Oct 17, 2011

Homeschool is where the heart is

You show me yours...
I love the chance to peek into other family's homeschool spaces - don't you?
Early on our home education planning, I searched high and low for ideas of how to organise our curriculum, art materials, independent work, task lists.

Now at last I'll show you mine...
An ever evolving system, here is our homeschool organisation in its current form - what works for us right now. In the 2 and a half years we have been doing this, we have gone from camped on the end of the dining room table to - drumroll - a real live dedicated learning space.

From table space to own space
Those years on the table worked for us because with younger children needing more attention I could cook or clean the kitchen or put a load of washing on while answering questions or sorting out squabbles. They also needed their own play space down the end of the house. 

But little girls grow up - less education supervision and less messy play inside the house.

In this post I'll show the physical tools that help the Mansted family Project's Hungry Heads Homeschool run smoothly (mostly)...and the next post will cover the day-to-day workings (to save us from the "what in the world are we going to work on today?" dramas).

Here goes...

Workboxes have become curriculum subject boxes
We tried the workbox system, with tags to be collected to show work completed. It didn't really work for us.

I realised that as a family we tend to work by subject areas: "let's do science now" or "time for some philosophy". With 2 kids working different levels I found it easier to have both working that same subject area at the same time - sharing tools, materials, manipulatives even when using different texts or source books rather than the traditional workbox system where the child independently works through their tasks for the day.

Physically, each curriculum area (in no particular order: Science, Maths, Literacy, Music, History, Geography, Art, French, Handwriting and spelling, and Philosophy) has its own box - and I just pull it out and put it on the table before starting the subject. Inside the box are textbooks, any fun stuff like games, magazines, puzzles, torn out magazine articles or web printouts, even library books on the topic (though I have a particular place for library books - see the Reading Room). 

As well, I have both girls' notebooks in a 2 ring binder sitting with the curriculum box. As these writing books are filled up, they are filed high above the library book shelves in the reading room. There they will wait until homeschool registration time as proof of completed work.

Having the subject boxes means it is all there ready to go - either parent can teach it, and kids know where to look to find material for that subject at other non-teaching times. 

Half of the curriculum boxes sit on open shelves in the main area, the larger ones tucked away in a lovely 1930s dresser or in open wooden boxes with castors under my desk. I think education areas should be as beautiful as you can manage!

Too much to fit in the box? Easy - just break it up into 2 boxes as we have done with the hands on maths manipulatives and maths subject box.

Science also has 2 boxes - the second is a big timber box on wheels in the hallway - replete with the next round of experiments, kits and projects ready to dive into. I am always looking for new treasures to replace those kits we've used - the new ones just wait in the bookshelves until we are at the right curriculum point or age to use them and into the box they go. Science is not a "school time only" activity, and this treasure box encourages the "Mum, I really want to do this kit today" request.

Maths takes two
Maths is the only subject where both parents are involved, one child each, as we tend to move quickly through concepts and don't generally need much repetition.

Currently, we start with 5 minutes of independent math worksheet/revision while Mike and I gather thoughts and bits for the following 30 minutes of intensive teaching. For example, July and Mike might work through a Maths Tracks unit on place value (concepts, using manipulatives, workbook examples, games, extension of concept, problem solving) while November and I do a chapter from Life of Fred Fractions.

Books, books, and more books
Within the main education space are the reference books - the usual specialist and general dictionaries and thesaurus, History Encyclopedia, Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, plus assorted frog, mammal, sea life, and reptile guides, as well as the slightly unusual (yet essential for us visual spatial people) references - Short History of the World, The Way Things Work and The Way We Work (both by David Macaulay) and the wonderfully timelined Art: The Whole Story.

We love to read, we love our local library, and a bonus of being a home educating family is justifying more, more, more books we need to read!

We needed a reading room

This continual book accumulation was actually becoming stressful...until the tiny spare bedroom/office was transformed into the "reading room". This is the place for curling up with a newly borrowed book from the library (all factual library books shelved together, and fiction sprawled across the top in hopefully intriguing piles), or digging out an old favourite. We run a record book for each girl to note read books to help with homeschool registration records.

There is also the "return to library" box on wheels complete with book bags ready for the quick stash and dash to the library (shown to the right in the photo below). Oh - and I keep track of return dates on our synced iCal (computer based Apple Mac calendar) so I remember to renew books online or return them.

Using the Address Book application I also note books or topic areas I want to borrow or research from the library - this is also a synced app that shows up on our iPhones, iPad, and computer. I kept losing my lists and paper notes so this automatically updated electronic system works well!

Classic books
Our own classic book collection also waits shelved in the Reading Room in chronological order for its chance to feature in nightly "read alouds".

As lovers of chronology, we have set-up our timeline here too. 

Tags with drawings or photos of favourite books we have read are added here, as well as any historical events studied. The main timeline is on string around 3 sides of the room, with pegs marking off 100 years at a time between 5000 BCE and 2100 CE (nothing if not optimistic!). Shown below is a double scaled human evolution timeline from "Our Amazing Ancestors Science Kit" which helps with context.

More books and games and kits too
Just outside the reading room, the hallway bookshelves hold specialty art and design books (previous life) readily accessible by the girls, as well as more adult "life on the farm" style information tomes. As a visual person, I need these reminders of the books we already have...

Beneath these books are the activity boxes - science kits, Lego kits and free range, Capsela, you get the idea.

In between - the games. Lots and lots of games.

Main homeschool space
We recently graduated from the dining room table down the hall to the room previously known as "the end room" which in our ten years residence has never worked. Too big for the usual size furniture to fit, lacking wall space and without storage, this room has always been plain odd.

While discussing the options for building a real shed for Mike, thoughts strangely turned to moving the whole house around and reclaiming the dining table as - gasp - a place to eat and hang out without mounds of educational material piling up! So, typically impulsive, the shed was yet again put in the too-hard basket and for two days the house was up-ended.

Desks were removed from the girls' bedrooms as we reasoned that it made sense for the girls to have their own desks side by side in the newly appointed homeschool room where unfinished work could be left rather than piled up for eating meals. Science experiments could continue to fester, crafty penguin families be left to multiply...

And I got my own desk. Phew. We used all of our existing furniture, some dates back to single life (that is old!) and my only purchase was a new tape dispenser! 

Donating toys to second hand shops and friends, and severely editing toys to keep meant they now fit stored out of sight in the dining room. FlyLady would be proud.

Mike moved all the audio and computer spaghetti around again (high-tech hero), and moved the magnetic stainless steel strips above November's desk. We use these to hang and display work, awards, crazy drawings, spelling lists, you name it.

Shown here in close up...

Creating spaces
Across the room from our desks, curriculum boxes, and computers is the right-brain part of the operation - art, craft, sewing, beading, piano, guitars and all the other homeschool materials that can't fit anywhere else in the house.

I like to have all the materials accessible, so after lunch when formal education stuff is done for the day the girls can help themselves to draw, sew, craft, create.

I try (hehe) to keep the art desk clear and ready to go for those spontaneous moments...except for the germinating vege seedlings, obviously.

There is a small table next to the art table for puzzles and games, and the piano, naturally.

Thanks for dropping in! 

How has your homeschool changed over time? What is your favourite piece of homeschool equipment? Oooh, there is definitely a post in that : )


Kylie said...

wow, what a great space......love it!

Erin said...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it!!! pinning now for future ideas.

Tracey Mansted said...

Thank you Kylie and Erin!
A few months in to using our hs room it is still working really well : ) thank goodness - can't imagine what Mike would say if we needed to move the house around again!

Ingi Mc said...

Oh wow...I'm just a tiny bit jealous (that you are soooo organised) and a bit inspired - could I possibly turn our rumpus into an area that gets used??? I love it!

Tracey Mansted said...

Oh yes you could!
Our end room was the impossible space - a big mess magnet (and by Friday afternoon it has often succumbed to that a little these days) - but its new lease of life has fixed that!

Ingi Mc said...

Well, now you've done it, Tracey!! I spent most of this afternoon moving, dusting, chucking and rearranging!! Hubby is very happy at the prospect of reclaiming the dining room :-)

Progress photos and blog post to follow! I hope it inspires us to use some of the massive amount of stuff we have!

Tracey Mansted said...

Very excited over here - can't wait to see!
Almost as good as re-arranging myself (without the exhaustion : )
YAY for room moves and dining rooms where you can eat!

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