Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Priorities and the Little Things

One of the best things about home learning is the fact that it is home and family-based. Learning can seamlessly blend into living and you eventually find that they aren't two separate entities.

The downside is that you can get so caught up in the little things that days pass without getting to the big things. For instance, T-Guy can offer to read me a book, but as I mentally check my to-do list I conclude that I don't have time and that it will have to wait. It's easy to say that I shouldn't do that, but sometimes I am stirring a pot, wiping up a spill, or knee-deep in the finances.

We're not total unschoolers, just relaxed learners who do some structured learning within the vast hours of unstructured life. I like the structured stuff - reading stories, drawing pictures, doing arts and crafts, singing seasonal songs, playing math games.... It may sound like school in the minds of most radical unschoolers, but in reality it is more like home-based education was a century ago, and my boys thrive on it.

I struggle though, to make the structured parts a priority. It's easy to fall back on the fact that the boys are learning all of the time, and to let the story go untold that day because we really need to go buy bananas. Or to skip the drawing because I felt inspired to blog or answer an email and the boys are playing outside happily.

It's fine to do that some of the time, to be flexible; that's one great thing about opting out of the traditional idea of schooling. For us it is a problem when it happens day after day, sometimes week after week. Suddenly a month has passed and we haven't practiced reading at all, and I'm not talking about the month where the reading skills are supposed to be in the sleep cycle. No, T-Guy needs to practice reading - it's how we learn. Without practice we can't reach mastery, which is why I can't knit even though I did learn how to 10 years ago. I did it for a week, didn't practice, and forgot it. When I pick it up again I will have to go back to the beginning...the skills didn't hone themselves while I didn't use them.

Often, I write about juggling the various aspects of home life. I think that in the past I have misjudged the order of importance. I ranked cooking and laundry right up there with focused time with the boys, because they are things that have to be done. Only recently have I realized that the focused time is more important. Everything else will get done, I know it, whether it is done by me or not. No one else is going to plan and execute lessons. No one else is going to read through 20 fairy tales to find the 5 that best fit my children. No one else is going to try to draw roosters and foxes and dragons. No one else will put down her handwork to explore dinosaurs, trains, place value, or any of the thousands of other topics the boys bring to me, wanting to know more. Papa, he has to work his 45+ hours each week, and spending this holistic learning time with the boys isn't his calling. He is, however, more than willing to pitch in and do laundry and cook.

I don't want to create this misconception that focused time spent with children is time consuming. It's not; that's why it seems so easy to push it aside here and there with the idea that we'll get to it soon. Sometimes it just takes a bit of creative thinking; this morning we read our nature story snuggled up in bed while Papa showered. We would have snuggled anyway, so adding in the story just took advantage of the time the boys are focused on me while waiting for breakfast.

I don't think of what I do as a job. It's life, it's my life...work and living are not separate things. That doesn't mean that the old managerial me can't assess the situation and assign some priorities. So now I raise the focused learning time with my boys (planned by me or introduced by them) the top spot on my list. I still want to be ultimately flexible and not ensnared in a rigid schedule. I have to figure it out; is organic circle really working or do we need more structure? How do the boys respond when a story lesson it at 9 a.m. one day and 2 p.m. the next? What do they need? They aren't infants any longer, but they still benefit from having someone in their every waking hour who is keep their well-being in her mind at all times.

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