Back to School (homeschool, that is!)

back to homeschool

For many kids, August is the month where they realize the summer really does end, and school really will be starting again. For them, it’s the end of freedom. For homeschoolers, whose learning many never have actually come to a halt, it’s probably just another month. That may sound a little depressing if you don’t homeschool yet, so let me explain. Homeschoolers follow a schedule all their own, some follow a “traditional” calendar with summers off, and others school year around with week-long breaks as they see fit. Still others only work 3-4 days a week and have many outside activities. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can truly tailor both the education and the schedule to suit your family’s needs.

Our family tends to take most of July off, it just seems to be how it’s always worked for us, and I stopped complaining about the lack of work long ago. Our state (California) requires that school children in grades 4-8 have 54,000 instructional minutes per year. If that sounds bizarre, it is, but gives latitude for schools to figure out how to distribute that time. We divide that up among about 190-200 school days at about 3-4 hours per day. Some days are longer, some shorter, but it always averages out. Besides, learning doesn’t stop just because the “school day” is over. Even when they’re not doing “school work” they are generally working on some project.  At any rate, we believe in teaching not only through books, but through life experience. Many of those days that fall outside the 3-4 days of regular school work aren’t days off, but they’re days spent volunteering at a local horse rescue, exploring the area in which we live to learn, wandering through the many museums in the area, going to work with dad, or selling lemonade at their lemonade stand. All of these experiences are educational, but certainly don’t require books!

Those instructional hours can be found anywhere, at any time. We aren’t restricted to weekdays from 9-5, and that’s how we can use a 3-4 day week and still get everything done. Here’s how we keep learning fun, and education solid:

1. Tangents are valuable  learning experiences

When you start homeschooling, often the idea of getting everything done seems daunting, but it is not as hard as it first appears. It only looks formidable because you have never taken true ownership of your kids’ education, and so have never looked at what it requires. I know, because I once felt the same way. It looked too hard, too intimidating, and frankly, too scary. Once you step off the beaten path and start forging your own, you’ll see a wide range of educational opportunities. You can go off on a (learning) tangent and come back smarter and wiser for it.

These tangents are vital. How many times have you gone off on some tangent, and collected information and knowledge about far more than original topic? This is a natural way to learn! Keeping your focus on only one subject for an extended period of time is nice, but not exactly how we’re wired. We like to mix it up. We’ll work on one topic for a while, say between 15 and 45 minutes (depending on how things are going), then find some interesting documentary that breaks it up, but expands upon that same topic. We often realize that we have a book that’ll go along with the whole thing, and grab it to read from together. Sort of like the kids book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” During this wild ride down a winding and mysterious path, we’ll usually find little off-shoots to follow for a little while too.

Do you go off on learning tangents?

2. Sometimes the best learning happens when you combine two or more subjects. 

This is where tangents can come in handy. You’re heading down this path that winds from this direction to the next, and you see that you can include some statistics with history, or you can prepare a recipe from the culture you’re studying and include math and home-economics. Maybe you can make a project of the whole thing, in the Fall issue I’ll be talking about how to do just that.

3. Using every-day items in unexpected ways will deepen learning

One of my favorite examples of this is when we received a gift of flash-frozen salmon from my grandmother. The company shipped the salmon packaged in an insulated cooler with dry ice keeping it all cold. The salmon was an amazing gift, but my first thought after I got over the excitement of salmon (one of my favorite foods), was… “Science experiment!!” The boys learned about what happens when a solid goes directly to gas, and still remember the term (sublimation), and we had great fun talking about it as we poured more warm water over the dry ice to make it bubble and boil away. We also took the time to learn about salmon fishing, where to find it, why the salmon run is important to both the salmon’s success and to our dinner and finally.. ate the salmon. Ha!

What do you do to keep learning interesting?


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