by Elena McIntosh
One of the best advantages to home education is the ability to transcend typical disciplinary study in your lesson planning. This means allowing science, math, literature and social studies to overlap and complement one another. Examples of this might be writing poetry about math or studying a science concept within the context of the time period in which it was discovered. Interdisciplinary study allows for a deeper understanding of content or can provide reinforcement of concepts. The secret to the success of interdisciplinary study is that it provides a deep schema, or organization of ideas, as well as opportunities for repetition. It is crucial that the connections you make between subject areas be natural and true to life. When you plan interdisciplinary study well, you provide a meaningful and realistic context for the students, which brings the content to life for them.
I have begun practicing a simple form of interdisciplinary learning with my children, ages 3 and 2. Rather than focus on just one subject area at a time, I constantly refer to other subject areas in context. One way to make this natural is to tie your lessons together under one overarching theme or text. Here is an example of how this works.
Literacy, Fine Arts and Mathematics through Shapes and Colors
Concepts covered: counting, names of shapes, sides and angles, naming colors, mixing colors
In just a few weeks, my two year old son mastered the names of the primary colors, the names of several shapes and counting to five. My three year old daughter began to identify which colors combine to create which new colors and can count the number of sides in a shape fairly accurately. I selected several books with the theme of colors and shapes: Mouse Paint and Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh as well as Press Here and Mix It Up by Herve Tullet. After reading the texts, I brought out blocks that the kids could hold in their hands while we discussed shape names and counted sides. Then, I provided opportunities for the kids to paint while discussing colors. Over several weeks, we read stories, played with shapes and painted. As we did these things, we talked about mathematics concepts such as the number of sides in a figure. We practiced counting sides and naming shapes and colors. I asked them questions to promote language production and reinforce the vocabulary. See some ideas for questions below.
Step 1: Read Mouse Paint and then paint
“What colors would you like?” “Do you want more red?” “What happens when you mix the colors together?” “What happens when we add white to the color?” “How can we make it darker/lighter?”
Step 2: Read Mix It Up and discuss which colors mix to create orange, green and purple as well as discuss what affect black and white each have on the brightness of the color. As we read, practice making predictions. In Mix It Up, I ask my daughter to “predict” (remember) what color will result when the two colors are mixed. Use Teach My Toddler Kit to match colors and reinforce the names of colors.
Step 3: Read Mouse Shapes and discuss the names of shapes as well as reinforce the names of colors. Play with the shapes blocks and practice matching shapes to the correct space in the box and counting sides. I am aware that these are actually three-dimensional and should be called by their true names, so if you want to be more precise you can refer to the “face” of the block as being a square or triangle.
“What color is the square?” “How many sides does it have?” “Let’s count the sides to see if it matches the hole.” “This hole has five sides. Which shape also has five sides? Does it fit?”
Step 4: Read Press Here and discuss colors and counting. I also introduced the concept of grouping by column and row as a precursor to multiplication and addition. Use Teach my Preschooler kit counting chips to practice counting and grouping by matching chips to the provided templates.
Step 5: Independent shape sorting and side counting.
Next steps: Continue to describe the color of objects around us. Continue to experiment with color mixing. Continue providing counting and grouping activities. Because the Mouse books have characters, you can discuss character traits and feelings as you read as well. Put it all together and you have a rich unit of study on a variety of interrelated topics!
Additional reflections and tips
We read each of the texts several several times, possibly even ten times of the course of a month. Some of these texts we had read before I connected them together as a unit. Familiarity with the story helped us focus on some of content connections better. It is best to read the story as a story the first few times before you start interrupting it with content and questions.
If my kids were not in the mood, expressed extreme disinterest or got distracted from the activity, we quit doing it. It can be disappointing for the parent educator, but the key is not to abandon the lessons altogether. Rather, with young kids, remain flexible and responsive to their needs, while continually providing them the opportunity to engage with the material another time. With young kids, I just take my opportunity for instruction when I see them. I try not to over plan because that would make me and my kids frustrated. At home, we have the unique ability to be responsive to our children’s needs and interests. It’s not a race or competition. The learning will occur best when it occurs naturally.
How about you?
What lessons have you done that crossed disciplines? What might be a good example of interdisciplinary study for older children?