(Attention non-homeschoolers: big long list of Fun Stuff below! Scroll down to below the Dali painting.)
I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who took the “What kind of homeschooler are you?” quiz and came up as unschoolers, much to their surprise. It seems many of us recognize those muddy children in the first question as our own, and our families do a lot of experiential learning. To learn about Native Americans, we might try our hand at grinding corn to make our bread. Our dining-room tables are buried under “3 marbles, 2 dominoes, 5 Scrabble tiles, a 1/2-eaten jelly sandwich, 1 basket of unfolded clean laundry, 4 broken crayons, 3 markers (1 without a cap), a can of fish food, 2 screwdrivers, and a hammer.” When Life interrupts our plans with a sick relative or a cross-country move, we scrap the plans and learn what the roller coaster has to teach us.
Home education is a lifestyle as much as it is a school choice. Its rhythms and possibilities are so utterly unlike institutional education that it sometimes takes us a while, as homeschooling parents, to shake off the years of training that told us “education” was answering enough questions correctly on enough tests to earn us the grades that satisfied our parents and teachers. Whether or not we would remember the answers to those questions a year later seemed to be beside the point.
But once we do shake off that notion, we discover that there are a lot of other notions out there about what a good education is and how best to achieve it. And here we are back at the how.
Let’s look at some of the different answers to how and talk in very practical, specific terms about what stuff you can use if you want to educate your kids according to a particular how or method.
First up: Unschooling.
“Melting clocks are not a problem in your reality. You are an unschooler. You will tolerate a textbook, but only as a last resort. Mud is your friend. You prefer hands-on everything. If your school had an anthem, it would be Dont Worry, Be Happy.” (From Guilt-Free Homeschooling’s What Kind of Homeschooler Are You quiz.)
I’m laughing here, because the rest of this post has a completely oxymoronic premise. “Hi, I’m talking about curriculum! Let’s start with unschooling!” And unschooling is about learning through following your interests, not following a predetermined sequence of skill-building exercises and fact memorization. Unschoolers don’t try to recreate school at home, so who needs curriculum?
But I think of curriculum—all those books and schedules and lists and kits and guides and videos—as tools. Just because I have a good tool set, that doesn’t mean I’m a carpenter. I might just be a person who likes to make stuff, in which case a good hammer and saw come in handy.
So what are some of the tools a household of unschoolers might use? Besides the obvious, I mean, the good books, the art supplies, the kitchen, the garden, pretty much the whole wide world. Here is a list of Some Particularly Cool Stuff My Kids and I Have Learned a Ton From or Just Plain Had a Good Time With:
Settlers of Catan, the board game. Jane got this for Christmas last year. We’ve been obsessed ever since. Except when our friends hijack it and keep it for weeks because it is that great a game.
Signing Time DVDs. Catchy songs, immensely useful vocabulary in American Sign Language. I trumpet these wherever I go. We talk about Rachel like she’s one of the family.
Prismacolor colored pencils. Indispensable. I was amused to see that Jane mentioned them in the first line of her “I Am From” poem. She’s right; they have helped color the picture of her life.
Uncle Josh’s Outline Map CD-Rom. Because maps are cool, and maps you can color (with Prismacolor pencils, hey!) are even cooler. The kids are constantly asking me to print out a map of somewhere or other. You can find other outline maps available online (for free), but I like Josh’s for clarity. And once when I had a problem opening a particular map (it’s a PDF file), I called the help number and it was Uncle Josh himself, a most amiable gentleman, who quickly solved my problem.
The Global Puzzle. Big! Very big! Will take over your dinner table! (So clear off that laundry.)
Set. It may annoy you that your eight-year-old will be quicker at spotting the patterns in this card game than you will. There’s a free daily online version as well.
Babble. Like Boggle, only online and free.
Chronology, the game. Like Trivial Pursuit, only with history.
Speaking of online games: the BBC History Game site is awfully fun.
Zoombinis Logical Journey computer game. Stretch your brain trying to get the little Zoombinis to a village where they can bounce in peace.
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots : Gardening Together with Children. Plant a sunflower house! Up-end a Giant Bucket of Potatoes and dig through the dirt for your rewards! Grow lettuce in rainboots! Boots! With lettuce growing in them!
Wild Goose Science Kits. Fun experiments with a low mess factor. Best prices at Timberdoodle. Note to self: remember the Wild Goose Crime Kit come Christmastime.
A microscope. Sonlight sells a nifty set of prepared slides with paramecium and other fun stuff for the kids to peer at.
If the scope sparks an interest in dissection, there’s a way to do it online with no actual innards involved: Froguts! The site has a couple of free demos to occupy you while you save up for the full version. (Which I haven’t seen yet, but it does look cool.) HT: Karen Edmisten.
Klutz kits. Over the years, we’ve explored: knitting, embroidery, origami, magic, Sculpey, paper collage, paper dolls, beadlings, and foam shapes. Look under any piece of furniture in my house and you will find remnants of all of the above.
Which reminds me: Sculpey clay. Is it possible to get through a day without some? My children think not.
Usborne’s calligraphy book and markers. I think Anne-Marie sells Usborne so she probably has more information if you’re interested.
But while I’m on Usborne, my kids also love and use at least weekly: Usborne Science Experiments Volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Muse magazine. The highlight of Jane’s month. From the publishers of Cricket.
Classical Kids CDs. Beanie’s favorite is the Vivaldi. Alice’s daughter Theresa does a fabulous Queen of the Night impersonation from the Mozart.
Refrigerator poetry magnets. I gave Scott the Shakespearean set a couple of Christmases ago. Note to self: You are not as brilliant as you think! You were an English major, for Pete’s sake, with a minor in drama. Thou knowest full well old William was a bawdy lad. If you don’t want your little ones writing poems about codpieces, stick to the basic version. But oh how I enjoy the messages Scott leaves for me to find and then pretends he doesn’t know who wrote them:
And of course of course of course, Jim Weiss story CDs. I rave about these every chance I get because they have added such riches to my children’s imaginations. For years, they have listened to Jim’s stories after lights-out. Greek myths, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, folk and fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, the Jungle Book: of such stuff are dreams woven.
A good source for much of the above (and lots more): FUN Books.
I’ll continue to add to this list as more good stuff occurs to me. Your suggestions are welcome and encouraged!
Coming up next: Charlotte Mason. But bear with me: these linky posts take a while.
Stuff that’s working
RPG(-ish) Games for Kids
About That Bee Book