Why the Homeschool “Extras” Matter

Please welcome Jen Vail, a regular feature writer here at Our Journey Westward! She’s here to encourage you that the homeschool extras matter – for your children AND YOU. If you enjoy the blog post, let her know in the comments!

I have a confession to make: I do not homeschool all of my children. I know, I know. I’ll pause while you compose yourself.

Our homeschooling origin story is a bit long so I’ll save it for another time, but what it ultimately boils down to is that two of my children attend public school, and one of my children is homeschooled. This is just the current arrangement our family has chosen when it comes to education. I have nothing against homeschooling…though I do have quite a few complaints against public schools.

Interestingly, I didn’t have near as many problems with public schools until I started homeschooling! Once I experienced the freedom and blessing of homeschooling, my other kids’ schools began to disappoint me over and over.

At first, it was just the paperwork – all of the forms I had to fill out, steps I had to go through for my children to attend school, etc. I’m a homeschooler in Texas, so I bristled at the idea of being told what to do, of someone else telling me what my children need.

Then I was irritated by the hours. NINE hours spent in a building, away from home, learning more slowly because of interruptions and taking turns in lines and standardized testing prep. My homeschooled kiddo and I knocked out 11 subjects in 4 hours, with plenty of time to hit up the library or a park before picking up his siblings from school. It took us less time to do more, and there were no tardy bells if we needed to rest a little more.

homeschool art supplies

Do Homeschool Extras Matter?

However, the largest issue that I have with the public schools in our area is the lack of “extras”. There are a lot of subjects and experiences that aren’t considered core academic needs and thus aren’t always included. My two public-schooled children feel this incompleteness, too.

Two summers ago I took all of my kids to an art museum for the day. It was free and it was air-conditioned, so it was the perfect July-in-Texas activity, plus I knew the kids would enjoy it. We were walking slowly from piece to piece, admiring and discussing displays, and I noticed that my homeschooled child was lingering just a little longer than the others at each exhibit.

He talked more about each artwork and knew more about each method and artist. His older brother asked him about a particular piece, and to my delight, he replied, “That’s called bas-relief.” I was thrilled, he was proud, and my other two children were eager to know more. You see, the art teacher at their school can only teach when her salary is provided by the fundraising efforts of parents.

What some people consider the “extras” in homeschooling – things like art, music, nature study, field trips, and even some projects – are often considered to be icing on the cake. To some, they might seem excessive or unnecessary, maybe even disposable or skippable when things get busy, but they are indispensable opportunities for growth and learning. After all, a cake without the icing is just a muffin, right?

But, I’ve learned through our experiences that the homeschool “extras”, the icing on the cake, should be slathered on as thickly as possible to make for a truly enriching, enchanting, enveloping education.

Homeschool Extras Matter A Lot

When my oldest son came home from school spouting off facts he’d learned about honeybees, my homeschooled child became quite interested in the fuzzy critters. We decided to embark on a small study of honeybees ourselves and devoted two weeks to learn all we could about them.

Much like my son in the public school, we also learned about their life cycles, their importance in our ecosystem, and their anatomy. However, once my son in public school had learned all that was intended for him in two days, he moved on to another topic. At home, we continued on…

We tasted different kinds of honey from different regions, learned about honeybee behavior and communication, made changes around our home that would make it safer and more welcoming for honeybee visits, and, at the end of the two weeks, we suited up and worked an actual hive with a beekeeper!

On our field trip, we had bees crawling (safely) all over us and were able to marvel at their anatomy up close. We peeked into the hive and saw for ourselves the various stages of development. We identified the queen and watched how the other bees kept close to her, recognizing the signals they were sending to each other.

In the end, both boys had learned about honeybees in school, but you can guess which one still remembers everything three years later.

The Flexibility of Homeschooling Matters

Our flexibility in learning and doing what some would consider “extras” (like our day-long field trip) made all the difference in learning. Rather than regurgitating information from a textbook, we were able to bring the learning to life, involve the senses, and build a lasting memory.

Was my oldest son’s education adequate? Sure. Was my homeschooled son’s education beyond what was necessary? Absolutely. And that’s why we have to keep doing things that way.

That beekeeping experience, our trips to museums all over the state, our afternoons spent at a pond’s edge, in a cathedral, or working on a project of some kind – those are what are remembered. Those are the experiences that cemented what he’d learned, that expanded his worldview, and that made the other kids jealous.

Rather than learning just enough to move on, by incorporating “extras” we turned lessons into lifelong memories. Exposure to the arts has helped fine-tune and identify personal tastes. Projects have given opportunity to exercise critical thinking. Nature studies have brought science to life and taught valuable life lessons. Music has demonstrated countless ways to express countless emotions and experiences. All of these additions to our homeschool have contributed not just to my son’s education, but to his formation as a person.

No Sweat Nature Study LIVE

Homeschooling Extras Build Whole People

Homeschooling comes with a lot of pressure to make sure we’re “keeping up” academically, but it also comes with a lot of freedom to give our children varied and lasting education. When we study the arts, we aren’t just memorizing periods and names – we’re learning how to interpret, how to consider context, how to recognize nuance and emotion in something that hangs on a wall or plays from a phone speaker.

When we take a nature walk or deep dive into a nature study, we’re not just learning the names of plants or pointing out birds – we’re experiencing how delicate an ecosystem is. We’re acknowledging how important each role is no matter the size, opening up the world to include what’s beyond our own neighborhood.

Poetry readings at a coffee house, volunteering at an animal shelter, sitting at a pottery wheel… these are all experiences that contribute to the making of a whole person, someone with their own ideas, preferences, and opinions.

Most jobs are not dependent solely upon math, or reading, or even history. Interests are wide-ranging and varied, and the more exposure our children have to the things that aren’t normally considered important, the more our children begin to learn who they are and what they want. The more varied their experiences, the more varied their options.

So by including what is normally excluded, we are setting our children up with the strongest possible foundation upon which to build themselves. Encouraging creativity is reason enough to include these extras, but when you realize that you’re also broadening their horizons and nurturing them as people, it’s a no-brainer. Homeschools need the extras.

Where Do I Find Time for Homeschool Extras?

How do you fit all those extras into your schedule? Well, not all at once. Just like we don’t need to worry about teaching algebra on the first day of kindergarten, we don’t need to worry about getting all of the extras in during a single school year. Some extras even cost money, so spread them out and include what you can.

  • Perhaps you could make Fridays your “icing on the cake” days, spending them on nature walks, roaming free museums, or attending local events.
  • You can check out art books and poetry books from the library and include them in your morning time, circle time, or poetry tea time.
  • Consider what experiences or field trips you could try at the end of a unit study that might help solidify what was learned and celebrate the opportunity to have learned it.
  • Let others teach it. As moms, we’re crazy-busy and could certainly use a helping hand to fit some extras in. Consider interative, hands-on opportunities like No Sweat Nature Study classes to bring the extras into your home without a lot of effort.

Don’t let the extras intimidate you – remember, they’re the icing, not the cake, so you don’t have to plan everything around their inclusion. But based on my own experience, years of research, and the jealousy of my other kids, those “extras” are just as necessary as anything else they learn.

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