Over the past couple months I have been doing a lot of reading, praying, and searching for God’s direction in our homeschool. About 10 years ago I was introduced to Marilyn Howshall and Lifestyle of Learning through Barb Shelton’s website. It really appealed to me at the time because my oldest daughter was about 2nd grade at the time, feeling very overwhelmed with all the “schoolwork” she had to do, and did not have time to do the things she really enjoyed (piano, drawing, learning about birds).
After a lot of study and prayer, I totally changed how we homeschooled. I took real life and my daughter’s interests and used those to increase her learning skills. For example, she started a bird notebook. In her notebook she would draw birds, copy things out of field guides about the birds, read about birds, etc. I used her interests to develop her reading and writing skills. This was incorporated into our Table Time, which is time at the table to develop the skills of reading, writing, composition, spelling, etc., but done in a much more informal way.
Well, I hate to admit it, but after a few years went by the old fear of “not doing enough” crept in and I fell back into my old ways of doing school at home. I tried to keep some of the concepts I learned, like the read-aloud time, but for the most part I went back to the way I was doing school before. I bought the curriculum, checked off what we did each day “just to get it done” and in the process I could see my kids’ love for learning begin to die.
I am realizing now that I was approaching Lifestyle of Learning all wrong. It is rooted in my relationship with Jesus, my husband, and my children. It is through healthy relationships that a Lifestyle of Learning is lived out. It is not just a “method” to do school, like so many of the other “methods” I have tried (classical, unit study, Charlotte Mason, etc.). It is about life and living in right relationship with Jesus and my family. It is only as I develop these relationships that I get to really know my children and am able to seek the Lord about their needs and the direction for their learning.
Before I move on to talk about Productive Free Time, I should briefly explain the different time blocks in our day (based on what I haved learned from Lifestyle of Learning):
Productive Free Time
Today I want to touch on Productive Free Time. This is a time block during the day that is set aside for my kids to explore their interests through delight-directed projects. Now we still have a long ways to go with making this a reality in our home, but we are working on it :).
The first thing I had to do was really get to know my children. What kinds of things do they like to do? What do they like to play with? What are their interests?
Then I worked on making lists for each of the children with activities and projects that they could do during Productive Free Time. You can have your kids help you make this list too. I should say that this time can be time that the kids do things on their own or with each other. Encourage them to create, explore, etc.
Let me give you some examples so that you can see what I’m talking about. Here are some ideas:
lego creations/lincoln logs/tinker toys, etc.
building or creating anything
This is a short list, but I hope it gives you some ideas so that you can see the possibilities.
I would discourage you from including video games or movies during this block of time though. You may allow an educational movie sometimes, but don’t make it an every day thing. This is a time for your child to enjoy learning and growing. A time to develop his love for learning by being allowed to explore and create to his heart’s content. Older children may choose to continue their Table Time work during Productive Free Time…continuing to work on notebooking projects or reading.
Like I said, this is an area that I am still working on with my kids. I think I have tried to make Productive Free Time too long of a block of time, though. I have scheduled about 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon for this block of time, and I think I need to cut that back a little until my kids are more used to it. I hate to admit it, but sometimes my kids just don’t know what to do during this time. Allowing too many movies in the past I think has hindered them from developing in this area and being able to entertain themselves very well. So…I am learning right along with you. I know it is going to take some time, but I know it will be worth it as I help my kids learn how to learn and help them discover the various gifts and interests that God has given them.