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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Five Tips for Making Room:Extras are Riches*

    July 9, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap] think that, culturally, we are finally moving away from the conception that the so-called “Three R’s” are what a good, solid, simple education should look like. I’m glad because, taken alone, the Three R’s are about as boring and utilitarian as you can get. When I think of my own life as a student — and do you ever do this? do you ever take the time to remember what it was like for you back when you were in their shoes? — all the extra stuff really shines.

    Now, I don’t mean projects. I don’t mean building models of the solar system or creating a diorama to illustrate my very boring history textbook.


    I mean the stuff that the schools these days are most likely to cut due to budget issues — music, art, drama, etc.

    Some people call these things “enrichment” and I have a love/hate relationship with that term. On the one hand, these things do, literally, make one rich. But on the other hand, the word has come to be synonymous with the idea of easily discarded extras. They’re the things that we get to, when or if we ever have time.

    But then we don’t get to them, of course, because who has time for anything extra? I certainly don’t, unless it’s an extra cup of brewing chocolate.


    I use the Ambleside Online curriculum, which most of you already know, and in this curriculum, these things are often classified as “extras” {some of them more often than others}:

    • Picture Study
    • Composer Study
    • Poetry
    • Shakespeare
    • Plutarch
    • Folk songs
    • Hymns
    • Nature study/nature journal
    • Book of centuries
    • Commonplace book
    • Handicrafts
    • Memorization/recitation

    For the sake of this post, I’m going to assume that all of these are Good Things that we’d ideally include in the curriculum. I’m not going to try to convince anyone that we want to do this — I’m assuming that we do.

    I’m also going to assume we’re talking about Average Life. If your life is falling apart right now, or if you just had a baby on Friday, it is not a good time to read about extras, even Really Good ones.

    So with that said, here are some tips that will help us work these things into our school days without bringing about the physical death of Mom the Teacher or causing her to part with her sanity.



    Tip #1: Schedule It

    I used to have this really dumb habit: I’d write random stuff on our schedule. For example, on a Friday I’d scrawl “nature study.” But I’d have no. plan. at. all. I hadn’t decided where we were going to go or when we were going to go. When Friday rolled around, staying home drinking the aforementioned brewing chocolate sounded like a much better idea, especially when so much decision making had to be done for it to even happen.

    This year, for the first time, nature study happened consistently. The difference was that we had, at the beginning of the term, planned a date, time, and location for each nature study appointment. All I had to do was follow through. This was so much easier for me. It really made the difference. We were finally getting it done.


    Tip #2: Be Reasonable

    Since we’re talking about dumb things I’ve done, we might as well hit on trying to put things where they do not fit. For a long time, I did this with Shakespeare — I had a date and time that we were going to do it. I even knew what we were reading. But I chose the date and time very poorly, and so it fell through more than half the time. We’d take a very long time to finish a play because we missed so many of our scheduled sessions.

    Basically what I did was plan it toward the end of lessons, when I was starting to go into lunch prep mode. On any day where we were at all running behind, I’d drop it — especially if someone was loudly verbalizing their hunger.

    When I moved Shakespeare to the end of Circle Time {earlier in the morning}, and I could dismiss the younger children who were not interested to their chores, Shakespeare was finally getting done.


    Tip #3: Start Off with Riches, then Add in the Regular Stuff

    This is advice for newbies. If you’ve already been in the trenches for years, this likely isn’t an option. But I think this works really, really well, so I’m mentioning it anyway. When I was just starting with my oldest, I attempted a more traditional kindergarten approach. We did lots of reading aloud and phonics and math.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    But when we began AO Year One, and I needed to add in things like composer study or artist study, I was very overwhelmed {especially since I also had a newborn}.

    My other children have had a very different experience. Their preschool and kindergarten years mostly involved being present at Circle Time. Our CT is all about the riches — composer study, picture study, lots of singing and memory work. If we had time, we also did a little bit of phonics, but it was minimal, and we did no formal math at all.

    I’m not sure I can even explain the difference in my students — the difference between my oldest and my younger children. The younger children had a richer, more poetic experience. It primed them for thoughtfulness and gave them a broad base of exposure. It gave them more things to love, and more things to think about.

    To boil this down: if I was starting back over, I’d focus on all the riches for kindergarten, and let the more formal academics wait until first grade, except when the child is demanding something {like reading lessons}. If the child really wants it, then I’d give them about 10 minutes per day.


    Tip #4: Learn to Use the Whole Day

    It’s easy for us to get so set in the Done By Lunch mentality that we ignore the opportunities that a whole day offers to us. If, for example, all of my children were of Shakespeare age, I think I’d be tempted to read the plays aloud in the evenings and include my husband. Why not? That’d be a great way to spend a few evenings each term.

    The occasional drawing lesson or handicraft instruction might work better in the afternoons. This doesn’t mean that a handicraft can’t be worked on during the day to offer some variety in between lessons, but that the actual instruction part might work better in the afternoons. Then, a child can work on a handicraft while Mom is giving attention to another child, rather than Mom being pestered with how-do-I-do-this questions in the middle of the morning.

    Poetry might work well as bedtime reading. Singing might work well as a way to end a meal — maybe breakfast or lunch. Books of centuries and commonplace books or any other notebook {my oldest has a science notebook and a math notebook as well} can simply sit next to older students and they can use them as the opportunity arises. No special scheduling is needed.

    I’m not saying that we need to devote the afternoons to schooling, but simply that some of these things might work better in other places and so it might be wise to examine the whole day in order to make that call.


    Tip #5: Don’t Be Afraid of an Enrichment Day

    Yes, it is beautiful when these things are interspersed throughout the week. It is wonderful to think of the blessing of an added touch here or there — a song after a math lesson, a poem after history, or whatnot. But if it isn’t getting done, maybe another approach is necessary.

    What about an enrichment day?

    What about having a day that is almost entirely devoted to the riches? What if, say, on two Fridays per month, you started your day with picture study and composer study? What if you sang a bit after that? Read some Shakespeare? Maybe some Plutarch? Headed out for some nature study, and read some poetry by a pond? What if this day turned into a restful, recharging sort of day for your whole family?

    It’s possible.

    For us, there have been times when we’ve spread it all out through the week, and other times where we’ve fit all the riches mostly into a single day of the week. It’s been more important that I do not impoverish my children’s education, than that I do these things in a certain way. I guess one way of looking at it is saying we choose principles over details. So the principle is that these are Good Things that make Whole People. They are Necessary. The details are the execution — the when and where and how.

    So choose the riches, and then pray for wisdom in regard to the execution.

    What are your best tips for fitting in the extras?


    Planning with the Scholé Sisters:

    * I’d just like to thank Laura for helping me see that “riches” is the best term for these things.

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  • Reply Lauren September 16, 2017 at 6:17 am

    An Enrichment Day!! Yes!! I love it!

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  • Reply heather May 8, 2016 at 7:41 am

    Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
    I needed to be reminded of this, since Im in the middle of planning. Thanks for sharing.

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