For most homeschool families, homeschooling doesn't just mean school at home - it means learning all the time. Education happens in the home, certainly, but also in the car, in church, in the community, in work and service, and in ministry opportunities near and far.
As parents, the choice of activities for our children is an awesome responsibility. How can we choose what groups to join, and how to guide our children, using our limited time and resources?
Try not to over-schedule or over-commit time and resources. One or two activities per child are probably plenty. Avoid activities that disrupt routines for meals, bedtime, and story time. Set consequences for bad behavior and reward children who complete their chores to help out the family. Consider implementing the rule: No chores; no activities.
If you have a large family, almost everything is a group activity already. Add family and friends for activities such as sleepovers, group camping, holiday celebrations, work days (everything from helping the neighbors weed their garden to an old fashioned barn raising), reunions, and play groups. For movie nights, get ideas from books such as Movie Nights for Kids by Bob Smithouser or Learning With the Movies by Beth Holland. You can also check the free resources at Movieguide.org. Borrow and trade movies and games from neighbors, friends, or your public library.
Families can also trade for lessons from friends or relatives in music, crafts, sewing, woodworking, flower arranging, or other hobbies and skills. Churches offer ministry opportunities, classes, clubs, sports leagues, and Vacation Bible School.
Participate as a family through group opportunities such as:
- Operation Christmas Child, SamaritansPurse.org
- 5 Day Backyard Bible Clubs from Child Evangelism Fellowship, CEFOnline.com
- American Heritage Girls, AHGOnline.org, offers scouting with Christian values for ages 5 - 18
- AWANA, Awana.org, is a Christian discipleship program for kids from preschool to high school
- Contenders for the Faith and Keepers at Home, KeepersoftheFaith.com, teach Christian principles, crafts, and practical skills.
Investigate community activities such as scouting, team sports, library story hours, art classes, nature centers, swimming lessons, festivals, and fairs. Junior Achievement, JA.org, offers training in real world economics, and 4-H, 4-H.org, focuses on leadership, citizenship and life skills.
In his Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation (see gwpapers.virginia.edu), George Washington wrote that it is "better to be alone than in bad company."
Ask yourself and others if a group positively or negatively affects the children's social, emotional, and spiritual development. Are children in the group bearing the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22)? Or do you find yourself having to deal with dreadful behavior, disrespect, and bad habits after exposure to the group? If so, feel free to take your child out of that group.
offers a list of state and local homeschool support groups. Homeschool groups and co-ops may host book and curriculum swaps, art and game nights, book discussion groups, science classes, music lessons, spelling bees, geography bees, science fairs, and Math Olympics. At a Geography Fair (a very small scale international festival), each family studies a country in detail, and prepares an exhibit. If you wish, make costumes, cook authentic dishes, create three-dimensional maps with play clay, and share toys and games from your chosen country. Create memories of group activities on a budget and share the cost of a creating a yearbook, group video, photos, scrap book, or lap book.
The homeschool answer to recess can mean gym days, bowling days, and skating days. Homeschool Sportsnet, HSPN.net, helps families locate sports opportunities around America. See KidsRunning.com, for information on group running activities, and FunFitnessLearning.com for fun and fit learning game ideas. Get game ideas from books like Favorite Outdoor Games and Run, Jump, Hide, Slide, Splash. Your local librarian can help you find many more.
Contact your local or state tourism office for maps, events, and maybe even discount activity coupons. Remember to look for activities and events that offer teacher's discounts. When you go to events, bring your own food and drinks, if it is allowed. In some areas, museums and zoos offer a "free" night or day periodically: it pays to ask. Local fire houses, police stations, local businesses, and veterinary offices are often open to an organized, well-supervised homeschool field trip. For more ideas, see The A to Z Guide to Home School Field Trips, edited by Gregg Harris.
If no homeschool group or club fits your family interests, start a simple informal group. You can start with as few as just one other family. Team teaching can help families share expertise and materials (if this is allowable by copyright) with other families as a group. For more information, contact First Class Homeschool Ministries, fchm.org, or read The Complete Guide to Successful Co-oping for Homeschooling Families by Linda Koeser and Lori Marse. Free information on starting your own non-profit homeschool co-op can also be found at NonProfitCoop.tripod.com.
Young children can prove challenging at events. Alternately they are constantly zooming away from you, or asking to be carried. They will want to touch everything, so you may not want to plan an outing to an antique glass shop! If your youngster is a bundle of energy, put it to good use. Load your child up with a small backpack. Active kids can help carry their own rewards, such as juice boxes, balls, or games.
Some events offer inexpensive stroller rentals; it may be worth it, if you have a little one that tires easily. Is your little clinger too heavy for a stroller? Consider buying a used wagon, or perhaps bringing their favorite scooter (if that is allowed). They may be able to lean on the scooter instead of on you.
Families with children who struggle with challenges such as ADHD, autism, learning differences or other medical, behavioral, communication, and developmental disorders often feel stressed and isolated, unable to attend functions outside the home. If you homeschool a child with special needs, or if you'd like to help make homeschool organizations, churches, and community activities more inclusive, check out information at NATHHAN, nathhan.com. Also, visit my blog, homeschoolblogger.com/eaglesnest/, for special-needs, frugal-holiday activity, and field-trip ideas.
If you loathe the thought of one more commitment, struggle to pay activity fees, and find your family increasingly eating take-out or junk food, maybe it is time to stop trying to keep up with the "perfect" homeschooling family image. Time to de-stress, re-evaluate your activities, and maybe even let some things go. Above all, your young children need you - a relaxed, happy you. Find time to just be a family, too.
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