My children sometimes get busy, full weeks where we focus heavily on their extracurricular activities plus language arts, history, and math. Art, music, and science can get short shrift during those weeks.
To balance it out, we switch it up sometimes. We only do art, music, and science some weeks (and Chinese homework, since that’s a separate class). These kinds of weeks seem like they’d be a break for me, but they’re not. It’s much easier for me when we have our regular routine. When we do these weeks, I’m constantly having to get something down for someone, find something, clean up spills, give permission, etc. Besides that, the kids want to sit and talk with me about what they’re thinking about. Each of them can talk for a long time, and there are three of them, so it can take up a lot of my time.
The ground rules are simple.
The last week that we had an art, music, and science week, this is what happened:
My ten-year-old spent his time independently, as he usually would. He helped his 5yo sister play Rocksmith, which is a video game that legitimately teaches you to play a real guitar if you have a real guitar to plug into it. His 7-year-old sister taught him a piano song (more on that below). He also painted a little. He read three and a half Harry Potter books. He did a lot of science experiments. Often when he gets into science, I have to wash a lot of towels and small objects. That week he happened to be into electricity, which meant I didn’t have to do a lot of science-related cleaning. He did a lot of things that didn’t involve an electronic device or screen. He didn’t have to tell me about everything all the time. As he has gotten older he’s more willing to spend most of the day engrossed in his pursuits. He saves up his stories for me, to tell them to me all at once.
My seven-year-old spent most of the entire week either painting and painting and painting or trying to learn to play Hedwig’s theme from Harry Potter on the piano. At one point she sat on the couch and cried loudly for ten minutes, out of utter frustration at not being able to play the one song she most wanted to play. A few hours later she went back to trying to learn to play it. She finally got the beginning of the song down and she’s been playing it ever since. Then she taught Hedwig’s Theme to her brother on the piano. I’m involved in helping her find her painting videos and cleaning up. I have to find spaces to dry her multiple paintings. I have to listen enthusiastically to piano music and also comfort her when she’s frustrated with herself. She tried to invent a new way to write music, which I think is insanely creative. I wasn’t involved – I can’t read music. I can’t even play music. Somehow she can do both (still on a fairly beginner level, but it’s far better than anything I was ever able to do). I’m not entirely certain how that happened because she has never had formal lessons. She watches piano videos and my husband briefly showed her the concept of how to read notes. She’s taught her older brother to play songs by ear, but he didn’t pick up reading notes. She did a little science, involving some electricity and a lot of water, but not mixed together. She knows not to mix them together. Even my five-year-old knows you don’t mix electricity and water. She read Because of Winn Dixie for the tenth time.
My five-year-old played Rocksmith, experimented with piano, painted a little, and played with a lot of science stuff. She uses a lot of snap circuits for science. Her snap circuits are not bound by the rectangle you’re supposed to use to build. She pondered teleportation and time travel, two subjects that she apparently finds fascinating. We spoke at length. She can’t read yet, you know, but eventually, she decided that we should invent wall teleporters to take us places. She believes that science can be good enough so that teleportation accidents wouldn’t happen. She decided that time travel is too dangerous, and she would never trust a time travel machine. She thinks you could time travel back to when dinosaurs were alive, or time travel before you existed, or have a problem where only part of you travels in time and the rest of you doesn’t. She thinks your soul could get left behind. Or your head. Either would be deadly. She says there are just too many bad things that could happen. We read Pete the Cat books. A lot of Pete the Cat books.
Once the requirements of art, music, and science were fulfilled, they’re free to explore other interests. All three of them made up a lot of adventures together. There were hours of pretend play going on. My shower became a teleportation device. They played spies, which is a great game for me because they all have to be quiet and they can’t be seen by an adult. This means that they spend quite a bit of time hiding quietly. As I said, it’s a great game.
We have added some more really good educational videos into our world and I wonder what it would be like if I allowed them to enter our art, music, and science weeks. I like forbidding screens during these weeks (well, except for instructional lesson videos), just because they come up with more creative activities when we keep screens entirely off save for lessons. Still, I wonder what would happen if I let them use screens to watch videos that you passively absorb, rather than lessons that demand participation.
I hope you’ve seen the things that children will explore and teach themselves if they’re given a supportive environment. I have to help them do a lot of things that they can’t do, such as use the oven, reach high things, and lift heavy things. I have to give permission to use certain items. I have to log in to lessons sometimes. Mostly, I’m a facilitator. I’m a sounding board. I have other weeks where I act as the more formal teacher. These weeks, I get out of the way. As I said, it’s actually quite a bit less work for me to act as the teacher. It’s more work for me to get out of the way.
What do my children learn when I get out of the way? They learn to pursue their interests. They learn to teach themselves. They learn their likes and dislikes. They socialize. They take initiative. It’s not that they ignore boundaries in learning; rather it’s that they don’t realize that anyone else thinks the boundaries are there.
All of these things are experiences that they would not be able to have if they were hemmed in by a rigid schedule.