school stations

In February I swapped our school days around so that most of our core subject work on formal instruction days is done at stations. The most basic version of the plan is that the four kids work individually and rotate among four stations at 30-minute intervals. I do have to read to Brennan (and sometimes Annie, if she’s being serious) and am available to assist anyone at any time, but the majority of the work is self-managed. This has simplified our school routine so much that I almost feel guilty, but I’m working to channel that guilt into plans to add in a little bit more intentional work for next school year.

A note because after I got through science talk I feel like it looks like all we do is try to read a bunch of different books and make notes: we do a lot of projects and illustrating and documentary-watching and such, but most of that happens OUTSIDE of stations time. Because my cover-school-imposed guideline is to accumulate 175 days of school work, we do formal instruction on a certain number of days (actually, the number of history chapters plus the number of individual history sections, because that’s what helps motivate me) and leave the rest of the days open for projects and experiments and field trips and finalizing our formal work. At one point I called many of those other days Overflow days, because we were doing what little “testing” I do, and focusing on arts, and filling in gaps, and all that stuff that sloshes out when you’re trying to maintain routine.

So, what are we doing for stations and why is it working okay for us???

First up: history!

We use The Story of the World as our base curriculum. That provides us with a storybook-ish textbook, maps, review questions, coloring sheets, and some projects. There are also recommedations for further reading and notes about which page numbers in additional recommended resources line up.

What has worked the best for us with SotW is that each formal instruction day we:
a) cover one reading section OR the chapter test,
b) fill in the chapter’s map and/or a coloring sheet and/or an activity sheet, and
c)  make notes or answer aloud some review questions about important details.

We’re having some trouble that I am going to work around by beginning our school day with this as our read-aloud, and then during stations the boys will be responsible for those coloring sheets/maps and more in-depth responses (using the book as a guide) while Brennan will still be working directly with me for narration/review. Annie is doing a half-baked year of unenrolled kindergarten but LOVES to have her own station set up so that she can color the pictures and the maps, so she gets included as far as her attention span will allow.

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In addition to our base SotW text, I keep our Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History available for the younger kids to look at and for Quinn to read and outline. [Please note: I am an independent consultant for Usborne Books and More, so if you happen to order from any of the links to that particular online UBAM shop, I receive monetary compensation.] Last week I snagged this cool green Short History of the World  as an order add-on and the boys have both really liked it, so into the pile it’s gone. If I have an issue of National Geographic or a library book or whatnot that meets our theme for the chapter, it goes into the pile also. If the kids get stuck and I’m busy with another kid or if they finish ahead of the timer, then they’ve got great picture-heavy resources to engage to stay at least medium-well on task.

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FOR SCIENCE:

This year our sciences are Earth science and astronomy. I started out with a really gorgeous list of the topics available in the resource books we have, and my idea was to rotate through all of those topics while also trying to dig deeper right outside our house for some general nature study. It has not gone at all as I had hoped it would, but oh well.

Right now we’re going back over ecosystems (based on continents) because we’re covering a lot of different places back-to-back-to-back for history before ending up fairly Eurocentric with talk about exploration and colonization. I found this pretty cool printable biomes map and we’re filling it in as we hit each geographic region, and the kids are also going to draw their own similar maps (because next school year we’re going to do way more map drawing and I need them to stop gaping at me in horror when I mention drawing maps).

Also, one of our pumpkins from last fall has finally gotten mushy, so we cut it open and now we’re watching it while it does its thing in this close plastic baggy.

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These are some of our science resources that go with what we’re doing this school year and will be doing next school year. I’ve been working to load the new shelves but I still haven’t managed to pull all of the science books out of general rotation. I’m mostly okay with that, because I’d rather the kids look at them than the books be tidy and together and on a shelf. Except that it would be nice to live in a world where those options don’t feel mutually exclusive.

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FOR MATH:

We use Khan Academy for most of our formal math instruction. The lesson videos are great, the practice sessions are quick and easy to feel good about, and the boys are able to manage their experience with very minimal interference by me. I’m able to log in (either on their accounts or on my own) to see what they’re doing, if they’re struggling, where they’ve managed to leave gaps, and how the lessons tie in together. If they’re having trouble, we rewatch videos and I work with them to see which steps or bits of concepts they’re missing.

Especially because the girls are still developing number sense and getting comfortable with basic arithmetic, they do a lot of work with manipulatives, shapes, blocks, matching, and puzzles during their math stations.

We also do some math journaling, defining concepts and making notes about lessons.

This week we had history material about the Mayan numeral system, so the boys filled in a cool chart about that and then did a worksheet. If we ever have an opportunity to directly link math to another subject, I take it.

AND FINALLY, LANGUAGE ARTS:

Language arts is the station that is the hardest for me to explain and the easiest for me to feel bad about. Right now, because we had hit a harsh patch of refusal to cooperate, we’re using language arts station to work on reading journals or do half-baked grammar lessons or work through handwriting workbooks or practice phonics or play with bananagram tiles or just whatever vaguely English-language based thing I decide to pile up. I’m using the other stations to get a lot of the boys’ reading and writing practice in and using THIS station to reinforce the basics and work on developing cursive and stuff like that.

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Right, well, 90 minutes and 1200 words later, there you have it. Partly. Sort of.

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