These “tricks” aren’t just for homeschoolers, by any means! However, since I started homeschooling I have truly honed and developed the skill of sneaky teaching.
Those who are unfamiliar with homeschooling often think that homeschool children aren’t being taught if they’re not pouring over worksheets at a desk for 6 hours a day. The reality is that textbooks are often met with resistance by children who would rather be doing… oh… almost anything other than school work.
Can you blame them? I was the same way when I was a kid.
And so, in order to keep a happy house, homeschool parents dig deep into the wells of creative deviousness and, whenever possible, we choose the sneakiest possible methods to slip some knowledge into those little brains in our midst.
Here are a few of my favorite tricks:
1. Watch the news and act surprised/indignant/confused.
“Oh, my! People are protesting the president’s plan to change the way we do businesses with Far-a-way-ikstan. I wonder why they’re so upset about it?”
If you sit a child at a desk and give them a map of the world and a list of facts about Far-a-way-ikstan they aren’t going to learn more than what’s on the paper. If you open up a dialogue about another nation and something important that is going on there you accomplish three things.
First, you teach them the facts of that country. You can’t talk about something you don’t understand so, in order to answer the question we need to look at the map and learn a few facts about that place. We do it together and, almost always, I am learning alongside my child.
Second, you teach them to think critically. You’re not giving them a list of facts. You are asking them to examine a situation and come to an understanding of it, including all the various elements that surround any given topic.
Third, you teach them how to gather information. Where do you go to learn about another country? How do you follow-up on an interesting news story? Which resources are the most current? Which are the most reliable?
2. Choose your TV programming strategically.
When I realized that Sweet Hippie Daughter’s understanding of world geography was spotty, at best, we started watching The Amazing Race together in the evenings. She would ask me, “Where are they now? How long will it take them to get to that country? Can they take a boat to that city or do they have to fly?”
Well… grab your atlas and check it out, little girl. And she did. And she learned. And now she knows.
But I never taught her. *wink wink*
3. Leave things lying around.
One of my favorite home-school (well, they “unschool” but… still…) bloggers writes about “strewing.” Leave an interesting magazine on the table. Put an educational board game on a shelf where it is sure to catch the eye. Have a basket-full of shape blocks in an accessible and visible location. And then leave your children alone and give them a chance to explore their world.
Do you know what children do when they see a really well-written, well-illustrated educational article. They do the same thing you do. They pick it up and look at it and learn. And you never need to say a word on the subject.
Kids are, by nature, voraciously curious. If you are strategic in creating an educational environment for them they will learn. It’s just… what they do. No prompting needed.
4. Leave the house.
You don’t have to travel far to find interesting things but the odds are good your children have already explored the hidden corners of their own home. Go to the park, the museum, the library, the record store, the antique shop… you get the idea.
When you leave the house kids see things. Being kids, they will ask questions. “Why is there a statue in this park? Why is the lady in that painting crying? Who is singing this song? Why does this old phone have wires attached to it?”
Be prepared to answer their questions or point them toward the resources they need to do so on their own.
5. Talk with them.
The key word here is “with.” If you are always talking AT your kids they will stop hearing you.
I feel like we spend half our lives in transit. We are forever traveling to one place or another and all that travel time is priceless. I love taking those moments to say things to my daughter like, “I noticed that, after that factory re-opened down the road all the houses around it really spruced up their yards. Why do you think that is?”
I never know where these things will lead. Maybe we’ll discuss the economy or the way a good job can change a person’s outlook on other parts of their life. Maybe we’ll talk about the plastic parts they make in the factory and the good and bad things about using plastic. Maybe we’ll talk about property values. Maybe we’ll talk about the aesthetic properties of pink flamingos vs. garden gnomes.
Sometimes my kid shrugs and says, “I dunno” and sticks her nose in a book. And that’s OK too. Because her nose is in a book and her brain is engaged and she is learning.
6. Point out the obvious.
More than once I have caught onlookers snickering at me in the grocery store. I don’t blame them. Shopping next to me is kind of like shopping with Barney the Dinosaur. “Look kids! An eggplant! The eggplant is purple. What else is purple? Wow! Purple grapes! Let’s count the grapes. One.. two… three.. four… Good counting! Oh, my goodness! These peas are cold. Brr! Cold! Is the deli chicken cold? No. The deli chicken is HOT!”
Who needs preschool when you have the grocery store?
7. Let the village have a hand in raising the kids.
Someone other than me teaches my child about music. A woman at church has done wonders for my daughter’s etiquette. The lady down the road showed her how to crochet. The pastor convinced her of the importance of having “marketable skills.”
One of the greatest things about home-school vs. public school is that you get a much bigger say in who gets to be a part of your “village.”
8. Give them chores.
There are some chores that my daughter really doesn’t mind doing. She actually likes dusting, cleaning off the bathroom counter, cooking and (sometimes) helping in the garden.
Where does dust come from? Why do we use lemon juice when cleaning? What does bleach do? Why can’t you mix it with ammonia? Why does bread rise? What’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder? If wine is spoiled grapes and vinegar is spoiled wine and those things are safe to consume why is rotten fruit bad for us? How do leaves turn back into dirt? Why do weeds grow among the tomato plants when there were clearly no visible seeds in the dirt at planting time?
Doing chores can open up a whole universe of knowledge.
9. Read fiction.
Textbooks are lame. They serve a purpose in the world. Sometimes you need straight-forward information, but no history text is as captivating as Gone with the Wind. Storytelling is an ancient and powerful tradition throughout the world. Choosing books carefully and reading them out loud is an amazing way to kickstart a child’s brain.
And I am a huge fan of reading out loud, even to children who are perfectly capable of reading on their own. Hearing a story and reading a story are two different experiences. Why not give your child both?
10. Let them take the lead.
Instead of planning out a day for your child, give them some parameters and let them take over. For example:
“OK. We’ve got $27 to buy gas or tickets or whatever we want to buy today. What should we do?”
Math class just started. If gas is $3 a gallon and your car gets 21 MPG and the park is 8 miles away how much will it cost to buy enough gas to get to the park? How much will you have left over? Will it be enough for lunch?
My kid will cry all morning over having to do a math worksheet but she’ll happily find a way to figure out if we can afford to drive to her favorite mall.
Do you ever sneak education into your child’s day?
Will you share your tricks so we can all use them too?
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
If we work on our goals together, they may be a little easier to achieve!