We are a home-school family. My daughter is enrolled in an online, public charter school. The school provides an asynchronous, well-crafted and varied curriculum with a great amount of materials and support. I, as her “learning coach,” ultimately control how the curriculum is delivered and materials presented.
I could opt to use the curriculum solely and exactly as proposed. Rather, I supplement with my own lessons and utilize community programs. I appreciate the invitation to be an active participant in my children’s education, as well as, the flexibility and inter-connectivity the school fosters. Far from sitting at a computer all day, most of our learning is hands-on, project-based, and takes place in real life settings.
When we first began our home-school journey two years ago, we quickly determined that we needed a separate learning space so our downtime was not compromised. This was an issue. We needed a clear separation between intentional learning spaces and shared family spaces. The lower level of the house is perfect because of large windows and direct access to our yard and garden.
It is essential that our learning space is a fully usable environment. It must remain flexible, realistic, and designed to nurture my children’s developing sense of self and social purpose. The goal is to provide an arena for my children to gain a sense of community awareness and connection to the environment.
To bring the greater community into our learning space, we used as many locally recycled and repurposed materials as possible. This meant many trips to Construction Junction in East Liberty. We procured reclaimed desks, file cabinets, a church pew, multiple doors, pegboard, store displays, and miscellaneous hardware and fixtures. Choosing these materials over new materials was a major cost savings for our family. It also keeps usable items out of landfills.
We found some really unique pieces, rich with local history, to personalize our space. For example, we’ve never met Mr. William Acker, but his vintage, brass door knocker finds new life on “Sherlock’s” door within our wall of literature-inspired doors that double as writing surfaces. It is one of my favorite details.
The children use the outdoor area for free play, exploration and investigation. They participate in maintaining the garden, rain barrel, and composting. We take time to observe daily growth and changes that occur year-round.
The outdoor area is more than an extension of our learning space. Elements of nature and recycled materials are open-ended tools and can be found in all areas. The goal is to keep the majority of the materials as natural and open-ended as possible to promote creativity and problem solving. This cannot be accomplished with toys that offer single cause and effect.
Some examples of materials are corks, rocks, smooth stones, shells, sticks, pine cones, gourds, natural and painted wood blocks, cardboard, recycled packaging, pots, pans, various kitchen utensils, aluminum coffee cans, terra cotta, buttons, beads, dry beans, string, ribbon, fabric, felt scraps, sand, clay, mirrors, and magnets. These items can be used for art, building, math, science, or projects in any subject.
I routinely document the children’s use of materials through photos, video, text and illustration. We revisit projects at various times throughout the year to expand and build upon them.
There is also free access to a variety of musical instruments and items such as animals, dinosaurs, people, and vehicles to add to dramatic play areas and the train table. We painted the top of the train table with chalk board paint. This way, the children are not limited to the prescribed image. They enjoy designing prehistoric jungles, outer space, our neighborhood, and other play scenes.
The entire room is child-centered and fully interactive to promote collaboration and experimentation. The wall surfaces are covered with magnetic backing, chalk or white board paint, cork, or peg boards with hooks. Any area of the room is a usable work station. Other than a few posters and a set of reclaimed, pull-down wall maps I found on eBay for $30, all the art is created by our family.
This approach fosters self-esteem, problem-solving, and social skills as the children work independently, together, and with me to answer questions and derive solutions. I strive to be an intuitive and deliberate facilitator, recorder, and unobtrusive guide.
Within our learning spaces, my children explore and test theories. They have the opportunity to observe, apply skills, and grapple with real life situations. They conduct investigations that are current, culturally relevant, and purposeful. They form concepts and are more likely to make connections.