Curious Fact: Children learn best when information is relevant to them. You probably already knew that so the curious part is that researchers regularly spend time and money proving it.
The best classroom teachers go to great lengths to create curriculum relevant to student interests, and experiences that draw students in to the material.
In this respect, homeschool teachers have it easy. My children (who, despite or because of this, score at and—mostly—well above grade level on standardized tests) spend a maximum daily of only one hour sitting at lessons. The actual amount of time at the table varies among homeschools, but in most cases homeschooled children spend the vast majority of their time learning from their real-life environment, studying topics that relate directly to their interests and the events in their lives.
For instance, in our family there are three types of grocery store trips. The Get-Away Mini Vacation Grocery Visit, the O-M-G Please Stop Screaming Don’t Touch the Produce There’s a Spill on Aisle Five Stay Close and Don’t Get Run Over Grocery Visit, and the Classroom Visit.
The first is a rare treat, the second is a common late-evening phenomenon when we look in the pantry and realize it’s empty, and the third is an integral part of both our lives and our children’s education. The Classroom Visit can take many forms, and usually begins with something as simple as having a young child choose the right product(s) off a shelf and place it carefully in the cart (coordination, following instructions, motor skills, counting).
Currently, our Grocery Store as Classroom Visits look something like this (with related curriculum standards listed):
Morning of Visit:
1. Monty (10) and Eli (almost-7) stand at the counter and make a menu for the week (reading, writing, planning, organization, calendar skills). Everett (3) scribbles on a piece of paper and talks about his favorite foods (motor coordination, social skills, language development).
2. Monty and Eli convert the menu into a grocery list (planning, reading, writing, multiplication, logic, organization) including categorizing types of items together. Everett eats the last of the apples (nutrition) and yells loudly over our conversation (social skills).
At the Store:
1. Monty and Eli are deployed with their own grocery cart, the list, a pen, and instructions to find the best value for each item (reading, organization, motor skills, social skills as they navigate through the other shoppers and employees, responsibility, leadership/self-organization as they decide who is responsible for managing which aspect of the trip, plus math and finance skills, and navigation). Everett is deployed as my sidekick (self-discipline, social skills).
2. I walk down each main aisle, choosing produce and other items not core to our menu for the week, but handy to have on hand. Everett brings things to the cart and chooses which apples to purchase and refrains from eating the grapes before we’ve paid for them, mostly without screaming about it (self-restraint, following instructions, motor skills, counting).
3. About half an hour later, Everett and I run into Monty and Eli, who are deep in discussion regarding which type of shrimp is the better choice—pre-cooked bite-sized peeled shrimp harvested wild in the US, or raw jumbo easy-peel shrimp farm-fresh from Mexico (negotiation, planning, reading, geography and agriculture). They request my advice and I use my handy portable educational device (aka smart phone) to look up the relative merits, nutritionally and environmentally, of each type of shrimp (geography, environmental awareness, research, agriculture, nutrition) while Everett wanders down the aisle climbing on the cooler bumpers and chatting with anyone who will engage with him (social and motor skills).
4. Shrimp selection accomplished, Monty and Eli depart in search of the next item on their list. Everett waves goodbye to his new best friend who has been conversing with him on the deep subjects of his age, his tricycle, and the location of his nose. We head into freezer territory.
5. Approximately one hour later, we re-convene at the check-out and converse with the cashier mostly in English while trying out our newly acquired Spanish vocabulary on her patient ears (social skills, life skills, second language).
I’m pretty proud of our relevant school curriculum, but we could be doing more. What one thing are you doing to make learning relevant for your children (homeschooled or not)?