How One Year of Homeschooling Differently Changed Our Lives
(Hi readers! I originally wrote this post in 2015 but I wanted to update it. It’s now 2018 and our year of experience-based learning changed our lives. This year allowed us to accomplish many things that we didn’t expect. We became bolder, we asked more questions, we discovered more interests, we accidentally made lifetime friends along the way. I’ve updated the article below to reflect on this year and add information about how Experience-Based Learning is working for us several years later. Enjoy!)
What is Experience-Based Homeschooling?
It’s simply experiencing things! It’s leaving the textbooks and passive learning at home and going out to learn the information first-hand. It’s visiting tar pits instead of watching a documentary about it (but let’s be honest, we’ll watch the movie afterward anyhow!) It’s going to the Ren Faire instead of reading fictional accounts (but we still read a ton, don’t worry!) It’s having an expert teach you how to change an oil filter. It’s observing, watching, and doing. It’s active learning.
How Do I Start Experience-Based Homeschooling?
I have set up a couple of rules for my family, mostly to keep my budget and schedule in check.
1. Experiences are based on interest and are not usually required. Meaning, if my 11 year old wants to skip yoga they can. Sure, I want them to go but if they have the opportunity to stay home and really don’t want to, I’m not going to force them. Fortunately my kids like going out so usually everyone tags along. We plan so many things that missing a few isn’t a big deal. Your mileage may vary, of course.
2. Experiences are going to be a major part of our homeschooling but we’re still covering the basics. They’ll keep doing their math and reading, and my teens still have their heavier course load. Additionally, experiences cannot overtake our lives, they must fit in with our doctor appointments, my job, and our other obligations.
3. The experiences have to fit into our budget. I set a per person per event budget and I stick to it. I generally skip field trips that are over $20/person and anything over $10 is closely scrutinized. I do make exceptions for unmissable trips, like the time we went to Medieval Times, but those are rare and require sacrifices in other areas.
Don’t let money stop you , there are inexpensive and FREE experiences everywhere you look. Library events! City sports! Homeschool group events! Visit a specialty shop and start asking questions. Go to a game store and look into tournaments and play days. I learn about inexpensive and free events by following my city & county library and parks departments on social media. I also join several secular homeschooling groups in whatever city we happen to be living in at the time and look for events. To help make experience-based homeschooling more affordable we pack our drinks and food for every event with very rare exception & we sit down monthly to budget out how much I’ll need for gas & toll money and to discuss the affordability of the next 4 weeks of events.
4. Experiences should be fun but they have to have some sort of educational merit and most of them should be hands-on. The trips we have scheduled span the subjects, from career exploration to musical exploration to science days. Educational merit is a pretty lax term, so each of us needs to define that for themselves. We prefer hands-on experiences because my kids are on that side of the learning style spectrum.
5. Experiences must be whole family-friendly. At the time I wrote this article I had 6 children between the ages of 1 & 19, they’re now several years older and two don’t live at home anymore. In a way this is easier than having a baby and teens because the baby is a much better-behaved preschooler now. The difficulty is that teen activites very rarely accomodate preschoolers, preschool events rarely accomodate teenagers, and no 15 year old wants to hang out with 11 year olds all day every day (“Again, mom! I already live with an 11 year old!”) Let me just say this: group activites are a challenge when you have a large age range.
Activities that cannot accomodate my entire family are almost always excluded, it’s just how we’ve always worked. My kids get plenty of time to socialize and interact with peers, we just don’t put much (or any) educational stress on it. My teens can still go to homeschool dances and my preschooler can still go to tumbling, we just count it differently.
What Kind of Experiences Do You Do?
I originally put together a list of 19 experiences we had planned for the year and we did accomplish a lot of them. We werent prepared for the biggest experience of all, however: unexpectedly moving across the country. I’ve updated the list below by crossing out things we didn’t do & adding more things we’ve done over the years.
Auto Mechanic Workshop
Fire Department visit (we have two scheduled!)
Dog training (more like training for people who own a dog, amiright??)
Police Station Tour
Aquarium class and tour
Zoo (using Wild at the Zoo!)
NASA Space Exploration class and tour of Astronaut Hall of Fame
Interactive ocean life presentation and tour of SeaWorld
Beach exploration day
Amusement Park Physics
Tie Dye Chemistry
Native Animal Presentation & Guided Nature Hike
History & Holidays
Renaissance Faire Student Day (we did 2!)
Civil War Reenactment
Medieval Madness (a project and creating day!)
Winter Solstice Presentation
Cracker Farm Visit (we toured three different ones!)
Grist Mill Tour & Cooking
Pioneer Christmas (we did it several times in different locations)
Art, Music, & Physical Stuff
Monthly Art Co-op
Weekly Drama Class
Aerial Yoga (this was their first experience!)
Rock Climbing & Bouldering
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Meg Grooms is a decades-long secular homeschooling mother of 6 children, ranging in age from preschool to married with kids of their own. Always a vagabond at heart, Meg and her family have embraced a slow travel lifestyle, currently calling Southern California home. Your guess is as good as hers as to where they’ll end up next.
Meg blogs about secular homeschooling and gameschooling at Homeschool Gameschool.