Teaching Tips for the Unstructured

Our homeschool philosophy is rather relaxed. We focus on rhythm rather than schedule and give the kids (and ourselves) time and space to explore what interests us. It meanders and winds.

With our homeschool friends, many are similar to us. But even the more structured members have 2-4 kids and don’t have the need for classroom management the way we need when we get together for group lessons. So, take a relaxed homeschool mom and put her in front of 10 never-been-schooled kids and see what happens.

A touch of hyperbole. A touch. It really did take me some time to adjust my raise-your-hand-and-pay-attention classroom management skills to the more fluid and less orderly skills required for young homeschoolers.

Here are the keys to a successful class:

1. Be an awesome teacher.

2. Have awesome kids to teach.

Helpful? Ok, here are some more tips:

1. Let the kids and parents know the topics you are going to cover so they can do pre-reading and discussions. The kids are much more engaged when they’re answering questions rather than listening to a lecture.

If the topic is new to them, simply ask them what they already know. I use topical books with lots of pictures to inspire conversation. I ask them what they see in the pictures, what the pictures make them think of, etc.

2. Ask at least 2 questions for every piece of information you are trying to teach. Fact: Nomads lived in tents and caves. Questions: What structures did nomads use as shelter? What are the benefits of a cave over a tent? This continues to keep the focus on their learning rather on your teaching. But the questions can keep going and this is where the  books from tip #1 are are extra helpful. Looking at a picture of a nomad’s tent, the easy question is, “what did nomads make their tents from?” and engages them much more than had I simply stated “nomads made their tents from animal skins and bones.”

Another example from a recent class for younger kids that I taught — Fact: Pigs are mammals. Questions: Do pigs lay eggs? What do pigs and dogs have in common?

It’s a wonder that none of the kids challenged me on the pig-and-eggs connection.

3. Structure your class knowing that you have their full attention in the beginning, less in the middle, and virtually none at the end. I set up the question/answer/book reading portion first, move to the hands on activity, and then allow a free play opportunity that merges into playing.

4. Forget your lesson. This sounds really stupid since what are you there for if not to give the lesson, right? Eh, not really. You aren’t there to teach. The kids are there to learn. If your conversation meanders, meander with it until you have a chance to swing it back around. You will be encouraging creative thinking, critical thinking, and curiosity. You will often find that the discussion that happens is more enlightening to everyone than the bullet points you intended on covering.

In other words, take the road less travelled.

What are your teaching tips when working with children without much school experience? How do you keep the classroom focused but free?

These are great recommendations. We’ve certainly had some meandering discussions in our co-op.

Great tips! I think preparation is also key. If you get up there thinking, “Eh, I’ll just wing it,” it never works out. You’ve got to have something awesome planned. (And I always vote yes on awesome. ;D) But like you said, you’ve got to be willing to be flexible and let the learning take a new direction. Like when we did the chemistry co-op. It was my week to do a lesson on the ph balance scale, and the kids started testing saliva. Did I plan on testing saliva? No. I also didn’t plan on raiding your refrigerator and testing everything in it, but it ended up being a great lesson!

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