Today I am so excited to introduce you to Kel. I met Kel in a Gameschooling Facebook group. We always seemed to be involved in the same discussions and have similar questions and responses. It turns out that our boys are the same age and enjoy the same games! Kel has been an inspiration to me and an absolute wealth of knowledge when it comes to using games for homeschooling and for fun. I was so pleased when she agreed to be part of my Real Australian Homeschools series. I have loved reading her story and I think you will too!
This post is part of our Real Australian Homeschools series. To see the full series, click here.
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Could you tell us a little about your family?
Our family is made up of myself, my partner, our four and half year old son, and my younger brother. We live in a fairly new suburb located about half an hour outside of Brisbane. My partner is a doctor in a public hospital which often means long and irregular work hours. I’m a stay-at-home parent and primarily responsible for our son’s home education. As a family, we tend to be quite introverted and prefer to spend time together rather than with other people. When we do socialise, it is usually either for our son’s benefit or to have a few friends over for board games. We’re also a very geeky family with very geeky interests (we even named our son after the main character from the ‘Alien’ movies!).
Why have you chosen to homeschool?
A combination of factors.
It became very apparent from an early age that mainstream schooling wasn’t going to work well for our son. He is a very kinetic person. He needs to be able to move which is something that mainstream schooling doesn’t really allow for. And it is a need. If you try and force him to remain still his entire demeanour changes. He either becomes overwhelmed and frantic or his mind shuts down and he can’t focus or think and he becomes despondent, often to the point where even his vocabulary shortens (or completely disappears).
Another consideration was the fact that our son has both an acquired speech impediment (caused by a series of seizures he had when he was younger) as well as a stammer. Due to this, it can often be very difficult for our son to be understood by people, including myself, and this often leads to great frustration and hurt.
My partner and I also looked at our own schooling experiences and concluded that we didn’t want our son to be subjected to the same. In my case, I actually found the mainstream approach suited me very well but I could not imagine how our son, without forcing changes to his fundamental personality, would be able to thrive in such a setting. In my partner’s case, as a child they were very similar in personality and behaviour to our son and they didn’t/don’t want our son to be forced to conform and endure school like they had to.
We also felt that we could provide more learning opportunities and interest-based learning options than mainstream schools could. Plus, home education was something we had been engaging in since birth so it seemed natural to continue expanding on that.
It was also a somewhat philosophical decision in that we looked at what we felt were the most important elements to ensuring a happy and healthy childhood and determined that the current approach to education in mainstream schools was antithetical to our priorities.
And the final reason was that we were in a position where we could afford to do home education, so why wouldn’t we?
How would you describe your homeschool style?
Mutable and eclectic! Since formally starting home education at the start of this year, we have changed our approach, philosophy, routine, learning priorities -pretty much everything – several times over. In fact, we have literally started a new approach as of this week! Each time we try something new, we hold onto the elements that worked and let go of the ones that didn’t. Each new start is better than the last.
At first I thought this was a problem, that we needed to have a single approach and a single philosophy, that we needed consistency and routine, but eventually I realised that I was just trying to make our family, a collection of oddballs, fit pre-designed structures. An incompatible homeschool approach is just as bad as an incompatible mainstream approach. So, once I realised this, I stopped trying to ‘get it right’ and instead focused on what was best for our son and for our family. Once that light bulb switched on, everything became a lot clearer and less stressful.
In the end, I guess the best way to describe our homeschooling style is to say that it is uniquely suited to us and likely to change at any given moment.
What does a typical day look like for your family?
In a four person household were three people are on the spectrum and everyone has OCD or OC traits, as well as myriad of anxiety disorders between us, you never really have a typical day. Who is home on any given day also affects how the day plays out – how my son and I interact is different to how my son and partner interact. And how my son and I interact is different depending on whether my partner is home or not, or if my brother is present or not. We all have different ways of behaving and approaching things based on who is currently around. I assume it’s just what happens when you have four people with social anxiety that, despite loving each other, don’t always want to physically be around each other.
Early on, because of this, we realised that the absolute worst thing we could do was try to work to a schedule. The amount of anxiety and stress that was generated from trying to complete A by 10 am or by lunch was just too much. We didn’t have a single day where everyone was in sync with each other, let alone the schedule. After trying things this way we swung to the complete opposite end of the scale and tried unschooling. This was probably the second worst thing we could have done. Turns out we all need routine and to feel like we are actively engaging in things. We are still trying to find the right balance between no deadlines or expectations but also knowing what we will be doing on any given day and feeling productive.
As of this week, we are trailing what I’m calling a ‘schedule-less routine’. It begins whenever breakfast finishes and ends whenever we have worked through all the activities. How long we spend on each activity isn’t pre-determined and is based on how our son is feeling and how the day is going in general. This way, we know what we will be doing but we don’t have to feel pressured to complete things by any set time.
Our current, and too new to know how well it is working yet, routine starts after breakfast and involves:
- Cooperative Reading i.e. picture clue readers or simple sentence readers.
- English – this can be an application like ABCmouse or Teach Your Monster to Read, it could be throwing beanbags at sight words, making words out of play-dough, or playing a board game that promotes reading, etc.
- Board game 1 – board games included in our routine are chosen by me and they all have a learning aspect.
- Maths – this may be an application like Matific or Mathseeds, a number based scavenger hunt, counting rods, or cooking. Maths is one area we really employ the use of board games to help develop our son’s addition, subtraction, and logic skills.
- Focus Lesson – this is determined by the day of the week i.e. Mondays we do science and Wednesdays we do art.
- Board Game 2
- LOTE – we are currently teaching ourselves Swahili.
- Interest Topic – this is a focus lesson based on a topic that my son has expressed a recent interest in. Past Interest Topics have included dinosaurs, the digestive system, gravity, etc.
- Board Game 3.
- Dictation – we do this daily for two reasons, to improve our son’s language and communication skills and to implement and/or reinforce any activities the OT has given us.
- Storytime – I will read a chapter book or a collection of storybooks. This is used also as a way to wind down at the end of the day.
You can find the Apps on iTunes here:
How do you use games in your homeschool?
In every way possible! Board games are a brilliant way to teach people! They can teach problem solving, observational skills, deduction skills, logic, strategic thinking, critical thinking, and a whole lot more. They can also teach subject specific knowledge – do you know how long a protoceratops was? Play Dinosaur Top Trumps and you will! – and they can encourage fine and gross motor skills, social skills, communication skills, patience, as well as helping to build character.
And there is a game for every single subject you can think of!
Want to teach your five year old about edible and medicinal plants? Play Wildcraft!
Want to teach your eleven year old about cellular biology? Play Cytosis!
Want to teach and/or reinforce addition with your four, six, and ten year old? Play Sleeping Queens!
There are games that teach geography, biology, history, geology, astronomy, even taxidermy!
And they can be a very powerful tool for teaching reluctant learners as most people view board games as something fun to do and not as ‘school work’.
We have games that we use to teach maths and logic, we have games that we use to teach language skills, we have games we use to help improve our son’s speech clarity, we have art games that encourage left brain/right brain thinking, we have games that promote fine motor skills and gross motor skills, and we also have some games that are just for fun.
Whenever my son is ‘getting tired’ with a particular learning activity, instead of trying to force him to continue with it, I will suggest we ‘take a break’ and play a board game. I will then choose a game that involves the same subject matter and/or skills as the activity he wasn’t interested in doing. In this way, he is still learning what I set out to teach him but just in a manner he is more willing to engage with. This has never failed to work (yet).
What impact have you seen from this in your family?
Since we started gameschooling – using games to teach – we have increased the amount of quality time we spend together as a family, reduced the amount of screen-dependant activities we engage in for learning, made learning on the go easier (just throw a deck of cards or a travel game in your bag!), and have made it possible for friends and family to engage in our home education.
Through his regular engagement with board games, our son has increased the amount of time he can comfortable stay in one place, increased his focus, has learnt how to work cooperatively with other people, has discovered how to handle defeat graciously (well, 80% of the time), and has learnt to be happy for other peoples’ success.
For my partner, it allows them to combine teaching with quality time so that they get to participate and engage in our son’s home education whilst also spending meaningful time together.
For me, gameschooling has made my day-to-day more fun and interesting. It has also reduced my baseline ‘homeschool stress’ as I know that if a planned lesson falls through for some reason I can always substitute it with board games. Another thing gameschooling has done is introduce me to other gameschooling families through Facebook groups and Instagram who I am really enjoying interacting with. And it’s great to be able to ask for game recommendations from people who evaluate games the same way you do – for their educational worth.
What are your five all-time favourite games?
My personal favourite game, however, is Eldritch Horror.
Besides games, what is one homeschooling resource that you have found helpful?
Facebook homeschooling groups. Having other people to bounce ideas off, seek advice from, and just generally interact with has been really helpful. Especially in regards to being made aware of such things like free resources, discounted curriculums, local events etc. It’s also a great social tool for people who want to connect with other homeschooling families in their local area.
Starting home education can be daunting and overwhelming, so it’s good to have people who have been there/are there who are willing to share their stories. They may not all be the same as yours but more often than not someone out there has been, or is, in the same boat as you.
What have you discovered about yourself through homeschooling?
That I have control issues. Actually, I already knew that. Homeschooling has simply made me challenge my control issues whilst also forcing me to learn how to let go – cautiously, of course.
What are you looking forward to next year?
Seeing Steve Backshall live at Southbank early next year as a part of our animal sciences unit!
And we have several Kickstarter games due to arrive at the beginning of next year that I bought specifically for gameschooling (check out Potato Pirates!).
Honestly, homeschooling is the absolute best excuse for doing all the fun things!