Creative Learning Connection

Homeschool Resources from a Veterean Homeschool Mom

Tag: homeschooling

Ideas about homeschooling from a veteran Mom of 12.

How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?

Questions Homeschoolers Ask Themselves

Along the way to finishing our homeschooling journey, I asked myself the same questions most homeschoolers ask themselves at some point: What are our goals? What do my children/students really need to accomplish before they graduate?

Ultimately, I distilled those questions down to what I consider to be the most critical question: How do I encourage my children to learn? (And as part of that question – to want to learn?)

Encouraging our Students to Learn

Can’t we honestly say that everything we are trying to accomplish in teaching can be boiled down to that question: How do we encourage our students to learn?

We can disagree on what they should learn, maybe even why they should learn certain things, but regardless of how long our children learn at home – our ultimate goal might best be stated as “We want our children to be lifelong learners.”

So, how do we accomplish that? Even if we all agree on that principle, it’s doubtful we will all agree on how to accomplish it. But, let me be so bold, after thirty-five years of home educating, to offer my thoughts on the subject:

The Tools to Learn

First, we have to give them the tools to learn – starting with the basics of reading and writing in most cases (there are exceptions, when students truly can’t learn those, but those are rare – and will likely be the topic of a future post). But for most of us, the ability to read well will open more doors than almost any other skill. (And, I might add, the enjoyment of reading would be a close second.)

A Desire to Learn

But more than just the tools, we need to give them a desire to learn. How many times does it seem like as the homeschool parents/teachers we’re in the business of squashing interests, rather than developing them? Let’s whet their appetite to learn new things, rather than extinguish it.

Introducing them to New and Exciting Things

We need to introduce them to new and exciting things – to expand their horizons beyond themselves. One of my favorite ways to do that has been through travel. A friend sent me Mark Twain’s quote about travel while I was on my most recent trip: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And aren’t those some of our goals as homeschooling parents?

Every time I travel I am personally motivated to learn more about my destinations – their history and culture, their people and their geography.  I am glad I have been able to take my children on a fairly large number of trips during my decades of parenting/homeschooling. As Mark Twain put it so well, and I have believed for as long as I can remember, travel is a great way to increase our/their horizons,

Opening their Minds

But if travel is not in your budget or desires, choose other ways to open their minds – books of other lands and times are a great way to pique their interests. Introduce them to new and different people. Watch movies about things that introduce them to other cultures. The list of options is endless.

Encourage Creativity

In addition to opening their minds in this manner, encourage creativity. Too much of school is geared towards finding “the right answer.” But how much of life is actually about finding a unique solution to a problem – troubleshooting, figuring out how to use the resources at hand? Most of that type of knowledge comes from experiences – not from the pages of a textbook.

For far too long I didn’t consider myself to be a creative person – because I’m not particularly artistic or musical (particularly compared to other members of my family). But I finally figured out that creativity manifests itself in so many other ways – such as writing. How many of our students are being deprived of creative opportunities – whether musically, artistically, or other – simply because we are too focused on getting through our textbooks?

Logic and Thinking Skills

Similarly, work on developing logical and thinking skills. Our family plays games and puts together puzzles regularly, both of which build thinking skills and logic. (I wrote more on how important games are in a previous post.) We also used materials from Critical Thinking Press frequently – a great treasure trove of materials for “building thinking skills.”

When we have given our students the tools of learning and a taste for learning, and helped develop their creative and logical skills – what in life will they not be able to tackle?

What are others saying about this topic?

I was putting the finishing touches on this post when I saw the email from Mises Institute, with their post, “Four Reasons Why College Degrees are Becoming Useless.” Their first point mentions the importance of “critical thinking skills.” And on the FEE website I found another article specifically about creativity: “How Schooling Crushes Creativity”

So what do you think? What is important as you teach your students? How do you encourage them (and yourselves) to be lifelong learners?

Happy learning and living!
Cathy

Homeschooling with Topical Studies

Homeschooling without Textbooks

Do you struggle with reluctant students?  Or “lazy” students?  Are you having trouble hanging in there until the end of the year?  Maybe it’s time you reevaluate your methods, rather than giving in and giving up. Have you taken a look at homeschooling with topical studies? Maybe it’s time.

What are Topical Studies?

A friend and I coined the term “topical study” a number of years back to describe something more limited in nature than the “unit studies” that were becoming popular with many homeschoolers. A topical study is more the study of a particular topic within a subject, rather than the “all encompassing” type of study that a unit study often entails.  For instance, for much of our 35 years of homeschooling we studied history topically – the Civil War was our topic one year, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition was our topic a different time.  These topical studies might cover some other subjects as well, art or music, or science, for instance, but they were primarily designed to deal with a particular topic – for us generally history or science.

Why Topical Studies Make Sense

Real learning involves getting familiar with something and getting comfortable with it!  Familiarity and comfort don’t come when one topic after another is thrown at a learner. They come from repetition and context.

We must encounter the same words, the same concepts, the same dates many times before we “own” them, before they become a part of our vocabulary, something that we remember. Textbook teaching does not lead to this kind of ownership very often.

In my humble opinion (my bias will definitely show here) History and Science should be taught exclusively with the Topical Study/Unit Study method through at least eighth grade (though I have to admit to sticking to that method even in high school).  Is it too painfully obvious here that I have an aversion to textbooks?  It’s not that textbooks are totally worthless, but I would have to say they are often close.  Let’s be honest here:  How often do you go to a textbook to find the answer to a question?  How much of what you endured “learning” through textbooks, do you actually remember?  Enough said.

Holt, Gatto, and Harris Weigh in

John Holt (a well-known unschooler back in the days when we began our homeschooling journey) talked about “how children fail” and “how children learn.” He suggested that if we have reluctant and/or lazy students, we should blame our materials and/or our methods, not our students!

And please remember that most of us are basing our methods and materials on the public school systems – because that’s the only thing we know.  As John Gatto (a New York City teacher of the year) reminded us in Dumbing Us Down, the public school system is failing, so why are we trying so hard to copy it?

Many years ago, Gregg Harris (a popular homeschool author at the time) proposed “delight directed studies” to take care of the problem of a reluctant student.  This can be our delight or their delight.  This is a very important point when you start looking at Topical Studies.  You need to pick something your family will get excited about.

Da Vinci has been a delight of mine for many years!

What if We Miss Something?

One of the questions often voiced about getting away from textbooks is, “What if I miss something this way, what if I don’t cover something that should have been covered?” My first response when someone asks that question is often, “Covered according to whom?”  Contrary to what some folks would lead us to believe, there is no one “correct” curriculum for, say, fourth grade, or sixth grade, or any other grade.

Also, remember that covering material does not equal learning it!   There is an important distinction here!  Please don’t miss it.  With topical studies, we cover less, and learn more.

Aren’t Topical Studies a lot of Work?

Why do we want to go to the “trouble” of topical studies? It is more trouble than just picking up a textbook and going through it.  But it is also more effective!  It’s more fun!  And it’s usually more enjoyable for students and teacher alike!

Topical studies also give siblings something in common: shared knowledge and experiences.  We can carry our “school” discussions much beyond the “classroom” this way, since several of us are studying the same thing at the same time.  And that includes the teachers, since they are now spending their time preparing a topical study, instead of writing out lesson plans, grading tests, and checking assignments.

Okay, But Now What?

I hope you’re convinced, and that you want to try a topical study.  But you may be asking, now what?  How do you actually plan the studies?

They don’t have to be long.  (Even though ours usually ended up taking up an entire school year or more, they certainly don’t have to!)  You might want to start with something small, like a two week study.  They don’t have to be involved.  And you don’t have to pull them from thin air.  A good place to begin is with a topic someone is really interested in.  That’s how ours usually begin.  The key to successful topical studies is often timing and interest!

Some good science topics to begin with

(But remember, “the sky’s the limit”!)

  • Birds
  • Bugs
  • Butterflies
  • 7 Days of Creation
  • Creation vs Evolution (we want our children to be critical thinkers!)
  • Gardening
  • Dinosaurs
  • Flowers
  • Endangered Animals

 

Biblical/Christian topics

  • Martyrs
  • Missionaries
Some good history topics
  • Indians (1 tribe/week or month, for example)
  • Presidents (1/week, for instance)

Specific Wars
  • Revolutionary War
  • Civil War
  • World War II
Specific Eras
  • Renaissance
  • Reformation
  • Middle Ages – knights, castles…

Geography studies
  • States (all 50 – 1 per week, for example)
  • Countries (from around the world, or within one continent)
  • Continent (maybe 1/month)

Anything else of interest to your family!!!

Once you have a topic, where do you begin?

  • The library
  • Your own books
  • Encyclopedias
  • On-line research
  • Used books
  • Multitudes of catalogs
  • Friends
  • Experts

I find that once I’ve chosen a topic – the resources practically jump out at me.

Depending on your topic, there may be oodles of free materials available for the asking:

  • County Extension Office
  • State Tourist Offices
  • On-line
  • State Welcome Centers

Two of my favorite, inexpensive resources for History, Geography, and Science studies are:

  • Dover Coloring Books
  • National Geographics

National Geographics have wonderful maps and pictures, and can usually be bought for very low prices at used book stores and places like Salvation Army and Goodwill.  (They do need to be edited occasionally.)

Scheduling a Topical Study

Start with a schedule/timeline for your study.  Do you want to study the topic for two weeks or two months?  Have a starting schedule, but be flexible…If it fizzles out sooner, stop!  If you’re having so much fun, you want to continue when your time is up, continue!

One main topic/day works well for us; we incorporate:

  • “Lectures” (one of my favorites)
  • Read alouds (a favorite for most of the students!)
  • Silent reading assignments
  • Research Assignments (give written or oral reports)
  • Art assignments (could include drawing/collages/sculpture)
  • Field trips as we can work them in

History through Topical Studies

With topical studies you can cover U.S. or World History in depth, over the course of many years.  Why “cover it all” in one year, again and again, never really going into any detail? With Topical Studies we never covered either World or American History from “start to finish” – but my children have a fairly good knowledge of both through the Topical Studies we have done throughout their many years of study.

In Conclusion

If you haven’t tried topical studies or unit studies with your family, please do.  If you have and didn’t like it, please try it again.  Your family could benefit greatly from the experience!

This blog post was primarily excerpted from my homeschool book, Topical Studies.

Happy Learning!

Cathy 

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