Friday, March 26, 2010

Structure Time, Not Content

When I first came across the principles of Thomas Jefferson Education the key that most excited me, and that I expected would have the most impact on our family's approach to home education, was "Structure Time, Not Content". We were already implementing many of the other keys to some degree, but this one was new, especially when packaged as part of a quality classical education. With one child possessing a "strong" personality, exhibiting an aversion to being unnecessarily (as he saw it) told what to do, and not doing as well with our then approach to home education as his siblings, I hoped and believed that "Structure Time, Not Content" , especially when combined with "Inspire, Not Require", would prove to be the "key" to the improvements I was hoping for.

It wasn't as easy as I'd envisaged. During the first year there were plenty of debates about what "counted" during our structured learning time. I recognise that debating is a good skill for a child to develop, but it does get tiring constantly being on the opposing side! Many of my attempts to inspire were interpreted as attempts to structure content, and firmly rejected. Personally, I also struggled with notions of accountability. Was I letting him off the hook if his interests never continued for long, never resulted in any visible output, and never seemed to proceed beyond a superficial level? Or were these thoughts simply hangovers from the "old days", signs that I was still struggling to step off the conveyor belt?

As I pondered more I began considering that maybe, for this child at least, unlimited freedom of choice with regards to content was just too much. Maybe he needed a few clearer boundaries, from which to make his educational choices. I certainly didn't want to revert to the way we had been doing things. Our first year of implementing the principles of Thomas Jefferson Education was a lot less stressful than previous years. Less work appeared to have been done, but more was remembered. However, I felt things would be improved if I fine tuned our approach a little. For us the key is now "Structure Time More Than Content".

This year, with our son's agreement, each day's learning time involves maths (the choice of programme was left up to him), reading (there's a list of classics for him to select from and he is free to seek parental permission to add titles to that list), plus work on a unit or project of his choice. Together we've brainstormed some possibilities and many have specified outputs. If he can't decide what to do the we choose for him. Although writing isn't required every day, some is required over the course of the week.

We've had this system in place for a quarter of the year and everyone is happier and more satisfied. I'm pleased because I can see that quality learning is happening and my son is pleased because he still has a high level of choice in what he studies. At some future stage these limits on content choice may be removed but for now I feel they are serving a valuable purpose.

Given my family's experience I am curious as to how others implement "Structure Time, Not Content"? Is that "not" an inviolable absolute or do you structure some of the content of your child's studying? If so, how do you decide how much structure is appropriate when it comes to content?


LibertyMom said...

Hi Sandra,
Your son sounds just like me daughter. For her we have developed a system of setting semester goals in each content area (Math, reading, history, etc..) She sets the goals and then used these goals as a guide of how to structure her "study time" content. It has worked moderately well. The key has been to find fun ways to work on these goals such as games for math, a club for history,etc.. A great book on this approach is "Homeschooling ans Loving It!" by Rebecca Kochenderfer.

She just turned 9 so we are in the beginning stages of LOL and her interests run hot and cold ~ changing in a matter of hours and sometimes minutes.
How old is your son?

I like your plan with Math reading and then a project. I may try this next year. She asked if she could start Math-U-See up again, so I am thinking maybe she is ready for this.

Thanks for this post! It's great to know I am not the only one who has struggled with this!

Verena B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Verena B said...

We divided up the day in to periods:
Naresome: Read scriptures, Pray, Plan jobs and schedule, Do jobs

Basic Smiling Time: Grammar, phonics, Spelling, vocabulary, language, Math, Composition, journal, book reports

Electives: Music, language, PE, literature, Unit studies, reading, Lunch, PE, preschool

Exploring: History, Science, Fields trips

Free Time: 'Fun pass' activities, Clubs

Family Time: Reading together, Sharing Time

There's lots of choices in each part (including, often, the length), but it also gives valuable structure as to the kinds of messes and help from Mom that will happen.

Anyway, that's how we structure time, not content.