September 28, 2012

Homeschooling Outside The (Curriculum) Box

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Written by: Shari
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Congratulations Lisa C. for winning this drawing for the On-To-Go Planner! Thanks for all the great comments!

Congratulations to TLC, winner of last weeks drawing for the wall calendar. Thanks for commenting!

So glad you joined us for week three of the NOT Back To School Blog Hop. This week Home Educating Family has supplied another giveaway, so be sure to leave a comment to this post in order to have a chance of winning a Well Planned Day On The Go Planner! Don’t be shy! Just say “Hi”, or “Count Me In” or “Me, Me, Me—I want an On-The-Go Planner!” I use this planner, and love the efficient way it is put together, with the compact size that allows it to sit on my desk, or be slipped in my shoulder bag.

Hint: each blog is conducting a give-away, so click here to find a list of the host blogs and visit each and comment for increased chances of winning!


Today’s topic is one of my favorite subjects: Thinking Outside the (Curriculum) Box

When I first started homeschooling, I didn’t know what curriculum to choose, and the thought of spending big bucks on something that I’d be stuck with for a year was a little overwhelming. Since I’d helped compile a curriculum database when I worked for a public school, I knew what learning objectives were required for each grade level. So, I just decided to make sure we covered those objectives—any way we could.

Instead of purchasing a boxed curriculum for kindergarten, I just bought a handwriting book and a math book. The rest of my educational budget was spent on lots of hands-on learning books, educational toys, and field-trip activities.

My kindergarten science curriculum cost less than $5, and was a truly outside the box/inside the box idea!

I purchased an index card box, some index cards, and some alphabetical tab dividers. Each day (about the time that I was beginning to run out of patience), I’d send the child outside on a Nature Hunt. They simply had to go outside and explore until they found something interesting. Depending on the frustration level of the day, I’d make the scavenger hunt a little more challenging, so they’d be gone a little longer (like looking for a butterfly in January)!

When they came in with their treasure, the real learning began!

  • We’d classify it as to whether it was animal, plant, or mineral.
  • If it was an animal, then we’d examine it further and discuss its physical characteristics, habitat,where it was in the food chain, and classify it according to its taxonomy (insect, reptile, mammal).
  • We sounded out the letters of the name, and wrote it on the card
  • We wrote some simple things on the back of the card. Or, the child would tell how or where they found it, or some interesting facts, and I’d write it on the back of the card.
  • We wrote the date on the card.
  • Using wide clear tape we mounted the treasure on the card. If it was a large item (or alive), we just drew a picture.
  • If we had a book about the item, (like The Adventures of Frog and Toad) we’d read it together.
  • We filed the card alphabetically in the box.

Many days their nature walk prompted more exploration when we wanted to know more about a frog, or a walking stick, or how to create a habitat for a caterpillar cocoon. We’d research what happens to tadpoles, and what a cicada looks like after it comes out of that shell. On rainy days, they could get out their cards and resort and file them while remembering the day they discovered each treasure, or they could stand at the window and go on a pretend adventure as they wondered what all the creatures were doing on the rainy day, or they could take a virtual nature walk in a book or online, or create a card about a mythical or extinct creature.

With this activity we covered (and enjoyed) so many educational subjects:

  • Handwriting
  • Spelling
  • Math (by counting legs, notating the date, estimating, measuring)
  • Science
  • Reading
  • Map Skills
  • Research skills
  • Speech (as the child dictated, and recounted their adventure)
  • Art
  • Language Arts (alphabetizing, grammar, punctuation)
  • PE

Best of all, we enjoyed the added benefit of loving science from the very beginning. Science was their favorite subject!

They developed a love of learning, and got some fresh air and Vitamin D at the same time–and Mom got some added peace and quiet!

We had so many fun learning adventures because of that one little box. One day we found a woodcock; we’d never seen one before since we’re outside its normal migratory route, but it must have gotten off track, and we used the discovery to do further research, and look at the map, and discuss that interesting bird. Our Science Nature Box didn’t always wait for its turn on the schedule! One day (probably when a reluctant child was looking out the window instead of concentrating on a row of math problems) we discovered a roadrunner (another bird that isn’t often seen in our area). Suddenly it was time for science as we threw the schedule out the window and ran out the door, spotter’s guide in hand!

Don’t worry about spending lots of money on expensive curriculum. Some of our best learning adventures are free! Teaching your child HOW to learn is more important than finishing that worksheet, and there is a wealth of educational resources—right outside your window—outside the box!

What about you? Have you found a great way to learn that is outside the box? How have you used inexpensive or free resources? What fun ways do you learn with your children? What is your most creative way of learning on less? Have you ever purchased an expensive curriculum—and been disappointed? I’d love to hear from you.

  • Be sure to comment to enter the drawing for a free On The Go Planner from Home Educating Family. Drawing ends at midnight October 4, 2012.
  • And click here to find out what other homeschool moms think about homeschool resources that they’ve actually field-tested!
  • And head over here to read some other great ideas on Homeschooling Outside the Box, and to register for more chances to win the On The Go Planner.
  • If you share this post on your facebook page or twitter, comment again to tell me where you shared it, and you’ll get another entry.

“Due to international sweepstakes laws, this giveaway is for US entrants only. This giveaway is not tied to any social media site. Prize must be claimed within eight weeks.”

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About the Author

Shari Popejoy, wife of twenty-eight years, mother of three, founder of a local co-op for hundreds of homeschool children, author of seven books, and creator of Won Without Words (a blog of encouragement for wives) lives in the quiet country of the Ozarks where she enjoys writing surrounded by nature (and her children, of course). She is currently completing Volume V of the Livingstone Library, an adventure series for 'smart' kids, which features characters with character, and underlying allegorical spiritual truths. She enjoys high places and the road less traveled, and moments when all is well, and peace permeates like a fragrance. . .oh, and chocolate, fresh fruit and veggies, and early morning sunrises. Read her blog at


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  1. Ann Moore

    Thinking outside the box to me, is trying to do things for free or nearly free off the internet. I have no extra $$ to spend after 2 major car repairs, and 3 wisdom teeth removal (at 37!!). We went to a used book sale, and bought pieces here and there… Literally didn’t get a box to even think outside of here :D

  2. I’d love a chance to win!

  3. Loretta

    Love the idea of the nature walks. I would love this planner! I need something to keep me focused.

  4. Angie T

    Even though my son is starting high school this year I still encourage time outside to get a break from the work. It helps re-energize him! I like the scavenger hunt idea and will use that to help us through our own frustrating days. Perhaps I’ll make it a geocaching hunt!

    • Angie,

      Oh, I love geocaching! So many fun ways to learn, and it takes the scavenger hunt to the next level when you start talking coordinates! Thanks for commenting!

  5. Angie T

    I shared this post on my facebook page. :)

  6. Melinda Stogsdill

    Would love to win the planner.

  7. Debbie Smith

    I would love to win this planner! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Shelly

    Would love a chance to win the planner! Thanks!

  9. michlle

    I found this post very inspiring. I’m off to find some index cards!

  10. Gina Vesely

    I think I might use your Scavenger Hunt idea for when my MIDDLE SCHOOLERS get on my nerves!! Thank you for sharing! Blessed be!

  11. laura

    love homeschooling outside the box and always looking for more ideas on how to do it! thanks!

  12. Lisa C.

    I would like a chance to win! Thanks so much!

  13. Lisa C.

    I shared this link on my Facebook page!

  14. Deana

    Thanks for the encouragement and the chance to win this planner.

  15. Thanks for sharing your “outside the box” ideas! I think this theme is something all parents should read up on before they attempt to get started – there are some great ideas in here that I learned by trial and error, but it’s great to see them as recurring themes across these blogs!

    My sisters and I are all “nextgen” homeschoolers – previously homeschooled as students and now homeschooling our kids. We all do things differently, and I think in most ways, we’re all pretty outside the box, which I love. Look forward to following your blog!

  16. This is a fantastic example of how kids can love to learn! I “boat-school” as my family lives aboard a sailboat full time. There have been countless times when I have found them inspecting creatures that we see along the way, and I love to see how totally enthralled they are with every little detail! Thank you for providing an easy method to expand on their exploration and keep track of all we discover!

  17. Lorie Miller

    Thanks for that encouraging article! Would love to win this planner!!

  18. Lorie Miller

    Also commented on Facebook about this

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