For most of us, the classes called “electives” were a large part of our education experience. Most of us sat through a few years of a foreign language and endured the rigors of jumping jacks and running in gym class. You may have played clarinet in band or made a crooked key rack in woodworking.
In our homeschooling journey, even my husband has fielded the question:
Big Question: “How can you teach elective classes when you homeschool?”
Although many schools are eliminating music, physical education and art due to budget cuts, these classes are still required by most states. Can the average homeschool mom teach all these things? And will she even have time?
The term elective suggests to me that the class is not mandatory, and the child has a choice as to the subject matter he wants to explore. There is a great paradox when it comes to blending home, work and school.
1. In the blended lifestyle, nothing is elective.
Think about your life today. You probably woke up, got a shower and brushed your teeth using Health skills. You probably made a cup of something hot and some breakfast. Home economics skills. You drove to work or the park or the grocery store. Driver’s education skills. Maybe you paid some bills and balanced the checkbook. Accounting skills. Hopefully, you took a walk around the block or did a quick strength routine in your living room. Physical education. You sat down and wrote an e-mail or read a blog post. (Obviously!) English and Reading skills. You negotiated with your two-year-old about why it is not the best idea to hit his sister. Psychology.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. All the skills you use from day to day are important. Can you say that your math class was more important than home economics? Or that your driver’s education was just an “extra”? Of course, different jobs require different skill sets. However, everything you do in a day is integrated. You need every single skill that you have to live your life.
2. In the blended lifestyle, everything is elective.
On the other hand, life is about choices. As an adult, I learn the things I want and need to learn. In a sense, my 13 years of school prepared me by giving me the basics and teaching me how to find out things for myself. If one of the “core” subjects interests me, I can take a class or learn more about algebra or creative writing. If I want to learn to paint, I have that choice as well.
I definitely advocate teaching a child the core subjects and making them the foundation of learning. However, pounding English grammar lessons into his head might be a waste of time when he later is called to be a missionary to a foreign country. He might wish he had spent more time on French lessons. On the other hand, if you force your child into hours of music lessons, you may be keeping him from preparing for his life’s work as a financial adviser.
Big Question, Part B: “So, practically speaking, how do electives fit into the homeschool?”
Every homeschool is unique, but here are some ways we fit electives into our children’s education:
1. Join a homeschool cooperative.
A homeschool co-op, as we often shorten the term, is a group of homeschooling parents combining their skills to teach their children collectively. Finding our co-op last year has been life-changing for us. Besides the social benefits, my children have been able to learn some core classes in depth as well as enjoy some elective classes I would probably not get around to teaching them.
While I teach science and social studies at home, the children have been able to delve deeper into magnetism, geography and science experiments. They have also participated in elective courses such as physical education, American Sign Language, drama, art and music.
2. Teach your children in a real life setting.
Obviously, the best way for your child to learn home economics is beside you in the kitchen. Textbooks can only go so far when it’s time to teach your child how to change a tire or drive a car. Real life geometry is the square of your backyard lot or the angle of a roof, not just lines drawn in a math text.
3. Sign up for classes at your library or museum.
I could probably sign up my child for classes every day of the week and still have choices to make as to which ones I really want to do. Our local library teaches some classes specifically for homeschoolers. My children have participated in art and science classes at our library besides educational shows and storytimes.
We are within driving distance of two zoos and three science museums as well as a natural history museum and an art museum. All of them have classes available to teach everything from habitats and ecosystems to studying the style of children’s book illustrator, Eric Carle. What could be better than studying the wildlife of Australia inside a zoo?
4. Use virtual teachers.
All teachers have their limitations. In fact, all schools have their limitations. The best of schools cannot offer every class there is available. Modern technology has made it so much easier for homeschooling parents. There are a plethora of options online, using computer programs and DVDs. Even a school may not be able to hire a Spanish teacher with Spanish as her native language. Using a computer program or DVD may give you that option.
5. Let children explore passions.
All of my children are still in elementary school. I think of this as a time to explore different things, to find out what they really enjoy. I have introduced them to a few things and found they weren’t very excited about them. Some other things continue to be favorite activities from year to year.
When a child consistently enjoys art, you can decide to pay for private art lessons. If they want to play the piano and ask about it often, they can start piano lessons.
Consistently is the key word here. One of my children wanted to play the harp. We gave it a few years and found the interest had subsided. I must confess I was a little relieved. Have you seen the price of harps lately?