Stuck in Your Homeschool Routine? 4 Big Ways to Break Out

Think back on your time in school. What are some of the events that really stand out in your memory? Sure, you probably have vague memories of learning to diagram sentences and balance equations, but what really jumps out? For me, it’s the days that broke the routine.

I remember the class picnics in grade school, where we walked to the city park and played half the day and ate sack lunches instead of the usual cafeteria fare, and the field trip to the local tribal museum where we learned what life was like in ancient times for the Native Americans who populated our area. I remember working after school on my science fair project in middle school, and performing with the band and the choir. I remember traveling with the academic team, and hanging out between matches watching the guys play hacky sack and getting a kick out of the ugly ties we wore in a protest of sorts against the formal dress code.

The one thing all these memories have in common is that they didn’t take place in the classroom, as part of the everyday routine. They were the fun days and field trips, the contests and performances; the events I’d worked hard to prepare for or looked forward to with anticipation are the ones that now stand out in my mind.

How can we give our kids these types of experiences, the kind they will remember forever? I suggest we break out of our regular homeschool routines in big and meaningful ways, and I’m not talking about the typical homeschool advice to enjoy a nature walk or do math at the grocery store. These activities definitely require more effort and preparation than that, but they will mean so much in the long run.

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Win or lose, competitions are memorable

Some of my best memories from school are the competitions. There was nothing quite like preparing for weeks or months, and finally coming to that big day, where my efforts would be put to the test. It’s easy for kids in public school to find activities where they can hone their skills and compete, whether they enjoy sports, music, raising farm animals or academics, there’s a competitive activity for almost every student. Homeschoolers have to look harder for opportunities to compete, but they are there.

If your child is athletic, you probably already know that there are community leagues where kids can play soccer, baseball, football, basketball, compete in cheerleading, gymnastics, martial arts and more. But did you know that there are many other competitions, such as film festivals, history day competitions, science fairs, writing contests, animal shows, arts and crafts and so much more?

These events, often hosted by local colleges, libraries or the county 4-H club are open to all the students in the community, or at least have a qualifying event open to homeschoolers.

Look for information through your nearest college or university, and check with specific departments that match your child’s interests. Also, get to know your local librarians and the education specialists at the local museums. They are valuable resources when it comes to finding out about competitions and events.

When you find a competition that matches your child’s interests, sign up as early as possible, especially if they’ll be working on an individual project. This will give them plenty of time to work on their piece, to practice for tryouts, or to simply get excited about the contest to come.

Performances give your kids a chance to shine

Some homeschool groups are big and active enough to put on talent shows, plays and musical productions. But if yours isn’t, and your child has a heart for the stage, you’ll need to broaden your scope to find ways for them to perform.

I remember the first year we homeschooled, I saw a notice from a local dance company looking for kids to fill small roles in a production of The Nutcracker. They didn’t require previous dance experience to audition, and the kids seemed excited about the idea, so I signed them up. They both got very small parts, which ended up costing me way more than I had anticipated in costume fees, but they were so excited to be on stage that Christmas.

Ballet wasn’t an activity any of my kids decided to pursue long term, but they will always remember their performances, because they spent a lot of time practicing and anticipating the big day. And it’s true, even the smallest stars shine brightly when those curtains rise.

Whether it’s a piano or dance recital, a local theater production, a concert with the church choir or community orchestra, or a solo act in a talent show, giving your child the chance to perform in front of an audience is an amazing way to help them practice and hone their skills, and give them an event they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Community service gives meaning to learning

Before I had kids, I worked for a couple of years as a naturalist at an Oklahoma lake. One of my favorite parts of that job was getting together with Eagle Scout candidates to help facilitate their projects. One young man was working on a watchable wildlife station near the field office, building benches and bird blinds, and even a wheelchair ramp for accessibility. He was learning a lot, not only about wildlife, but about construction and city codes. Best of all, his project would last for, potentially, generations of nature lovers to enjoy.
As homeschoolers, we are in a unique position to combine community service projects with our comprehensive lesson plans. We can incorporate lessons from multiple subject areas in one big project, giving our students the opportunity to think creatively, gain practical skills, and earn classroom credit.

Spend some time with your kids, looking around your community to identify ways that they might be able to make things better. Something as simple as making lap blankets for nursing home residents can make a huge difference, and give them an opportunity to learn, plan and execute a project that has meaning.

You don’t have to do it all, but do something

You may be exhausted just reading this article, and believe me, I understand. I am in no way suggesting that you do everything mentioned above. These are just some ideas. The point is to give your child memorable breaks from the everyday homeschool routine by helping them find an activity that they can get excited about.

Look for an activity that connects in some way to your child’s own interests, and give them a push, if needed, to get them to think bigger, dig deeper or explore further. Help them find the excitement and joy in working hard to prepare for a competition or performance, and then giving their very best effort. Allow them to see what a difference they can make in their community when they step up, learn new things and give back.

When your kids look back on their own educational experience, what will stand out? It’s not too late to do something big together.

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