Organizing a Learning Time for Your Kids | From Overwhelmed to Organized: Organizing a Learning Time for Your Kids

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Organizing a Learning Time for Your Kids

Do your kids like learning when they aren't in school?  Like in the evenings or on weekends or during summer holidays?

Some kids are intrinsically motivated to learn all the time.  And some aren't.  Some kids, like mine, might be a bit of both.  They don't dislike learning, but given the choice to do something learning-oriented or playing, they'll choose playing every time.

Today, I'll share some of what we've been doing around here and then give you tips for setting up a learning time for your kids.

Making Learning a Priority

It's important for kids to keep learning when they're out of school.  The educator in me doesn't want to see "summer slide" happen in my kids.  And during the school year I know that kids need to review at home the concepts they're learning in school to really master them.  So I'm trying to be more intentional about getting my kids to keep learning, while still having fun and being kids.

This summer, as part of our daily routine, we had Learning Time.  It all started when I happened to include "I'd like to learn this..." on our Summer Ideas List.  Both my son and my daughter quickly thought of things they'd like to learn.

I'm SO glad I included that category.  It showed that learning was a priority, even in the summer.  And, I would never have thought they'd want to do some of the things they wrote down, so I'm happy I asked.

What my Kids Wanted to Learn

My son said he wanted to learn to type with all his fingers so he can type quicker than he had been able to before.  He said he was usually the last person in his class to finish whenever they have to type something.  That's probably not actually the case, but if he feels that way, it's good motivation to learn.  I know he'll need to type more and more in the coming years anyway, so I'm pleased that he chose it to learn this summer.

He also wanted to learn cursive writing.  We thought he was supposed to learn it last year (grade 3) but it seems like it's been moved to the grade 4 curriculum in Ontario so he didn't.  But some of the other classes in his grade did, so he wanted to learn it too.

And... of course he wanted to improve his baseball skills and practice as much as possible!

My daughter wanted to learn to tie a bow so she could wear shoes with laces.  My son only learned a few months ago when he outgrew his last shoes and we couldn't find velcro ones big enough for him anymore.  But my daughter was eager to learn too because some of her friends have shoes with laces.

She also wanted to practice using money because her teacher mentioned that on her report card as something she needed to work on.  {We filled out those brainstorming lists the day after they received their final reports... good timing eh?!}

And, once my daughter heard that my son wanted to practice typing, she decided she'd like to do that too.  So we added it to her list.

Setting up a Learning Time

Knowing that the things they wanted to learn were not just things they could squeeze in at the end of the summer, I included time for learning new things into our daily routine.

It's right there in the mornings, after cleaning time.  I only scheduled learning time during the weeks we were at home, but that was a total of 5 weeks, so I knew the kids would improve quite a bit in that amount of time.

I added a few other suggestions at the bottom of our daily routine of things I thought they should spend time on or skills that their teachers recommended they review over the summer.  Things like flash cards and reading and writing.

For the most part, I let the kids decide each day what they wanted to do for learning time.  Sometimes I encouraged one to do something independently (like typing) so I could help the other with something.  But overall they got to choose.

Gathering Our Materials and Supplies

We tried out a few different typing programs and they each chose different ones to use.  My son has a math workbook with review questions so it was available as well.  I also printed out some cursive writing sheets from the internet for him to copy from and he practiced in an old notebook.  And I pulled our flash cards out of their usual home in our activity drawers.

I put everything for learning time in a basket to make it all easily accessible.  That way we didn't have to go running around the house searching for things and using up a bunch of our time.

On the first day of learning time, my daughter made up some price tags and used them for various items around the house and I pretended to buy them.  She brought down her piggy bank and gave me some different coins to use.  Then I made sure to pay with amounts that would require her to calculate a variety of amounts of change.  She loved it!  She's very tactile, so using actual money and price tags was much better for her than completing a bunch of worksheets with money questions.

On weeks when my hubby started work later, he and my son sometimes went outside for a bit to practice catching or pitching.  This gave me more time with my daughter to play her money game.  She really didn't feel like it was learning time because she was having so much fun with it.

Reading and Writing

In addition to Learning Time, my kids continued to read and write this summer.  We joined the library's summer reading club again this year.  I encouraged both our kids to set a summer reading goal at our July family meeting and I included their goals on our Family Goals sheet (my hubby and I set reading goals too).

My daughter started reading more independently in the spring, and while she still loves being read to, she's happy to read books by herself now too.  She set a goal of reading 50 books this summer.

My son is reading chapter books now so he set a goal of reading 10 chapter books this summer.   He loves graphic novels like Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and he also read Encyclopedia Brown and discovered a new series called Ballpark Mysteries this summer.

I'm happy to share that they both met their goals and they were so proud of themselves for doing it!  I printed certificates for them the night before school started and we gave them a few little rewards to celebrate their achievements.  

Both kids also had a summer journal, similar to the ones they had last year.  My son did really well writing about things he was doing (well for the first half of the summer anyway).  My daughter mostly drew pictures of things she was reading about, but she put some titles or labels to practice her writing.  And in the back of her journal she wrote out the titles of the books she read (she read too many to fit in the library passport so she continued her list in her journal).

We had a "Quiet Time" in the afternoons and they could choose how they spent that time, as long as they were in their separate rooms, doing something quietly by themselves.  Sometimes they wrote in their journals, sometimes they read books, and sometimes they played.  But it gave them a time away from other distractions to be free to read or journal without feeling like they were missing out on something else that seemed more fun.  {And it gave them a break from each other... and me a break from them!}

We also spent time this summer reading together.  I pulled out my old Narnia series and read a bit to them each day.  They were not familiar with the books, and I LOVE them, so it was fun to experience them in a new way through their eyes.  We got half-way through the series, but plan to continue reading it at bedtime this fall.

How It Turned Out

I won't say they achieved all their goals (my daughter didn't spend much time on her shoe laces and my son didn't work on cursive writing very often), but they definitely learned a lot this summer.

They both enjoyed learning to type the best and chose that more than any of the other learning activities.  They still have a way to go in their typing programs, but it was an excellent start!

Overall, my kids did a lot of learning this summer.  I made time for it in our daily schedule, but they had quite a bit of control over when and how they did which activities.  And they didn't really complain too much about it.  In fact, they sometimes asked to do learning time during camp weeks.  And they read once in awhile just because.  Makes a mother proud :)

Learning Time This Fall

We plan to continue Learning Time throughout the school year.  I know they're already learning a lot at school, but we're going to keep spending time developing the skills they started learning this summer, and any others their teachers recommend.  

Every day after school, they get some play time or screen time to transition from school to home.  Then an hour later, they have homework or learning time.  If they have homework, they do it then.  If they are expected to read for school, they do it then as well.  But if they don't have homework, or they finish their required reading, then they choose one of the summer learning time activities to do.

I want them to be able to keep up their keyboarding skills so they don't forget what they've learned.  And we can work on cursive writing and shoe tying.  And we can practice their math skills with flash cards, workbooks, and the money game.  

My son usually gets homework every day, but my daughter mainly gets hers on the weekends (except for daily reading).  So she spends some time on other learning activities while he does his homework.  And if he finishes his homework quickly (or doesn't get any) then he does some learning time activities.

Tips for You To Create a Learning Time for Your Kids

If you want to help your kids continue learning at home, here are a few tips for organizing a learning time in your family:

  1. Make learning a priority in your home (model to your kids that you are always learning too!)
  2. Ask your kids what they want to learn (you may be surprised at what they come up with!)
  3. Set goals with your kids and post them somewhere prominent (I'm sure you've heard that writing goals down greatly increases the chances of achieving them)
  4. Schedule times for your kids to learn (otherwise other activities will take over)
  5. Gather all the materials they need in one place to make it easier for them
  6. Help them with what they are learning, as needed, so they aren't frustrated
  7. Encourage their progress
  8. Make it fun!
  9. Celebrate their successes and achievements

I'm really happy we included Learning Time as part of our summer.  I'm proud of my kids for all they accomplished during that time and with their reading and writing.  And I think including it in our fall schedule will have big benefits too.

Do you have learning time in your family?  What things do your kids enjoy learning?  Which tip do you think will help you most to establish a learning time in your home?

Happy organizing!

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