern and New Things to Learn

We started pre-k “home school” in August this year. I say it like that for a couple of reasons. One, I think kids of all ages–but especially young kids like JC–learn best by playing and exploring. Two, I wanted to take the years before I have to start reporting to the state to really hone in on JC’s learning style and what works for us as a family…knowing that what works right now may not work down the road. What is working for us right now is Project Based Homeschooling. It allows kids to immerse themselves in what they love doing, and through that, learn the important skills they need. I think it’s a really happy medium between unschooling and a more traditional schedule. Before you write me off as being totally granola-crunchy, let me give you a couple examples of how it’s working for us right now.

JC is really into costumes and imaginative play right now. He got a handful of costumes for Christmas, so we’re doing a lot of dress up. In the past week or so, he’s been a pirate, reading treasure maps left over from a Disney trip, made his own map, and experimenting with a compass; a doctor, giving his animals check-ups and creating his own “big book of boo-boos” a la Doc McStuffins; and a train engineer, building tracks and bridges and combining his many sets. Out of that imaginative play, I got plenty of educational opportunities: we talked about the four directions and what direction our favorite places were from our home, he drew pictures and wrote in his doctor book, and he got a good exercise in problem solving skills (and patience) while trying to figure out how to build a bridge big and sturdy enough to go over his tracks. And all this happened on a non “school” day.

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There be treasure close by…

I guess that’s what I really love about project-based learning at this age–it all happens naturally. It reminds me of the first rule of improv I learned in theater 101: “Yes, and…?” When he makes a suggestion, I get to say, “great! Where can this go?” instead of “sorry, no time now. We have to sit down and learn.” Of course, there are some potential pitfalls. Because this way of learning is so child-driven, it requires a flexible schedule. JC, since day one, has never taken to any of the schedules I’ve tried to put him on…and I personally thrive on a schedule. So one of our January goals is to replace the word “schedule” with “routine” and find a daily pattern. Here is how I’m shaping our days right now.

Mornings are a combination of…

  • Independent play. JC is pretty good about playing on his own, and I often leave “invitations to play” on his kid-sized table: puzzles, a coloring/activity book, a simple construction project, etc. This is one way I’ve found to guide him in how and what he’s learning.
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Some mornings, we do our thing side by side. Work and play, anyone?

  • Errands. Is it just me or does everyone go to Target as much as I do?
  • Play dates/outdoor time/adventure time. We try to get outside at least once a day and do local activities like the zoo or aquarium.

Lunchtime…is often a struggle. JC likes to lunch late in the day, which can throw off dinner and then the evening. I’m trying to find the right breakfast time and combination of morning snacks to get him lunching at a reasonable hour. Our afternoons include…

  • One-on-one time. We left the afternoon nap in the dust long ago, but afternoons are still JC’s needy time. I try to make this time electronic free (unless we’re working specifically on a project/topic that requires it) and we read books, play together, or do an art project.
  • Screen time. JC gets an hour of screen time in the afternoon while I write. Right now it’s two episodes of Curious George.
  • Getting the wiggles out. Usually in the late afternoon we have a dance party or JC rides his trike for a couple loops around to get out the afternoon crazies.

One day a week we have a “field trip day”…we spend the day at a train museum, a park we don’t visit often, or take a day trip somewhere. I try to plan something related to what he’s learning about, but sometimes it’s just an extra long trip to explore a new playground and have a picnic. The best part about it is that even though there’s no “school” time set right now, he is still getting the “reading, writing and arithmetic”. As with all kids, some days are better than others. Most days, it works really well. Some days, it works so well it’s like magic. And of course, there are always days when I want to pull my hair out.

Although we’re using a very child-driven program, JC still needs to be guided. This month, these are the 3 things I hope to expose him to:

  • Introduction of chapter books: I’m really excited to start included simple chapter books into our nighttime reading together. Some of the ones I’m considering starting with are Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, and the Paddington stories by Michael Bond.
  • Nature in the winter: we live far enough south that it isn’t unbearable for us to be outside playing (most days). I would like to help him discover some of the unique things about nature in winter: why animals hibernate, what animals are still around and active and how they eat/survive, and how the animals and plants adapt to the cold weather.
  • Introduction of a chore chart/system. I’m still not really sure how we’re going to approach this and what the reward will be (coins for the piggy bank, extra iPad game time, etc) but I know it’s time for something.

What is your little one up to this month?

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