Parent Tip & Enrichment - 2020 April
From Founder & Principal Mimosa Jones Tunney
At TSH I want to be able to give you every opportunity and all the armaments (besides screens) to engage your children in learning. There is a big difference between school, education and learning. School is a place, education is their collective knowledge (they will have a ton of it), learning is what they (and we) do every day. It is innate. It cannot be curtailed by the Coronavirus or anything else.
Yet, there are struggles out there.
I have my struggles too. And I wanted to share with you some of the things that have helped us through these last three weeks. I hope they’re helpful. I hope you take what you need and leave the rest. I hope above all that you know that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it in the company of your child… and they are better for this time with you.
The Brass Tacks from the Tunney Home:
I realized early on that the way we start our week determines our overall happiness and success. Not that I can’t just start over mid-week, but being prepared upfront was and is key to successful Home Learning in our house.
1. Sunday evenings:
I fill in a week’s worth of materials in their binders and I lay out certain things on our table. When they come down in the morning, they see things that are entirely new to them. Remember, children are natural learners so they will be curious as to what’s in front of them. I try to surprise them with something that’s a little different each morning - pastels left on the table, or rocks or flowers. I also have a lot of paper stapled into little booklets. I'll tell you more about these in a bit. The materials that are not on the table are in a basket nearby so we know where everything is. I leave a map out, a dictionary, colored pencils and their nature journals - you never know where the day is going to take us! On Sunday, I also think about what gets me excited.
What gets me excited is important because anything I love can be tied into anything else. I love the Industrial Revolution, but I also love Hawaii, Africa, birds and Beethoven. Big John loves building, math and cooking. I introduce my passions to my children because nothing is going to come across better than what I’m excited about... In that subject, I then work to find the numbers, the writing, the reading, the science and the geography.
For Hawaii for instance: who discovered it and why (research, reading and writing), how far is it from everything else (math), what time is it there (math), what species live there (science and nature), etc. etc.
As I continue to discover what I love most, we hang these topics up so the boys can come in and read them each week. Also, I recommend hanging a timeline of all things on earth from beginning to end. Knowing when things have happened in the big scheme of things is important, so we list them on our wall. As we study things, I ask them to enter their discoveries into the timeline. It’s very fun and they are always astounded by where they are in time.
On Monday morning, I ask them to take out that paper book I mentioned (just any kind of paper, folded over and stapled like a book - we use these for journals, research topics and even spelling and math because they are small in size like them and easy to organize). I ask them to draw on the cover of this — their Home Learning Plan. I then give the boys the options laid out by Ms. Carissa and Ms. Debbie. Every week has to include spelling and math and reading and writing, science, history and geography - what they write about, what they read, where they spell and how they do math is up to them. They also add the things they’d like to do like learning about tractors (this tied in beautifully to the Industrial Revolution), art (nest making went into a whole math lesson on fractions), making cheese, etc.
Once they make their own learning booklet, my boys know what is ahead of them in the following days. We do put our uniforms on in the morning and we say the Pledge for consistency. My boys are far less motivated if they are in their pajamas (aren’t we all!)
Then, I ask them what they’d like to do from their booklet first and ask them to choose what they’ll do after. From there, things go pretty smoothy. They know what is expected and according to our morning schedule they know they’ll have a set amount of time to do their work (they even keep me to this now!) The mornings however have also gone in wild directions.
We did a mock Spelling Bee.
We did our adjectives, nouns and verbs by cutting up little pieces of paper and sticking them everywhere (mostly on themselves). I then challenged them to make a story out of just those words. This activity took upwards of two hours with minimal involvement from their mother/educator!
We did Signs of Spring but with a twist. I gave them their very own journal for this. It was a “fancy” one I dug up from the basement. When we went out to discover nature I asked them to journal like Darwin did:
Draw the thing as a big picture and describe what you see - including shape, color and measurements (we took a ruler with us and I’ll admit dressed up a little like explorers). Then, I suggested they draw the bud or bug or grass blade up close. Pay attention to the ridges and tips. For instance, when we looked around our yard, we found tons of little dirt pebbles that look like scat… but it’s actually the earthworms. They dredge up perfect little balls each year before they go down deeper to stay cool in the summer! We found this out because after our nature walk, we committed to finding out what is in our yard - one thing at a time. By the way, this is very hard. I’m a native to Hawaii but not the Northeast and to describe and research and pin down what different trees and scrubs are is a great research project! Cutting the wood and pre-drilling screws helps with motor skills.
John has (what seems like) millions of washers and screws and mini-things in our garage… perfect for math without the Montessori materials. He leaves things like this on the table each morning with a math sheet. They use the bits to calculate their own math problems and this is especially great because understanding - really understanding - quantity matters. You can’t get this from just a worksheet (although you can get repetition).
Other projects that worked well: Letting them type up and post mini-reports on their findings; creating a mini-biome for Nancy a spider they found; producing plays about their discoveries which required a great deal of writing and comprehension.
3. We set some basic rules.
— I always introduce something with excitement and without paper. Paper makes my boys suspicious. Once they are excited they run for the paper!
— I always set out the Rules of Engagement. We’re going to have a lot of fun doing Home Learning and here’s how we’ll keep it fun. One of my rules is that they have to put their hand on my shoulder if they have a question and I’m speaking to the other. For some reason I cannot speak to both of my children at the same time (although I can speak to five of yours at the same time)...
— If something isn’t working I do one of two things: I leave it until the next week OR I move it to a different place or format. Math can be outside; spelling can be on the shower steamed glass.
— I give them a word each week to get through the hard stuff. This past week it was Perseverance. This was easily tied into the Industrial Revolution because many of those inventors had that in droves, but it also helped to get them through things they didn’t feel like doing. Tomorrow it will be Commitment because they left some things half-done this past week.
— For the little ones, I still remember putting a ton of relevant learning things in a different box each morning and just setting that on the floor - things that could be sorted, matched, numbered, given a name with scraps of paper, categorized.
4. We assign a snack-maker and a lunch-maker and we give recess at recess time.
5. Afternoons are free-floating.
We do Art when art comes up in the conversation and I’ll pull out one of Ms. Trish’s projects (I try to read through all of this the weekend before so I know mostly what I’m doing on the fly). Or we’ll do Science when a question comes up. The other day they painted our new Shed (which we intended to use for storage and has now become their workshop) and I’m glad they learned to paint something and put in that hard work. I put the chess board outside. I set up math problems on the slate with water and a brush so they could do speed math since it dries in about 3 minutes (my boys did not like this, but yours might). They practice their piano on a keyboard I purchased on the fly from Amazon and I’ve dusted off my guitar to play (badly) with them.
When I get into a pinch I do real provocations as laid out with Reggio-Emilia. Take anything you can find in your art drawer or around your house. Lay it out on your table… below I put the 200 dandelions they had picked with rocks, crayons, peppermint oil (good to have some kind of kitchen item), glue, feathers, wheels and brushes - as well as some tin foil. What I love about a provocation is it really pushes them to think about creating beyond the paint and paper. The Italians used to tell me that Americans are obsessed with paint and paper… we need to think out of the box! Foiled shells came out looking beautiful and the flower shell I might pass on to Ms. Meg for her wedding centerpieces.
6. When I can, I make logical connections for them.
Tomorrow we are starting a whole new section about the people throughout history who created stories and the written word. And I plan to tie the history of writing to the invention of the printing press in the Industrial Revolution so this change in topic makes sense to them. I know we’ll be creating our own cave drawings on rocks outside at some point and for sure a huge lesson in geography is in the making when we land in Egypt. I then will ask them what was happening in Egypt during the Industrial Revolution (since that’s the time frame we just got out of…) and they might ask me what other things the Egyptians invented.
Asking questions that we or they don’t know the answers to almost always works as a motivator for new topics.
Van Gogh led to portraits of all kinds including my own. Frankly, I think I look like a gremlin (far left), but it was made with love!
7. Grown-up time.
We are working every day and likely so are you! To manage this, I split my day up into sections and let the boys know verbally and via a schedule on the wall that this is what the family is doing for the day (week): From 7-9 am I work while John does work with the boys - math, building, art, play. From 9 until 12 noon is my time with them to do all of the above - we officially “start” school at 9 am. From 12-2 pm they are basically free and outside… bikes, lunch, swings, trees, tag. If they come to me bored, I usually tell them it’s good to be bored (I try not to tell them that I had a paper clip and a crayon when I was little and I turned out fine). After groaning for 5-10 minutes, they usually end up finding something and I continue my work. From 2-4 pm I do afternoon time with them and from 4-5:30 while they play, I finish any calls, emails, etc.
8. In the rare occasion nothing is working.
I go to one of the films or documentaries that connect to what we’re learning and take a breather (more of these will be up on Wednesday on our site). I go for a walk. I try to think how I can do better or change it up or get creative the next day.
9. I try to remember that these are little people making their way through this crisis as well.
I’m honest with them about my stressors, but I don’t dwell on them. When they try to get “out of” Home Learning I tell them that you can’t miss a moment of all that is great in the world and all there is to know. I say it with big eyes and I don’t say anything after that. I keep them to their commitments, but also let them choose something else if they’re not feeling it that day. The worst thing I could do is pressure them into learning. It wasn’t designed that way - either at school or at home.
10. I fold in practical life throughout the day. Instead of Science and Art, we do folding and dishes and vacuuming. This is part of their schooling… the learning of how to take care of a homestead.