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I recently had an interesting conversation with one of my friends about the subject of homeschooling. She admitted that her son in first grade hates school and fights going every morning. When I asked her if she’d ever considered homeschooling, she quickly replied, “Oh no. I could never teach him what he needs to know. We’d do math by counting money at the grocery store instead of sitting down and learning.”
Why, I wondered for the hundredth time, do we equate learning with sitting down? After all, many of the greatest minds resisted this educational approach. An elementary school teacher once asked Albert Einstein to drop out of his class, while another labeled him a silly dreamer. Young Albert was failing school, while at home he was teaching himself calculus.
Thomas Edison was naturally curious and often got into trouble at school for asking too many questions. His mother began homeschooling him when he was twelve because she saw he needed more freedom to learn.
So if the sit-down approach doesn’t work, then what does? For many children, projects and natural learning opportunities offer engaging, real-life experiences. For hundreds of years, most children lived in agrarian cultures and spent many hours each day outdoors or working with their hands. Today, though, children are expected to operate as mini-adults. They’re shuttled from their desks at school to structured after-school activities. Once home, their preferred activity is often video games, movies, or texting. Many parents, worried about safety, limit natural afterschool activities such as biking or walking to a friend’s house.
But children haven’t changed, according to research from the Gesell Institute of Child Development. Children today still need ample time to play outdoors and learn best through hands-on learning. Today’s children are suffering the effects of their constricted lifestyles. Juvenile type-2 diabetes and obesity numbers are climbing at alarming rates, and many children have limited gross motor skills.
The Benefits of a Homesteading Lifestyle
Thankfully, the homesteading lifestyle, when combined with homeschooling, offers kids the real-life, active experiences they need to grow and thrive. Think for a minute about all the things your kids learn through the following activities:
- Animal care. Feeding and caring for animals teaches kids real-life knowledge of biology and math. Your child becomes aware of life processes, notes the changes in the seasons, and measures feed and water. Caring for animals also teaches kids empathy, compassion, and responsibility. If your child forgets to feed an animal, there’s a very real chance that animal might become ill or even die.
- Raising a garden. Kids who help care for a garden become intimately acquainted with the concepts of conservation and stewardship. They understand that food doesn’t simply show up magically in the grocery store. Someone works hard to grow it and uses resources such as good soil and water in the process. Growing a garden also teaches teamwork, cooperation, and accountability. Let your children choose a few crops to grow themselves. Offer books on caring for vegetables and keep records of your successes.
- Woodworking. Building a bird house or making a small chest are good projects for the young woodworker. Through these experiences, kids learn to use tools carefully and read and follow directions. They learn to visualize a finished project and calculate measurements. They also learn the value of working hard and the satisfaction of a job well done.
- Sewing. Similar to woodworking, sewing teaches children how to “read” patterns and visualize abstract concepts. Sewing requires patience and practice. Start with a simple project, such as a doll or an apron.
- Cooking and baking. Many families have forgotten the comfort of cooking and baking at home. These activities nurture the body and the spirit and keep us connected to the earth and the seasons. Teach children to use what’s available in season and to plan ahead to avoid waste. Children who learn early to savor and appreciate the bounties of the garden are more likely to eat healthy foods as adults. Cooking and baking activities also teach children about properties of matter—liquids, gases, and solids, as well as measuring and following directions.
- Playing Outdoors. Unstructured play time is just as important as academic learning, and homesteading families tend to naturally have more time for play than others. When the work’s done, skip the video games and head outdoors. Build sand castles, make dolls out of leaves and sticks, or throw stones in a stream. Parents today often worry about their children being bored, as if it’s a parent’s job to fix this. Boredom isn’t a fatal condition. In fact, boredom often leads children to their most satisfying moments of play. Bored children can make puppets, put on a play, develop a new game, read a book, or just have time to think. Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Kids need time and freedom to spark their imaginations.
As you plan your homeschooling curriculum, save time for naturally-occurring learning opportunities. Incorporate academic topics like math, reading, and writing into everyday experiences. If you don’t have a farm, but savor the homesteading experience, look for ways to create these experiences. Join 4-H, grow a small garden, or even raise a few chickens in your backyard. Pick fruit at a local orchard and can it or take your kids in the woods to hunt for morels or chokecherries. All these experiences enrich your life and bring a whole new level of learning to homeschooling.