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Homeschooling does not need to be a schedule of events separate from home life. Homeschooling can be a peaceful, relaxed, always-learning lifestyle.
No matter which homeschooling methodology you gravitate towards, a few underlying principles remain constant.
As homeschool parents, our role is NOT to:
- assume the role of an expert in EVERY subject at EVERY grade level, and
- additionally become a magician who can make kids sit still, listen, and learn Everything you explain All the time.
Rather, as homeschoolers, we have the freedom (and responsibility) to:
- provide a learning-rich environment
- encourage a love of learning
- help our children learn in a way that works with (not against) their own unique personalities and strengths
Whether you are doing unit studies, an eclectic mix of styles, unschooling, or taking a classical approach, you are free from the constraints of a busy classroom and a test-driven agenda dictating every minute of your day.
Although the freedom may sometimes seem a bit terrifying or overwhelming (help! what am I supposed to do all day with these kids?!), remember that your “job” is not to place every bit of information into their brains that they will need for the rest of their life.
Our job is to facilitate the learning process, to not squelch the innate love of learning that children are born with and to provide a learning-rich environment.Our job is to facilitate the learning process, to not squelch the innate love of learning that children are born with and to provide a learning-rich environment.
What is a learning-rich environment?
Kids learn so much from the environment around them. There is no epic, complete agenda of the ultimate list of things children must learn in life – despite what our school culture may lead us to believe.
Any such attempt at an authoritative list is only the tip of the iceberg of all the accumulated knowledge at large in the world anyway. And any set of standards turns a blind eye to the thrill of just living, of discovering the world and making sense of life, relationships, the universe, the secret society in an anthill, and the way the rushing spray of a waterfall can overwhelm your senses.
Let’s provide our children with access to nature, to information, to ideas, to conversations. Let’s help them ask questions about everything and give them tools to find answers, and teach them awe when they stand on the precipice of all that can be learned and realize infinity lies beyond.
But for real … ?
Admittedly, that was fun to write … but not the most practical homeschooling advice. How does this romanticized notion of non-traditional education help a mom who’s pulled in a dozen different directions trying to put out fires, stave off starvation, plan enriching activities, and not go insane when kids complain that they’re bored?
Some practical tips
Here are some hopefully helpful practical ideas for ways to set up a home environment and family culture of always learning, creating a learning-rich environment to cultivate a love of learning in those busy, curious, attention-and-thrill seeking children of ours.
Fill their spaces
Fill their rooms, common areas, backyards, and backpacks with things to explore. This does not mean you should clutter your home! On the contrary, this works best when everything is streamlined and simplified, and new objects are introduced on a clean slate, welcoming attention.
Exposing not Expecting
This is often referred to as “strewing” – placing new objects around the house with no strings attached. Expose them to new ideas and things, but don’t expect them to care. (#keepingitreal) If they don’t care about the maps you placed on the table or the SuperFun Parts of Speech lapbook you prepared, it’s okay – you can try again later. (A little prodding/encouragement doesn’t hurt, IMO, but honestly, don’t force the love of learning down their throats. That doesn’t end well. Or work.) The things you strew should be open-ended enough to inspire questions and discovery and (age-appropriate) challenges, not something that has only one possible use (like a worksheet. Don’t strew worksheets, hoping they’ll inspire completion and knowledge-absorption.)
What Stuff Do I Strew?
This gets to the heart of the matter. What kind of things can we fill our homes and lives with to create this ideal learning-rich environment? Here are a few categories of suggestions – you may already be doing a lot of these!
Go on nature walks and let your kids find treasures that are valuable and interesting to them. They may be fascinated with a gum wrapper (great conversation starter about littering and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!) or a bird’s nest or rocks. Anything they care about counts. Bring it home (if possible) and let them talk about it more, play with it, recreate it, read books about it, make crafts with it, sing songs to it … lol, you really can’t go wrong here!
Set up a system of toy/book/everything rotation so that your living areas are only filled with daily use items, then rotate things through so that old things constantly become new.
Buy (cheap) Things. Or (find) free things.
Dollar stores and thrift stores and libraries and end-of-year library book sales and TPT … all can provide SO MUCH learning material that you can get free / give back / re-donate / throw away when they’re all learned-up. Books, games, puzzles, costumes, toys, old dishes for play kitchens, used tools for woodworking, broken electronics for exploring and salvaging used parts … All of it can in inspire playful, creative learning.
- Word of caution: Try to avoid developing a hoarder’s mindset here. It’s hard. Once you see the educational value in old tools and recyclable garbage, it’s hard not to start stockpiling everything. The danger with this is that you then start expecting your kids to use everything. They won’t. You’ll be disappointed. Your house will be a mess. You’ll throw it all away and bring out the worksheets.
- Avoid this scenario by forcing yourself to get rid of stuff as soon as it has passed its prime. Cardboard boxes that make great rockets only take up space that could be used for the next adventure if they linger too long. (I speak from so much experience here. 0_0)
Questions and conversations and interesting YouTube videos and normal life moments like cooking or fixing cars or helping stray cats … all are great learning opportunities! Involve your kids in everything (aka, some things) you do so that they can learn how to live in the real world by … living in the real world :). Encourage a growth mindset as you work together through mistakes and problem-solve real-world issues like the parenting ninjas you are.
Live life together
Just be there with your kids, providing resources and ideas and tools as needed. And give them space to explore and be bored and discover the adventures that appear on the other end of boredom. They’ll learn through play, through talking, through watching and doing and knowing their ideas and skills are valuable and valued.
They might not learn everything on any given checklist, but the richer you make their environment, the more they’ll learn about life, themselves, and the world around them. This real-world approach to learning will prepare them to face the future, pursue dreams, and not settle for less than the best.
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Sandra, formerly a high-school math teacher (M.A.), now homeschools her two boys and shares her interactive, authentic learning activities, homeschooling stories, and passion for learning and teaching at R.E.A.L.-World Learners. You can view her products (including several freebies!) in her Teachers Pay Teachers store and follow her eclectic, sometimes hectic (but usually happy!) learning adventures on Instagram.