Thursday, May 24, 2012

Homeschooling, the First Year: Non-Textbook Learning

(Go to first article in this series...)

I am writing this post with a sigh. A big one. You know why? Because I love textbooks. I love textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, to-do lists, and anything else that is nice and boxed-in and orderly.

But I am learning that, oftentimes, there are more effective ways for children to learn.

Dang it. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I am still planning to use textbooks, especially for math and language arts. And we'll probably use a lot of textbooks - especially since we have too many children to live in a perpetual ecstasy of unschooling self-discovery (which would be sheer torture for me, anyhow).

But I have learned that there are ways in which knowledge seems to flow magically into our son's mind... practically without any effort on my part. And I would be foolish not to take advantage of that, regardless of how many textbooks we end up using.

And so, without further ado, here are some methods of non-textbook/workbook learning that I have noticed this year:

Reading Aloud

One of my (extremely-insanely-successful) graduated-homeschool-mom friends told me that, in the early years, all that one needed to homeschool was a Bible, a math textbook, and a library card. I hate to admit it, but she's right. Reading aloud is an absolutely amazing education in itself! Just from reading library books, we have covered hundreds of subjects in an informal, enjoyable, memorable manner. Canons, space travel, the westward move, various animals, ships, the Pilgrims, the Christmas story - anything and everything!

Right now I max out our library cards every week ordering books from "Books Children Love," "Honey for a Child's Heart," "The Read-Aloud Handbook" (our favorite), and various online lists. Our library website also has a function called "find more books by this author," so we are able to find authors that we love and order all of their books. Since we order all books online, there is little to no search time, and we just go once a week to pick up our orders.

I am also starting a "good books" list by grouped age level so that when our next child reaches the current age of our eldest, I will have all the research done already rather than having to research two grade levels. Unfortunately, I only started that a few weeks ago, so I missed a lot.

As our son becomes a proficient reader, I know that reading on his own will be added to read-alouds, and that will be an awesome source of learning for him.

Following Interests

Earlier this year, our son evinced a passionate interest in volcanoes. So, following my friend's advice, I checked out (over the course of six months or so) every book that our library system had on volcanoes. Later in the year (to the present time) his interest switched to space and space travel - so we now have tens of books in our home on those subjects. Our son has learned a ton - on those subjects and others that the books touch on (robotics! heat and light! velocity! chemistry!), and it is as easy as handing him candy. He wants to learn! It's awesome.

And I should note that we have learned far, far, far more about volcanoes and space travel than I ever learned in all eighteen years of school! (In excruciating detail! Kids love details! Ack!)

On the other hand, a few weeks ago I thought, "Gosh, he's at the right age for dinosaurs. Let's do dinosaurs!" So I got out a few dinosaur books and tried - vainly - to interest him in them. No dice. They went back to the library untouched. And that's okay. There are things that sometimes have to be learned, regardless, but this is an area in which following a child's interest really facilitates real learning without pain.

On another front, our son has recently begun an interest in addition. I have no idea why, as we haven't gotten further in math than "trace the two!" But I am facilitating this in every way I know how, and our home is currently filled with constant addition problems, verbal and written. I'm not complaining!


We Americans (myself included) have an odd ingrained belief that things are only really learned if they are learned through textbook or worksheet. But so many things can just be learned by oral transmission and conversation. Examples? So many - days of the week, months of the year, and various facts about almost everything. Various snippets from today's conversations: Cesarean birth! Bullet calibers! Gun safety rules! King cobras! The dates of various holidays! Counting days till the weekend! Archaeology! Archery! Masses and masses of learning, just through talking. It doesn't all need to be worksheet Q&A.


One word: LEGOs. Plus more: Digging in the dirt. Shooting nerf guns. Walks through the neighborhood. And all the conversation resulting thereof! There is so much learning going on through every day play.

Real Life

Some of the most memorable learning has gone on through real life experiences - and we do tend toward unschooling in that I intentionally try to provide a rich learning environment so that learning can flow naturally from varied experiences. Our summer trips to Flagstaff and Tucson. Our local Jazz Festivals, car shows, Christmas parades, park days, field trips, play dates, trips to National Parks, car rides, visits to family and friends - you name it. Not only do they provide learning opportunities, but they provide the framework for future learning - "Yes, a waterfall - like the one we saw on such-a-such a trip - remember?"

And for the rest?

Well, there's always my (beloved) worksheets. Mmm. Worksheets.

(Go to the next article in this series.)

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