We talked last time about the importance of setting up learning opportunities in the home for younger children. Now let’s discuss how to capitalize on that.
The Spontaneous Unit Study
By inviting my children to discover the world for themselves, I assumed the responsibility to being ready to deal with their questions when they popped up. A teachable moment is a precious thing and I always tried to make the most of it. While our home is loaded with books, I did rotate books in and out so there would always be something fresh. I also held certain types of books in reserve in my unit study boxes. Over the course of the year I would find treasures to fill my boxes – books from library sales or homeschool conventions, science kits or themed art projects from museum stores, posters from national parks, documentaries, games, etc. These unit study boxes were used for planned unit studies as well as for spur-of-the-moment ones. I’ll give you some examples of how this system worked.
One day my children discovered a badger den, so we pulled out the box on mammals, which contained wonderful books about various types of animals, their homes, and their habitats. There were posters identifying different Oklahoma wildlife (which went up in the bathroom). We started the book The Wind in the Willows.
After visiting Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, I pulled out my volcano box. There were books about how volcanoes worked, a picture book about the buried city of Pompeii, some ideas torn from a magazine that featured experiments that replicated a volcano, a National Geographic video, and a poster identifying all the volcanic hot spots around the world. We set to work understanding all we had just experienced.
My family emigrated from Sweden three generations back and wound up in Oklahoma making the Land Run. My Swedish box contained a book of native crafts for children, Swedish recipes, maps, children’s books about immigration, Ellis Island, and adjusting to a new country. When our little family suddenly moved from the farm to the heart of Dallas, the Swedish immigration box went too. While we were adjusting to a strange new world, we studied how other displaced persons felt, ate the food that my great grandmother would have had in Sweden, made dala horses, studied Swedish customs, read her letters, and tried to let her courage infuse our days.
A Place of Joy
While all this may sound like a random jumble of stuff, it was really a very calm existence filled with little discoveries that were pursued and thoughts that were discussed. Some of our school subjects were very sequential, but each day was rounded out with little surprises that created a joyful learning environment. Our lives had few extracurricular activities, so there was plenty of time to follow up on things of interest.
My husband and I are curious, industrious people and we wanted to cultivate that in our small children. It was a lot of work for us to set up situations that allowed them to “stumble upon” something exciting, but I think it was worth it. As young adults, our kids have been wildly successful academically, but it has not been from following the grinding checklist experienced by many of their peers. Their success has been the result of their curiosity continually propelling them into new territory. As my daughter recently remarked, “I still love to learn. That is a fairly rare thing, even on a campus like Princeton.”
Copyright 2010 Home Life, Inc., PO Box 1190, Fenton, MO 63026-1190, (800) 346-6322, www.home-school.com. Originally published in Practical Homeschooling # 96. A Practical Homeschooling subscription is $19.95 for six issues. Used by permission.
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