Is your child tired of dry history textbooks and boring math lessons? Then you
won’t want to miss this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat as our guest
Kris Bales chats with host Mike Smith about how hands-on homeschooling can help you
make learning come alive for your kids.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Kris Bales.
She’s a homeschooling mother of three, and the creator of the blog Weird,
Unsocialized Homeschoolers. Kris, welcome to the program!
Kris Bales: Hi Mike, thanks for having me. I’m really
excited to be here.
Be a learning buddy [0:32]
Mike: Well I’m glad for that, Kris, because I want you
to tell us a little bit about yourself first. How did you get involved in
Kris: Well, I had a very good friend
who homeschooled her children, so I’d been intrigued by the idea for
years. But my oldest really wanted to go to “big school,” and my
husband and I weren’t completely sold on homeschooling. So when my daughter
turned 5, off to big school she went.
And by the end of first grade, I think we were all ready to give homeschooling a
try. She was struggling academically, clearly needing more one-on-one instruction and
bringing home three and four hours of homework each night. So we decided to try
homeschooling for a year. By mid-year it was clear homeschooling was exactly what my
daughter needed and was a good fit for our entire family. That was back in 2002, and
we’ve been homeschooling ever since.
Mike: Well, Kris, let me ask you something. Of all the
things about homeschooling, if you could center it on one point, what has been the
most beneficial part of homeschooling to your family?
Kris: Well, I think my absolute favorite thing about
homeschooling is learning alongside my kids and being able to really spend some time
with them. As far as my own education, I don’t think you realize how much
you’ve forgotten or how much you never learned until you start teaching your
own children. And I usually learn as much as they do. Lately, I’ve
discovered that Algebra wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember it most of the
Mike: Good. That’s helpful, because I didn’t do
that well in high school myself.
Kris: I did not either.
Bake a cake [1:57]
Mike: Kris, one thing you talk about on your blog is the
value of hands-on homeschooling. Can you explain why it’s so important for kids
to touch, see, hear, and smell the things that they’re learning about,
especially when they’re very young?
Kris: Well, I think kids learn more when they’re fully
and actively engaged in what they’re learning. And sensory input is a
huge part of that. Hands-on activities are fun, so kids are focused and
their minds aren’t wandering. Plus, the more senses you can engage, the more
the activity becomes cemented in their memory. So hands-on activities make facts
relatable. That means that after the activity, such as the cell cake we made a few
years ago, when a child is trying to recall the facts, they have those touch points
for them that make it easier to recall.
Mike: Well, does homeschooling enable you in this process of
Kris: Absolutely. Probably one of the biggest ways that
homeschooling makes that easier is the practical fact [that] our class size is
smaller. That’s more conducive to hands-on learning and it’s just really
a simple matter of crowd control. And because school and life are so entwined we have
the time and the means to easily incorporate hands-on learning. The kitchen is
readily available for activities involving cooking, we can easily take the messy
activities outside, plus we can zero in on what sparks our kid’s interests.
And it’s easy to capitalize on the everyday learning moment. If dad is
working on the car the kids can go out to the garage and help and learn. Even a
simple trip to the grocery store, as much as we joke about that becoming a field
trip—it really can become an educational opportunity.
Make it a game [3:29]
Mike: Kris, how can parents incorporate the idea of hands-on
homeschooling into regular academic subjects?
Kris: Well, I think a lot of parents make the mistake of
thinking they have to be super crafty or turn every learning moment into a hands-on
activity, but that’s not true. I suggest that parents look for opportunities
that suit their family’s personality. So if you’re studying a country,
consider making an edible map or preparing a meal. Consider building models or trying
experiments for science projects. You can take a field trip related to your topic of
study. Find an art project or put on a play to show what you’ve learned in
Mike: Well, let me ask you this: What are your
children’s favorite hands-on school activities?
Kris: Our absolute favorites, and probably mine especially,
are edible projects or games. Edible projects are great because you don’t have
to figure out where to store the finished project. One of our favorites that we did
recently was a model of the cell that we made from cake and candy. We’ve also
done edible maps from cookie dough, and of course we’ve made a variety of
recipes that relate to our topic of study.
I also love games. When the kids were little we used to play a fishing game to
practice sight words. We just attached a magnet to a dowel rod with string, and put
paper clips on index cards that had the sight words written on them. Whenever the
kids caught a fish, they had to read that sight word to keep the card. We’ve
also really enjoyed bingo—it’s a very versatile game for all ages.
We’ve used it to practice math facts, sight words, vocabulary terms, letter
recognition—just all sorts of things.
Mike: Well you know the good thing about bingo is you can
actually win some money too, can’t you?
Kris: I didn’t win any money, but they probably won
Mike: Well, that’s great. Those are really great ideas,
Limitless learning [5:08]
Mike: This time of year is perfect for exploring the wonderful
world of outdoors. Now, what are some of the ideas and activities that you
have used to help your children learn about and experience the natural
Kris: Well, I’ve got to be completely honest and confess
that we’re not huge fans of the great outdoors, and that is probably because it
stays so hot for so long here in the South. However, when the kids were younger, we
really got into nature study and enjoyed it much more than I thought we would. We
live in a subdivision, so there really wasn’t much to capture our
interest in our literal backyard. So we joined a nature preserve. That was
perfect for us because there were trails and creeks to explore, and a
wealth of trees, insects, birds, and wildlife. So, I had to make sure we were
always ready to go at a moment’s notice because we would easily talk ourselves
out of it if I wasn’t. So, we kept a nature study backpack in our
car. It had sketch pads, a well-stocked pencil box for each of
us, along with some kid-friendly field guides, binoculars, and
A huge source of inspiration for me was the Handbook of Nature Study blog
because it hosted a weekly challenge to encourage families to get out in
nature. It was broken down into easy to manage ideas, even for a nature novice
like me. Even though the weekly challenges aren’t still being posted, all of
the old ones are still there and easily accessible.
Another suggestion is just to be aware of your surroundings and capitalize on
your kid’s interests. We love to watch birds on our feeders. I’ve got a
son who’s really into constellations. So if you’ve got a kid that
loves the stars, get outside and study them. If you have one who likes the idea
of treasure hunts, try geocaching. I think, as with just about any other aspect
of homeschooling, getting your kids excited about the world around them is often just
a matter of paying attention and capitalizing on their interests.
More than a field trip [6:48]
Mike: Kris, hands-on homeschooling isn’t just for
younger students. Do you have any fun and maybe unorthodox field trip ideas for high
Kris: Yes, absolutely! Field trips definitely aren’t
just for younger students. The great thing about teens is that they have a longer
attention span and they’re often able to go on field trips that younger kids
can’t do due to the safety restrictions. Plus they often have more adult
interests so their field trips are interesting to their parents as well. Some ideas
include going to the symphony performances, living history museums, plays, auto
manufacturing plants, food processing plants, even court rooms, space centers. Also
with teens you may want to consider extended field trips such as traveling to
historic locations out of state or even, if your family can manage it, going to
Mike: Well, Kris, do you have any tips for parents that
might want to get more seriously involved in this with
their older students? In other words, really get into it?
Kris: Absolutely. I once heard someone say that the teen years
are the perfect time to explore possible career paths. So that’s a great thing
to pull in with field trips and hands-on learning with teens.
I like to let my kids explore their interests as much as possible, as much as our
finances will allow, while they’re still at home and don’t have a lot of
adult responsibilities. I suggest looking for opportunities within your community,
such as Community Theater or classes. Local business often offer classes such as art,
cake decorating, sewing, or photography. And there are probably many opportunities
from private instruction for things like music and dance. Check your local community
college online or on campus for adult education classes because these are typically
open to the community and are usually fairly reasonably priced. Ask around within
your local homeschooling community. That’s one area I think where
apprenticeships are still around if you just ask around. Other homeschooling parents
are often willing to share their areas of expertise with homeschool teens. We had a
dad who taught a high school level drafting class, and another took my son to a local
forge and taught him blacksmithing skills. So, be sure definitely to ask around.
Mike: Well, Kris, you brought up the issue of career paths,
so my question to you is, as it relates to your children: Did you help them choose?
You’ve got a 21-year-old and you’ve got others coming up. Did you help
them choose a career path or look toward a career path?
Kris: Yes, definitely. My daughter who’s graduated is
really artistic and has been very interested in theatrical make-up and hairstyling.
So we really encouraged her to consider cosmetology school starting out, because we
thought that’s a trade that she can learn that she can fall back on no matter
where she goes. She can always find work in the cosmetology field while she pursues
her other interests. It kind of falls in line with the direction that she wants to
Mike: Well, Kris, it’s been such a pleasure having you on
the show this week. Thank you for joining us and sharing some great tips and ideas
for hands-on homeschooling. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.