“How do you teach both of your children at the same time?”

Right after I get the socialization question, this is ALWAYS people’s next question.  Usually they ask with a kind of horrified look on their face as they silently motion to my three year old.  My short answer is, Ummm…easily.  That’s never enough though.  Here’s a closer look at what learning looks like in our home with two kids of different ages (5 and 3.5) 

I think before you can begin to picture this you first have to acknowledge and accept that homeschooling looks NOTHING like school.  As a former teacher, this was difficult for me!  I don’t think many homeschoolers are sitting down at the table for 6 hours a day breaking only for lunch and recess.  Also, what took me say, a month, to teach a room full of 1st graders often takes about 5 minutes to teach my one son.

Almost everything happening at home counts as “school.”  We don’t have to wait for math time to “do” math.  We measure and count while making breakfast, lunch or dinner.  We can leave a note on the fridge for dad and learn a new phonogram while we do so.  We can read a new recipe.  We can write a shopping list.  We can count the dirty socks as we throw them in the laundry.  I could go on and on.  But in short, learning is all around us, happening all the time.

Most things we do in our homeschool we do together.  I’ve posted before about our morning basket.  My kids go to forest school and our Wild + Free playgroup together.  Any “field trips” we take, we take together.  I read aloud to them together, except for bedtime.  

I do present lessons to my kids individually.  We use a Montessori approach in our “school work” so I present new materials or teach new concepts to each of my kids.  I do this when the other child is either engaged in independent work or play.  These lessons and presentations are very short but we have also talked a lot about not interrupting and respecting each others work.  They often will watch each other have a lesson but know not to interrupt.  Since the lessons are short, this is not hard even for a very young child. Lillian has surprised me many times by showing me that she has already learned something that I previously presented to Ethan.

Maria Montessori also refers to the prepared environment as the third teacher.  Our home is carefully prepared to support our kid’s states of development.  Our kitchen is completely accessible for the kids to prepare their own snack or cook a meal independently (I obviously supervise them when using a stove, oven, etc).  

Their clothing storage and toy storage is also set up for them to access and take care of independently.  Their learning materials are carefully organized, rotated and presented on shelves in our playroom.  Learning is really seamless this way. They can work independently and uninterrupted by me; free to try, struggle and succeed.

Also, it’s important to note that since Ethan is older, he is a natural teacher for Lillian.  She learns so much just from watching him.  And she is always, always watching.  Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn who has studied the value of mixed age learning and play wrote:

“If we want to capitalize on children’s and adolescents’ natural, playful ways of learning, we must find ways to break down the barriers we have erected to keep young people of different ages apart. Age segregation deprives them not only of fun, but also of the opportunity to use fully their most powerful natural tools for learning.”

Lillian just naturally knows that Ethan is older and that he is a valuable source of information for her.  She knows it’s important for her to pay attention to what he’s doing without me ever having told her to do so.  This is a natural borne drive.  

In short, teaching kids at home of different ages is not only possible, it’s awesome!  They learn independently through their own work and play and also from individual direct lessons from me.

They learn from each other by playing together, watching each other play or work, listening to the same books read aloud by me or Audible or working on a shared project together.

We all learn together when we take field trips together or choose to learn about the same topic (something that happens often).  They are both currently loving learning about rocks and soil.

To the shock and surprise of this former teacher, teaching different aged kids is very natural and organic.

 

 

Local Spotlight:  Tinkergarten

Oh, how I love Tinkergaten.  For those of you who know me in real life, you know I actually can’t.stop.talking.about.it.  I knew it would have to be the first local spotlight on the blog.  Fittingly, it was also the first class my kids and I took when we moved to Brooklyn.  

In NYC classes for babies and toddlers are a big business.  Some families pack their kids days with music, gymnastics, dance, art, sports, etc.  There are so many to choose from without having to walk far from our home at all and there were even more when we lived in Manhattan.  And there is a real social pressure to have your kids enrolled in as many activities as possible.  But, that is the subject for another post!  

I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon Tinkergarten, but it was probably through Google.  What is Tinkergarten, you ask?

From their website, www.tinkergarten.com

“Tinkergarten is on a mission to elevate childhood.  Each class becomes a tight-knit group of children and adults who learn together through well-designed, outdoor, play based activities.  We help kids develop a host of important capabilities including empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence and problem solving.  Our expert-designed classes and activities help kids aged 18 months-8 years develop core life skills while enjoying healthy, fun and engaging experiences in the physical freedom of local green spaces.”

Why do we love it?

Tinkergarten fun

One of my favorite parts of Tinkergarten is that it is fully outside, in all kinds of weather.  We’ve done Tinkergarten on a warm sunny day, a pouring rain day and a snowy day.  It’s been lovely getting to know our “outdoor classroom” in all seasons.  

 

 

We love the mixed age grouping.  Our classes have been for kids aged 0-8.  It’s a truly beautiful thing to watch the older kids and younger kids work and play together.  Also, if you are a homeschooler in NYC, these classes are a great place for kids age 3.5 and up who often “age out” of daytime class offerings when everyone else goes to UPK.

Tinkergarten classes are designed so everyone can participate in a way that works for them.  From babies, to older kids who might find their own exploring more interesting than the teacher’s planned lesson, everyone feels welcome, included and happy.  My daughter took her first class as an 11 month old.  I thought she’d just be tagging along with her older brother but she got right in there and joined in on everything!  At a recent class, the kids found a huge tree branch that had fallen off a tree.  Instead of eating snack on the class tarp as we usually do, our teacher encouraged the class to stay in the tree and eat their snack there!

IMG_8856
11 month old Lillian at Tinkergarten

 

We love the Tinkergarten teachers!  We’ve taken classes with 3 different teachers and they have all been truly wonderful.  This is not something I have experienced with many other kid’s classes – that you love ALL of the teachers you’ve met.

These classes are truly developmentally appropriate.  I once ran screaming from a kid’s music class that involved an electric guitar plugged into an amp, a disco ball AND bubbles.  Cue the extreme overstimulation from sensory overload.  Tinkergarten is just what kids need – peaceful time in nature, sensory and play based experiences led by a loving teacher.  In my opinion, it doesn’t get any better.

Each week you get a follow-up email with photos and information detailing the skills (empathy, perseverance, etc.) the kids worked on in the previous session.

Often part of the class includes the teacher reading a book out loud.  Every book we’ve read has been great!  It’s a source of inspiration of books for us to read in our own home.

To be honest, Tinkergarten has changed, fundamentally, the way we play as a family and the way we structure our homeschool.  It has almost, in a sense, given me permission to play outside, get messy and get out there in all kinds of weather with my kids.  I never would have been led down the path to forest schooling without Tinkergarten.  

Tinkergaraten mud
messy play

So, thank you, Tinkergarten!

Do you have a Tinkergarten near you?  Have you tried one?  I’m curious if anyone is as Tinkergarten crazy as I am.  Let me know in the comments!

Choosing a Homeschool Philosophy

Classical, Waldorf, Montessori, Unschooling, how does a family choose?  Today I want to share about how we chose a homeschooling philosophy.  Or better yet, how we blended several together to design our own.  

My very first glimpse into the homeschool world was a blog I stumbled across while teaching called, Chasing Cheerios.  Does anyone else remember that one?  I remember being enamored with the sweet toddler activities she did with her daughters and followed along as that blossomed into full-blown homeschooling.  Even then I had a thought I still wrestle with now, “Isn’t that great for them?  It looks so lovely.  I’d like to do that too but instead I’ll just read this blog.”  This is a thought that often plagues me!  I’m tackling that kind of thinking head on by starting this blog!  

Anyway, back to choosing a homeschool philosophy… 

Once I jumped the hurdle to decide we were actually going to homeschool, it was time to decide how.  With our homeschool mission in mind, I began doing my philosophy research.  

Our homeschool mission is to raise children capable of and comfortable with independent thinking, who develop a deep appreciation for and a love of life and who eagerly celebrate their successes and failures as they chase their dreams.

My first reading centered on Maria Montessori and her pedagogy.  I pretty much instantly fell in love.  Check the booklist section of the blog for a list of some Montessori books I read that were inspirational.  In short, the Montessori philosophy is about following the child. Montessori herself did not believe that she created the “Montessori Method” but instead that she closely observed children and merely gave back to them what they showed her they needed.  

Montessori valued the whole child and viewed him or her as an independent person, deserving of the utmost respect. Parents or teachers (called guides) closely observe their children to see when they are ready for certain lessons or activities.  Children move through predictable “planes of development” and lessons are introduced accordingly.  Children are free to chose their own “work” within limits and are engaged in, what is called, a three hour work cycle.  Work is self-selected from the curriculum areas of practical life, sensorial, language, math and culture.  

Children receive lessons on how to use new materials, are expected to use them appropriately and when ready, clean up after themselves.  The materials are very hands-on and the learning concepts are very concrete. By observing the child at work, and without breaking their concentration, the homeschooling mom or teacher can decide if that child has mastered a concept, needs a new lesson or may in fact not be ready for that type of work.  

Often, when people see #montessori, they see what looks like children doing chores.  Maria Montessori believed that children were very much interested in learning about their environment and fully participating within it.  In the Montessori home or classroom, children happily work on practical life skills, like cooking, cleaning and sewing, using tools specifically made for people their size.  This not only helps the child feel they are a valuable, participating member of their family or classroom, but lays the foundation for fine motor, gross motor and even future reading, writing and math skills.  

As we’ve continued on our journey I’ve learned about other methods which I knew I wanted to incorporate in some way into our homeschool.  

From the Waldorf method we have adapted the concept of rhythms in the home.  Rather than a strict schedule, Waldorf families have rhythm or a gentle flow to the day making plenty of time for family connection and time spent outdoors.  

I previously mentioned our commitment to Forest School in my last post.  Please check it out for more information as I believe it’s one of the most important parts of our homeschool at the moment.

Forest School - Ethan

From my very limited reading about Charlotte Mason, we have adopted the concept of a morning basket or morning time.  This is one of our most cherished parts of the day.  Very simply, I keep a basket of high quality poems, children’s books, phonics and math activities next to our table.  I also keep a playlist of songs we are learning or enjoying listening to on my phone, using Spotify.  We work our way through the morning basket while we eat breakfast.   

Additionally, we have taken the concept of nature journaling from the Charlotte Mason method.  Keeping a nature journal is another cherished part of our week.  We enjoy collecting nature items from outside and bringing them home to study and sketch.  We have also sketched and painted animals we have decided to learn about (for example reindeers during the month of December). 

From the Classical style of education we highly value the 3 R’s – reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.  We currently work on these subjects the Montessori way, but they are definitely an important aspect to our homeschool.  In our quest to raise independent thinkers, I believe reading the great books will be an important part of our homeschool as our kids get older.

When I first heard of Unschooling I was immediately turned off by the term.  That’s not for “us”, I thought.  However as I learn more about it, I realize it both resonates with me and I want to experiment more with it.  I believe free time for children is important so they can focus on what interests them and develop their individual passions.  

Nutcracker
The kids spent a large part of December acting out the Nutcracker

After reading Peter Gray’s, Free to Learn, I came across the concept of Self-Directed Learning.  I also had the privilege to hear him speak at an alternative education conference (AERO) here in New York last summer.  He was very inspiring and I now ensure my children have the opportunity for lots of self-directed learning at home.  They are free to follow their interests and I try to guide them along the way or find a way to supply materials to meet their needs.  This is most evident in my son’s love of sharks and the many, many, many projects he’s undertaken to learn more about his favorite animal. 

I’ve found that many of these method overlap and intertwine in so many ways.  Here are some quotes from the creators of these philosophies which I think illustrate their interconnectedness and highlight our homeschool emphasis of the importance of play for young children, time spent outdoors and self-directed learning within limits.  

“To aid life, leaving it free, however, that is the basic task of the educator.”  Maria Montessori

“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and when the grass of the meadows is wet with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath it’s shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning.”  Maria Montessori

“There is no education but self-education.”  Charlotte Mason

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”  Charlotte Mason

“We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, deprive them of the freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.”  Peter Gray, Free to Learn

Through careful research, we’ve been able to pick and choose what works for us.  In a future post I’ll share more specifically about how our days, weeks and months look.  

I hope you can see that all homeschools are quite unique, from pre-existing philosophies, to a blended approach like ours, to an “open and go” boxed curriculum which maps out a daily homeschool schedule and lessons for you. 

How about you?  What type of homeschool do you have?  Are you a purist – with only one philosophy?  Have you blended like us?  Do you use a boxed curriculum? 

Did you choose a philosophy before you began homeschooling or develop one along the way?

I’d love to hear about your homeschool in the comments!  

Why We Chose a Forest School to Compliment our Homeschool

While reading How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott D. Sampson, I came to learn about the concept of a “forest school.”  What is a forest school?  Forest schools are schools that operate entirely or almost entirely outdoors, year round, no matter the weather, and kids spend the majority of their time there playing.  According to Sampson, forest schools, also known as forest kindergartens or nature preschools, have existed in Europe for many years but have been popping up more and more now in North America too.

As a family that greatly values time spent in nature in all kinds of weather, as well as a mom who recognizes the importance and beauty of mixed-age play, I thought a program like this would be a great fit for us.  Of course, I thought we would have to move to Vermont or Portland, OR to find one.  To my surprise and delight there are forest schools right here in Brooklyn!  If there is a forest school right here in the concrete jungle, chances are there is one by you too.  If not, and you are feeling entrepreneurial, what a market opportunity!  

My children, who have never been to traditional school before, love their forest school.  They love their teachers and I love hearing about their day when they get home.  Often it involves battle re-enactments, stick swords and for my daughter, mud.  They love singing while they are there and eating snack with their friends.  They are so happy when I pick them up and so tired when we get home!  Our house is always so peaceful the afternoon after forest school and bedtime is so quick!    

What forest school is not, is cheap.  I realize it is a luxury to be able to send our kids there even just one day a week on a single income.  We’ve rearranged our budget to prioritize it; it’s that important to us.  

Yes, I could take them to play outside and it would be free.  But, the drop-off component appeals to us – our children having this type of experience away from mom and dad.  Also, as much as I love getting out there in all kinds of weather, it’s very easy to stay inside if it’s cold and rainy or windy and snowy.  But, if I’m paying for it and my kids are looking forward to it – it ensures they are out there!  It also ensures other kids will be out there with them.  I’ve brought my kids to the park many, many times when we have been the only people there!  So this program checks a box in the socialization department too.  

Also, for city kids without a private yard, a forest school program ensures they have a connection to nature on a consistent basis.  Suburban and rural parents have the luxury of opening their back door to send their kids outside.  We do not.  Aside from forest school, if I want my kids to play outside, I have to walk them to the park and be outside with them.  Again, this is something I do, often.  But it’s nice for them to get to play outside without me sometimes too.  It’s also nice for me to have a little break without the kids once a week.  I cherish our time together but I also know having time to myself is essential for my mental health and overall well-being.  

A further bonus to forest school is that, according Sampson, “studies show that kids in these schools experience fewer accidents and are more adept at assessing risk.  They also tend to rate well above average academically, including in reading and in math and their teachers find them to be more curious and motivated.” 

For more information about forest schools, check out the booklist in the Booklists section of the blog.  There is a forest school section on the Inspirational Homeschool Reads list.  If you’re looking for a great, in-depth look at forest schooling check out the title, Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens:  The Handbook for Outdoor Learning by David Sobel.  If you’re looking to find out more about how beneficial time spent in nature is, particularly for young children, check out Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom; it is one of my all-time favorite books on the topic of kids in nature.

Do you have a forest school near you?  Had you heard of this type of school before?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.  

P.S. Yes, for any other PBS Kids Dinosaur Train lovers, Scott D. Sampson is, in fact, Dr. Scott!

Below are some affiliate links to the books referenced above.