Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas Activities - A Skills Audit

Do you worry about keeping up with the 'academic year'? Do you ever feel you are 'behind', or feel guilty for spending too much time doing 'extracurricular activities'?

Over the past few weeks I've really enjoyed watching my children becoming absorbed in a range of activities in addition to the main tasks outlined by our curriculum. Whilst our objective in these was not purely to develop a list of skills or to reach a specific educational objective, I found it quite instructive to reflect upon what they gained from these. To do this can be referred to as a 'skills audit'. Here are some examples:

1) Making Christmas cards

We have a plan to design a card each year, and for each person to have a role. That way, the children who are able to write can do that, whereas the little ones can have fun cutting and sticking. At the moment, the parents were having to do quite a bit of the design and supervise the whole process, but hopefully over time our role would be less. Here are some skills that they developed:

  • Design
  • Team work (and leadership)
  • Writing/ calligraphy
  • Drawing and craft
  • Making the list of recipients 

2) Christmas Baking

One of my favourite education tools is following recipes, particularly baking. There are many skills that are built:

  • Reading
  • Organisational skills
  • Planning and preparation
  • Consideration of what is seasonal and economical
  • Maths and measurement
  • Creativity in choosing shapes and decorating
  • Science
  • Kindness - deciding who to give the products to

3) Choir/ being involved in a performance

I am keen for the children to be able to sing nicely in a group since I think there will be many occasions in the future where this comes in useful. I had not expected them to be involved in a production at the National Theatre, with all the lighting and sound effects, and there were many additional things they learnt here:

  • Singing alone and in a group
  • Different styles and rhythms
  • Patience - a lot of the rehearsals involved sitting and waiting
  • Working in a group with a range of ages
  • Seeing the lighting effects
  • Different types of microphones, and which are most useful in different situations
  • How costumes and sets can enhance a production

4) The church Christmas production

This was quite complementary to what they did in choir - a broader range of ages and abilities were represented, and the rehearsals and planning meetings went on for a little longer. Additional things they learnt include:

  • Understanding how it can boost a person's confidence to have even a small role
  • Team work and leadership - hearing the discussions take place
  • That it takes hard work and commitment, and that we all learnt from mistakes
  • The pleasure in working hard together as part of a team
  • That each person has a valued role (even looking after the baby sister so both parents could have an active role)
  • That messages (here the message of Christmas) can be communicated in different ways - through word, song, acting and even dance

5) Watching documentaries

One of our treats is to watch documentaries, particularly about nature or about different places. They have loved David Attenborough, but more recently have come across a team led by Gordon Buchanan who use a range of different technologies to film unique aspects of the living world. (See here for an example of some filming in Burma). This has them absolutely captivated, and often their games involve setting camera traps, building hides and using night-vision and heat-sensor cameras. Often it is when they are playing that I appreciate just how much they have learnt. For us it is nature documentaries, but for you it might be something different. Something highly enjoyable but with immense educational value

6) Lego, models, other active toys

If you have a child who builds with lego and duplo, you probably don't need me to discuss all the skills they are developing through this. The boys all received something in this category for Christmas, and have had many hours of constructive play with them. Skills might include:

  • Organisation and planning
  • Reading
  • Visuo-spatial awareness
  • Familiarity with shapes and colour
  • Team work
  • Imagination

7) Creative play

One of the gifts we got for the boys was a masai-style blanket, so they can dress up as Masai warriors whenever they fancy. (Also to stop them pinching the throws from our chairs for this purpose). It's been amazing in the past three days to see the creative ideas for which these are used. Yes, we have had Masai warriors, but have also had several styles of tent and a north African souk in the garden. I love the fact that a simple, square piece of fabric holds so much potential. Skills noted:

  • Imagination
  • Acting out (and narrating) of history and geography learned over recent years
  • Team work and planning (the games are often quite complex)
  • Visuo-spatial skills
  • Design and engineering (building shelters out of sticks, rope and fabric)

8) Other games

It has been wonderful to appreciate that the children are now old enough to play games which are highly enjoyable as adults too. (It's not that I haven't enjoyed some of the Early Learning Centre games such as the Lunch Box Game, or the slightly quirky, Stop the Pigeon Driving the Bus). But I really enjoyed a game of something like Taboo the other day. (You might have a different equivalent - it is the game where you have to describe a word without saying the word or anything too close to it). I was amazed at how even the four year old was able to do this well. Their concentration is improving too, so we are able to do games which take a little longer (especially when the smallest one is asleep). Skills here are many and depend quite a bit on what the game is, but would include:

  • Language skills
  • Numeracy
  • Following rules and order
  • Kindness to one another

9) Time and space to choose activities and to explore

How often do your children actually do nothing? I appreciate that there might be some activities which are of more value than others, but what we find is that they really appreciate some time built into the day where they can choose what to do. So for example, every day we have an hour of 'quiet time' where they can choose a selection of books and read these - and could also choose to draw or write or do some other quiet and solitary activity. In the afternoons, we try not to take on too many extracurriculars to allow time most days to  simply play. I've read quite a lot about how 'modern' children don't always have enough time to play, and how they need time and space to allow their imaginations to develop. I am thankful that we are able to create the time and space needed here.

So, whatever you have been doing over the holiday period, I am sure your children will have benefitted greatly. If you are a homeschool family, I'd like to encourage you that even if you haven't been progressing through your set materials, your children will have likely developed in a range of areas simply through the opportunities presented in your day to day life.

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