Well, we abandoned our star chart today. I was feeling rough anyway when I woke up, and DS2 & 3 were in a snuggly TV-watching mode, so I guessed from the outset that structured work probably wouldn't be a good direction to follow today (and there's no way I'm going to turn down some snuggling & cuddling...!) Also I felt that yesterday we had pushed the star chart into 'work' zone, so decided to have a non-star-chart day today to try & cancel that out. DS1 logged on to the computer (GridClub) and found a game that asked him 3 'living things' questions, and then ran to ask me if that counted as a 'science' star - which confirmed to me the need to give it a rest: if we had stuck with the star chart, he would have moved on to the next subject, done as little as possible to get each star, and finished as quickly as he could - whereas when I said we weren't doing the star chart today, he said 'cool', and ran back to the computer where he spent the next hour absorbing facts about the solar system, building a virtual railway from London to Bristol, etc. This way, without the star chart dictating what he should learn, he probably learned far more than just crossing off tasks on a list in his mind. Once he'd had enough screen time, he also got in a good amount of lego-time :) I think giving children the time and space to play and explore with different materials is essential to sparking their imagination and creativity (as mentioned in this article which I really like from 'Ross Mountney's Notebook': Learning to play and playing to learn). Finally this morning he wanted to watch TV, so we found an episode or three of 'Kid Detectives' (currently showing on Pop) that we had recorded. I find it really helpful to record certain series for DS1's age (10yo), as many programmes for his age can be pretty mind-numbing. He loves Kid Detectives, where kids explore both 'at home' & 'fantasy' mysteries using forensic & detective skills, and it's stimulating his learning too :)
The choice to be structure-free today was also driven by my over-all priority for DS2, which is still to give him whatever space he needs to deschool, as considered in "to deschool or not". He generally enjoys the star chart, and doing 'learning stuff', but he is definitely the first to get discouraged and give up. I am trying to be sensitive to that as his desire to learn - and his confidence in his own ability to learn - is very low at the moment, so his enjoyment of whatever we're doing is paramount: I want him to remember how much fun it is to find things out. So, a non-star-chart day with no prescribed learning has also done him good. As DS1 was on the computer, the TV was available for DS2 & 3 to watch CBeebies, and all the lovely gentle educational programmes on there. Some of them (but not all) are admittedly a bit young for DS2 - but it encourages him in the things he knows, and then the programmes more suited to his level gently lead him on from there. Of course, it wasn't all TV for DS2 & 3 - they did get fed up at one point and wandered off to make up a game with some discarded bubble-wrap they had found, made some bugs out of rocks, stickers and card, then played with lego, recorded messages on the tape recorder etc - and unsurprisingly, once DS1 had left the computer, DS2 jumped on and had a play making sandwiches etc (with DS3 "helping").
This afternoon we went out for a run-around and play with some friends after they had finished school. DS1 in particular is missing seeing his friends from school, so I'm trying to make sure he gets regular playdates... and of course I'm hoping we'll all make friends with some other home edders too - we're looking forward to meeting some more new friends in a HE group getting together for 'soft play' next week!
So anyway, today was a successful day of no 'educational' structure at all. It's tempting to use that as an argument against using formalised incentives, but actually to me it's just another proof that we're still learning and adapting. Some days (as in Mon-Weds this week) the star chart, work books etc work really well for us - other days it's just about being flexible and recognising when the boys (or I) are just not in the mood - and then we embrace other forms of learning. We really do have the best of both worlds! Maybe in a year's time we'll have given up on the star chart, maybe we'll use it all the time - or maybe we'll still be fluctuating, using a variety of methods and tools depending on the mood and circumstances on any given day. I wouldn't like to even try to say where we'll be - but I'm hoping I'll be better aware of my boys' needs and abilities, and what works for us... and most of all, I'm just really looking forward to the journey :)