Burning Gnome

Art, Technology, and Culture firmly planted in the Garden of Education

The Learning Circle: Beginning


   Feb 26

The Learning Circle: Beginning

While one of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to work with your child one on one, it is certainly beneficial (and fun!) to work in a group towards a common goal as well. We see this model exemplified in classes, sports teams, and co-ops. Another way to accomplish this goal, in home education or in a school setting, is with a Learning Circle. For the past year and a half, several families have joined ours twice a month to explore a seasonal and cultural theme in a structured yet creative and open way, and I’d like to share how it works for us.

The idea came to me from a series of books from Germany I happened to pick up at a Waldorf conference a few years ago. They are based on nature activities for childrenĀ  at the Children’s Nature and Garden Centre in Reichshof, Germany and provide an amazing path to living in the rhythm of the natural world. The series of four books, one for each season, are full of information, activities, and stories to engage with each season and learn new skills. I also wanted to add an element of cultural awareness and humanities to our learning circle as well, so we often match traditional holidays, festivals, and legends from around the world to our bi-monthly adventures. One of my favorite books for reference is Festivals Together by Sue Fitzjohn, but there are many references for seasonal and cultural activities year-round on the internet and in print.

Our learning circle began simply by reaching out to those I thought might be interested! Once we had a solid group of four families to start with, we met up to cover the themes for the entire year- something that saved us lots of time later on. It is important to note that we have not always stuck with our schedule nor subjects, but the framework gave us a foundation to rely on and guide us. It also gave us a basis upon which to review and change for the next year. During this time, we also decided when we would meet, how long we would meet, and how we would equitably distribute responsibilities for materials, presenting, etc. This early and clear communication was, and still is, essential to our success in making the Learning Circle run smoothly and remaining fun and interesting for our kids!

The actual structure of the Learning Circle is organized in a simple, consistent, predictable way:

1.We sit down in a circle and greet each other, sometimes in new and unique ways. Maybe it’s reviewing our weekend, maybe it’s naming our favorite flower or Jedi.

2.We hear a story or two (many times in puppet show format) relating to the theme we are exploring and the activities we will be doing.

3. We then move on to the activities (sometimes we have two going on at once, in which case the groups tend to naturally split on their own towards interest and then we switch). There is always an activity relating to the natural world, such as building bird feeders or working with wool; often the second activity relates to a cultural tradition, such as a Chinese New Year kite or a Day of the Dead Altar.

4. After we are done with the activities, half the children help clean up and the others set and decorate the table for our feast. This does not have to be fancy, but using lovely dishes and putting flowers and leaves on the table make it a positive and special sensory experience for the kids.

5. We always end with a song or two that, once again, relate to the theme.

I should note that many of us were unsure about whether we wanted to commit to a tight structure, but what we have found is that it works quite well. There seems to always be room for flexibility and creativity, and yet the experience always seems to be more enjoyable for everyone because the kids consistently know what to expect. We have concluded that because our children have so much freedom to explore their own interests much of the time outside the Learning Circle, they are perfectly happy (most of the time) to cooperate- especially when we get to make so many cool things. We all, parents and kids alike, have learned so many new things in our Learning Circle- from spinning webs to the story of Psyche and Cupid- and we are grateful for the enthusiasm, opportunities to make and create, and community that it has brought to our lives.

I will follow this post up with examples of what we have done seasonally, but this should give anyone interested a good idea on how to start their own. What kind of circle will you create?!

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