When you see a title like free choice learning you might think – does Mrs. Crabtree just let her kids do whatever they want all day? I don’t, but unschooling and giving kids that much freedom isn’t a bad thing either, it just isn’t my style. As a classroom teacher turned homeschooler, I crave structure and schedules. The style of Free Choice Learning I use works 2 different ways and is always guided by an adult.
Homeschooling presents a unique situation
My style of free choice learning comes from the unique situation homeschooling presents: multiple levels all in one room. A homeschool is the combination class of all combination classes! You must have SOMETHING for one level to do while you are teaching the other level. H E L L O free choice learning!
My children are close in age. We used topic driven curriculum, otherwise known as: unit studies when they were in the primary grades. With unit studies all three of my kids were learning the same thing. This does not however solve all problems of the “combination” class. Kids still have natural pacing, talents and abilities. There are times when a parent (or teacher) is needed for one on one (or small group) instruction. What does the rest of the family (classroom) do when individual attention is needed? I solved this with what I called: Free Choice Learning.
How does Free Choice Learning Work?
Free Choice Learning worked in 2 ways. First each child had a topic of their very own choosing – their passion project I called it. This was a topic or activity that each child pursued themselves. Sometimes these were phases the kids went through and others continue to this day. When all work for the day was finished, but school wasn’t over, my bugs worked on their Free Choice Learning project. Douglas built Legos. Lauren drew Warrior Cats. Megan set up a school for the stuffed animals and taught them lessons. I could work with each child during this time throughout the week on any skill or topic that needed fine tuning or on the passion project itself.
Sometimes the passion project style of free choice can be independent. Other times kids need assistance from an adult or older sibling . Free choice learning however, is never a direct lesson I “teach”. The learning is self directed. If research is needed, I take them to the library. If a skill is needed, I absolutely help. One free choice learning activity was cooking. I set aside Tuesdays for cooking. This way my daughter has my attention. Her other days are spent organizing the pantry, making shopping lists and other activities necessary for her task.
The second style of Free Choice Learning was a cup of craft sticks with activities on them. These were activities that I knew, without a doubt, the kids could do independently without help from an adult or older sibling. The premise behind them is that I am working one on one with one or two of the other children, and “can’t” help for a little while. The rules were well established and it was always okay to interrupt for appropriate things. In a classroom these activities may be classified as things for “Fast Finishers” or even centers.
We used the craft stick free choice almost daily! I freely admit it was a sanity saver. The activities will vary from home to home (or classroom to classroom) but hopefully the suggestions help you establish these learning activities in your home. Remember the goal is that the kids can complete the activities themselves in about 15 minute chunks of time for K – 2nd and 30 minute chunks of time for older learners.
Our home had the luxury of an area for creativity as well as a computer for the kids to use exclusively. Mind you – this was back in the early 2000s before every kid had a tablet or a phone. My kids used an ancient computer my dad gave them to run CD games! We also had a book basket / reading area. When I work with one child, the others have plenty of options of where to go for Free Choice Learning.
The learning choice sticks are with our school supplies. Each child has their own set of cups. One cup is labeled: Free Choice Learning (NAME) and the other cup is labeled: COMPLETED (Name). This way each child picks age appropriate activities and does not pick the same activity over and over again. We select the activities at the beginning of the week, placing plenty in the cups. I never really limit them too much, if an older child wants to put lacing cards in their cup – I let them. The issue when choosing learning activities only comes up if something is too hard causing a child to need help. That is when I limit the choice. Every home and situation is different, by all means if you have older siblings available to help during free choice learning there is no wrong way to run it!
Free Choice Learning Ideas:
Here is a list of ideas you can use for free choice learning in your home or classroom.
- Water colors
- Fuse beads (I ironed the design later)
- Pattern blocks
- Magnets and accessories
- Educational computer game or app with a timer nearby (we set the timer for 15 minutes)
- Flash cards
- Matching games
- Wood blocks
- Create a baseball card for a book character
- Complete a mini report on an invention – 10 fun facts and a picture
- Draw the water cycle
- Diagram an insect
- Complete an ABC chart – list a gratitude for each letter, (do the same for other topics like: jobs, first names, food, etc.)
- Virtual field trip to country of your choice (we used books – you can use travel videos)
- 10 fun facts about ___________
- Complete a word search or crossword
- Make a cootie catcher
- Nature observation – go outside and sit use your senses and record what you: see, smell, feel, hear
- Go on a walk, scooter, bike ride (if age appropriate)
- Play catch by tossing ball in air
- Indoor PE activities I had an index card that said: 10 jumping Jacks 5 push ups, jump rope for 2 minutes, etc.
- Lacing cards
- Coloring books and crayons
- How to draw books
- Alphabet rubber stamps
- Paper dolls
- Label map of the US
- Label Map of the world
- List states and capitals
- Plan a field trip
- Complete a mini animal report (10 fun facts and a picture)
- Draw the constellations
Regrouping after free time
When I am done working with the child that needed the structure of mom time, I call out a 5 minute warning. This gave everyone 5 minutes to finish up what they were working on. At the end of the 5 minutes, the kids are given time to clean up their work areas and return to the main school table. I make a point to ask each one to report on what they did for free choice learning, and the child that was working with me also has the opportunity to give a report. After everyone has shared, we are ready to move forward with our “regular” school day.
It is always important to give as much time as we can to our children or students when they need a little more from us. Free choice learning activities keep the other learners actively engaged and learning while you provide necessary instruction. I look forward to hearing how you implement these activities into your educational setting!
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