You know about unit studies. You know about contests. You know about field trips. These are all great ways to spice up your homeschool.
Now here's a new technique you can use to add interest to any subject area: start a family club!
I know this is a great idea, because my children invented it on their own. Over the years, they have put together the Spy Club (studying codes, hiding secret messages, and sneaking invisibly to meetings), the Adventurers Club (pretending they were sailing to distant ports in a variety of crafts, from overturned kitchen chairs to our jungle gym), and the one we are going to look at right now, the Money Club. All these were done without any adult input whatsoever.
Here's how a Money Club meeting works.
First, the members come to order. In this case, the club only has two officers: Lillian (the president) and Madeleine (the vice president).
Next, each club member gives a speech, using an invisible hand-held microphone. The latest round of speeches I heard were Madeleine's speech on "How and Why I Started the Money Club" and Lillie's speech welcoming everyone to the Money Club.
Now, the games! These were all inspired by some review samples from Learning Resources that I gave the girls to try out. The biggest hit was the electronic cash register, which comes with a good supply of play cash and coins.
- Money Traps. This is similar to Calvinball (for those of you who are fans of Calvin and Hobbes!) in that all the traps are imaginary and revealed just before each kid has to run the gauntlet. For example, "Here is some dynamite. You have two seconds to get past it without stepping on it." If a player makes it to the end of the course, she wins a toy money prize. In other words, this particular game has almost nothing to do with money or education. It's just for fun.
- Hide the Quarters. One child hides the quarters in plain sight, and the other one has to find them. If the searcher is very young or has trouble finding a quarter, the one who hid it gives "hot" and "cold" hints.
- Toss the Dimes. A necklace is placed on the floor in the shape of a circle. The players take turns trying to toss a dime into the circle.
- Nickel Tic-Tac-Toe. Heads are "o"s and tails are "x"s.
- Penny Story. A member tells a story using pennies as the various characters. For example, if a fox is chasing a rabbit, the "fox" penny is moved along the table after the fleeing "rabbit" penny.
- Making Change. Although it's harder to "play store" today than when we were kids, thanks to the lack of visible product pricing on your typical supermarket can of beans, books still usually have their prices marked. So now they "play bookstore" with the electronic cash register.
Finally, a Money Club meeting ends with a stirring rendition of some song. A favorite is "The Star Spangled Banner."
I had no idea all this creativity was taking place, until I asked Madeleine if she enjoyed the play money and other goodies. She then told me about their Money Club, and I asked to see a meeting. I was very impressed by the way they were trying to run it like a real meeting, especially the speeches.
It seems to me that this "club" concept can be used both to jazz up school subjects and to teach kids a number of important social skills:
- How to run a meeting. This can start off very simply, and gradually incorporate more rules until the members have learned all of Robert's Rules of Order (the standard work on parliamentary procedure, available in your local bookstore or library). Kids love learning these rules, which may seem odd to those of us who think kids prefer to be spontaneous at all times, but is not odd at all to those of us who have enjoyed reading about Calvin and Hobbes' G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid of Slimy girlS) Club, whose main point (besides providing little-boy annoyance to neighbor Suzy) seems to be thwarting each other with parliamentary maneuvers.
- How to give a speech or make a presentation. I can imagine no less threatening environment for the budding public speaker than giving a speech to a brother or sister, with Mom or Dad occasionally invited to listen in. This provides natural "teachable moments" for demonstrating proper platform technique and general poise. Introducing the next speaker, for example, is a natural chance to teach graciousness.
- How to wait your turn.
- How to applaud others.
As for the academic opportunities, the list seems endless. What about the Science Club (invent your own experiments!), the Nature Club (everybody brings some natural treasure to the meeting), the Math Club (give each other mental math problems), the Spelling Club (have a spelling bee), the Grammar Club (one person sings out sentence parts, the others use them to make up silly sentences), the Drama Club (write and put on a play) . . . The club format lends itself to any school subject, while the formal ritual (a "meeting") adds emphasis and importance to what otherwise might seem yet another mundane homeschool activity, without adding a lot of effort or time.
Of course, your child can always join a "real" club, such as 4-H, Awanas, or Royal Rangers. These provide opportunities to make friends outside the family, focus intensely on one particular skill area for a long period of time . . . and take quite a bit of effort. For that very reason, you don't want to flop about from real club to real club just to give a jolt to a particular subject area. It's a real commitment to join even one or two real clubs; joining too many is the quick road to burnout.
For a family club, on the other hand, only two members are needed: two kids, or a parent and a child. You don't have to get in the car or fit your meetings into anyone else's schedule. All you need is a little extra bit of enthusiasm and imagination - and the kids can even supply most of the imagination!
While you wouldn't want to come up with a family club for every school subject, a family club might be just the thing from time to time to add some extra zip to subjects that are beginning to lose their interest, or to introduce a new subject. A family club can meet sporadically and last only as long as the kids are enthusiastic about it. The best family clubs are those the kids run themselves, with proud parents invited to observe and be impressed from time to time, since there is no practical difference between a club rigidly organized and run by a parent and any other unit study, at least to the students. Getting to act like a grown-up, being an officer and a speechmaker, and being in control are what makes a family club fun for the kids.
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