Dirt Under My Fingernails

intentional teaching on the great plains

The Search for End-of-Semester Motivation

on April 22, 2013
Fighting late-winter blues by playing music with friends in our newly renovated music studio.

Fighting late-winter blues by playing music with friends in our newly renovated music studio.

We all get there. Here it is, April, and we can taste summer on our lips. Even in North Dakota where we’re still under about a foot of snow, we feel the promise of 50 degrees and sunshine next week, and we really do believe that sunny days and green grass are in store for us. We need it, ache for it. We are sick of routine and boots and coats and wet and being cooped up. Oh, for a day of summer!

The reality is, of course, that we’re still about six weeks away from the end of the semester. So what can we do to stay on track and not give in to our inner restlessness? (Hint: it has something to do with listening to our restlessness.)

1. Use the changing weather to enhance your learning. As the sun comes out and the ground warms up, look to the outdoors whenever possible! Even last week when we were yanked back into the depths of winter, Eva and I took advantage of the late spring blizzard to construct an honest to goodness igloo. As the snow melts off, we plan to create a map of our yard and garden on graph paper and plan out our new garden bed. Math and science, baby. We may also look to incorporate some wildlife habitats out there. We already have birdfeeders, but are planning a tiny pond too. Perhaps a log pile? Lots of research and experimentation opportunities here. And walks through the neighborhood make for great PE time and allows space for talking and dreaming, architectural observation and friendly neighbor chats.

2. Focus on the kids’ interests. Ian wants to record this summer, and to do that he needs to become versed in the recording software Cubase. I’ve made Cubase mastery an assignment for him over the next few weeks, using the tutorial that comes with the program, youtube videos, and direct experimentation. Eva is interested in filmmaking and preserving the threatened koala, so she’s busy writing a script for a short film that will educate others about the marsupial’s plight and provide opportunities to help.

I also wanted the kids to write an essay this semester, and realized that kind of assignment could be a buzz-kill this time of year. To make it work, I provided time during the day for them to work on their papers, and let them choose their topics. Ian chose (I know you’ll never guess) music. Eva, just as shocking, chose Harry Potter. I don’t really care what their topics are, but the papers have to be argumentative – not just a report. Ian’s still in the research phase, but Eva will be exploring the role of intelligence in the Harry Potter books. Since they both love their topics, the process will feel more joyful.

Free Choice3. Provide Free Choice. In our daily schedule, Eva has one or two blocks of “free choice” during which she selects a topic from a preselected menu. Her choices are all things she’s interested in anyway, but having to make a choice from the list helps her make more intentional decisions about what she does during her day. And having the freedom to make that choice helps her feel more excited about her activities. It also allows her to delve more deeply into what she’s in the mood for instead of having to work on a particular topic just because it’s “time” to do it.

4. Rework the day’s schedule. Why wait until the semester change to rework the daily schedule? By this time of year we feel stale, and the best way to freshen up is to look at how the day moves with fresh eyes. Since Ian goes to public school for math and music, I have to work around their established schedule. However, within those parameters, I try to create a schedule that follows our natural flow. I want it to work for us, not the other way around. And my #1 rule is that a schedule is made to be flexible. This is a guideline to help us. If the day doesn’t want to follow what I’ve laid out, it’s best to listen and change course.

If you’re interested, click here to take a look at our end of semester schedule.

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4 responses to “The Search for End-of-Semester Motivation

  1. Tamara Grady says:

    I would love to see your schedule, but the link is not working. We have four more weeks after this. It is tough trying to finish up what we’ve committed to for the end of the year, as I am already thinking about implementing a more project-based approach for some subjects for the unschooling summer.

    • Thanks for letting me know Tamara. I think I fixed the link now. Good luck with your end-of-semester work. I’d love to hear more about what you’re planning for the summer!

  2. Tamara Grady says:

    The link is fixed, thanks. As for the summer, my 10 year old needs help getting her silk scarf business going. I am planning on getting a rock tumbler, because that just did not make it into our regular school schedule. Most importantly, I am hoping to create the time and space for my girls to be the leaders of their own interests. I’d also like to set an example for them by following my own dreams and getting my own writing going.

    I like that you have a set schedule for their activities. How are you able to keep up with the time periods? I tried this two years ago (in the beginning), and I abandoned it quickly. Some days math takes more time than others. I do write a syllabus for each subject, and plan out subjects like math and history to make sure we keep to our goals.

    • I love the things you have planned! And good for you for prioritizing your own dreams as well. I think we can’t underestimate the examples we set for our kids, not to mention that there’s nothing wrong with a little parent priority every once in a while, just for the sake of it.

      As for our schedule, really it’s only to provide guidance. i would say we only follow it exactly one day out of every 20. For example, today I had a migraine, and so my husband stayed home with the kids. Instead of Eva’s scheduled Mindstorms time, the two of them went to Barnes and Noble to look for books on filmmaking. Time well spent. Then, this afternoon, also because of the migraine, I wasn’t prepared for our scheduled history time. So the kids both worked on their essays. Eva really got into exploring her topic, and extended her essay research time through her scheduled history and free choice slots. That’s pretty typical for us.

      I don’t ditch the schedule, because it helps us keep all our balls in the air. If a few days have gone by and we have consistently neglected one topic, the written schedule serves as a little reminder and helps us re-prioritize as we go. Also little things like trumpet practice would likely get left behind all together if it wasn’t written down.

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