Making Learning Active, Engaging, Relevant & Memorable!
After spending time talking about all the homeschool curriculum choices, I really wanted to talk about what excites me most about teaching and homeschooling… the possibilities!! It really doesn’t matter what curriculum you use… anything can be used as your spine… but (for me) education is going beyond the books. It’s all about the passion, the excitement, the hard work and intensity that comes with learning. When you have those moments with your kids/students, you’ll know it!!
I just finished a book by an award-winning language arts teacher called, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me (affiliate link). What an inspiration to read! Even though we don’t function as a “traditional” classroom/school, this book had so much to offer to me as a parent, facilitator, instructor & mentor. If you need a bit of inspiration before the school year begins (or even in the midst of your school year!) I highly recommend her book. It really got me thinking beyond lesson plans & units to how and why we’re homeschooling. So much of what she wrote resonated with me and I wanted to write more about that. The author of the book is Kim Bearden. I’ll just refer to her as Kim because after reading her book, I feel like I know her! 😉
Change it Up; Be Fresh and Innovative: One of the reasons we love homeschooling is because it allows us to create a joyful learning environment. Kim talked about changing the lessons up and creating a sense of wonder for the students. I whole-heartedly agree… in fact, that’s one reason we homeschool. As I think about our units, I spend a lot of time searching for fresh ways to approach the material… So what do I mean by that? Let me give you some ideas:
Science need a pick me up? Make it hands on, interactive… create a demonstration or science experiment. Below, the kids showed the heart leaving the heart with oxygen (red tile), traveling to the limbs and dropping off the oxygen (flipping the tile to blue) and returning to the lungs for more oxygen before returning to the heart to be pumped out again… It’s been three years since we did the circulatory system and heart activities, but the kids still talk about Harold (pictured below)!!!
And what better way to believe in the strength of levers (in a Simple Machines Unit) than by lifting Mom!! (See more Lever Activities here and be sure to download our free Simple Machines Packet (about 25 pages))
And once the weather is cold, there are always indoor games to play, lapbooks to make and experiments to be done!
Magical Learning: One wonderful idea that I took away from Kim’s book was suspending belief — making learning magical. I don’t want to share her ideas (go read her book, it’s wonderful!), but I realize as I look back on the past year or so, that there are so many ways I can stretch our imaginations and take us far away from our homeschool room…
I see SO much potential
- I could set up different scenes for our German lessons… a day at the beach, a restaurant, a store-front
- historical dilemma – Now this particular activity I’m about to share is not appropriate for my six year old… but when I taught history at a private high school, I taught a popular elective on the Holocaust. It was very challenging (emotionally), but the students and I really explored some issues deeply. One particular lesson stands out. I had prepared cards ahead of time with different roles… We spent time role playing. Then jumped out of The conversation we had that day was
- “You are a mother of two young children.”
- “You are shopkeeper. You live about the store. Your store is frequented by government officials and SS officers.”
- “You are a father whose teenage son just joined the Hitler Youth.”
- “You are a 15 year old Jewish teenager. Your parents disappeared. Approach the friends (former friends?) of your parents and see if they will hide you from deportation.”
- mock trial – Again, when I was teaching high school, my colleague and I designed a number of lessons… holding mock trials of historical figures (like George Washington) complete with witnesses, a judge and jury. I haven’t ever done anything like this with my kids, but they are now old enough that we could do a simplified version. (Do you hear the wheels and spinning with excitement turning in my head?!!)
Goal Setting: I think it’s important to point out that when you look at a blog like mine with various idea or read a book like Kim’s with all her extraordinary ideas laid out for you that I point out that we highlight the successful, memorable activities and experiences and don’t dwell as much on the days where we let the kids read all day or just trudge through the basics because someone is sick or we had a handful of errands to run all day.
We don’t do extraordinary science experiments, activities, crafts and scenes every day, but I always have a goal in the back of my mind… To be honest, one reason why I (continue) to blog is because I have set goals and have activities I hope that we’ll get to… Knowing that I can/will share that on the blog is sometimes enough to get me off of my duff and actually DO IT. There are times in the semester where pulling together the materials we’ll need sounds nothing short of exhausting. Then I push through and do it anyway. Anyway, I just share that so you know that you (readers) help to motivate me… I bet there’ll be times when you need outside help to motivate you as well.
For example, when the kids were in preschool I tried to set up a theme time table once a week for five weeks… or did a science experiment 2-3 times a week for 3 weeks… or set up tot-trays with activities with one quick activity per day.
Now as the kids get older I plan out units and have a half-dozen hands-on activities we *could* do along with the unit. My goal is to try to do something interactive at least every other day (rather than *just* the basics), but it doesn’t always happen.
Anyway, all that was to say, don’t get stressed out by Pinterest or homeschool and educational blogs with a gazillion ideas. Just pick a few fun goals and try to fit those in when and where they work!
Remember: Some of the good lessons become phenomenal with time. Spend time, not only creating memories, but sharing and embracing those same memories. When we were learning about the digestive system, we did an activity to show how small nutrients pass through the intestines into the blood stream… We still talk about squeezing and twisting a pair of panty-hose to make oatmeal “pass through” our digestive system… it looked gross and was a sticky mess. We all laugh about the activity… and have cemented that lesson by talking about it so much after the fact!
Here’s another example… About a year ago, I took the kids to Antietam, where thousands of soldiers died during the Civil War. The kids and I STILL talk about the powerful moments we spent at the graveyard there. This is what I wrote at the time…
I have lots more pictures of what we saw that day, but honestly the most wrenching part was the cemetery. The kids and I were the only ones there. Because of that, it was silent and somber. I became very choked up (and honestly writing about this I have tears in my eyes) when I realized what DD was doing. She (and then ED also) went from grave to grave whispering quietly, “I’m sorry you died…” over and over and over. Oh my goodness, that was just heart-wrenching. We all were very overwhelmed… and DD leaned on me and cried quietly at one point. It was stirring and horrible… and touching all wrapped into one.
We ARE making a difference, even on our bad days! I actually stepped away from this post (and had major surgery). Now I’m coming back two weeks later and lost my train of thought… but one of the ideas I had jotted down in my writing notebook was about not being discouraged. It’s important not second guess every decision, bad day, or bad lesson. When things go wrong, learn from it and then let it go. We have to remain patient with the kids AND with ourselves. In the larger scheme of things we are
- planting seeds
- walking beside them
- instilling a sense of wonder
- supporting them
- modeling a strong work ethic
- making them feel appreciated
- teaching manners and grace
- believing in them
- showing them how to be polite and respectable
- instilling positive messages
- making them feel significant
P.S. I was asked pretty often, what grades the kids were in when they did these various units? Although this is a little hard to answer because we are a homeschooling family that has always done science and history together as a family, I came up with a series of free curriculum guides for families called Creating Your Homeschool Curriculum, FREE Resource Guides
These are FREE 35+ page resource guides that I put together to help answer some basic questions:
- What subjects should I teach my 4th or 5th grader?(or kindergartner or 7th grader!)
- Where do I start?
- How do I know what to teach my kids?
Free Curriculum Resource Guide for Grades 4-5 I’ll be editing and adding to this one soon because my youngest is 10yrs old. ?
For those of you not in the U.S.:
- Kindergarten-Grade 1 is for (roughly) ages 5-7
- Grade 2-3 is for ages 7-9
- Grade 4-5 is for ages 9-11
- Grades 6-8 is for ages 11-14
These are some of the units and topics our family covered in these years. It might provide a starting point for those of you just starting your homeschool journey and may give you an idea or two if you’ve been at this homeschool thing for a while! I hope they are helpful!!
See you again soon here or over at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page! You might also want to check out some of our resources pages above (such as our Science, Language Arts, or History Units Resource Pages) which have links to dozens of posts. You might want to join our free Homeschool Den Chat Facebook group. Don’t forget to check out Our Store as well. Again, you can click here to Subscribe to our Homeschool Den Newsletter!
Happy Homeschooling! ~Liesl