Sunday, September 14, 2014

Add a Little Adventure to Your Home School

Add a Little Adventure
to Your Home School

Life isn't just a matter of fun and games, but a spoonful of sugar sure can help the medicine go down. We can help our children actually enjoy the process of doing their work rather than just tolerating it. In the process, they will learn their own lifetime techniques for making tasks interesting. 

Middle school kids are naturally inquisitive. This creates big demands as Mom and Dad are barraged with “how” and “why” questions at inopportune moments. Within reason, we should not squelch curiosity, but catapult it into self-motivated learning situations.  Here are some ways to enliven academic pursuits:

Hobbies: Hobbies can provide beautiful balance to a home education program. They offer brain-enriching opportunities to plan projects, select materials, follow patterns and instructions, develop skills, care for equipment and supplies, make useful items, and nurture creativity. You could spend tons of money on this (“I want a pony!”) but many activities are free or cheap. 

Imagination: Encourage your children to use their imaginations to ask “what if?”  Let them dream about what they would do with a million dollars or what new technology they want to invent. Even middle school kids can enjoy a well-stocked dress up box for making up their own skits and shooting videos.

Interests: Plan some of their school lessons around their own interests. At the beginning of one school year, I let each of my children choose one independent unit study topic to do for three weeks. One daughter chose dogs because she was passionate about them, even though we haven’t ever had one. She became a virtual “walking encyclopedia” about various breeds. She knew how big they are and the countries from which they originated. She constantly checked out library books about dogs, including titles on how to draw them. Her walls were covered with her sketches, original stories and collages of magazine pictures. For her birthday, I found the Dogs and Puppies Complete Identifier guide book featuring more than 170 breeds in full color photographs. As you can see, from this one interest, she learned reference skills, geography, math, literature, art, creative writing and alphabetization -- and she didn’t even know she was doing school work!   Later, she switched to other interests like music and British literature.

Literature: Include adventure stories in their literature selections, especially as they relate to a unit study. When we studied Australia, we read the first three books of Robert Elmer’s Adventures Down Under series, set in the 1800s. It didn't even seem like school time.

Seasons and themes: Plan art projects, literature, field trips, music, and cooking to enhance holidays, seasons and unit studies.  For example, at Christmastime you can plan an Advent Adventure unit by singing carols, baking cookies, making presents, and reading favorite Christmas poems and stories. For St. Patrick's Day, make green foods to eat, and read about the real St. Patrick.

Bookmaking and displays:  Let your children make an illustrated book or display to creatively summarize what they have learned about a topic. For tabletop projects, we might use three panel folding display board.

Creativity box: Fill an odds-and-ends box with spools, straws, craft sticks, cord, clothes pins, toilet paper tubes and other items for kids to make things of their own. Collect old small appliances for your young tinkerers to dismantle.     

Nature study: Go on nature walks and collect specimens to identify and observe. Are there any nature trails in your county? One of my sons, by age 11, was a nature lover and a talented photographer. He combined these two passions by taking pictures of birds and plants, then editing them on the computer and uploading them to his nature blog. He also recorded bird songs with our video camera. He extended this to academic studies by doing research on birds and their habitats, as well as making detailed pencil sketches. We equipped him by providing several high quality bird guides, including ones that have an audio component that plays bird calls for each page. The best thing we can do is give him plenty of time for this hobby!  This is a huge part of his science studies.

Field trips: Visit local sites such as a history museum, art museum, science center, wildlife refuge, botanical garden,  community theater, beach, etc. If you will be visiting a location often enough, consider getting an annual pass.

Clubs and Classes: Check out art and music instruction, social clubs, hobby clubs, drama groups, choruses, and other group opportunities.

Science experiments: Check out books from your library to find activities which are educational, entertaining, and fairly uncomplicated. Keep basic science exploration supplies on hand, such as magnifying glasses, magnets, and test tubes.

Gardening: Let them plant a garden. If you are a novice or have a black thumb, try buying mature plants instead of growing from seed.  This is also a time to build relationships with neighbors; if you see someone working outside and they have a great garden, ask for advice!  People are usually thrilled to share their expertise.

Pets: Get a class pet. Think through this decision carefully. With most pets, your commitment runs at least a few years. If your pet is unfriendly, your child may resent caring for it. If you choose a nocturnal animal such as a hamster, it might make noise at night and sleep through the day!  You can also choose temporary pets. Our kids keep a terrarium on the back porch ready to house lizards, frogs and other small critters they catch in the yard. They might keep them for a few hours or a few days and then let them go. I like this kind of pet best of all!  Our kids also loved keeping fish. They started out with small aquariums, learning a lot about different kinds and the care they need, and eventually worked up to a 50 gallon aquarium with convict cichlid fish in it. Some of the cichlids had hundreds of babies, which was especially fascinating to watch.

Games, puzzles and crafts: Try strategy and word games such as chess, Pente, Rummikub, Boggle, Scrabble, Twenty Questions, Concentration, etc. Let your child keep score to sharpen math skills, especially in Scrabble, where there is doubling and tripling. Find related games, puzzles, and crafts to supplement regular lessons. Teacher’s manuals and web sites sometimes include ideas for these, but you and your children can make up some of your own.

Group festivities: Participate in your support group’s science fair, history day, international festival, fine arts show, or other opportunities. If they don’t already offer these activities, why not volunteer to do it this year?
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