Monday, December 2, 2013

Homeschool Chronicles {Bucket System}

::the Idea::

On the way to grandma's house, about a month ago, I told the kids about The Bucket System.  The bucket system is my latest homeschool experiment.  I'm hoping to merge child-led learning with parental wisdom.  To find a balance between freedom and form.  I explained, "Each school day you have two 30 minute learning buckets like "math", "writing" or "independent reading"....  Here are some ideas of things you can put in the bucket, but you're welcome to come up with your own ideas too.  Each day you choose what to put in the bucket."

It took mere moment for the concept to hit home.   Liam joyously interrupted, "Do you know what this means, Mom?  It means we're going to like school a lot more!"  Bingo.  And, I also wager that there will be less complaining and more learning.  Because humans like to learn, unless they're coerced.

the Bucket System

"There's more," I piped up, "You know how we've been having project month in December?"  Nods.  "Well, I want more project time for you, so after your 2 buckets each school day, you'll have an hour of project time.  During that hour I'm available to help you with whatever you want to accomplish.  I can read to you, help you look stuff up on the internet, get out the art supplies - you have my full attention during project time."  Now Aria exudes glee.  That girl has projects up the wazoo.

"But, remember, this is an experiment.  We're going to see if it works out.  We may need more buckets.  I don't know."  I'm well aware that this is not a system for slackers.  I don't think my kids are slackers if given a chance to go get something that matters to them.  But still, it's faith.  I guess I'm an optimist.  And, really, what do we have to lose in one month?

::the Plan::

We have 3 mornings of structured school each week. Other learning opportunities that fill out our legal school week include classic read-alouds, pottery class, kid's engineering class, Tae Kwon Do, endless projects and discussions... But, I digress.  Here are our buckets: 

Monday:  Independent Reading & Writing
Thursday:  Independent Reading & Math
Friday:  Parent Reading & Math

We start each day with our family time and then go into bucket time for an hour ((2) 30 minute buckets) followed by an hour of project time.  What goes in those buckets?

loving Elephant & Piggie

Independent Reading - Aria reads anything she wants, literally.  Liam, who is a beginning reader has 15 minutes of practice reading aloud a book of his choice OR doing a phonics workbook, followed by 15 minutes of me reading to him a book of his choice. 

Writing - Handwriting, creative writing, formal writing, phonics, spelling, typing, blogging, making plans or a list, correspondence, grammar, copywork.

Math - math books, math story (for Liam), experiments or games from Family Math, math-oriented games, graphs, tanagram.

Parent Reading - here I get to choose! So, if I see a gaping hole or just know we'll enjoy more of our history book, this is when I read to both of them out loud in structured school time.

Wondering about project time?  I wrote about our first go at projects last year.  Basically, the child chooses a topic; develops her own goals, questions, etc.; figures out how to get information; and eventually expresses that learning in some way, maybe by sharing it with others or making a "product" outcome.  It's learning how to learn, not just learning "xyz". 

::the Results::

I'm happy and so are they!

We all love the buckets.  It feels personalized, but structured.  Definitely a great balance for our family.  They're filling their buckets so, so well. 

Aria favors reading her science book or history book during independent reading, or sometimes non-fiction.  On your advice, I checked out a variety of books for Liam to consider as reading options.  He's fallen hard for the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems.   Loves them! 

Math bucket has the least flexibility, but it's one of those areas where it feels right to be the parent and say "must do!"  They tend to play a math game one day and do work in their math book the next.  Zoom! has been a hit and allows us to work on Aria's multiplication facts and Liam's addition facts at the same time.  Since we tend to fly through math books, I think hitting the books once a week is actually just about right!

correspondance

Going in I was most concerned about having only one writing bucket.  There's a lot that fits into that bucket!  But I knew that Aria would do plenty of writing in project time and that Liam doesn't need much writing at his stage.  When filling writing bucket this month, the kids have chosen only non-workbook, non language textbooks writing activities like correspondence, answering science questions and copywork.  These are all extremely valuable, but it feels like something is missing.

Now that we've been using the bucket system for a month I decided to tweak things.  I told the kids this morning that spelling and handwriting are skills best learned from regular practice.  "Instead of adding in another writing bucket," I explained, "We'll have a very short workbook time before bucket time each day."  And that's how it goes - always trying something new!

creative writing project

What about project time?  Well, clearly it's a home-run for Aria.  This is how she wants to and probably should learn.  In project time, she tackles more than I would assign, instinctively setting the bar high.  In November she wrote a 1000 word story as part of National Novel Writing Month, using the Nanowrimo website.  She also digested HALF of her science book, her most recent passion.

Liam's project time is not so... ummm... project-y.   He mostly wants me to read to him from a history book about castles or Native Americans or ancient history.  At first I just read to him and read to him and read to him.  Then I decided to limit my reading to half of project time and then suggest he "do something" with his project, like draw a picture, build something, etc.  He's built a Lego model of a pulley systems, attempted a non-lethal Native American squirrel trap and other times just decided he was done with project time.  Which is fine.  It really is voluntary and he's only in first grade.

Sumerian-esque writing

Mostly project time is separate, since Aria's projects aren't at Liam's level.  But, today she crashed his party.   I was reading to Liam about ancient Sumeria while Aria finished some thank-you notes from writing bucket.  Soon Aria joined us on the sofa, and afterwards they tried some symbol-writing on clay.  I think they both asked their best friend to sleep over.  Go figure.

Ok, if you've read this far, you must be interested in homeschooling! And if you're not, well, thanks for putting up with me.  These journaling posts have become nice records and sometimes readers have great suggestions!  Next time I think I should post on what has not worked this year.

xo,

Rachel

26 comments:

  1. Even though I have no kids yet and probably won't homeschool them, it's so fascinating to read all this !! Thanks for sharing :)

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  2. I homeschool as well and I am always interested in learning new techniques that will improve my teaching skills as well as my childrens learning environment..and I love this idea, although I think the only thing I will find in my daughters bucket is history and science : ) She loves those two subjects.

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    1. I hear you! That's why I had to have a "math" bucket. I could see writing and independent reading staying very history/science. It's great that they are interested in them though. The light bulb for me was that there is value in a variety of choices, so why am I making them choose a very specific path? Sometimes the path of least resistance can actually be a wise parenting choice! Maybe rarely, but sometimes.

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  3. Thank you for writing such a great blog entry. I really enjoyed reading all about your new ideas. :)

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  4. Such a great idea Rachel. I like that you call them buckets. Just saying school and work in the same sentence makes my 8yr old moan and whine so we started using the term 'studies' but I may have to try the 'bucket' term, it sounds so fun.

    My 6yr old loves 'Elephant and Piggie' too ;)

    I look forward to hearing what hasn't worked for you this year. Thanks for sharing! I always take away a little something to help me on our own homeschool journey :)

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  5. I homeschooled my three children until my oldest started H.S. It was always organic, if you can't change with the family dynamic, why do it.

    Just like there are no stupid questions, things that "don't work" are learning opportunities, and the kids pick up on this.

    I'm proud to say that I managed to raise three independent thinking, compassionate adults. Keep up the good work!

    (P.S. your quilts are awesome!)

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    1. Thanks so much! I so appreciate what you shared about living organically and learning from mistakes. Exactly, exactly! No need to pressure ourselves to "do it right" or don't do it, since learning can happen in many healthy environments and "right" will change. I feel lots of freedom, personally.

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  6. rachel, i loved reading this so much. i'd like to incorporate more project time with my kids, too. i am hoping to hire a babysitter one morning/week so i can have some one-on-one time with each of my kids. right now, elaborate project when Iris is awake = disaster! :) i'm curious as to what you're using for science. i may have to search your archive for that. oak meadow science is pretty light - i'm not that impressed with it. i'm considering REAL science odyssey for next year, though i'm not sure. i think i'll check out the elephant and piggie books for indigo. anyway, thanks for the update. i enjoyed it!

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    1. ok, i see you are using apologia for science. are you happy with it?

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    2. After I wrote my post I thought about the caveat that project time works for us since I have just 2 kids and one (Aria) doesn't want my help/interference very much. If/when we have a baby I'm sure many things will have to adjust with our homeschooling. Maybe project time during naps?

      Yes, we do Apologia for science. Aria LOVES it. I think it's a high quality program (it is faith-based, FYI). The experiments are reasonable and interesting (especially to Aria). She enjoys the notebooking journal, where she answers questions and takes notes and finds little lapbooking projects. I like that each book is narrowly focused on one interest (astronomy or water animals, for example) so that they really go deep. Aria has informed me that I should order Zoology 1 as soon as I can since she's going to finish the book she has soon!

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  7. We are on the downward slope with homeschooling these days with only my youngest (13) left. The other seven are all grown up or getting there. we tried lots of different things. The thing that I learnt was that they are listening/learning more than you think when you are despairing about your progress. It has taken my 13 year old a long time to get into reading, but we are finally there. It has been a great year ;)

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  8. I wish I had known about homeschooling when my daughter was younger, it's just not very prevalent in the UK, We have had some utter horrors with the school system trying to fit round pegs in square holes for years.

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    1. Ack, I'm sorry to hear that Isabella. Schools can be wonderful and other times, they're just not a good fit. It's no one's fault that we're all different. We are so lucky to have choices here in the States. I just hope that lasts!

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  9. Wow! You are an amazing Mom. They are so blessed to have you and for your to have such direction in your goals for your children.

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  10. I have no children and am way past the stage in life where I will, but I still found your post very interesting. Your children are fortunate to have such a creative mom.

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  11. Wow, I love this idea! Collin would probably benefit from us trying this system...I might have to do it for January :-) Thanks for the great post. I love hearing what works for other people at home. It really helps me try some new things!

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  12. I love your thoughtful, engaging homeschool methods! I teach science at an afterschool, and I find myself looking to homeschooling websites for ideas to use for our children for enrichment activities! You guys are so darn creative!

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  13. I love your methods too. My daughter has a toddler and wants to homeschool. Any advice on where and when to start? :/ Thanks!

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    1. My suggestion is to start with Waldorf ideas for creating a nurturing environment for little little ones. One of my favorite books along that line is Heaven on Earth by Sheila O.... something, a long name. It's so good I like to give it as a gift!

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  14. 1. Elephant and Piggie is MAGIC, I'm convinced!
    2. I love the bucket concept. Forgive me for being naive, but there is no physical bucket, right? My very literal kindergartener would need a bucket! Haha. Going to reread about how you do your project month and think about how we can implement a little more child-led learning into our day. It's December... I need a change! :)

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    1. You're right, Sarah, there is no literal bucket... but I guess there could be! I agree, I love changing things up mid-year. Good luck!

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  15. Love the bucket idea. I don't homeschool but have added in extra work after school and in summers, especially in years where my children are not bringing home any homework and just aren't being challenged. I tend to give them specific tasks, but they would love having more choice in what they did on "math day" or "writing day." For the writing bucket, you might check out The Write Start by Jennifer Hallissy. Lots of ideas for all different levels of writing.

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  16. I love that your kids get to learn not only reading/math/science etc. but about the learning process itself--making decisions about how to spend their time is so important. Even knowing that you don't feel comfortable with a certain subject but learning to approach it in different ways is so valuable.

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  17. I don't have children (I'm 36) but I find your homeschooling posts very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

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  18. this has been so encouraging and challenging! My automatic response of fear at how much 'real work' you would get done process to me that even though I adhere to the philosophy, it's still of my comfort zone!
    We just got word that our government is toughening the rules on homeschooling, insisting that parents follow the state curriculum! So I'm feeling nervous about the whole thing in general. Hoping I can fulfill the requirements and and still provide an interesting, relaxed learning environment.

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    1. Oh no, I'm so sad to hear about the tightened regulations. Sigh. I hear from many readers in countries where it is flat illegal to homeschool. So disappointing to see these things happen. I pray that you'll find your way to a meaningful and peaceful solution.

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