Children and teens everywhere are getting ready to go back to school. Shopping for school clothes and school supplies, choosing class schedules, touring new schools, and meeting new teachers are just some of the things traditionally-educated children are doing this month. If you are homeschooling, there is no need for your children to miss out on the back-to-school excitement.
Start off the homeschool year by sitting down with each child individually and laying the groundwork for a program that meets all their needs developmentally and educationally, focusing on a broad topic that they are interested in. Age/grade-appropriate skills, as well as the core curriculum components for your state, can be found with a basic Google search (core curriculum + your state). Depending on the age of your child, you can make them aware of the budget you have set aside for their school year. They can help determine how to allocate the money, and this can help avoid misunderstandings when something comes up that they are interested in doing but the funds are not there.
One thing that works well for homeschoolers that, unfortunately, traditional schools are unable to do is to start your curriculum with a long-term, sometimes year-long, project. This project can stem from an interest your child has, your homestead, a business venture, or a career interest. In this project, you can incorporate multiple skills designated in the core curriculum you are teaching. For example, if your child is interested in gardening, begin with a garden journal. Some of the assignments could be:
- Calculate the perimeter and the area of the garden bed, then draw the garden space on a piece of graph paper with one square equal to one foot. If the garden is not in raised beds, remember to include walking space. (Math)
- Choose the plants they want to cultivate. Research the space requirements, planting and harvesting dates, and the height of full grown plants using seed packets, seed catalogs, and websites. (Critical thinking; Math; Research skills)
- When they are finished plotting their garden out on their map, you will be able to see what skills need reinforcement. (Exam)
- Create a planting schedule for their garden. Determine the harvest date for each crop. Find the days to maturity for each crop and count backwards from the harvest date to decide when to plant. (Critical thinking; Multiple-step instructions; Math)
- Turn in a shopping list of the seeds needed. (Exam)
- Record the expenses of seeds and garden supplies against the estimated amount of produce. Yield can be found on seed packets, in seed catalogs, or on websites. The cost per unit (weight, volume, piece) can be discovered by price-shopping at your local grocery store. (Research; Math)
- Have your child pop seeds in flats, carefully recording the number of each type of seed planted. As the seeds emerge, they will record the number of seedlings. Then they can use these two numbers to calculate the germination rate of the seeds they planted by dividing the number of seedlings by the number of seeds planted and multiplying by 100. Depending on their age, they can write number sentences explaining how many seeds germinated and how many seeds were duds, write fractions showing the number of germinated seeds and the fraction of duds, tell the ratio of germinated and non-germinated seeds, and/or the percentage of germinated and non-germinated seeds. (Following directions; Organizational skills; Math)
- Use algebraic formulas to compute the amount of fertilizer to add per quart of water. (Most fertilizer packages advise on how much to add per gallon of water.) Record in a garden journal the amount added to each plant and the date it was applied. Calculate when it needs to be reapplied. (Math; long-term thinking)
- As the produce begins to come in, weigh and record the amount harvested from each crop. (Math)
- Make a rain gauge and record rainfall. Use this information to determine how much extra water to give plants. (Science; Math)
- Set up a booth at a farmer’s market. Determine the price for each product based on comparison shopping. Determine the cost of being a vendor. This could include booth cost, packaging, transportation, and time. How much do you need to sell each week to make a profit? Refer back to your garden journal for records on what you have spent. Make signs and labels for your products. Coordinate with your local farmer’s market. (Math; Art; Communication/socialization)
This type of long-term project can be used for any interest. It lends itself especially well to homesteading activities such as farming and animal husbandry. You can include geography (where was the squash first eaten and recorded?), history (Colonial American foods and menus), science (the anatomy of male and female plants), chemistry (energy values of food), language arts/reading (recipes). As you explore different areas for a single topic, you will notice what sparks the interest of your child. You can use new interests as separate long-term projects, thus encouraging the curiosity that is necessary for all successful learning.
Another fabulous thing you can do with your child is to become citizen scientists. You can choose what type of project you are interested in. This can be recording wildflowers, listening for different species of frogs and recording their numbers, counting the different migratory birds in your area, or tracking and reporting the appearance of tulip bulbs in your area. These aren’t the only options. To find a list of them do a web search for citizen-scientist opportunities.
If you are nervous about teaching all subjects, consider joining a local homeschooling group. These groups are generally run by the parents. Each parent signs up to teach a class. These classes can range from chemistry to calculus to rabbitry to foraging wild mushrooms. It’s a great opportunity for your child to learn something in a structured environment and socialize with other children and adults.
Regardless of whether you use a set curriculum at home, send your children to a traditional school, or unschool your children, keep in mind the theory of multiple intelligences. Everyone excels and struggles in certain areas. By providing activities in all eight areas you can help ensure your child’s success and comfort throughout their life. The eight intelligences and activities that support them are:
- Musical-Rhythmic: Listening to music across genres is a great place to start. Music is an easy thing to tie into a history or a geography lesson as well. Learning an instrument is another proven brain-booster. Not only does it relate to the musical/rhythmic intelligence, it has been proven to boost math skills. Being proficient at an instrument is a good ice-breaker, especially important for kids who are shy. Singing in a choir or participating in a band are also good choices. Children who are especially interested in a certain type of music can learn a lot by attending musical festivals. Many family-friendly music festivals will have volunteer positions available to defray the cost of attendance.
- Visual-Spatial: Let your child explore photography with an old, or disposable, camera. Arts, from drawing to clay works to sculpture, are great activities to do to promote visual-spatial intelligence.
- Verbal-Linguistic: Reading across genres is perhaps the most important thing your child can do to get a good feel for language. Learning a second language not only helps with verbal skills, but also with math skills, and it is a great way to enrich a geography unit. Encourage your child to read and memorize poetry, then write their own. Celebrate their poetry skills by taking them to participate in a poetry slam. As your child gets older, seek out public speaking opportunities. Teenagers can benefit from participating in Toast Masters.
- Logical-Mathematical: When I started on my homesteading journey I was surprised at how much of it involved math skills—math skills I was pretty unsure I possessed. With time, I learned much of what I needed to know. Rest assured, if your child is participating on your homestead, they are learning math and logistical skills. Other fun math activities include woodworking (such as building a birdhouse or bat house), baking, and sewing. Expand their mathematical skills even further by allowing them to become a small-business entrepreneur and sell their wares.
- Bodily-Kinesthetic: City parks often have sign-ups for team sports and they are usually fairly inexpensive. Dance lessons or gymnastics are great kinesthetic activities. Of course, the regular kid-friendly solo sports like running, bicycling, and swimming are free, fun, and effective.
- Interpersonal: Interpersonal skills are important, and they are often cited as the first objection to homeschooling. It is simple to get enough socialization in by joining Girl/Boy Scouts, participating in the youth programs at your house of worship, setting your child up in an apprenticeship, joining a homeschool group, or participating in 4-H.
- Intrapersonal: Children, just like adults, benefit from some time alone. Allow your child to participate in self-directed activities and make sure they are allotted some time each day to spend by themselves. Journaling is a beneficial activity for strengthening intrapersonal skills, and it also helps with language skills.
- Naturalistic: Children on a homestead are at an advantage in this area, because they get to spend so much time outside. Any activities focused on animal husbandry and gardening count towards naturalistic intelligence. Take your kids camping. Teach them foraging and wildlife (flora and fauna) identification skills.
Regardless of how you choose to formally educate your child—homeschool or public— any of these activities can enrich their educational experience. Follow your child’s interests and the learning will come easy!