We started our homeschool journey in 2011, when our oldest child was nearly 5 years old. We had always intended to homeschool all the way through for our four children, but health issues for myself, along with some of the demands of special needs parenting, pushed me to enroll the children in our local school system two years ago.
I’ve gone back and forth with this decision – we did pull the kids out after COVID shuttered in-person schooling in 2020, but we returned when some of the same reasons we originally moved to public school were still present.
I will say that I don’t think I would have felt comfortable with this decision had we lived in a larger district. However, we live in a rural, small town with somewhere around 600 students enrolled (total!) in our district.
I do still struggle with my decision, and debate regularly if we will go back to homeschooling. I have committed to NOT withdrawing the children in the middle of the school year though, so any decisions we make won’t take effect until the upcoming school year.
I think sometimes parents get stuck in a either/or mindset with regards to home-based learning. If the kids are at public school, then that’s where the educational stuff happens, and home is just for “fun” stuff. Don’t get me wrong, my kids play a lot of video games and spend time just goofing off. But home learning isn’t just for homeschoolers! There are so many ways parents can provide home education opportunities that aren’t extra worksheets or assigned reading for kids who already have long days spent at school, and often bring home additional work that needs to be done.
Here are some suggestions for making sure learning continues to happen at home, but without making the kids feel like they just have more homework.
Insect Lore – this is a great time of year to raise caterpillar! Set up a butterfly garden and have the kids check daily as their caterpillars eat, grow, and form chrysalids. After the chrysalids are moved from their cups to the mesh garden, kids can observe and watch for them to emerge! We currently have nine Painted Ladies that have recently emerged – we have one more chrysalid intact that we are watching closely, so hopefully we end up with ten to be released in the coming days!
Board games and card games – I love games, and they provide a great opportunity for learning so many things! Social cues, patience, taking turns, strategy, following rules – and they are great for relationship building between siblings. Additionally, many games are quite educational, so kids are learning but in a fun way. A couple things to keep in mind – games can be complicated the first time playing through, so if you want to keep the kids engaged and not have them wandering off in boredom or frustration, run through the rules on your own first so you aren’t seeing them the first time with kids staring at you in frustration. Also keep in mind the difficulty level when you have younger kids playing. Assigning smaller kids to buddy up with an adult or older sibling is certainly an option, but with some games even this won’t help. The content and complexity in gameplay may just be too much.
We’ve got a couple favorites right now – Qwirkle and Genius Square. Great for building critical thinking skills and learning strategy, but not so complicated that our youngest (age 8) can’t enjoy the games.
Read alouds – This is a great activity and builds relationships and develops (or strengthens) a love of reading. Pick a book and commit to read a chapter or two at night together. Our current chapter book read aloud is The Dragon’s Tooth (Ashtown Burials #1).
Library day – Make a trip to the library to check out books a regular part of your schedule, even if the kids have library days at school. Pick out picture books (they aren’t just for little kids!) and add to the family read aloud stack. While a lot of the programming for kids is scheduled during the week and is ideal for homeschoolers, check the calendar(s) – libraries are offering a lot of programming for kids in evenings and weekends and it’s worth checking out. For example, our local library offers Lego Club, Manga Club and a Pokemon club, and the meeting times are outside regular school hours.
Park Days – While this is probably something that works into a weekday schedule a lot better when you are homeschooling, there are still plenty of opportunities to visit a local park during the week. As the days grow longer, afternoons and evenings present a great opportunity for a short visit to the park. Or plan a Saturday at a nearby park. It’s also worth it to check the website for the parks and rec department – many parks offer classes, kids’ programs or guided nature walks.
And parks aren’t just for playgrounds! If you are lucky enough to live near a park with walking trails, or close enough to a state park, incorporate nature walks. Bring a stack of trifold nature guides along with your water bottles and get exploring! If you are going to visit a state or national park as your park day, consider the Junior Ranger programs that are offered. If you are in Texas, there is the Texas State Park Junior Rangers, and the National Park Service also has a Junior Ranger program.
Self-directed learning projects – There are plenty of resources for self-directed learning that kids can do afterschool or on the weekends. Even if their interests run more toward online gaming, check out some computer projects they could benefit from. Scratch programming is a gentle start to computer programming, and there are various sites that use Roblox and Minecraft to let children explore computer languages like Java and Python. Some sites to check out include Code Monkey, Tynker, Crunchzilla, Blockly by Google, and Raspberry Pi.