As I wrote a while back, we have introduced some structured “sit-down” time into our homeschooling. I do what we call Project Time with each child separately. They do 15 minutes of an activity of my choosing and I give them 30 minutes of my time to do any activity they want. They can also earn extra time with me by spending extra time on my chosen activity. It’s not only going well (as in, the kids are not putting up a fight about it) but I’m having a good deal of fun, too.
We started with Dreambox Learning, an online math curriculum that is particularly appealing to visual learners like my kids. I sit and watch but I don’t offer them assistance in solving the problems. The program keeps track of their progress and struggles to adapt the program to them, so even mistakes are important. In some sections there is a “Too Hard” button the kids can choose if they are confused and the system will take them back to the previous steps. I love this program! I love how it tailors itself to each individual child, how it breaks math down into many different skills and allows students to progress in each skill at their own pace – if a kid excels at, say, place numbers, they can jump ahead to more complex problems while at the same time working extra on, say, negative numbers if need be.
Miss Em had some big gaps in her math learning so I started her off right at the beginning. That’s another good thing about Dreambox, you can set your child’s grade level to whatever you want. Because of the continuous feedback system, she has been able to take big leaps ahead on those topics she already grasped, while working in detail on those she didn’t. In this way she has completed almost two grade levels now, even though we haven’t spent as much time on it weekly as I would like. Mr. Boo is also progressing nicely.
I really enjoy watching them play, because you can practically see the learning take place. I love it when they grasp a concept and you can see how they put it all together. Often it is in a very different way than I would approach a problem, which I find equally exciting. Now, to be honest, my kids really don’t like having to “do math”. The idea of being made to learn something they aren’t interested in learning is pretty new to them, and while they do it, they do so begrudgingly. Still, it is one of those things where, when you catch them unawares, you sometimes see a smile! They deny they are enjoying themselves, of course!
With the math program going well my next goal was to do some science work with Miss Em. She has loved science since I can remember, and I suppose it is no surprise given I am a scientist by training (I have a PhD and worked in medical research prior to having children) and her father is an engineer. I’ve been wanting to teach her about the scientific method, how to design and carry out experiments, how to ask the right questions, etc. as part of a general exploration of scientific subjects of interest to her (she loves the natural sciences, for example).
After doing a bit of research I purchased a subscription to Explore Learning’s Gizmos. These are wonderful tools for exploring subjects in either Science or Math. Miss Em and I did a session together last week where she learned about genetic inheritance. Here is a link to the post that describes our breeding experiment with some cute space aliens! She really enjoyed herself, so much so that she said she is looking forward to doing it again. I had so much fun working with her that I’m looking forward to it as well!
I also got a subscription to the Young Scientists’ Club, which mails out a complete experiment kit to our home each month. Our first kit will be Minerals, where we’ll get to identify mineral samples using tests of hardness, acid reaction, etc. Miss Em really likes this area of geology so we are both excited about getting our kit and doing some real life experiments! The great thing about this systems is I don’t have to be responsible for planning the experiments, finding all the materials, etc. It all comes in one kit – awesome!
When the kids have finished doing their 15 minutes (or more, if they choose) they get to pick something to do with me. At first their choice of activities varied, but for the last month or so I’ve been playing Minecraft with them (if you have never heard of this game you simply must check it out – very creative and extremely popular among school-aged kids). While Mr. Boo tends to wander around trying different worlds and maps, Miss Em is more focussed. We use the same world each time where we’ve created a comfy home and are currently exploring a Stronghold filled with all kinds of neat minerals and ores. While I’ve been watching them play this game for well over a year and am familiar with it, playing it myself allows me to understand on a deeper level. Both kids seem to appreciate sharing this part of their world with me as they are big into Minecraft!
My only real problem is carving out enough time to do Project Time with each child more than two or three times a week. I’m not sure my son is ready for that yet, but my daughter certainly is. And he will be eventually. By mid-afternoon everybody is tired so it has to be done in the mornings. I’ve asked my husband to do a bout of project time with each kid when he’s home on the weekends, and he is keen to do so. It is my hope that, as the children get older and are able to focus for longer periods of time, we can extend Project Time and also start covering more subjects each week. Meanwhile I’m having a lot of fun being a homeschooling Mum.