An abundance of learning programs are offered through Internet and TV. But how do you homeschool if you want your kids to totally unplug?
For starters, there are books. Recipe books for cooking activities. Science books full of experiments. Atlases full of places to explore. Biographies of great men and women who have made important contributions to our world. Short books and long books full of stories that take you to faraway places. If your child is too young to read or still struggling to read independently, use audio books. It’s completely possible to build your academic core around library books instead of buying pre-packaged curriculum.
Another popular homeschool staple is the lapbook, an excellent choice for kids who love to cut, color, and glue things. A simple file folder is transformed into an interactive learning tool when brightly colored shapes, flaps, and pockets are used to display fun facts. This method also helps students break a difficult topic into small, understandable parts. You can download free lapbooking templates from the Internet. If your kids enjoy scrapbooking, they’ll love lapbooking!
Making things builds skills and develops new interests. Choose a project that coincides with something you’re currently studying. For example, if you’re focusing on medieval times, build a model catapult or design a coat of arms. If you’re learning about American pioneers, make a quilt block or a covered wagon replica. Surprise Ride kits are hands on projects that give kids the chance to discover such marvelous wonders as superheroes, mythical creatures, and the universe. Everything comes in a box with easy instructions, no need to gather up supplies.
Manipulatives, art supplies, and games make great learning tools. You can buy tubs of colorful figurines for counting and sorting. Snap cubes are great for learning place value and basic math facts. Wooden craft sticks can be used for everything from building bridges to making puppets. Some kids would rather express their thoughts with artwork instead of words. Although there are plenty of overt educational games available, your children can also learn about spelling, money, and geography by playing classics like Scrabble, Monopoly, or Risk.
Get out of the house and explore all the fantastic learning opportunities in your community. Museums, zoos, aquariums, nature centers, and botanical gardens often hold activities for homeschoolers. Our town is home to an art museum, a science and history museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier turned into a WWII museum, a botanical garden, and a wetlands preserve. Look for activities that are close to you. Historical markers and nature sites can even be found in small towns. When you find that extra special place you want to visit over and over again, purchase an annual admission to save money. Most zoos and museums have reciprocal admissions programs.
There’s always the option of taking a field trip to an actual field or park. Grab a bird or insect identification guide, a camera, binoculars, and a notebook for sketching or jotting down your observations. If you’re lucky enough to have a state or national park nearby, be sure to visit. Most offer guided tours and classes.
Our most memorable homeschool experience was when our co-op went on a field trip to Padre Island National Seashore. Students ranging in age from five to sixteen worked together with park rangers to collect small sea life from the sand and water. The students then gathered in a classroom to study the organisms with a digital microscope. That day was a perfect blend of socialization and hands on learning!
If going on a field trip isn’t feasible, you can learn about nature at home. Identify plant and animal life in your own backyard, and consider starting a garden. If you don’t have a yard, opt for container gardening or grow plants indoors. My youngest son learned a lot about math and chemistry by keeping an aquarium. My boys also had a cricket terrarium for a while. No, the crickets never escaped in the house. Not to my knowledge anyway!
Give a kid a microscope, and there will be no end to what he or she discovers. My sons love to examine the intricacies of pretty much anything: cat hair, bug parts, skin, dirt, and moldy food. When you go on an outdoor adventure, bring home some leaves, feathers, or pond water to study.
Play music. If you don’t have instruments at home, make them. Buy some sturdy paper plates. Drop a handful of dried beans into one plate, and then staple another paper plate on top of it. Get out the art supplies, and decorate your homemade tambourine. Fill glasses with varying amounts of water. Gently tap the outside of each glass with a plastic spoon and listen to the different tones. See if you can make a tune. Turn an empty canister into a drum. Supplement your orchestra with toy instruments you find at thrift or dollar stores. Music is not only enjoyable, but it can also be used to reinforce counting skills.
When you fill your days with learning activities that don’t require batteries or electronics, you are creating lessons your kids will remember for years to come.
Lillian Pluta is a former middle school language arts teacher, a published children’s book author, a seasoned homeschool mom with co-op teaching experience, and a freelance blogger. She currently lives along the South Texas coast with her family and a small menagerie of rescued animals. When she’s not teaching or writing, she enjoys learning to play classical guitar and watching sumo wrestling.