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Adventures of a stay-at-home, skeptical, homeschooling dad (etc.)


Sneaky school for young kids

How do I school a kid who doesn't want to be schooled (ie 90% of kids ever)? Trickery and deceit, of course. It's kind of like adding chopped cauliflower to rice for the picky eaters who don't want to eat vegetables. I've seen others talk about things like this, but it's often a one-off field trip that doesn't address "core subjects".

So, out comes the trickery and deceit. These are great fun and you don't have to take them seriously. In fact, take them as unseriously as possible, lest you scare kids away from the activity by making it unfun. This is admittedly for younger kids, say, up to 7 or 8 (depending on the kid, of course); older kids might require more thought, or different kids of trickery.

Secretly, I'm wondering if I can use sneaky learning activities like these to do all education up to age 9 or 10: ie: we'd rarely, if ever, have classic school where we sit and explicitly go over material and work problems. It wouldn't exactly be "unschooling", but it just might work… It deserves further study.

Anyway, here is my list of sneaky learning activities:

Write comic books

Simple: draw and write comic books about whatever. First it can just be pictures. Terribly-drawn pictures. Eventually they'll want to make word bubbles. The words may be limited to "AAAAAAGH!" and "Grrrr!" and "Ow!" at first, but sooner or later they say "How do you spell 'Look out! They're attacking!'?" Works best if two kids are working on their own comics, but side-by-side.

Writing, art, drawing, story composition, imagination, and spelling.

Map + car rolls

Place a map you don't mind getting crinkled onto the floor. Roll toy cars and try to get them to stop on your target ocean, continent, country, state, or city.

Homeschool geography map.

Geography! A little reading and cardinal directions.

Story time

This is not new, of course, and most people do this already, but people often forget it is a learning activity. We take turns reading stories. Point to the words and repeat/explain unfamiliar words several times. Explain new concepts. We read the same stories many times; it gets old for me, but she likes it.

Word recognition, reading, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and whatever you're reading about, of course.

Write a story for the Nook or web

We're still working on this one. Type a story in Wordpad (illustrated with Paintbrush) and use Calibre to convert it for my Nook.

Keyboarding, spelling, story composition, imagination, drawing, and general computer know-how.

Dinosaur store

We use plastic dinosaurs, but anything would work. Make price tags with post-its. Give her some coins and bills. We have used real money and fake: doesn't matter. This is great because you can make it as easy or as hard as you want. For easy, make the price tags small: 1, 2, 3, 4 cents etc. Harder: 5, 10, 25, 75 cents etc. Harder: 6, 7, 15, 23, 77, 100 cents, $1.32. etc. Later, add in making change for subtraction.

Dinosaur homeschool math money

Math, addition, subtraction, money, denominations, transactions.

Non-fiction library books

We always check out books from our library. Many of them are just plain ol' kids' story books, which is fine, but I almost always get a few non-fiction books on a subject she's interested in (or might be).

Reading, reading comprehension, vocabulary, history, and whatever the subject.

Mythology DVDs

We get the Schlessinger DVDs from the library. They have a set for kids on Greek Myths my daughter and her friends love. It says "Grades 4-8" but I can't fathom why. They're appropriate for ages 3-10 as far as I'm concerned.

You haven't lived until you see 6 kids fighting over who gets to be Zeus or Artemis.

Mythology, history, comparative religions, classic stories, general knowledge.

History DVDs

Again with the Schlessinger DVDs from the library. There's a variety available. I figure reading the encyclopedia and watching the History Channel (way back when they had historical programming) is how I learned most of the history I still remember, so, for now, if she'll watch and enjoy a DVD about the Mycenaean period in Greek history presented by a slightly annoying manner, that's good enough for me.

History, geography, general knowledge.

Make maps

We've not tried this extensively yet, but I've been planning on doing it more. Make maps of our house, neighborhood, playground, etc. Mark things we know about.

Maps, geography, cardinal directions, spatial knowledge, reading and writing.

Games that involve reading, counting, adding, or subtraction

Lots of board games involve counting and not much else. Some have a little reading. I try to invent one-off games that require at least addition. I'd like a lot more.

Math, reading, games, rules.

Dumb computer games

These are simple as dirt games, but occasionally she or the neighbor kids will sit for a few minutes and click away: Kitty spell Chimp math

There are plenty of others out there. I have problems with many of them because they offer too many rewards, are too intense, are too advanced, or are not advanced enough.

Math, spelling, vocabulary.

Building contraptions

Empty cardboard boxes. Tape. Construction paper. Glue. String. Foam. Spaghetti noodles. Anything. And/or you can get Legos and Trios.

Build things. Big things. Small things.

Make forts. Make ramp for the cars to roll down. Make castles, towers, bridges, houses. Moving parts, maybe.

Advanced versions can use rulers and tape measures.

Physics, materials, spatial relations, measurement, problem solving.

Take stuff apart

Did the answering machine break? Take it apart. Let her use the screwdriver, pliers, and big scissors. What's in there?

Materials, general knowledge, problem solving.

Museum trips

Natural history. Local history. Art. Contemporary. Whatever, doesn't matter: It all makes her ask questions.

History, art, and art history.

Analog clock

Hang an analog clock in an area they usually play in. Sounds silly, but I was struggling to get her to do clock work sheets, then I remembered the large, old-school clock in the basement. Now I just ask her to tell me the time.

Um… clocks, telling time.

Follow a recipe

Especially useful in America because of our odd measuring methods. 1/4 cup + 1/4 cup = 1/2 cup! 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon! etc.

A little math. Following directions. Food.


There are thousands of little ways and opportunities to learn throughout the day. If I keep it sneaky, Hopefully I won't turn her off of learning.

2013-01-20 #school