Tuesday, April 01, 2008

If in doubt ... do less!

My planning mania struck again before Easter. My train of thought landed on Little Cherub's future schooling, and I found myself starting a list of topics I wanted to cover with her in the early years. I began scribbling down all sorts of great ideas for setting up Montessori-style trays, subject baskets, main lesson books ... then I wondered if I really needed to reinvent the wheel. I took a look at the Preparatory Level of Mater Amabilis and the introductory notes I wrote jumped out and hit me. Time to listen to my own advice!

IF IN DOUBT - DO LESS. Trying to do too much with a young child is worse than doing too little. It is better to start from scratch with a six year old than to find yourself dealing with one who doesn't want to do schoolwork any more. Be sensitive to your child's needs and readiness. If he or she isn't ready, then holding off for a year or so is fine.
Then this from a Parents' Union School Preparatory Class Programme:
Children of five still need plenty of quiet growing-time and as much out-of-door life as possible. Daily lessons should be regular but informal and the time-table regarded only as a flexible guide to a well-assorted arrangement of free play occupations, activities and quiet story times.
From there I took another look at the notes I made on gentle learning for the early years (still a work in progress), and went right back to the drawing board.

I made a list of the things I want to prioritise - outdoor time, nature study, stories, picture books, art and craft. Then, inspired by Donna Simmons' suggestions for three to six year olds, I worked out a routine that would allow me to include them all on a more or less daily basis.
  • 8.00 Housework
  • 8.30 Prayers, Bible or saint story, songs, poems (a sort of Circle Time, if it is possible to have Circle Time with just two of us)
  • 9.00 Out and about - this could include any combination of Mass, trips to the park, outdoor play, walks, visits to the woods or lake, library trips, errands, visits to friends or Grandma, and other outside activities. Plenty of outdoor time should allow nature study to happen naturally.
  • 12.00 Lunch
  • 12.30 Story time
  • 1.00 Rest (quiet play or look at books)
  • 2.00 Craft activity - interpreted widely, to include crafts, handwork, painting, cookery and gardening
  • 3.00 Picture books
  • 3.30 Play time
  • 6.00 Dinner
This is meant as a loose structure for our day, not a rigid timetable - something I simply don't have the self-discipline for. Writing it out means I can see what it is realistic to fit into a leisurely day. I know my own weaknesses, and know that I find it easy to miss out outdoor activities and crafts. They take effort, and if I don't have a plan of sorts, they won't happen. I also want Cherub to have a sense of order in her day. Boiled down to its simplest, the essence of the plan is "mornings for out and about stuff, afternoons for reading, quiet play and hands-on activities".

The timings are dictated in part by the older girls' school day - they leave at eight and get home soon after four. Going out in the morning works better for us as it gives as a clear block of time without any time pressure. It also means I won't get "behind" on my day and end up not getting out at all. I don't imagine that we will spend three hours out of the house every day, but if I think of the morning as "outdoor time" it will makes planning easy. Any morning time we spend indoors will be "free" time.

I am not going to plan any formal learning, but if Little Cherub is anything like her sisters, she will probably learn the basics of letters and numbers without needing formal instruction. Poor Angel got it whether she needed it or not, with Star I was more laid back, and this time round I'm just going to relax and let it happen when it happens. I will have letter and number activities available to do for fun if she wants, but I will follow her lead.

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