Today in America it is estimated there are one and a half to
two million students being educated entirely at home. While this educational choice is still
unconventional—comprising only about 3% of the total student population—it’s no
longer marginalized. Curriculum choices abound. New conferences, retreats,
blogs, even television stations devoted to the topic pop up on a regular basis.
Of course the truth is, all of our children are educated at
home—regardless of the amount of time they spend consciously focusing on learning. By the
time your child is technically “school age,” you’ve already taught him several
subjects. He speaks English fluently, using fairly decent grammar, though he
has no idea what a preposition is. She is able to walk, run, use the bathroom,
and possibly tie her shoes. He can count (how many plates do we need for the
table?) and divide (just ask him to share a plate of cookies with his sister).
She probably knows her colors and some letters, shapes, how to throw a ball,
and maybe even clap in rhythm.
You’re already a teacher. You just may not know it yet!
This is a great time of year for all of us to consider our
homes as learning environments. What can we do to ensure that the time they do
spend there is conducive to expanding their minds and souls? Here are a few
ideas on how to cultivate your home as a learning environment.
Add learning stations
Encourage your children to dream and explore with a
geography area. A small table holding a globe, atlases, laminated maps and dry
erase markers to trace and copy inspire young explorers and help them feel
familiar with the world—even places far away.
Having an area set aside for creative artistic endeavors is
a great idea, too. Placing construction paper, blunt scissors, colored pencils,
glue sticks, washable paints and brushes, smocks, play-dough, etc. in an area
easily cleaned up (not on the carpet!) can bring out your child’s inner Monet.
How about music? All children enjoy tambourines, drums, rain
sticks, and castanets. And if you have a piano they can try their skills on,
that’s a bonus. Note: Here’s the place for carpet! A CD player with
child-friendly buttons (easy to use; hard to destroy!) and a stack of music
they’ll enjoy is a great addition here. And when you purchase their music, make
sure it’s something you will enjoy, too! Music for kids doesn’t have to be
goofy and annoying; in fact, it’s better if it’s not. Look for beautiful
sounds, and they will respond.
A cozy corner with a beanbag, comfy chair or a big floor
pillow and a bookshelf full of engaging picture books will entice children to
spend time cuddled up with words. There are all kinds of ways to store
books—make your own rain-gutter bookshelves, or just pile them up in a big basket.
If you can find a way to display the covers, it will be simpler for your child
to choose which story he wants to disappear into for awhile.
Make room in your schedule
Summer can be overwhelming in part because our days are so
unstructured! Taking a look at your family’s days and rhythms may give you a
vision for the regularly occurring downtimes when a nudge in the right
direction could help. For example: during your morning lull, you may decide
it’s time for everyone to pursue *something* on their own—here’s a great time
for those learning stations. After lunch can be a wonderful time for gathering
everyone on the couch for a read-aloud. Late afternoon might find some children
working on chores, others helping in the kitchen, or perhaps that’s the best
time to fit in music practice.
Show and tell times with daddy or other visitors can give
children an incentive to create or learn something new! Invite some friends
over for a talent show, poetry recitation or music night. At dinner, go around
the table and let each person share what they learned that day.
Leave plenty of room for getting bored! Children need plenty
of unstructured time. Most great ideas, inventions and even cognitive leaps
need empty time in order to percolate. When we rush our children from one activity
to another, we all lose something very important—time to think! Make sure that
doesn’t happen in your house.
Be the example
If you’re telling your children it’s important to play an
instrument, they should see you playing something, too! Sports big at your
house? Which do you take part in? What’s the last “new thing” you set out to
learn, yourself? It’s difficult to convince a child of the importance of
something they know very well you are avoiding. Learning was never meant to be
limited to twelve years. When you choose something to apply yourself to and
they watch you enjoy the process, you’re instilling them with something more
than direction: you’re giving them an example. And examples are way more
powerful in the long run!