As a homeschooled child who knows many other former and current homeschoolers I have somewhat of an inside scoop on the experience. I can confidently say that homeschooling provides educational opportunities that non-homeschoolers may not expect or have access to.
Money & Discounts
Everyone loves saving money, and homeschoolers can receive discounts on some materials – especially at bookstores. More commerce is moving online but ask around and see what educator discounts you can find.
Some software comes at extreme discounts for students. Microsoft Office, 3D-modelling software, and programming suites can all be had for pennies or free for certain students.
Educational expenses may reduce your taxes if played right. Ask your CPA.
Being homeschooled means that your children can learn on a different schedule. Is there some historic location they should visit? Do it on an off-time when other kids are at school.
Educational trips can be combined with multiple activities. Camping and history were a common combination for me. One of the coolest things I experienced on a trip was a tour of an active sawmill.
One family I knew bought a motorhome and traveled from coast to coast over a multi-month period, starting in California and ending up in New York City before winding their way back, visiting as many sites as they could find along the way. Their story of looking at the NYC skyline from atop the WTC took on new significance a few years later.
There are many places in the US where fossils can be found. Find a local fossil hound and ask some questions.
Travel costs both time and money that not everyone has, but there is almost certainly something nearby that your children can take advantage of for a low price.
Somewhere near your house a reenactment is going to take place. It might be something big and in the news or it might be a minor event at the county museum, but people with a love for the finer points of history are going to gather.
Keep your eyes open for Living History events. Many national parks support Living History reenactments where volunteers dress in period closing and demonstrate activities representative of the time periods that define those parks.
As a California kid I attended multiple reenactments at California missions, where day-to-day activities associated with the Spanish Mission era were brought to life. Volunteers baked bread in wood-fired clay ovens and hammered endlessly in the blacksmith shop, and each of them was ready and willing to share knowledge of the activity.
I have also attended Living History reenactments at California gold rush historic sites and spent hours talking to gold panners and basket weavers.
These events often see busloads of schoolchildren coming through, but the homeschooler has the advantage of a flexible schedule. When the group of twenty kids has to move on to the next exhibit your child can hang back with the blacksmith and have a serious and open-ended conversation.
Living History reenactments cost nothing more than the regular admission to the venue.
Civil War reenactments also made an impression on me as a child. There aren’t a lot of things more impressive than eating a picnic fifty feet away from a mock battlefield with real explosions.
To get the most out of these situations, give your child related assignments leading up to the event. A book report covering the historical period to be demonstrated will give your child more context and appreciation. A related craft before or after the visit will cement lessons learned.
Some children will benefit from a form of apprenticeship, where a professional provides education in a hands-on topic in return for labor.
While learning a hard skill may seem like a dead-end form of education, remember that all topics are connected and that understanding how the real world works is a valuable lesson for anyone.
The word “apprenticeship” evokes images of the trades but includes other topics as well. If your child is interested in beekeeping there is almost certainly a small-time beekeeper in your area willing to provide instruction.
Apprenticeship will only work for children with a certain amount of maturity and interest. Few things sour a relationship faster than foisting a resistant kid on someone just trying to get a job done. This is an area where the child must take the lead.
A makerspace is a workshop with a variety of tools and materials available for member use. Tools will often include 3D printers and lathes as well as tablesaws and soldering equipment. Makerspaces offer classes on tool use and often offer classes on specific topics as well.
Makerspaces have membership fees that aren’t always cheap, but a sufficiently-interested child will figure out some kind of part-time work to pay for it.
Free Time & Projects
Government schools are good at generating homework. You don’t have to be. By designing the education process for each child better results will be had for less work. The resulting free time can be used for other human activities and projects if you set the example and the tone.
Just because government schools run five days a week doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing at home. Your children can do schoolwork four days a week and something else the fifth. The homeschool school year does not have to match up with the government school year either. I believe at least some states have minimum day-count requirements but how you fulfill them is in your hands.
Exploratory projects are good for kids. Some of the best learning has nothing to do with grades. Take your kids dumpster-diving and have them find something to smash apart and explore. A lot of learning can be had for a couple of pallets and a hammer.
Know this: all good homeschool families have a well-rounded first-aid kit and up-to-date tetanus shots. It’s just blood.
This article only scratched the surface of possible learning methods your children can have outside of the government school track. There is a lot to do, and more of it is popping up every day.
I would like to hear what other homeschoolers in the readership have been up to. What kind of unusual learning opportunities have you undertaken? What worked and didn’t work?
In the next article I will answer questions about homeschooling as well as pointing out problems that may not be obvious to the beginner.
Do you have any questions about homeschooling? Send them along to the Homeschooling & Other Alternatives thread in the forum or post them here in the comments. A number of posters here have experience with homeschooling and I look forward to their perspectives as well.