Ideas for Social Activities for Secular Homeschoolers

If you’ve been homeschooling – or even considering homeschooling – then you know that the first question “concerned” people ask is, “What about socialization?” Because of this, one of the most common questions asked in homeschooling groups is, “so what can my kids do as a social activity?” Rest assured, there are many activities for homeschoolers to participate in (in fact, I feel like there are more activities available for homeschooled kids than there are for their public and private school counterparts).

Secular homeschoolers often run up against the wall because many activities appear to center around church groups, and many homeschooling groups are religious in nature (particularly Christian). Some groups, co-ops, and sports clubs for homeschoolers may even require a signed statement of faith. What’s one to do, then, when seeking out secular activities for children who are homeschooled? Here are some ideas.

Scouting

There are the two main scouting organizations – Girl Scouts and (Boy) Scouts*, and then some lesser-known scouting organizations. We’re heavily involved with Girl Scouts (I just signed up to co-lead my daughter’s troop), and since I also was a Girl Scout, I’m partial to the organization. My little guy is too young for Scouts as of yet, but when he’s old enough, he’ll join a Den. Other scouting organizations include: Navigators USA, Frontier Girls, SpiralScouts, and Campfire. Scouting helps build confidence, STEAM knowledge and skills, outdoor skills, leadership skills, and life skills. If you know of a scouting organization I haven’t mentioned, please share it in the comments.

4-H

4-H is another youth program that encourages skill development. 4-H programs cover STEM, agriculture, healthy living, and citizenship skills. There are no uniforms and no national fees, and projects can be selected to work with your family’s budget. 4-H programs are available for kids 8-19, and there’s a junior program available called “Cloverbud” for ages 5-7.

Programs at Museums and Zoos

Our area has a number of neat museums and two zoos – one local and one with in 30 minutes. They all offer various learning opportunities and classes for homeschoolers. Don’t limit yourself, though. See what programs your local museums and zoos have and take advantage of them. Even if a program isn’t specifically for homeschoolers, it will be a great opportunity for your young student to learn and interact with other kids with similar interests.

Library Programs

Most libraries have a variety of programs – from storytimes for younger children to LEGO events for older children, there’s a variety of possibilities for kids to meet other kids at the library who are into the same things as they are. Some libraries even have homeschool group meetups.

Parks and Recreation

We’re very lucky. Our Parks and Recreation classes cost as little as $9 a session, and most are around $20. All three of our young children take advantage of classes like gymnastics, art, and dance and basketball clinics. Be sure to check out opportunities near you for affordable classes. They’re particularly great for having kids get their feet wet in one activity without making a full commitment.

Sports Leagues and Gyms

Many of the gyms around us have homeschool days. Some even host sports teams for kids outside of school. We also have a lot of different sports leagues to choose from (benefits of being in a city). Call around, you may be surprised at the opportunities offered in your area.

Studios, Companies, Galleries, and Private Lessons

Here, we have galleries and studios offering some homeschool art and music lessons. This can be a great opportunity for getting out there and learning an extracurricular skill in the arts. Don’t overlook local theatre companies. My oldest found his passion in theatre by joining the local independent theatre company’s youth company. On that note, don’t forget to check out local dance studios, art galleries, and children’s choir and orchestra opportunities.

Local Institutions of Higher Ed

My 5 year old took violin lessons that were both group and solo from a music professor through the local university. Many colleges and universities offer programs for children through their various departments. Years ago, my oldest took a series of science courses aimed for late elementary and middle school students through the local university.

Local Meetup Groups, Facebook Groups, Co-Ops, and Clubs

As if you didn’t already have enough options already, each community usually has a group of homeschoolers or kids that meet up regularly. There are also board gaming clubs, extension programs, and co-ops. If you find that your local area doesn’t have a secular-friendly group, don’t fear. Put out some feelers on social media. Chances are, there are other parents like you who would like to meet up with secular-minded families.

So, when someone asks you, “but what about socialization?”, you now have a set of answers. In my community, there are more options and opportunities that any one family could ever reasonably participate in. I turn the question on you, now, what activities do your kids participate in?

Happy New Year!

2018 was kind of an odd year around here. I’d hoped to have the blog more populated than it currently is, but life happens. That said, happy new year! It’s 2019 now, and we’re finishing out our winter break (It’s futile to attempt to homeschool while my 20-year-old is home visiting from college. It’s just too much excitement for my kindergartener and preschooler.) That said, I think they are as ready as I am to get back into our routine.

We have some new activities for the new year – Girl Scouts, basketball, hip hop dancing, and even Little Miss Ladybug will be taking a tot dance class. I’m really looking forward to all the fun opportunities this year. We managed to catch Paw Patrol Live over this past weekend, and the kids got a big kick out of it. I was impressed with it, I’d never seen a kids show live before, and was quite taken with the detail on the props and storyline.

What are your goals for 2019? For me, I want to make sure I’m adding in fun science and art projects. I’ll need to put them on the calendar to make sure that they get done. It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing them – I really do, and the kids love them. It’s just that when things get busy, those are often the first things that get set aside in the name of “saving time” and I’m tired of doing that.

I also have a personal goal of reading at least 12 books this year. I’m going to be started with Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. I know, I know, I’m a little late to the game, but I binge-watched the show on Hulu while I was sick (I really don’t suggest doing that unless you’re a glutton for punishment), and now I feel the need to read the book.

I also want to make better use of our local secular homeschooling group and try to make meetings at least once a month. It can be hard when running a business from home and with no car, but I think it’s necessary to make a stronger effort.

What are your 2019 goals? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Gardening with Kids When You Don’t Garden – Guest Post at Minnesota Country Girl

I am participating in the blog tour over at Minnesota Country Girl, where I provided a guest post for her series: “Summer in the Outdoors: A Series of Gardening, Foraging, and Nature Studies”

Simple Coffee Photo Recipe Pinterest Graphic.pngIn preparing for writing the post, I was faced with a little bit of a dilemma:

I run. I hike. I love the outdoors, but I am not a gardener. Sure, there was that fluke summer, years ago, where I managed to grow a vegetable garden in my dad’s back yard, and it was successful. I think, though, that my dad may have been behind the scenes helping that garden to boom.

We bought our house wanting to garden. I would really love to put a kids’ garden area in, and it would be awesome to give my kids the skills that, despite my parents’ best efforts, I just didn’t pick up. So, the question is: How does one teach children the skill of gardening when one is not a “green thumb?”

Most of the advice I found for gardening with kids assumes that you already sort of know what you’re doing when it comes to gardening, or at least that you haven’t killed every plant you’ve attempted to grow over the last (mumble) years of adulthood.

To solve this problem, I came up with a way to create a lesson plan and “course” on gardening that would benefit both myself and my kids this summer. I’m really excited about it, and I decided that I would share my planning process in the guest post. I’m a classical homeschooler by nature, so I was already familiar with one of the resources from when my oldest and I tried (and failed at!) gardening when he was 8.

Join me over at Minnesota Country Girl where I have the privilege of guest posting for Summer in the Outdoors: A Series of Gardening, Foraging & Nature Studies.

Downtime Is Just As Important as Time Spent Learning

Parents, especially those who homeschool, can get really caught up in ensuring their kids are always learning. Whether this is through ensuring that every toy is “educational” and every television program consumed teaches something or it’s through carting children from one enrichment activity to another, it’s a mistake.

“What?” you may say, “but I thought that we’re supposed to teach our kids!”

Yes, we are, but part of teaching and guiding children includes teaching kids how to just be. College Boy spends some of his time at home laying on the bed and staring at the ceiling. Princess Boogie plays with her Ponies and flits about running in what seems to me to be pointless circles. Sometimes we all just zone out on the couch to some silly kids’ movie or TV show.

Kids can suffer from burnout

According to the article, “The Downside of No Downtime for Kids” from PBS News Hour, we should not  be packing every free moment of our kids’ lives. The article quotes Alvin Rosenfeld (author of The Over-Scheduled Child) as saying:

“First, I’d ask myself what kind of adult you want your kid to grow up to be,” Rosenfeld said. “And then I’d ask how you get there. How do you balance academics, athletics and character?”

Most parents Rosenfeld encounters say developing a strong character is most important. “Unfortunately, actions don’t always follow aspirations in terms of saying character is most important,” he said.

When you don’t allow children to have unstructured time, they never have the opportunity to test out their character – or even really get to know who they are when they’re not playing soccer, practicing violin, and working on the next awesome robot club creation.

Instead, a child may be left feeling lost when he or she can’t be constantly busy.

How much downtime is enough?

Every family will be different. While the author of the PBS New Hour article believes that for every week of structure a child needs three weeks of unstructured time, not everyone agrees. Susan Bartell, in “Is Your Child Getting Enough Real Downtime?” points out that screen-time, can be problematic:

Video games and all other screen-related activities require a child to be fully engaged in problem-solving, competition or socializing – and sometimes all three. A primary reason why kids have trouble falling asleep is that they’re staring at screens too close to bedtime. The activity is overstimulating, rather than calming, and the light from the screen tricks the brain into staying awake, rather than preparing the child for sleep.

If video games aren’t “real” downtime, then what is? For Bartell, true downtime is time spent doing not much at all – daydreaming, creative play, creating art, or even playing in the bath – for at least 20 minutes a day.

Dr. Claire McCarthy, author of “Does Your Child Get Enough Downtime?” believes that the answer to this question is more nuanced. She recommends that instead of a set time that parents watch their children for signs of distress:

Since every child’s different when it comes to what will upset her, it’s important to be watchful. An overscheduled child may be moody, or clingier than usual. She may have trouble sleeping, or experience a dip  — or an increase  — in her appetite. She may also lose interest in the activities she usually enjoys, or start to struggle in school.

If you see any of these changes in your child, talk to her right away. Let her know that the most important thing to you is that she’s happy. Spend some time trying to figure out with her what exactly is upsetting her, and change it.

How do you find balance?

Finding balance can be as simple as being strict about the total number of activities that each child is allowed to participate in as well as watching how many hours you’re spending in “on-task” learning activities. One of the great things about homeschooling is that we are able to adapt our programs of learning to each child’s needs. This allows us to be more efficient in our time as well. That also allows us to take a much-needed day off when it’s warranted.

So, how do you handle downtime in your homeschool? Do you have set hours? Do you have a cap on the number of activities you allow your child(ren) to participate in? Share your thoughts below.

Recommended resource:

The Over-Scheduled Child by Alvin Rosenfeld, M. D. and Nicole Wise.

(This is an Amazon Associate link. Should you choose to click on this link and make a purchase, I will receive a small fee at no additional cost to you. Providing such links helps me to support my family.)

End of the Week Traditions in Homeschooling

Another week is done. What do you do to make it special? Do you think it’s important to mark the end of the week?

Most of our Fridays end with Princess Boogie’s violin lesson. A few others end with a class at our local zoo. We’ve started to add in a special treat each week: Taking the kids out for ice cream. Not only does it make a nice incentive for Miss 4 to be on task during her lesson, but it also marks a nice transition into our weekend time.

During the weekend, we don’t do lessons.

We still read books, head out for various enrichment activities, violin practice, and play to learn.

I’ve tried to be good about not working on the weekend. That’s easier said than done.

Instead, I try to save the weekends for family time. My husband does the same.

Ideas for making end of the weeks special

Wellness Mama, in her post “Reasons to Create Family Time Traditions (+Ideas)” points out that building a strong family culture is important. She gives a great list of ideas for family time – having a family game night, reading together, and art time are all great ideas for marking the end of the week.

A special dinner that focuses on kid-favorites might also be a nice marker for the end of the week.  In “Make the Most of Your Weekend” by Charlotte Latvala, she even suggests involving kids in meal preparation efforts on the weekend.

We also take advantage of free and low-cost family activities around town on the weekends. In fact, we’re lucky enough to have lots of family-friendly events going on in our city every weekend. I follow the local “On The Cheap” blog and check Facebook’s events for things we might be interested in.

Sunday mornings are for pancakes and sausage and sometimes bacon in our home. When my husband and I were first dating, this was something he did for himself, and I liked the tradition. I remember thinking “I want to have pancakes on Sunday!” So, he’s continued to make that breakfast for our Sunday mornings. Christie at Raising Whasians has some more fun tips for making family weekend breakfasts special.

The weekend doesn’t have to be the weekend

One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that it affords families the ability to be more flexible than they otherwise would be. Don’t be afraid to shift your family’s weekend to other days. It’s not so important the days we take off (in fact, many of your city’s local attractions will be less busy and possibly offer special deals during weekdays), as it is important that we take some time off each week.

How do you mark the weekend?

What sorts of things does your family do to make the weekend special? Do you have a special breakfast or dinner you like to have together? Do you have a diy or special art project you work on during the weekend? Do you break out the movies and junk food? Share your family’s traditions in the comments!