Homeschooling, technology

Innovative Education: Let’s talk Lessons

Math.  English.  History.  Science.  Fine Arts.

Most adults are familiar with school lessons.  Common Core curriculum .  Bells ring and classes begin.  Subjects are divided up into 50-90 minute classes and coursework is determined by “the powers that be”.   Teachers can vary the methodology and some of the topics, but in general the curriculum is standard across a school system or state.

So what exactly do your lessons look like when you homeschool?

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This year we are going to take a look at the election process in the United States instead of continuing with our traditional history path.   I purchased a book to guide us through using our amazing microscope and I am going to call it “science class”.  Math this year revolves around various workbooks, but there are plans to ditch them occasionally and explore the beauty of numbers. One child will take classes from a professional illustrator while another is considering a course on inventions.

Of course, the homeschool family down the street is probably studying very different things, even with children of the same ages. Perhaps they’ve been captiLet's Talk Lessonsvated by the Salem Witch Trials while studying Colonial America and have veered into a month-long exploration of witchcraft in early America.  Science may consist of regular nature walks, participation in the nature pal exchange, and reading informative nature guides. Their children might be taking a digital photography course and maybe they are learning to speak Latin this year.

Another family is spending this semester in the kitchen. They found a book focused on kitchen chemistry to use for science. Mom includes them in breakfast baking and takes the time necessary to work in all sorts of math very naturally. Television cooking shows become a staple for fun and discussion. Little ones are learning to read as they help with recipes. Older students challenge themselves with a french cooking guide. And they’ll end the semester with their own cupcake wars.  No one in the house feels like they are doing school, but their mom isn’t fooled. She knows how much they are learning.

Of course, all of this diversity can make it difficult to explain a “typical” homeschool year to inquiring minds.  But the beauty of being an educational innovator in a homeschool environment is being aware that life offers a wide variety of lessons and they don’t always fit into the typical school model.

Let’s resist the pressure to make them fit.

Educational innovators are willing to try new things when it comes to lessons and teaching.   They know that no two homeschools need to look the same and they definitely don’t need to look like the public schools.  Innovators are willing to experiment to create the best homeschooling environment for their family.

Note:  Every state in the US has their own guidelines for homeschoolers.  While I encourage innovation, I encourage you to be aware of the laws in your home state (or country) and to obey them.   In addition, I am throwing out all sorts of ideas, but I fully recognize that we all have different personalities, goals and desires for our families.  Some of us have less flexibility as online schools are working well for our crew while other homeschoolers aren’t committed anywhere.  Take what works here for YOUR situation and enjoy the freedom to play around with the options.

1. Schedules.

School systems use a 6.5 hour day and divide it into segments for various courses. When one course ends, the other begins. Learning happens in very segmented boxes.  Teachers stand in the front of the room and students must comply with requirements.  Textbooks are used.  Timelines are followed.  Every class is kept on the same basic path through the school year.

Homeschoolers don’t have to follow this path.  Don’t be fooled into the need for following the traditional mold. Feel free to break out of it and try something new.

IMG_4955Perhaps you want to assign a different subject to different days? Dig in deep once a week instead of spreading it out. Experiment with it and see what works.   Don’t want to separate the subjects?  Try out a unit study.  See how it feels to make connections across the curriculum without forcing false separations.

Maybe you want to adopt the idea of semester scheduling?  You don’t have to do it for every subject, though you can.  For two years we studied science from Sept – mid-January and then we studied history from mid-January – May. We were able to focus on each topic in a deeper way.  It won’t work for us this year, but we enjoyed it in the past.

Heard of a looping schedule? We are so excited to implement this year. It makes so much sense to me and it is definitely out of the traditional box.  We will implement a loop for my younger three students and another one for our time when everyone is home together.  I love the idea that I won’t feel “behind” because we missed something on Wednesday, but I can rest in the knowledge that we will just pick up where we left off the next time we meet.

There is no rule that says you have to begin school by 8 AM.  If you are  a family of night owls, feel free to sleep in.  Do not believe the myth that this means your kids won’t be able to get up for a job when they need to.  Money is an excellent motivator and they’ll work it out.

Make your homeschool schedule suit your family.  Allow variance.  Be creative.  And in the end, adopt a plan that works for you.

2.  Atmosphere.

So many homeschoolers begin their journey by purchasing desks and white boards and recreating the school classroom. And it works for some families.  But if it doesn’t work for you, then dump it.

Resist the temptation to embrace the atmosphere of a school and attempt to infuse it into your home.  Instead, embrace the atmosphere of your HOME and infuse it into your school. 

lounging while learningWe sit around the dining room table for any formal lesson time and often for group work.  You can find us lounging on the floor for literature, usually with kids coloring while I read aloud.  Books trickle into the hallway, science experiments spread across the kitchen table, and the writing process often spews in fits and starts all around the house.  We’ve been known to bring sleeping bags onto the deck while completing math pages.

Feel free to vary the location of “school” and change it up from time to time.  If you have teenagers in the house, then Starbucks is a great location change!

Hungry?  Then eat! This isn’t school.  You don’t have to wait until lunchtime.  Children learn better when their stomachs aren’t growling.  Dirty house bothering you?  Have a 15-minute pick up before you begin math.  Moms usually teach better when they aren’t feeling grouchy learning atmosphereabout the mess.  Feeling restless?  Take a group walk around the block.  Then come back refreshed and read to tackle some formal lessons again.

Embrace an atmosphere that instills a love of learning and brings joy.  This will look different in every house.  Embrace the beauty that is your family.  Find your flow and don’t worry if it doesn’t look anything like the rows of desks in a classroom.

And include brownies.  Always include brownies.

3.  Subjects.

We are familiar with  the standard subjects included in the school system.  In many states, there are requirements to include these subjects in our homeschools, but within those subjects most of us have a huge amount of play.  Embrace it!

Take a good look at your kids.  What interests them?  A certain time period in history?  A particular scientific process?  A certain genre of books?  Include it.  In fact, make it an integral part of their learning.  Give them a chance to teach you something that they know and love!

Take inventory of what YOU know.  Are you a professional or amateur photographer?  Bring that to the table and teach your kids!  Are you a whiz in the kitchen?  Make that part of the school routine and make lunch with your kids.  Are you a mom blogger?  Help your kids set up their own blogs and teach them the basics.  I’ve been enjoying some basic graphic design and photo editing using canva and picmonkey.  You can bet my kids are going to be shown some of the basics to see if any sparks of interest fly!  (Note: Your kids might not enjoy learning what you know.  Don’t push it.  Give them a taste of what you love, but let it go if they resist.)

learning togetherTackle subjects as a whole family unit.  Unlike the school system, you don’t have to break everything in to particular grade levels.  All second graders don’t have to study colonial history while fifth graders study the Civil War.  Bring the entire family along as you study and modify books and assignments for the various ages in your home.  We have found this to be an enjoyable and effective approach with both science and history.

Follow the rabbit trails.  You aren’t on a timeline.  There is no beginning and end when it comes to real learning.  Learning is going on all of the time as your children grow up.  Sometimes you are directing it, other times you are merely a guide, and still other times you join in as the student.  Allow your homeschool to vere “off course” occasionally and see where child-led enthusiasm might take you.

Include non-traditional subjects that engage your students.  Fashion Design.  Computer Coding.  Animation.  Inventions.  Culinary Arts.  Each of these subjects counts as learning and might be just what a child in your house needs to spark their curiosity.  Don’t treat these subjects as the “fun stuff” you can only do when your “school” is finished.  Recognize the incredible amount of learning going on in these courses and make them a priority in your day.

Educational innovators know to embrace inspiration and include courses of the 21st century.

4.  Teaching.

I often hear concerns about how I will teach subjects that I am not a trained expert in. What about Spanish?  Engineering?  Chemistry?  How on earth will I teach topics to my kids when I am not fluent in them?

This is one reason I love the 21st century.  You do not have to be an expert, but at the touch of a keypad, you can invite an expert into your home on just about anything.

Enter: YouTube.  

YouTube has come into our lives and our homeschools will never be the same.  We can have crash courses in all sorts of topics (thank you John Green).  We can find channels dedicated to science that will blow our kids’ minds!  Our kids can learn to love numbers on YouTube.  The possibilities are truly endless

My kids have learned how to create videos, make sock monkeys, organize their school books, YouTube learningmake a Minecraft video, do kitchen experiments, and more without me having to speak a word.  We have experimented with knitting and cooking on YouTube and most recently one child was looking up videos on working through anxiety.

Now I know that as responsible parents we have to monitor this wide world of YouTube. I encourage you to do so!  But as best as you can in your family, find a way for your kids to access all that is available to them through the “experts” on YouTube.  Many bloggers have put together lists of educational channels, so take some time to find your favorites and incorporate them into your routines.

What works for us?  We typically watch YouTube through our TV so that it is easy for me to monitor.  Or my kids find me to ask about searching YouTube and I can make sure I am present in the room with them.

Of course, there are also online classes available from a variety of schools, curriculum distributors, local programs and more!  I just love the instant help we get from YouTube and you can’t be the cost (free).  

Khan Academy is another great “online teacher” that is free to access.  There are all sorts of subjects from math to art history.  We are participating in our first Jam.com class this year and I am interested to see how it goes.  Brave Writer offers writing courses online.  There are a ton at Techie Homeschool Mom.  And our crew is going to try a video led art course.

In the 21st century, homeschool innovators know that they can’t possibly be the expert on everything in our rapidly changing society.  But they know the experts are out there and they invite them into their homes.

In the end, remember that your homeschool can be as unique as your family.  Let your individuality impact the lessons you teach, the way you teach them, and the atmosphere you create.

How have you embraced innovation when it comes to lessons?  What are you attempting this year?

This is day four of a five part series on Innovative Homeschooling.  All five days can be found on the main page.

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2 Comments

  • Reply MJ Sherwood at

    This is fantastic, especially ditching the desks! We pretty much use the comfy carpeted floor downstairs or the couches or whatever suites us. Doing what works and will have everyone relaxed and ready to listen is the important part!

    • Reply notbefore7@gmail.com at

      I agree MJ! Feeling relaxed and ready is key!

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