If I Could Just Go Back
If there’s one thing I wish I’d known when I began homeschooling, it’s this: relax. I wish I’d understood that learning happens in all sorts of ways. That outside is nearly always better than indoors. That the best memories aren’t made by reading textbooks. That I had plenty of time.
When I was new to the whole wide world of homeschooling, I felt a lot of pressure. At the time, we lived in a very well-regarded school district, and my friends couldn’t understand why I would keep my kids home. I didn’t know a single other homeschooler. The internet was in the early stages, so homeschool blogs and curriculum sites were not a thing. I’d never even heard of a homeschool convention, let alone gone to one.
I was lost, worried, and very much on my own.
So, I bought some textbooks, workbooks, crafted a strict schedule, and began formally teaching my 4 and 5 year old children. Who hated just about every second of it.
Some days I just couldn’t face ‘doing school’ so we just turned on PBS and sat in our pajamas most of the day. I was hot or cold, energized or defeated. It was an auspicious start to Agnew Academy.
I won’t repeat our entire Homeschool Story here, but suffice to say that after a couple of years, the Lord provided help in the form of homeschool friends, good books, and a little much-needed wisdom.
Gradually, our days took on a different form as we moved away from textbook learning and toward reading fun books together, doing art projects, splashing in mud puddles, baking together, and just playing.
I realized that learning could be FUN.
Of course, I sprinkled in some structured lessons every day. My kids learned how to read using a textbook. They learned penmanship and math from workbooks. But the bulk of our lessons came from other places. We followed well-loved recipes from my mother’s cookbooks, ran races on foot and by bicycle on the road in front of our house, went to the library and found books on building model castles out of cardboard boxes, crafted sugar cube Egyptian pyramids, read the Little House books and made (very burnt) maple sugar candy from snow.
And we went places: the zoo, the natural history museum, our local police station. The kids always went with me to the local polling place to watch me vote; we went to Kennywood each summer to sweat and scream our lungs out on the big roller coasters. We drove to a local park and searched for snakes and crayfish in the creek. We went to our homeschool co-op each week to play with friends, learn about the human body, or plants and animals; we put on plays and musicals.
We made memories.
Listen, there’s a time and a place for textbooks and formal lessons. But those things need not rule our homeschooling days. Children can’t help but learn-all the time, every day. They learn from the natural world around them. They learn from watching and imitating adults. They learn through play and make-believe.
Perhaps, like me, you are someone who needs ideas on how to mesh structured lessons with creative play.
Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:
- Read the Little House books together and do a unit study on pioneers.
- Take your children to the library and see what kinds of books they are drawn to. Castles? Study the middle ages. Dinosaurs? Create a science study on them. My son spent about 3 years being enthralled by snakes. Every time we went to the library he got the same snake books out. So we built a science unit and his co-op science project that year around snakes.
- Start a nature journal. Buy a blank sketch book and go outside. Collect leaves and glue them to the pages. Sketch birds and flowers that you see around you. Look up animals that are native to your area and cut out pictures of them to glue into your journal pages.
- Visit a local farm that welcomes children, borrow some farming books from the library and study where food comes from and how it gets to the grocery store. Plant a garden, or grow some seeds from pots on your window sill. Do you know how exciting it is to watch a new green thing pop up from the soil?
- Make time for the messy stuff like Art class. Choose a different artist each week and copy his or her style. Jackson Pollock? Go outside and fling paint onto posterboard. Then go to a local museum and do a scavenger hunt for different artists or styles of paintings.
Need some more inspiration? Check out these posts!
Learning never needs to be dry or rote. Homeschooling gives us the freedom to be creative and innovative in our lessons, and build learning around our children’s natural interests and enthusiasms.
The Homeschool Collective
Alison Agnew is married and the mother of four children, all of whom have been homeschooled for the past 15 years. Her eldest recently graduated from high school and is currently serving in the Air Force. Alison has been blogging for about ten years, now at The Homeschool Collective. She and her family reside in a small town nestled in the rolling hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. She is passionate about Jesus, good books, and life-long learning.
Visit Alison’s website and follow her on social media for more inspirational homeschool content.