Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Creating an Inspiring Learning Environment Through Work

For those of you who asked or are interested, here is the basic outline for the presentation I gave last night.  I won't type it all out - it was rather long, but here it is without the explanations, examples and stories :-).

Also, several people asked questions and I've written some of them out toward the bottom - some of them I didn't answer as thoroughly as I could (after I thought some more about it) so I hope this clarifies things a little better.

Creating an Inspiring Learning Environment Through Work 

A. Intro and how I came to be interested in this
     a)Homeschooling focus shift from purely academics to character development
     b) Knowing Stuff vs Becoming 
            -Faith without works is dead
            -It's in the doing (even and especially when we don't feel like it) that we become.
            -Actions build our character.

B. How do we teach our children to do hard things?
     a) Heavenly Father wouldn't take our agency, but he did give us work (Adam and weeds) to help us develop our character and overcome our natural tendencies.  (See here for more on this).
C. Living on a farm
      a) Many great leaders grew up on farms - learned work and discipline
      b) I can't move to a farm (can't even keep my garden alive), but we do have work that we need to make sure that we do in our home and yard.
     c) Start where we are and go from there 

D. How do we require work?
     a) Chore charts, reward systems etc, help (more on this later), but they are not an end of themselves.
     b) I have found 4 principles that help our work go smoothly when applied, and things seem to go downhill when I get lazy about them.

E. Principle 1:  "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." -Mark Twain
       a) read Tom Sawyer (last part of chapter 2)
       b) Should work always be fun?
            1. Doing it together makes it better
            2. Work by it's very nature isn't always fun - often repetitive, mundane and hard
            3. Doing the things we don't feel like doing builds discipline and character
            4. Teach children that they are not doing something temporal in their cleaning, they are building something eternal - their character.
            5. TJEd principle - Require Work, Inspire Learning
                -now that children know what real work is, their learning has become play (next principle)

F. Principle 2: Eliminate Distractions - Work Time is for Work
      a)  Hard one for me!  Hard to tell the kids to stop practicing, reading, or writing and do their work first.
      b) Benefits:
        1. Work gets done faster (for the most part)
        2. Hands are free to do a good quality job (used to let them hold a toy, not anymore)
        3. Reading, writing, practicing, playing, etc have become privileges for when the work is done (instead of rights or obligations) - they are excited to get back to their books, etc.
        4. According to Mark Twain's definition (principle 1) - learning has become play.

G. Principle 3: Don't Take the Work out of their Play - Less Resources = Better Play
      a) Headgates (plain and simple toys)
      b) Benefits:
        1. House is easier to clean
        2. Play is smarter (can play pretend for hours with a stuffed animal or a blanket)
        3. Disciplines the mind
          -The children need mental focus to imagine instead of having a ready-made prop (making a crib instead of having a plastic one)
          -Prolonged imagination builds mental focus (try playing with a 4 year old)
          -Builds creativity, curiosity, imagination, ability to think "outside the box"
         4. We rob them of this when we give them entertaining, scripted toys
         5. When there is work in their play, they progress to learning as they are ready (Headgates)
            -learning starts to become more interesting than play and they begin to choose it more often
            -My kids: 11 year-old: learning activities 90% of her free-time, plays 10%
                             9 year-old: learning activities 75% of his free-time, plays 25%
                             7 year-old: learning activities 50% of her free-time, plays 50%
                             4 year-old: learning activities 10% of his free-time, plays 90%
            -I see the progression (when I first started this - most of them played most of their free time) Now they read, write, practice piano, crochet, do math, observe nature, etc)

H. Principle 4: Progress isn't linear
      a) Days are different (energy - yours and your children's, illness, appointments, calls, etc)
      b) Discouragement if you expect each day to be better in this area than the previous day
      c)Upward Spiral (bad days are less bad than previous bad days, good days getting better on average)
      d) You'll notice the steady and constant growth of character and discipline when you look back on months and years of trying.
       e) Do what you can today

I. Our Schedule (some practical ideas - yours will look different)

 Morning List (before any reading, playing, etc are allowed)
 -Make Bed
 -Get Dressed
 -Tidy room and zone (check under, on top and behind things, corners)
 (zones don't change - Little Miss always has the front room, Spice has the living room, Bud has the basement which includes the toy room, stairs and family room and Bazinks just got assigned the upstairs bathroom - just keeping it picked up)
 -Scriptures, journal
 -Read list again and make sure everything is done
 -Ask mom if she needs anything else
 -Have mom come check your work (very important!)

Breakfast and Clean-up
Each child has a job for the day.  One has wash dishes, one has counters/put away dry dishes, one has table & chairs/put away dry silverware, and one has floors.  We rotate for the next day.  Each child helps clean up after meal.  I help the little ones - show prop

Family Work
Charts, reward systems (show props)
Monday: Everyone cleans out car, everyone spot cleans the walls, doors, switches, windows in their zones and rooms.
Tuesdays: Bathrooms (they pick if they want to clean the toilets, do a surface wipe-down, or clean bathtubs and showers in all of the bathrooms).
Wednesday: Kitchen and Floors: Someone removes the chairs and replaces them and cleans the appliances, someone else sweeps, someone else mops in the kitchen.  Each child sweeps and mops the bathroom near their zone. 
Thursday: Dust and Vacuum (each person dusts and vacuums their room and zone)
Friday: Make-up day or free day
Saturday: Help dad with his list, some deep cleaning if needed and food prep, or family outings.  I try to do my shopping on this day.

Hymn, Prayer, Scripture story, family memory work, a chapter of history while they draw
Lunch and Clean-Up
See Breakfast

Leaning Skills or Lesson (just 1 or 2)
Children choose a writing assignment (penmanship, copy work, language lesson, poetry, story)
If I see a need for a child (Bud and his times-tables right now) or if they've asked for a lesson we would practice it here.

Free time and read to mom
I pull one child at a time and have them read me a couple of pages of the book they are reading.  If they are not in the middle of a book, I'll suggest one and read a little of it and then have them read me a few pages.  The children most often choose to write, read, practice piano, Spice does math online, observe nature, sing, draw, crochet, or play (mostly the younger ones).

Dinner and Clean-up
See Breakfast

Bedtime List
Tidy Room and Zone
Teeth, pajamas
Journal (short entry on something you're grateful for)
See if mom needs anything
Report to mom

Family Reading
Scriptures and from a Classic (currently Laddie)

Read in Bed, lights out

J. Q & A
How long do these things take?
Typically the kids wake up around 7, we eat breakfast at 8, we do family work from 9-11, I start dinner at 4, we eat at 5, bedtime lists start around 6:30, family reading at 7, bedtime at 8.

What if your kids are hungry as soon as they wake up
Their morning lists do not take very long since they are done daily.
They are always welcome to eat fruit before breakfast (or for snacks)

What about math?
Spice has chosen to do formal math during her free time (she likes aleks math - for a discount I signed up through - it's $60/year instead of like $240).  I started her in 3rd grade math in case she had holes to fill.  She did it in 10 hours (the computer keeps track).  She is also zooming through 4th grade and I'm sure she'll "catch up" to her 5th grade level very quickly - because she's choosing it and she's developmentally ready to understand the more abstract concepts.
For the younger children, I have them figure things out that they want to know (how much longer until ____?  How long is a meter?)  How high is 6 feet 2 inches?  etc.  I also give them mini-lessons as they are ready (Bud is learning his time-tables, Little Miss just had a short lesson on adding longer numbers because she was interested).  I'll teach them to add, substract, multiply and divide with mini-lessons as they are ready.  After that I'll let them choose a more formal math program.

What about Science?
Since children can't really understand real science until they have an understanding of some advanced math, I don't do much in "experiments" etc.  Sometimes one will have a question about an observations and I'll encourage their own experiment.  Mostly for science, we observe nature and look up questions we have or get a book from the library about it.  In the spring, we plan to spend a lot more free time outdoors.  We'll also be gardening and planting for work time.
Do you rotate their zones?
I don't  because they have taken an ownership and a sense of pride in their zones.  I don't think they need to know how to clean every room in the house to know how to clean a room so I'm not too worried about changing it for them.

How do you decide which child does what during family work?
They usually call it out and whoever speaks first gets the job.  I could rotate it if I saw a need.

How do you keep them from procrastinating their work?
I like to use timers.  We use the family ladder as a reward system when we are trying to work on speed in our jobs (sometimes we're more focused on quality, sometimes on how we get along during work, it depends on the day).

What if one child refuses to work?
I wrote about that hereBasically, the pattern is: a tap on the shoulder (a reminder), a direct command, if command is disobeyed - a consequence - time-out or an extra job during free time.

What do you expect from your four-year old?
He cleans his room with his brother, gets dressed, makes his bed and picks up his small zone in the mornings.  I help him with his kitchen job.  He is given someone to help during family work or he's asked to play with the baby.

What about teenagers and hectic schedules?
A wise friend once told me (thanks Lara!) that the family schedule doesn't stop for one family member and they can catch up when they return.  For example, if Bud is at Scouts during family reading time (this isn't typical), we have family reading time anyway, and he can read what he missed on his own the next day or we catch him up on what happened.

Those are all the questions I can remember right now.  Does anyone have any more?


  1. thanks for sharing it's nice to see how you've implemented everything

  2. Thanks for the recap! I'm sorry I missed (most) of it, but it was nice seeing you anyway. And thanks for the book suggestions!

  3. I especially loved the last thing you shared-that the family schedule doesn't stop for one family member. Brilliant!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing. You have some great ideas and systems that work. I'm glad you are sharing with more people. Wish I could have been there.

  5. I wish I lived closer so I could have attended and gotten all the juicy details. These notes are a great reference point though, and helped me to rethink some of the things we're doing here. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thank you again for coming and sharing your wonderful ideas! Everyone really enjoyed it!

  7. Thank you for posting this since I wasn't able to attend. We started full time homeschooling 2 weeks ago and I'm still trying to figure out how we are going to structure it all. Thank you for sharing your experiences, it was ver insightful!

  8. This is just fabulous, Karen! Thank you for sharing it! We have been working this week, on implementing all that we are learning from Teaching Self Government by Nicholeen Peck! This post goes right along with what we are doing this week! :0)


  9. Amazing, Karen. Thanks for taking the time to record all of this wisdom. It will be a great reference for me...

    And I love the pictures you posted at the zoo, etc. Those outings when you can take your time and let your kids dictate what they want to do and look at, are the best.

  10. This was really interesting reading. Thanks for sharing!