As a child I had no problem with school. I was bright and did what I was told. After having my children and seeing how bright and eager to learn they were, I assumed they would be like me when it came to school. They’re not. Not much anyway.
Week after week there are struggles – with the children, with the teachers, with the system. The German school system expects a lot in a short space of time. Primary school spans only four years. The easing in that goes on in junior and senior infants in Ireland doesn’t happen. From day one it seems as if the children are cramming for a test. More and more I envy people who have the option to home school their children. We don’t have that possibility here in Germany.
Even before they came to school age, we encouraged learning through play, through exploring in nature and through being a bi-lingual family. For a while, after it became clear that the issues the children had with school weren’t settling in problems, I was down about the whole thing. Why weren’t my inquisitive, smart children excelling in school? Was I so wrong in what I believed them capable of?
I felt like school was pushing all the happiness out of them. Different as the boys are, school isn’t what you’d call a pleasure for either of them. For a daydreamer and a chatterbox the traditional classroom set up isn’t ideal. Then one day it hit me. Why not home school after school?
Home Schooling As Well As Regular School?
Instead of bemoaning the fact that school wasn’t teaching in a way that allowed my children to have fun learning, I decided to facilitate fun education at home. To help keep my children’s natural curiosity and eagerness to experiment alive I’ve been trying to create a home school feel to our home.
Rather than have a specific learning area, we have educational material all round the house and garden. At home in the afternoons I like to keep things simple and let the children play what they want to play. TV isn’t usually allowed in the afternoon and they don’t have smart devices of their own, so playing will generally mean Lego, role play or games in the garden but often we’ll bake or do crafts.
When questions and topics come up in chats, I try to encourage the children to investigate them. Sometimes they’ll be all on for a discussion or working an issue out for themselves, other times they just want to ask Google. Seeing them light up at a discovery they have made or listening to them explain their theories (or a hypothesis – thanks Dinosaur Train!) never fails to make me proud of them and their fantastic brains.
Things that I have found work well for us in terms of facilitating learning at home include:
Having the answer within easy reach
The walls of our kitchen and playroom are covered in maps. Questions about distance, direction, countries, oceans and more can be investigated by using the maps, sometimes by the children alone, sometimes with guidance.
The bookshelves in the livingroom, playroom and kitchen contain, among the picture books and fiction classics old and new, nature guides, myths and sagas, fact books and cookbooks. I’m not just talking children’s books here either. Our Oxford Companion to Food and a school history book from 1900 have been used a lot lately by the boys.
Having learning material on a range of subjects within reach is of huge benefit. Rather than replying to a question with “I don’t know” I’ve switched to saying “Let’s look that up” and guide the children to where they might find the answer. There’s no need to go searching for that book you think you have somewhere or taking out your phone to ask Google. If everything you might need is on the shelf or wall beside you, looking things up is made very easy.
Combining function with learning
Our kitchen clock has a bird or animal at each of the 12 numbers. While its primary purpose is to show the time, the clock makes telling time fun for the children. The toddler can spot and name the animals. We’ve even been able to use it for help with understanding fractions.
The chalkboard wall in the kitchen is a great resource to have too. I can make notes for myself on the top half and leave the bottom half free for the boys to write, draw, practice maths or play noughts and crosses. There’s no pressure to use it but if the boys want it, it is there.
In most of what we do together as a family, we try to highlight what there is to learn, but subtly. Naming the trees we walk past when we walk the dog. Getting the boys to measure sugar, butter and flour for baking buns. Observing how seeds turn into plants by sowing cress seeds on the kitchen windowsill. Looking to see if our shadow is falling in behind us or in front of us when we are outdoors.
Giving my children the chance to learn the way that suits them has made me feel a lot better about their performance at school. I know now what they are capable of. I know now what interests them and how that helps them concentrate. I know now that they can focus, reflect, deduce and interpret. I know now they’ll be ok.