What we learn OUTSIDE of school

  As I sat in my living room last night listening to Evan playing Scribblenaughts (and I say listening because he needs help sounding out all the words and Alec was helping him sound them out) I was struck by all the learning my kids do "after" school.

As a homeschooler and a mom I know learning happens at all times of the day regardless of whether I've planned a lesson or not.  In fact I've come to realize that these are the times the most important learning seems to take place.

They remember what they learn during these times since it's self- motivated learning.  Some of their best learning seems to happen in the evening or over the weekend and I often think I might be holding them back during the day with all my teaching!   I decided to look back at our week and try to think of all the times I could remember where learning happened outside of school.

1.  Since Scribblenaughts led me to this post it had to be the first on my list.  I was amazed listening to Evan tonight telling me what materials he needed to spell.  He seems to be able to figure out what the game was asking him to accomplish (which I thought was pretty good in and of itself since it requires quite a bit of reading at times).  He also was usually able to tell me the first and last letter of the word he needed to type in.  "Mom how do you spell fire extinguisher; I know it starts with F." A few times as I was helping him sound out words I'd say things like "next is "on" just like your sight word and he'd think about it before asking "o- n?"  Alec had been playing Scribblenaughts at Karate and had to come up with adjectives to fill in a puzzle box using picture clues.  So we were working on spelling, grammar and problem solving!  We talked about spelling chunks like double vowels to make long vowel sounds, -tion to say "shun", and adding s to the end to make more than one.  They also learned new vocabulary words; like what a cannibal is and what a peasant is.  Alec's game involved preparing for battle in the middle ages and we talked about medieval weaponry too for a bit of a history lesson.  I had no idea this game was so educational!

2.  Alec wanted to play The Scrambled States of America game after our family bike ride last weekend.  Ian soon joined in and both boys were practicing United State Geography and learning facts about each state.  We often play board games at night as a family and we try to have one of the boys be the score keeper (or the banker depending on the game we're playing).  They are all encouraged to read, do math and use problem solving as the game requires.  Even Evan will play the Scrambled States of America game and can find most of the states on the map, tell us the letter they start and end with, find where the names of the capital and the state's nickname are so that he can participate even though he cant read all of the words. 

3.  Evan has been reading a mini book to either my husband or myself before bed each night.  We also try and spend time with each boy reading a book to them most nights.  These books range in genre from fiction to science/ nature to history.  This week Alec read 8 books on animals of North America; it was a series that he picked out and brought home form the library and he spent every night going through the books as well as his new Zoobooks magazine all about rattlesnakes.  Ian read all about the building of the Empire State Building, The gold rush, and a few other books about building and construction.  Evan read about the history of gargoyles and learned where they got their name.  Evan also tends to sit in on many of Alec and Ian's stories (as long as the older brothers don't object) and so he learns about building and animals too.  The older boys will often read themselves to sleep too for another half hour after we send them to bed.  In Ian's case the book must be quite gripping and usually something he remembers and retains long after he's finished reading. 

4.  Evan wanted a cheeseburger last weekend for lunch and since they're typically left to their own devises for lunch on the weekend I offered to teach him how to cook them in a frying pan on the stove top.  We talked about kitchen safety, how to tell when the burger is done cooking, and how to use a spatula.  He loved that he would now know how to cook a cheeseburger by himself from now on (though he knows an adult must be with him in the kitchen). 

5.  Their karate classes teach them new (and helps develop existing) gross motor skills and listening skill.  They learn about and practice good sportsmanship, proper etiquette, and all about the Korean culture.  They're continually learning new Korean words and are finding the patterns in them (all kicks are called Chaki).  They talk about being street smart, being community helpers, and the importance of physical fitness, among other topics. 

6.  They play kindle games like 2048 that develop math skills, or Stack the States that teach them about the United States.  They love Minecraft and I'm coming to see the educational value in that as well as they build and design to their hearts content, solving problems dealing with structural imbalance and fire or water damage.  They play computer games like Words with Friends that help them develop math and spelling skills.  The play Wii games like World of Zoo that teaches them about caring for animals.  They don't ALWAYS play educational games as they often play Pok√©mon and Lego Batman, etc., but they do occasionally play educational games and I'm always amazed at how often this happens without my knowing. 

7.  We listen to lots of stories-- our book on CD is going at any time all three boys are in the car.  I actually tagged along when the boys went Mother's Day shopping just so I could hear the book on CD with them in the car.  We also read books most nights before bed and, on rare occasions, the boys will read to each other or themselves while hanging around after dinner.  The other day while listening to the Mark of Athena we also had a great discussion on geography as we talked about their route and where they were on our world map.  We often find the real places talked about in a story on our world or US maps so we have a better idea of where the characters are and what it's like around them. 

8.  The boys go fishing, ride bikes, ride scooters, jump, run and climb; often challenging themselves to do it faster and better than before.  The practice karate skills outside of class as well and try to perfect their moves doing them faster and more precise or else stretching their legs to kick higher for wonderful gross motor practice. 

9.  They build and construct things at all hours of the day; before school, during school and after school.  They build with Lego bricks, blocks, sand, sticks, rocks and just about anything else that hey can get to stack together.  They use their own imaginations, their own problem solving skills and their own ingenuity to get these building up and stable.  They often make up stories about what they have built-- huge, long, elaborate stories that they love to tell anyone who will listen.  They won't write them down but they do tell stories with lots of details and supporting ideas. 

So basically on their own (or through their own interests) they worked on science, math, reading, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, geography (world and US), physical education, nutrition, life skills, "writing" in the form of storytelling, history, foreign language, and lots of different kinds of problem solving skills.

This is what the whole principal of Unschooling is founded upon.  Kids will learn all about the world around them in their own time in their own way when they are interested and motivated to do so. 


  1. I don't think it's an either or more of a full plate. The structured activities build skills that also give more abilities for free time activities. They can play more, enjoy free reading, etc. because they have the reading, math, and other skills that were taught.

    I'm a firm believer that kids pull together understanding from a variety of activities and the when we offer them a chance to explore the world their understanding only grows. However, we also have to provide them with some skills so they can explore that world more freely and that often requires some direct instruction like teaching reading skills or even basic kitchen safety instructions it isn't completely intuitive. However, having taught those skills they can scaffold them into learning new things that interest them.

    1. That's a great way to look at it. We definitely do both structured lessons and free play but I try to make sure, most days, we have more free time than structured lesson time.


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