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.
"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?
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?
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".
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!
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!
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.
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.