Practical Ideas for Homeschooling Outside the Box

I mention quite often the concept of living outside the box and/or living a lifestyle of learning, but I don’t always offer concrete examples of what this might look like (except for the series I did on a Lifestyle of Learning).  Today, I want to offer you some practical, concrete examples of taking your homeschool to a new level by taking your homeschool out of the box.

Getting Started:
-Pray over what the Lord sees as important to your homeschool and ask Him to release you from any preconceived notions of what school looks like.

-Read through Proverbs.  This is a book from a father to a son on education and what things are important.  Consider using Proverbs as the basis of your devotions with your children for the school year.

Suggested Resources:

What If I Have Already Chosen my Curriculum?:
-Don’t think you have to pitch all your shiny new curriculum.
  It has its place and can be integrated into your homeschool without destroying your child’s love of learning.

-Never let the curriculum be the driving force.  The moment you start to feel bogged down by your curriculum, is the very second it is time to stop everything and take a break to reassess where you are going.  Go back to Getting Started.

-Regularly ask your children how they feel about what they are learning.  Also, listen and watch for cues from them on how the curriculum is impacting them…or not.

-Don’t be afraid to change curriculum.  If you have been using it for a while and you see the light draining from your child’s eyes, it is ok to let that curriculum go and look for something else.  Yes, even in the middle of a school year.

Choosing Curriculum:
-Write out the goals you believe the Lord wants to see accomplished in your homeschool.  From there, brainstorm how real life meets these goals.  Leave the curriculum manufacturers out of the picture for just a bit so you can really focus on what truly matters.

-The fewer the textbooks, the better.  Textbooks have their place, but the really meaty stuff rarely comes from a textbook.

-Get your hands on great books.  There are lists out there.  There are curriculum out there focused on great books.  The library should be your friend. (Note: I am seeing a disturbing trend in librarie.  Many are leaning toward carrying only books that are absolute twaddle as they cull their shelves of classics and solid literature.  Beware!)  Your own bookshelves should be the home of great books.

-Stop seeing extras as extras Your son’s love of art is not an extra.  Your daughter’s interest in entomology is not an extra.  Be willing to put focus…and, if need be, money…on these areas of interest.

-Read curriculum reviews, always keeping a Biblical perspective at the forefront.  A good site to visit is Curriculum Choice.  They offer solid reviews of nearly everything out there.

-Don’t expect your curriculum to be perfect.  No curriculum can be everything you need.  It can come close, but it will always miss the mark in some way.  Again, do not let your curriculum drive your homeschool.  God drives your homeschool.

Suggested Resources:



Living the Homeschool Life:
-Take trips.  No, not necessarily field trips because often field trips are more for the parents than for the kids.  I’m talking museums, fire stations, dairies, historical sites with just your family and an open dialogue.  So much can be learned by walking and talking your way through the places you go.  Yes, even the grocery store.

-Invest in memberships.  Space museums, historical parks, zoos, etc are all great places to spend your homeschooling dollars because you will get homeschooling in live action and life integration.  Plus, there are often perks with these memberships where your family can dig even deeper.

-Always choose real life over reading about it.  We all know that reading about building a birdhouse is not nearly as effective as actually building one.  If you can’t create a real life experience, look for other ways to get your child immersed in what they are learning.  The more a child touches, tastes, feels, and experiences to drive home their lessons, the better their education.  (Check out Tactile Tuesday at Educating Laytons for hands-on ideas for your child.)

-Learn with your child.  This aspect of homeschooling has to be one of my most favorite!  I get to learn all the things I did not retain from my school years.  And this fact does not make me a bad teacher.  In fact, I recently read that the best teachers are those who love the subject more than they know the subject. (from Upgrade by Kevin Swanson)  My children have caught my excitement because they see passion in what I teach them.

-Remember God’s ways are not man’s ways.  While some of us have to comply with state standards that seem to stifle our creativity, rest assured the hoops you jump through part of the time do not need to define your homeschool all of the time.  Hand your homeschool over to Him and let Him grow and multiply it!

-Get outside!  The out of doors is an amazing place and a field ripe for learning.  Nature hikes, time to study the world God has created, and just good old fashioned fresh air are things that enhance learning.  Let your children wonder at the world around them!

-Stay inspired!  Keep your Bible near you at all times.  Read books that give you food for thought.  Listen to audios that challenge you.  Have magazine subscriptions that point you toward things that matter.  Invest in friendships that spur you on.  Go to homeschool conventions that inspire you.  Consider it all your continuing education as a mom.  Stay passionate, stay inspired!  Your children will see it and gravitate toward it and become inspired themselves!

While I have not offered you defined specifics in this post, I hope I’ve given you a place to start and some practical tips to get you headed in the right direction.  It is my deepest desire that homeschool moms find delight in homeschooling their children and in turn, their children find delight in a lifetime of learning.  These sorts of things cannot be found in a box.

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11 thoughts on “Practical Ideas for Homeschooling Outside the Box

  1. Great post, Amy! Thank you for sharing this list. While not overly specific, it’s full of interesting ideas. :) I was just contemplating investing in a dual membership with our local zoo and science museum.

  2. These are awesome – thank you! And very timely, as I am trying to deal with the frustration of a 6yo boy who loves to learn but haves anything having to do with textbooks or writing. Hard to find a balance there.

    And, unfortunately, I know what you mean about libraries – I am seeing that here in the Phoenix area (getting rid of good books and keeping the junk). What a pity.

  3. I totally know what you mean about libraries and ‘twaddle’. I am so frustrated! While I can usually find good books there, I have to know ahead of time what I’m looking for, and I don’t like to bring my kids because then all we end up with is a bunch of books based on Disney movies with poor writing, and other ‘twaddle’. I love looking at the book lists in various curricula in order to find great books to read.

    • I have started using the library website “hold” feature to request a list of books at a time. The librarians will roll their eyes as they haul my 30+ books to the counter but it sure beats chasing my boys through the shelves and not being able to find what I need. Plus, our branch is in a rural area and anything they don’t have can come from the larger branches in “the city”. :-)

  4. Great article! I am an armchair homeschooler w/ a large family mentality (kiddos 4, 2, 1, and hopefully more to come! ) I have been collecting good books for years to use in my homeschool and help my budget! I also use the library a lot for those fabulous picture books that I just can’t afford. I almost NEVER pick books off the shelf though (like you said, twaddle). I request them in advance from the interlibrary loan system and have them waiting for me to be picked up! Just wanted to throw this out there…..I read somewhere recently that the library purchases and discards books based on usage and requests. So, while it can take a little extra work to request books through the interlibrary loan systems, it is good for them to get regular requests for the great classics and non-twaddle kids books. Hopefully, as homeschoolers grow in number and we continue to patronize the library, they will get the hint! :)

  5. THANK YOU!!! This was exactly what I needed today! I find myself getting more and more concerned with my children being “up to par” with the public school kids that I tend to forget WHY my husband and I chose to homeschool. Personally, I think TOO much emphasis is put on choosing the “right” curriculum and sticking with it.

  6. As Type A who, *ahem*, finds security in boxes ;-), but recognizes the need to homeschool outside of the box, this REALLY helps me. Thank you for the concrete examples!

  7. I taught 4 1/2 years in the public schools, homeschooled by two oldest through 8th grade and my youngest through 6th grade, and returned to the public schools when the youngest entered 7th.

    Your lovely list affirmed our decision to educate our sons at home. I probably leaned a little more on traditional curriculum thnt I would if I were doing it today, but I like to focus on everything that was so good and right. And even when being fairly teacher-traditional in my approach, I experimented a lot–like the year we had “Wonderful Wednesdays,” when no traditional work was done. That was the year that our eldest son went outside and built a drawbridge to the fort–something that I would NEVER have written in my plans. (I wouldn’t know how to build a drawbridge; he was too young to know that he had to “know how” to try.)

    The first advantage is that my sons respected their father and me as authorities and still do. Although they are all independent men (And all gainfully employed!), they often call me when facing a major problem or decision. AND, now that they are adults, I actually listen to THEIR advice.

    The second gift is that they are incredibly close friends with each other. Even though they played soccer (primarily), basketball, baseball; took art and pottery classes; all became Eagle Scouts, etc., they were each others’ everyday companions and first friends. I smile when I learn that they’ve gotten together to go camping or attend a concert. And I LOVE it when I walk around the corner and hear them all sharing an uproarously huge laugh over something when they’re home.

    The third gift–and I’m just stopping here so that I won’t write a book for my response–is that I enjoy adult conversations with my sons. We talk about current events, politics,movies, and books. How handy to have home-grown advisors! (And we do NOT agree on many topics! I did not raise “yes” men.)

    As a public school media specialist (librarian + technology coordinator), I am finding it interesting that our teachers are now being told to consider textbooks just ONE of their resources. They are being told to approach the Common Core State Standards using REAL books, real-life activities, and a variety of media. It just hit me as I read this post that some of our teachers might want to consult a homeschool handbook or two–to discover what we have done for years. I take great delight in choosing books for my teaching colleagues. Since I taught in a variety of settings and grade levels (special ed, self-contained and resource; regular ed pull-out resource; self-contained second grade; first grade in a Christian school one year), I do know the curriculum and I spend a lot of time choosing quality literature–whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. There ARE some well-written books being published, but I do like to introduce children (and sometimes a teacher!) to classic literature.

    FINALLY, may I please offer a word of encouragement to all of you who are currently educating your children at home? I hope that you have a support group, because I believe that my survival for so long was greatly aided by that. Of course, in today’s digitally-connected society, blogs and websites must surely offer a wealth of resources that I did not have. My “best” days were those that were bathed in prayer, no matter what we accomplished. I realize that some mistakes were great events for learning, although the lessons weren’t always realized immediately. DO cherish these days. I remember being SO tired that I didn’t know how I would put one foot in front of another, but those three little bodies pressed against (or crawling over) mine as we read and played and worked . . .oh, I DO remember thinking, “Soak this up! Remember this!” That thought was such a gift. I have said that I would trade one year of my life if I could relive ONE of those days with those three little boys.

    You’ll never know the impact of your work, but I am praying that each person who read this will feel refreshed and renewed in your resolve to give your children your best. (And don’t you DARE go comparing yourself to anyone else!)

    Don’t grow weary in your well-doing; you WILL reap what you are sowing.

    With fond memories and well wishes,
    One who has gone before