Welcome to Build Your Library’s Homeschool Tidbits: Episode 21 – Rabbit Trails and Side Quests: Strike While the Iron is Hot. In this weekly video series, I will delve briefly into a topic related to homeschooling and will share some of my knowledge and expertise as a long-time homeschooling mother of 4 children. Three of whom have graduated high school, and one is also a brand-new college graduate!
It’s the time of year when many of us work on our plans for the new school year ahead. We come up with a great plan, and then six weeks into the school year your children have a question that leaves you with two paths. Do you stick to your well-laid plans? Or do you take the other path… the side quest that will give them the opportunity to follow their question to a potential passion?
If your gut tells you to stick to your lesson plans, I want you to hear me out. Arguably, one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility of giving our children time. Time to learn at their own pace, but also, time to dig deeper into their questions and passions. When they ask a question, and we redirect them to their current studies, we’re telling them that their questions aren’t as important as what we’ve planned for them.
I’m not saying throw out your lesson plans and just follow their every whim. Yes, some do that. But I’m not an unschooler, so that’s not what I’m going to discuss with you today. Instead, I offer an alternate compromise that will give you the best of both worlds.
Because we follow the Charlotte Mason idea of short lessons, our school days generally end by 1 PM. This leaves us with a whole afternoon of open-ended free time. When my kids ask a question that I know will require more than a quick answer, I jot it down in a notebook. I try to leave a space in our day where we can circle back to those questions. Sometimes it leads us to look at resources already on our shelves. Other times, we might fall down a Google rabbit hole and end up watching videos and exploring websites for the afternoon. Perhaps we’ll even end up going to the public library.
Occasionally, a unit study is in order. If your child has a passion, something that they just can’t let go of, I think it is our duty as their teacher to help them explore that. Maybe that means pausing our lessons to focus on a unit study. Perhaps it requires outside resources, such as a field trip. Or maybe even talking to someone in a professional field. Yes, we might have to set aside our well-laid plains for a week or three, but we need to strike while the iron is hot.
When one of my twins stumbled onto a book about the Titanic at the library when he was 8, it led us down quite a rabbit trail. It involved more reading, watching parts of the movie, and building a Pinewood Derby car that looked like the Titanic. All of which fulfilled his need for more information.
When my youngest was around the same age, she became obsessed with Hamilton. We listened to the musical, we read about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and we learned quite a lot about the Revolutionary War. Both of these examples were completely child-led, with me there for guidance. It was less about me structuring whole lessons for them and more about helping to answer their questions. I see myself as more of a mentor here, someone they can come to when they want to know more about something or have a question they don’t know how to answer on their own.
When we take the time to explore their questions, we’re showing our children that their thoughts are important. That having questions is not a nuisance, but a huge element of learning. We are encouraging them to take the lead in their own education. So we want to take the time to explore with them. We facilitate their learning as partners, rather than dominating their learning as teachers. Do these side-quests get in the way of our perfectly planned lessons? Sometimes. But I promise, following their passions and showing them how to answer their questions is always worth it.
I hope you found this Tidbit helpful! Come back next week for more homeschooling inspiration!
Until then, happy reading!
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 21 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.