I’ve written previously about the importance of not creating a school at home (if you haven’t read that yet, read it first here). Your first priority is making sure everyone feels safe at this anxious time, and creating a peaceful home.
At the same time, I know many people are, of course, not ready to jump straight in and ditch the whole idea of schooling altogether! And when it comes to homeschooling (especially when you’ve been thrown into it at a moment’s notice), it’s obviously going to be hard to know where to begin!
In our home we unschool, meaning we don’t use any curriculum at all and follow the children’s interests. They learn whatever they like! Yep, that’s a big leap from school. And while I’d love everyone to relax and take some time out and put the academics aside for a while, I know so many parents are not comfortable with that. And without a middle ground, a lot will gravitate to what they know, i.e. trying to recreate school. I envision that leading to a lot of stress for both parents and children.
What I thought may be helpful is providing some ideas that could fit into that middle ground. That encourage learning, help you feel you are doing ‘something’, are connecting and fun for both adults and children, and are a lot more relaxed than creating a school-like environment.
These are ideas and resources that we regularly enjoy in our home! I hope they are helpful to you too.
7 Ways to Encourage Learning Without School
1. Read Aloud Time
If you just picked one thing to do, it would have to be this. SO much comes from reading. This is where many interests are sparked in our home. We go off on tangents googling interesting tidbits and are amazed by what we find! Here’s how it works for us…
We have a basket of our current read alouds. They include picture books, nonfiction/reference books, and fiction novels. We usually read them in that order. My children are currently 11, 9, 6, and 4. Naturally, the little ones are less inclined to want to sit and listen for as long as the older ones. So, we start with picture books that interest them first.
Next up we read through a few nonfiction books on a huge range of topics. We read a page/topic a day and talk about it. These could be books on animals, geography, history, philosophy, the human body, art, maths, biology, mechanics, or anything at all! If I see a book relating to their interests I’ll grab it (or borrow it from the library). I also collect books about things they haven’t heard of yet but I think would be fascinating!
Finally, I’ll read a few pages of our current novel to the older two. All of this usually lasts for an hour or more. And they are never just sitting and listening. I think a common misconception is that if kids are doing anything else at the same time, they are not listening. Not true for a lot of kids! They actually seem to need something to do in order to listen for that long. Often they will play with blocks, do some handcraft, or draw/paint. Recently they each got an art journal for reading time where they write or draw anything interesting from the books they want to remember. It’s so cool to look back on!
While we read we talk about interesting things we come across, wonder about the answers to questions, and pause to google more info. There is no rush and it’s a lovely connecting time full of learning. Honestly I think if you just concentrated on reading some good books together every day, that would be enough. I highly recommend making it a part of your day.
You can find our favourite books here.
2. Poetry Teatime
We love having poetry teatime at home once a week! The girls are always so excited for it. We bake a treat, make hot chocolates, and they set the table with all the fancy things that we reserve just for this time. It feels special and everyone is always very keen for it!
I can’t say poetry was something I ever enjoyed before now. My experience at school was reading boring and confusing poems, and having to analyse them. A world of difference from how my own children were introduced to poetry.
Here, we enjoy sitting together at the table, sharing sweets, passing around well loved poetry books, and taking turns reading them to each other. Yes, we often do end up ‘analysing’ the poems. Someone is sure to ask ‘what does that mean?’ every time, giving us an opportunity to work it out together. But the goal of our poetry teatime is the simple enjoyment of reading poetry together, and that has made all the difference.
What if your child doesn’t like poetry? Well, give poetry teatime a go, for a start. Enjoy the whole process of cooking something together for it, setting the table, etc. My advice is always to start with funny or silly poems! Kids LOVE them. It’s a great way to show them that poetry is meant to be enjoyable! We really love the books by Shel Silverstein, they always get us laughing.
3. Friday Freewrite
This is an awesome idea from Julie Bogart that I love! Basically, you just set aside some time (start small, i.e. 5 mins) where they write continuously about a topic, or whatever comes into their head! You can read the guidelines for freewriting here. Julie also has lots of suggestions for prompts too! Find them here.
My older girls had a goal to practice writing more this year and this has been one way we’ve started doing it. They both really enjoy it! Brave Writer is my go to site for writing inspiration and there are lots of free and fun resources available. Some others that I like include:
Now is also a good time to write letters to friends and family you can’t visit too!
Thinking of maths as it’s own subject is quite odd when you realise that it is literally ALL around us. There are so many ways to include it in your daily life, even if you’re not meaning to! Children can build with blocks/magnatiles, share and divide things evenly between them, count money, play shops, cook (measurement, fractions, adding, subtracting, multiplication, weight, counting, time, temperature), play with math resources, plan an online shopping order with a budget, create art, and more.
My older girls actually really like maths and working out maths problems. They enjoy playing Prodigy (an online math game), watching Math Antics and Vi Hart, some math books, and outschool classes on different topics.
Art is an everyday thing here. The main thing I think that is important to encourage creativity, is availability of supplies. If you have to hunt around for a piece of paper and a pencil whenever you want to draw something, you’re less likely to do it. If possible, make a little creative space where everything can be kept, and mess is ok!
You can also check out author and illustrator Mo Willems on youtube who is doing a series called ‘Lunch Doodles’ every day, teaching children to draw. The girls are loving it!
6. Nature Time
Although social distancing is really important right now, I am grateful we can still go out in nature. Just not with others! If you have nature spaces near you, or can drive to them, use them! Getting outside puts everyone in a better mood and a change of scenery right now is probably needed.
If you have a back yard, use it as much as possible! Move morning tea, reading time, or anything else you’re doing outside! Set up a mat and some cushions and get comfortable.
Nature is also the perfect place for learning. Sit for a while and let the kids explore and see what they discover. You could bring some nature journals and art materials too!
7. Learn a new skill
Why not learn something that your children haven’t had the opportunity to learn in school yet? Recently we’ve been learning embroidery. There are lots of tutorials available for free on youtube.
The girls also enjoy sewing a lot. If you have a sewing machine you could get it out and let them use it! Made for Mermaids is one of my favourite places to shop for patterns and they also have a lot of free ones available that are easy enough for beginners!
We’ve recently started learning macrame too. There are lots of things you could learn! From cooking, to woodwork, to creating and conducting your own science experiments.
I hope that helps with some ideas of some fun things you can do together as a family, and resources you can use. Education doesn’t have to look like school, but that doesn’t mean there is not a huge amount of learning still going on. Swap curriculum for curiosity where you can.