The Adventure of Homeschooling
by Joy Hayden
If you home educate your children, you will be asked the question, “Why did you choose to homeschool?” My response has always been, “Because the public school teaches some things I don’t want my children to learn and doesn’t teach them some things I do want them to learn.”
But there is more to it than the “why.” It is also about the “how!” There are many ways to learn, and I love the opportunities that home education brings to the table.
Homeschooling Can Be Fun
In April my husband and I had the pleasure of vacationing in Hawaii. While we were there, we visited the Polynesian Cultural Center. Even though my children are grown and I haven’t homeschooled in years, the “homeschool mom” inside of me came alive again when we visited this place. There were several huts or stations, each representing a people-group of the Polynesian islands. Each group demonstrated their cultural uniqueness. At one hut we learned about the many uses of the coconut and saw demonstrations of weaving and tree climbing. At the next hut, the group taught us how to sing their native songs and how to keep beat with a stick. Another hut focused on dancing, and so on. That is what homeschooling is to me: hands on, engaging, multi-sensory, tailored to interests, and…FUN.
Participate in Passion-Driven Learning
Years ago I was invited to an informal session with Mike Farris who was visiting friends of ours. He was advocating passion-driven learning. I remember the excitement I felt when I realized I was going to have the freedom to teach my children according to their interests and their learning styles. Learning did not have to be drudgery! And you know what? I learned right along with them.
Having fallen in love with the curriculum we were using, I developed a passion for world history. My children saw me get excited over the Middle Ages, and they got excited, too! We turned the house into a castle, learned how to sword fight, read St. George and the Dragon, and ate venison with our fingers. Over the course of the next twenty years, our family indulged in adventure after adventure as we moved through elementary school, middle school, and finally the high school years.
Craft Your Own Adventure of Homeschooling
You may claim that you don’t have the creativity to come up with ideas such as that. Maybe that’s true, but in a world of Pinterest and the Internet, there are plenty of ideas that you can borrow. If possible, I recommend that you partner with someone who does have creativity. This could be another family or a co-op. My family has done both. Here are three different suggestions you could try.
Create Designated Fridays
Although I would love to do unit studies 24/7, I recognize there is a place for workbooks and textbooks. When my children were elementary ages, they would do their workbooks and assignments Mondays through Thursdays. But on Fridays, we partnered with another family to do a fun learning activity. One Friday I would be in charge of the fun lesson/activity, and the following Friday my friend would conduct it. This gave each of us a day off every other week. This was not only fun and something my children looked forward to, but it was a great incentive for them to finish their assignments and homework during the first part of the week.
For example, one Friday we learned about apples. I picked out about eight different types of apples and sliced them up, and we had an apple tasting. Each child voted for his favorite, and to this day—twenty years later—they still remember which apple they picked. We sliced them and found the star inside, and we learned about their nutritional value, how they are grown, where they are grown, and more. That afternoon we went apple picking!
“That is what homeschooling is to me: hands on, engaging, multi-sensory, tailored to interests, and…FUN.”
Try Some Fourth Week Fun
As our kids got a little older, we changed our Friday fun days to “Fourth Week Fun.” The kids had regular textbook assignments for three weeks, and then we took off the fourth week to do a longer unit study. Again, one month I would prepare the unit study, and the following month my friend would prepare. Generally we would get together Mondays and Wednesdays of that fourth week, and the kids would work at home on related projects on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays we would have a special event of some sort, sometimes even including weekend getaways. Some of our unit studies included a mock campaign and election; Civil War studies, complete with our own re-enactment and then a trip to Gettysburg; and lessons on caves and bats, followed by creating cave dioramas with plaster cast fabric and then a trip to Luray Caverns.
Take Advantage of Working with Another Family
The advantages of getting together with another family were numerous. One, the children were more excited about the homework, and they complained less, knowing that their friends had to do the same assignment. Two, we would give quizzes and tests to make sure they had been paying attention. The healthy competition caused them to try harder and study more than they would have otherwise. Three, the two of us moms got a week off every other month to catch up on errands, appointments, and lesson plans.
Here is one example: When we did a unit study on the Titanic, we included reading the account of the tragedy, learning the parts of a ship, watching a video about the underwater remains, and then doing a creative essay. The kids helped each other study for the quiz on the parts of the ship. And those who usually complained about writing assignments were eager to re-write the ending of the Titanic saga. Because they were intrigued with the subject matter, the writing became a non-issue. Everyone loved hearing each other’s stories, and we laugh about some of them to this day.
Participate in Co-op Sessions to Share Creativity
Another way to engage in creative lessons is to join a co-op. This same friend and I gathered some other families together and formed a weekly co-op, using the same philosophy we had used in our homes except on a larger scale. We structured the school year into five-week unit studies. Two moms partnered to teach each of the unit studies. Students met on Tuesdays for four weeks to learn the material—perhaps Ancient Greece or reptiles or art. Then on the fifth week, there was a big celebration, such as an Olympic Games, hosting the Reptile Man, or an art show. Soon the group had ninety children in it! When we combined our efforts and resources, we provided some amazing opportunities for our kids, including meeting a space shuttle astronaut, meeting an Olympic gold-medalist, and sponsoring an entire platoon of soldiers in Iraq and then getting to meet some of them in person. Though I have long since left, the group is still going strong.
Pursue Personal Interests
We need to cover a wide range of subjects in school, but we can do it like the Polynesian Center does. Offer variety. Make it exciting and hands-on. Immerse yourself in it. Get your kids interested and trying new things. That will lead to further learning, because learning naturally begets learning. Also pay special attention to your child’s interests. If music drives a child, go down that path. If physical activity is your children’s interest, then exploit that. Remember that ideas and resources are at the touch of your computer keyboard!
If All Fails, Barter
If you still find this idea daunting, consider bartering. Find a family or group that you would like your children to join, and offer something in return. Offer to take meals, do their laundry, clean their house, babysit younger kids, or do yard work in exchange for piggy backing on their creative efforts. Or perhaps you like literature and can lead a discussion group in exchange for your science-minded friend hosting chemistry labs. Maybe you can teach crafts, horseback riding, or swimming, or include another family’s children in your cycling outings in exchange for their creative school adventures. We all have something to offer. We just have to realize that what is “natural” to us is prized by someone else.
Celebrate Homeschooling as an Exciting Option
Homeschooling is not just an educational option—it is an exciting option! Be sure to celebrate it; make it into an adventure. As you work at it, you will be amazed how much you will learn along with your kids. Teaching them can become a passion and not just a necessity as you focus on the “how” and not just the “why” of homeschooling.
Joy Hayden homeschooled her eight children from preschool through high school. During that time she also helped create and administrate two homeschooling co-ops. Joy and her husband, Mark, look forward to each new adventure that God has for them.
This article first appeared in The Viriginia Home Educator Magazine, Winter 2016.