Adapting our homeschooling environment to support our kids needs has been a work in progress that has taken years of trial and error. I personally love the idea of self-directed learning and unschooling, but I have had to adapt it to fit the needs of my children.
As much as I would love to be able to say ‘you can do whatever you want’ and let it happen (with me strewing and facilitating, but having the kids in charge), it hasn’t happened. Instead, we have taken a lot of slow, small steps in that direction, and have had to treat it as more of an end goal than a blueprint.
Over time, (and with an understanding of their neurological differences) I have come to understand why my children need support and why those supports need to be different for each child.
Adapting Schedules to Our Kids’ Needs
My daughter is both a confident learner and a ball of nerves. She easily knows what she wants to do, but doesn’t always have the physical abilities (yet) to carry out her ideas. She also has a lot of problems with ‘new’ things – they can’t just be introduced willy-nilly, but slowly introduced as possibilities until she is ready to approach them on her own. Left to her own devices, she would never do anything new, even things that she would love.
In order to help with this, I have built ‘new’ time into our week – once a week we do something new and different. Whether that’s an excursion, or a new experiment or crafting activity. It helps to broaden her horizons and eventually she will incorporate these new ideas and activities into her daily routine as well.
I have to take a different approach for my son. With his executive processing problems, planning does not come naturally. Telling him he can do whatever he wants and following his lead works about as well as telling a person in a wheelchair that they can do whatever they want, they ‘just have to climb those stairs’ first . . . it just ain’t gonna happen.
Instead, we have created a schedule for our days (which is adapted over time as our activities and interests shift). My son has blocks of time where he will focus on a particular subject (say, maths or Japanese, writing, reading or science). And he can do whatever he wants within that time frame. If he’s lost about what to do (which happens often enough), I have a backup set of ‘ideas’ he can use – books, websites, games etc. to spark his interest. This helps him get passed the paralysing effect of ‘what am I mean’t to do’? so he can focus on learning.
All that said, if he decides to hyperfocus on a particular topic, we run with that too. (And we have strategies to deal with hyperfocus as well – for all of us). These include set meal times and breaks in the day. As a backup plan to help when everyone is forgetting the basics, I have considered setting up alarms (or a mini-lockout for myself) on our devices as well (for the recommended 2 hours on, then 15 mins off computer schedule), but so far that hasn’t been necessary (except for me, I struggle). I am always adapting and tweaking what we do, so that we all have as little unnecessary stress as possible
Unschooling Environment: Things That Help
What I have found works to create an environment where the kids are less stressed out and able to focus on what they love to do, while scaffolding their weaknesses include:
- Introducing new ideas or activities at set times so that ‘new’ becomes part of the routine.
- Having a set-time schedule with activities mapped out for the day as a basic blueprint.
- Allowing flexibility in following the schedule to cater for intense interests.
- Creating a subject ‘focus’ to get over the hump of having to ‘plan’ an activity.
- Keeping a backup of ideas and activities if a subject focus isn’t enough to get them started.
- Breaking up the day with set times for eating.
- Making sure the kids and I transition between computer and not computer time regularly as this doesn’t come naturally for any of us.
I’m sure that, over time these strategies will change as my children learn new skills, but I take it one day (and activity) at a time.
This post is part of the GHF blog hop, ‘Educating Gifted Children: The Many Ways We Approach Their Learning’. Check out the other posts on educating and homeschooling!