We’re now six weeks into our first year of “official” homeschooling, although I consider the activities we did last year to be homeschooling a preschooler and toddler even though we weren’t reporting to the Ministry of Education. The “are you excited for kindergarten to start?” questions have slowed down, and the “how is homeschooling going?” questions are starting.
To me, it feels like hardly anything in our daily routine has changed. We did not suddenly start doing worksheets and projects at the kitchen table from 9am-3pm once Labour Day went by. But there is a structure and routine to our day that gives a balance and form to the learning we do at home, and I’d been slowly putting that routine in place over the last year. Here’s what homeschooling a kindergartner and toddler looks like at our house.
Play and Exploration
The bulk of my girls’ time is spent in play and free exploration. They’re only 5 and 2, so play is the most important part of their day. They mostly prefer to play imaginative, free-form games of pretend, and will spend hours being baby dogs or lions or princesses and queens. Dressup clothes are scattered everywhere, all the time.
We make a point of getting out of the house at least once every day, either running an errand or going for a walk to check out books at the library and play on the playground. There are always new things to see, wonder about, and explore.
While the girls have a lot of time to spend how they wish, I do ask my kindergartner to do a small amount of sit-down desk work each weekday. For this reason I’d label ourselves more “relaxed homeschoolers” instead of true “unschoolers”. To me, there are some skills that fall into the same category as eating greens, brushing teeth and wearing seatbelts – things we need to do to be strong, healthy and safe. These are the 3R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic.
Every weekday morning I ask Bea to do one math worksheet (from the Math U See Primer book) and one handwriting worksheet (from the Zaner-Bloser Kindergarten book). We read together after lunch every day. It’s as much a part of our daily routine as pajamas and toothbrushing, and the worksheets usually take no more than 20-30 minutes. Claire wants to be a part of everything we do, so most days she sits up at the table too and scribbles in a workbook that Bea’s outgrown.
Learning with Others
The stereotype of homeschoolers being isolated and unsociable is a persistent one, but it’s really not true. We learn and play with friends on a regular basis each week, both in one-on-one situations and a larger class group.
In fact, the opportunities for group play and learning are so many that I sometimes have trouble limiting our social outings, and have said no to some great opportunities just because we’re so booked up. This is the trickiest place to find balance, in my experience.
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Every week I try to have one or two special projects to pull out and do with the girls. This might be something as simple as a session of painting with tempera paints. Or something a little more complicated, like growing crystals in a washing soda solution. If I suggest something and it’s met with a chorus of “No way!” I’ll leave it for another time.
Science, art, history, geography, drama and music are all subjects we approach in an interest-led, unschooly way. If Bea has an idea for a project we’ll try it out, and when I suggest projects I try to build on something we’re already experiencing, like the change of seasons, travel to a new country or an upcoming holiday.
I totally expect our routine and homeschool days to change and evolve as the girls get older, but for now the mix of structure and free-form time works well for us. I draw from an eclectic mix of inspiration, from Reggio Emilia and Waldorf to the Classical education model described in The Well-trained Mind and The Core. It may not work for every family, but it’s working for us right now.