Like many people, I began homeschooling by imitating the schools of my youth. I bought a boxful of curriculum, divided it into daily assignments, and taught my kids right out of those books.
And there wasn’t anything especially bad about that, except that after the initial excitement wore off, my kids started to get bored. Instead of being excited about doing school, they ranked it right down there with making their beds and setting the table—something we have to do, so let’s get it over with.
That was not in my game plan. I didn’t want them to be bored. I was bored in school, and I still recalled how bad that felt. I wanted my kids to enjoy school.
What I soon realized was that while they might have been bored with school, my kids still loved learning. They enjoyed visiting museums. My daughter read through stacks of books without my telling her to do so. And my son drew beautiful, detailed pictures that were not assigned by me.
I even became bored by the assignments I was teaching the kids, and it must have been around that time that I came up with the idea of playing store. I labeled some items in our pantry (using prices written on sticky notes), then dug up all the spare change I could find.
I became the storekeeper, and the kids became the shoppers. They’d choose an item from the pantry and pay me for it. Often I had to make change for them. Soon they were buying more than one item at a time and figuring out how much they owed me. Before long, they started taking turns being the store-keeper. This became a game they enjoyed for a long time, but I think I probably learned the most from that experience, because I saw that homeschooling didn’t have to be boring, like formal school was for me as a child.
This success led me to become more creative with our homeschooling. Since my first two children were only 18 months apart, they studied most subjects together, and that made it easy to come up with math games. Their favorite math game came about by necessity. I was pregnant with our third child, and spending a lot of time on the sofa. While beached there, I’d hold up a flash card, and throw it to whichever child gave the correct answer first. The child who collected the most cards won. Since the kids were very competitive with each other, they soon learned their math facts (which I’d been unsuccessfully trying to force into their heads by using written timed drills, as advised by our curriculum). This way was much easier and a lot more fun.
Making learning fun started to seep into other areas of our homeschooling. I made a little game out of putting the books of the Bible in order. I made small cards with the name of a book on each, and then let the kids put them in order. This way they were using their hands along with their minds, which is always a good way to learn. Soon they could get those cards in order pretty quickly, so they began timing themselves. Naturally, they began comparing their best times, and that led to me making two sets of cards so they could compete directly against each other. Before long, they could quickly find any book of the Bible. And they’d had a lot of fun getting to that point.
Such successes led me to loosen up in our homeschooling, and to be open to using games and other activities. More importantly, I soon came to see those things as at least equal in importance to bookwork. I bought Cuisenaire rods for math, which worked so well that I ended up giving up the formal math curriculum we’d been using, and buying the Miquon Math series instead (you use rods with them). Three of my kids eventually worked through Miquon with the rods, and then went straight into Saxon 54 or 65 with no difficulty.
I also used treasure hunts to teach them, first to follow directions (they were small then so I put pictures on the clues instead of words), and later to read (I switched to clues in short sentences). They begged me to do this all the time. There was no boredom or sighing in this kind of school!
Of course, as they reached their teen years, our use of games decreased, and they had to buckle down to more bookwork. I was concerned that at some point they might have to go to school, and I wanted to keep them at approximate grade level in case that happened. Fortunately, it never did, but by high school, they had regular bookwork and the games had run their course (other than playing educational games like Rummy Roots™ or ElementO®). But while they were younger, we had lots of fun learning through play and games, and I think I learned a lot from seeing that. Maybe that’s what it takes to get a formally schooled mom to let go of that old training and accept that learning doesn’t have to be boring for kids, and shouldn’t be boring, either.
Excerpted from The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling, now available for Amazon Kindle: