Now let me walk you through how to actually USE the stations with your child!
First of all, let me recommend that you download a copy of these 2 free files from my shop site:
The chart is for keeping track of what is being done. This can be helpful if you’d like to encourage your kids to explore all the stations and not just stick to the one or two that they enjoy the most.
The journal pages are for if you’d like to have them keep a record of what they are learning. Nothing too involved like writing an essay or answering complicated questions…just share what they learned, what they thought, how they felt it went, that sort of thing. These can be saved in a binder, bundled together with all the hard copy things they do regarding a specific topic to be shared with family members and friends and revisited later when they feel like refreshing their memory on what they learned during that study.
You may choose to use these activity pages…you may not! They certainly are not required! But if you think they might help you…there ya go! They are free!
How you handle your daily routine with stations is very open to what will work best for your family…as this is going to be different for everyone.
But here are a few things I would suggest:
- Have a nice big open block of “Station Time” and let the child choose how to spend that time. I don’t believe this sort of learning idea would work well with scheduling in the stations to a set time frame or even into a set order.
- Outside of a few minor requirements (like, for example, I do require my children to do a math curriculum, and I’ve always tried to encourage some reading every day. Still working on that. SIGH)…remember to “Inspire, NOT REQUIRE” when it comes to stations. This should be about sparking interest, so it needs to be a CHOICE. As such, the stations need to be free to be CHOSEN, and likewise, ignored.
I see this similar to what I was taught early on in parenting by a parenting expert: Your job is to put healthy food options in front of them, it’s their choice whether or not to eat it. Same idea here, but with learning options. Give them amazing, enriching learning options that they are likely to be drawn to, and then let them choose from all the great options. But you cannot force-feed an 8-year-old education any more than you can force-feed them broccoli. THEY decide if they are interested and learn or not. You just provide a great environment with awesome role models. Now, I do something with my kids when I want them to try new foods that also works for learning….at least TRY it a little before you make a decision on how you feel about it!
- Have a clear ending. Meaning, have a set time period or a number of activities when stations time can end if they are ready for it. If they are still enjoying themselves and wish to continue, of course they can keep going, but it’s helpful to know when activity time can end. Not that the stations are required, but that they are going to try to check some things out (on the topic that they chose) during that time, and maybe they can know that it can end as soon as they feel they are done…or maybe you want them to at least try 3 or 4 station activities first, or spend 15 to 20 minutes engaging first. That’s between you and your kids. If this could become an issue, it might be a good idea to have a meeting with your kids before and talk it all out and write out an agreement so it’s very clear to all concerned just when the clear ending is and what they agreed upon. Hopefully, you guys have put cool stuff in the stations and they are raring to try it all out, but some kids are just reluctant to do new things. So you may have to push the issue to get them to try this new thing and tweak as you go to find a way to make it work for them. Tweak away!
And then, maybe it just doesn’t work…and that’s ok too! Try something else!
- Make sure you have EVERYTHING needed for each activity at each station all set up and ready to go for the day before you set your kiddos loose to station time. That means if there’s a recipe or a craft at the Create Station, make sure you have it all there already, including tools needed to do it. It’s a real bummer when you get excited to do something and find out that a key ingredient is missing! This is another reason to only have like 2 or 3 things in each station…a lot less prep! (Especially since many stations are just digital links!)
- Make sure your child understands how to use the technology. If they are going to be using Wakelet on a tablet, make sure they know where to find it on the tablet and how to use it. Practice this with them. If they are going to be using a computer, same thing. If they are going to need to research something, make sure that they know how to do what they need to do…and that you are there to supervise.
- Screen all videos and websites ahead of time! This is really important! You want to know they are appropriate AND interesting!
Most of the videos I use with my kids are under 15min, to ensure their interest is held, so this isn’t very time-consuming if there’s only 2 or 3. Here’s a trick for you: on YouTube you can speed up the video speed! So if you need to screen the whole thing but the person talks fairly slowly, you can speed it up and still catch enough to know that it’s appropriate and interesting but in less time! For longer documentaries, look and see if you can find a review online somewhere or watch it ahead of time if you have the time. Another option is to click through it and get a sampling idea of what it’s like and make sure to watch WITH your kids. Usually, high-quality documentaries like PBS and BBC are safe bets, but it really just depends on what your family feels is appropriate.
For websites, click around as much as you can throughout the site, as your kids might do. Or just commit to sitting with them to ensure they don’t go somewhere they shouldn’t. This is another good reason to make sure that you have all the content blockers you can have on your browsers to make browsing safe for your kids. But these are still not foolproof.
As far as what Station Time can look like…
What I did in the past, (and this changed as our mood changed), was I would start the day off with our Play Station. That way we could start the day together and playing games and having FUN, together! They got to pick the game we played to start our day. I only insisted that it was something NOT on the computer at that time. I wanted to save computer stuff for later. And then the kids could just pick whatever stations they wanted to do after that. I would help as they needed me.
Depending on the age of your child, you could just let them be the leader and ask them “What are we going to do next?” Or if they don’t need your help, just let them go and tell them to come to get you if they need help with something. If you’ve made sure to set things up in a way that everything is right there and ready to go, and they are old enough to handle it, they should be fine. And they know where to find you if they need you.
Once the week is over…
You will need to plan again for next week. Weekends should work just fine since this shouldn’t take you too long to plan things out. Follow the planning instructions in the previous posts.
You only really need to swap out the things that were completed and are unlikely to be done again. See how things go, and some stations may not have been touched yet and don’t need rebooting the following week. Keep an eye on those stations and see if they get neglected more than one week…if you cannot encourage your child to check out those activities after a couple of weeks, swap them out for something new, maybe they just weren’t appealing enough. Keep trying!
Just make sure to keep the things that interest them and can be repeated or continued in just long enough to continue to engage them. Take them out as you see that they are starting to fade and move something new in.
I know a lot of this stuff is just common sense. But maybe it helps.
And that’s basically it! As Dr. Larry Cohen of Playful Parenting says “Follow the laughter.”
In our case, it’s not just laughter, it’s that look of interest that tells you that you have an engaged child.
It’s the trail of questions they ask when they find something that interests them and they want to know MORE! Follow that! Pay attention for THAT and do what you can to make that happen MORE!
And enjoy sharing all these fun new experiences with your kiddos! Let me know how your learning adventures go! I’d love to hear in the comments what you end up learning about and how it goes!
Also, share with us over on the Facebook group! You knew I wasn’t going to end without mentioning that, didn’t ya?