There’s a new school year coming up, and as you plan, it can be tempting to create a school schedule that would stagger a grad student. I know – I’ve been there. I’ve started school years with so many classes planned for my boys that we would have been at the table for most of the daylight hours if we’d done it all.
Fortunately, I always got a reality check. It usually arrived around lunchtime of the first day or so, with the realization that we’d finished only about 2/3 of the essentials, and there was absolutely no way that anyone’s attention span was going to last through the fourteen electives I’d planned.
Over time, I learned that we could study any number of topics without weariness if we did two essential things:
- Eliminate busywork
- Live a learning lifestyle
Busywork, in my opinion, kills the joy of learning for most children. There are always a few students who seem to enjoy filling in blanks in workbooks or writing answers to all the review questions in a chapter before taking the test. However, time spent doing those things is often time wasted.
I would much rather see young people reading attentively, annotating the text and taking notes, than filling in blanks. If they must take a test, have them take it after careful reading of the material covered. If they pass the test, they move on; if they don’t pass, they can do the relevant review questions.
This encourages students to pay attention the first time through, and to work efficiently so that they can progress more quickly. In math, it works well to have the student do all the odd-numbered problems. If he does them correctly, he can move to the next lesson, if not, he can go back and do the even problems.
There is no virtue in wasting time pumping out page after page of busywork when a concept is understood. It stifles natural curiosity, and wastes time that could be better spent reading classics, building relationships, or even playing outside. Gifted children can experience extreme frustration and burnout when they cannot move at their natural pace, and this is a miserable, pointless experience that can negatively affect them for many years.
Live a Learning Lifestyle
Rather than isolating learning in a daily four-hour block of time Monday through Friday, be willing to spread learning throughout the day. We listened to Lyrical Life Science, grammar, Spanish, and other song tapes while fixing dinner, read great books at bedtime, listened to classical music or audiobooks while cleaning house or riding in the car, looked at fine art and practiced drawing or painting on rainy days, and generally made educational activities a natural, enjoyable part of our life together.
We found that if study materials for those fourteen electives were in the house, they would usually be used. Not during the scheduled school day, and not always together, but someone would eventually settle down with the French-language Tin-Tin books, or get out the knot-tying or wood-carving kits and try something new. We read Macbeth together when the power went out and a storm howled around the eaves, and kept journals when we traveled. We never did the entire geography curriculum, but it was a fascinating supplement whenever we needed more information.
A lifestyle of learning means that resources are available when the time, interest, and circumstances are right. If students find that it’s safe to explore a new subject without suddenly being assigned an entire unit study on the topic (I’ve heard of that happening!), they will be much more likely to embrace the learning lifestyle and learn on their own.
Leave Time for Things That Matter
There is much to learn in order to be literate, and the school years can provide only a beginning. A lifestyle of learning can strengthen relationships, make family time more interesting, and build a strong foundation for future learning. Best of all, it won’t stifle curiosity and squelch delight in learning because you accomplish more in much less formally-structured time. Charlotte Mason was a strong advocate for keeping formal lessons short, while living a balanced life with time spent indoors and out, reading, learning, and playing, and I’ve seen firsthand that the learning lifestyle works well. I recommend it!