" Some days we paint with large bold strokes, like when someone finishes a book report or gets a piece of music ready for performing. Most of our days are softer in color. A little dab here a little dab there, following a rough draft, but allowing ourselves to paint outside the lines when we want too. "
~ Deborah Jean

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Busy Hands, BUSY WORK or both?

This question pops up over and over in my mind as a homeschooling mom and I always seem to come around to the same answer. More times than not BUSY HANDS wins over busy work every time.

Especially with our son in our early homeschooling years. I was an excited new homeschooling mom of two children. A boy 5 and a girl 3. After much research I purchased a boxed curriculum set and went about trying to teach our son his letters and sounds and  how to read and write when he was of Kindergartner age.

 But our son was a reluctant reader and writer in the beginning. Most of the time I would ask for very little in the way of writing but what he did do had to be his best efforts. It pained him to sit and write...And it pained me to watch him.  Each letter had to be perfect or he would erase it and start again. I was a bit confused by this since he had never been to school but I soon learned that what we were dealing with was simply a maturity issue. He was just too young to do this sort of work happily and with confidence so instead I provided him with loads of  natural wooden blocks, Lego's KINEX, art supplies, play dough, and let him play to his hearts content. And we got outside for exploring as often as we could.

NOTE TO HOME TEACHER:  Let go for now, and  RELAX. He will READ and WRITE someday..:) I've learned so much from our son. He has taught me more than anyone that learning happens when the student is ready and in their own way. Even more, he has taught me that patience is key , no matter what or how you are learning. He's doing great! I'm still a work in progress however.

 I worried ( of course ) that perhaps I  should  be making him "work more" but my heart told me other wise...He was happier ( not in an I got my way happier, but with a peaceful joy ) with busy hands and I knew he was building other things too. He was building the confidence he would need to learn other skills as he grew older.

It's no wonder I fell in love with Charlotte Mason's gentle learning approach for the elementary ages. I was so thrilled to discover that some of the ideas I was experimenting with intuitively were the very foundation of her teaching philosophy. She was a firm believer in making it a daily habit for short but well executed lessons, then on to other things usually outside IN NATURE that would engage and delight the child for hours on end. She encouraged Nature journals, and Narration which we soon added to our " bag of homeschooling tricks". Narration has gone by the wayside as our children have grown and become strong independent readers, but  I'm happy to say nature journaling is still alive and well and encouraged in the Oak Meadow curriculum we currently use.

Nature Study "We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things."
Charlotte Mason~  

What fun it was to read a story to the children then have them " tell it back" in their own words with such interest and enthusiasm. Or to listen to books on C.D. together on a cold winters day snuggled up on the couch together.  Our daughter on the other hand LOVED workbooks. She enjoyed the challenge of filling in the blanks as fast as she could. A homeschooling friend recommended a series of workbooks with a phonetic approach for learning to read called Explode the Code . I started she and her brother with their beginner level workbooks which seemed to satisfy our daughters need to fill in the blanks, and our sons need to get it over with as soon as possible. And even though he didn't dive in to his workbooks with the greatest of ambition, I know he experienced a sense of satisfaction for finishing a small piece of work each day and seeing a gradual improvment over time. This approach lessened his " need to be perfect" to some extent. And yes, he/they eventually learned to read!
 I chuckled to myself many times because to our daughter " busy work" was all about how fast she finished, NOT if the answers were correct or even legible. Most of the time she was right and sometimes I could read what she wrote, but the best part of the whole exercise was to watch her beam at her accomplishment's!

NOTE TO HOME TEACHER: ... This girl loves a challenge and thrives on seeing things through to the finish line... She's taught me a lot about being competitive.  She has a thirst for learning and the drive to get her anywhere she chooses to go... I knew this when she was three. She's a builder too. Blocks, paper and tape were her favorite items to use when she was in the "construction" phase of her growing up. She would whiz through her " busy work" then get her hands busy as fast as she could building something. Sometimes the living room was turned into a private fort just for her and her favorite stuffed animal friends, and other times the floor would be covered with paper villages she had constructed from paper and tape.

And to think some people think it's boring staying home with young children!

( hand painted by Zach with homemade ZEBRA stencil and spray paint )

To this day our children still build with their hands. It's nothing I  instilled. I just nurtured what was already there and natural to begin with. 

  Building anything is pure PLAY to a young child and can be the same for you if you are still open to it! 

 The art of playing and a love of nature is something I hope will stay alive in our children all of their days. 

* the point of featuring these hand painted NERF GUNS IS for ARTS sake only. I think they make an interesting canvas, don't you?

 Busy Hands  busy work or both? I would love to hear about what your children create with their BUSY HANDS!

Who's teachings INSPIRE you in your homeschooling approach?


  1. Lovely post today. You have such a gentle soul, how blessed your kids are to have you.

  2. Thank you for sharing this post. After being a Charlotte Mason follower for 10 years I strayed away into a much more classical teaching style. Thankfully, I came to my senses and have returned to Charlotte Mason with my younger set of kiddos.

  3. Thank you for sharing your observations on homeschooling in the early days with your children! You have written many helpful things for homeschoolers.

  4. I love this. Love it. A few years ago, I was trying to "do school at home." We had desks, a schedule, and a set of worksheets to be completed. To say we were unhappy and stressed is an understatement. We never "had time" for "fun stuff," because "school" wasn't done. :/ What time I wasted!!
    Then I discovered Charlotte Mason, and fell in love. It is who we are. We LOVE "living books," nature study, narration, hands-on activities. I use Teaching Textbooks for math, and the kids love it, but I've stuck with CM for everything else. I especially love that history is taught in story-format, with CONTEXT, not just dates and names to remember. And I believe that the CM approach fosters a love of learning, unlike "institutional learning."
    Thanks for this.
    Oh, and my son is also a reluctant reader, but he is making progress and gaining confidence every year, going at his own pace. :)


Thanks for visiting today! Id love to hear about your home school happenings too. I read and enjoy each and every comment so leave one for us all if you have the time!
Happy Creative Homeschooling
Deborah Jean