Curious minds breed curiosity but often that curiosity comes in varying levels of intensity and trying to plan around an intangibility like curiosity can drive anyone to madness. So how can you plan ahead when everything seems so inconsistent? In order to answer this question while trying to find some structure for Little Man’s focus issues, I delved back into the world of Charlotte Mason. I have always loved her philosophy of education but for so long the tug of child led unschooling was stronger than my respect for Mason’s teachings. Here I will talk about how I’ve melded the two with a bit more of a focus on the structured CM and a whole lot less on the Child led.
In other words, how my whole world of planning got flip-turned-upside-down!
For us it’s never really been so much about planning ahead. Planning ahead has never been our focus. The end is not our goal. Our goal is to have a journey that is full of inspiration. Our focus is an environment filled with seized teachable moments. Our plan is to inspire curiosity.
How you inspire a child will change depending on the child themselves but parents know their children and what makes them get excited. Some children have their own innate passions. Subjects that need no outside inspiration. Little Man has these burning passions that lead him to constantly explore specific fields while leaving him little to no interest in everything else but Little Miss and Curly Que are bit more like me…just generally curious about EVERYTHING!
In our house inspired curiosity starts like this. Mommy gets fascinated by a new show or subject. The children try to stay up late to see what’s so interesting or catch glimpses of articles that I’m reading over my shoulder. I find something suitable to their age with similar subject matter and if they also find that interesting then we find books to supplement, all while trying to find museum exhibits, shows or local classes.
With all the changes we’ve been making in our homeschool to help Little Man with his focusing issues this process of inspiring curiosity has helped us to create structure without needing a curriculum and but it also requires that I plan far more than I used to.
One of the first things that I do are to Analyze the Options out there for growth within an interest that is just starting to bud. We start the process of exploration within the topic to see if there is an interest which can support an inspired curiosity. For example, I really got sucked into BBC’s Merlin (like binge watching through weekends into it!) and of course my children started to see glimpses of dragons, magic, knights and swords. I put on the Disney version of the Sword and the Stone to see if their interest was piqued, and it was so I decided it might be time to study the Middle Ages.
That night I began my night long Pinterest Planning Party. Yep, I grabbed a cup of tea, a snack and gave my husband permission to play as much video games as he wanted without interruption while I spent hours of uninterrupted research via my own planning party. I looked up every aspect that I could and tried to see just how much we could get out of a Middle Ages study at these ages.
Once I discovered possible topics the next goal was Resource Gathering. Sticking true to CM principles, I wanted to make sure that we were reading books that were filled with passion and came alive to the children rather than encyclopedias or textbooks. With some help from Pinterest, and friends of mine who have either studied Medieval literature or had done similar time periods with their homeschoolers before, I was able to put together a list of interesting books to use as spines.
I also go through Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube for a list of possible shows or videos that fit into our over arching theme and I find local shows or classes that are offering options that fit as well. This is one of the reasons that I like to use Pinterest for my planning. There is no need to reinvent the wheel with this and often I can find lists put together by other people where I can pick and choose what works for my family. With our Master List in hand I move from gathering to Planning.
My next step in this process is to take the lists to the Experts. I take all of my detailed notes to the children for confirmation- I may or may not exaggerate the coolness factor and sometimes I even find short youtube videos to back up my claims. They respond with yay or nay and I build a literature/history unit that falls within CM guidelines. Our favorite part of all of this is when we get to attack our favorite second hand bookstore to find what we can at reasonable prices (for me thats less than $3/book- although I did cave in and buy a $6 fully illustrated book of Castle diagrams when I caught my son pouring over every page).
This time around, we settled on a version of King Arthur, Robin Hood, Beowulf, Macbeth and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as our spines with our list of shows, documentaries and a handful of historical fictions set in the middle ages to back them up. I made the executive decision that this would also be a good time to study fairy tales and that we would continue our science study of insects with the show Little Einstein’s as our jumping point for music and art.
Now that the foundation for the plan had been laid, the easy part was up ahead. To plan out our weeks and months I simply Spread Out the Spines so that we would read through three a month over the next three months with the side options there for our enjoyment when we want them. September is King Arthur and Sir Gawain, October is Beowulf and Macbeth and November is Robin Hood. During these months we will also look through descriptions of castles, knights, cathedrals, the crusades, villages vs. cities and anything we can get our hands on- but I don’t need to add that kind of detail to our planner, that would just stress me out, instead we discuss and google when the topic comes up in conversation.
So far this is just basic relaxed planning etiquette, but we want something even more important than planing out a quarters worth of studies, we want to inspire curiosity along the way.
If you notice, even though I have a unit study of the Middle Ages that spans an entire quarter, each set of books that we read as spines create mini units within the larger context of the whole but we also add Cartoons, Videos and Documentaries into our overall plan because I have four visual learners who need to see it to get into it. This is also why we incorporate Museum Trips (we live outside of DC so they are free and relatively close) and we try to visit at least once a month (if we didn’t have these near by I would be relying a whole lot more on virtual field trips!).
We do not read massive amounts of each book, each day, all at once. I read aloud from a book for a period of almost 10 minutes and I never end the reading in a conventional place but If we have extra time towards the end of our day we might pick up the spines and do it again. Because I always end in the middle of a sentence, or right in the middle of the most interesting scene this allows the curiosity to continually be piqued. It’s a perpetual cliffhanger and my children love it! In fact, all of our lessons are less than 20 minutes total which gives them just enough time to get really into a topic before their focus wanes. It surprises me sometimes how in depth we can get with just a short conversation if the children are interested and engaged.
Then one of the three older children will Narrate (or tell me in their own words what they heard- as they get older this will turn into a writing assignment, but right now we are working on teaching them how to organize their thoughts.) or practice their Copy Work (copy a sentence on lined paper while we discuss grammar or other aspects of writing as written in the original sentence). After about 30 minutes of reading and Narrating or copy work we move onto an activity that requires movement followed by math and that is the end of our formal day. Our school day is finished by 1030 almost every morning and some mornings we finish at 10.
We do not end our learning experiences here but we do end the formal portion of school, which is important for my guys because they get a sense of accomplishment knowing that they finished for the day. The rest of the day is dedicated to nature walks, museums, piano lessons, playdates, cartoons, documentaries and poetry tea times- which in one way or another might remind them of something we read, but I don’t point it out either. If they get it, great! If not, then that’s fine too.
The point of all these extra experiences is not to pull together all of the different aspects of what we are learning but instead to challenge them to see the world from a new angle. I am raising children who will one day be adults and they need to know how to think for themselves, so while they are little and impressionable, I plan on showing them as many different sides of the world as I can- which in practice has morphed into inspiring curiosity.
This is how we do it, but how about you?
Share your favorite ways to get curiosity flowing in the comments below, I am always ready for more input!