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The Math Problem

The Math Problem

The Problem

Despite homeschool studies’ *ahem* diverse sampling methods and questionable validity, one trend has nonetheless emerged: compared to their regularly-schooled peers, homeschool students are weaker in math. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education has a brilliant article on this, complete with citations and graphs (check it out!).

Why is this the case?

Potential Variables

In short: more research is needed.

Studies’ sampling methods, ease of humanities vs. STEM education, cultural focus on humanities over STEM, resource access, resource use, and more initial homeschooler interest in humanities vs. mathematics all potentially contribute to homeschoolers’ limited math skills.

It is also notoriously difficult to learn and teach. These limitations, echoed in America’s 38th place in mathematics, expand when math-adverse parents are tasked with teaching their student concepts they themselves don’t understand.

And, unlike their regularly-schooled peers, homeschoolers have the unique opportunity to avoid mathematics in favor of other subjects.

This likely influences the disparity; the most math-adverse public school student would be exposed to mathematical concepts 5 days a week for nearly a decade, the most math-adverse homeschooler may even avoid the most basic addition.

So we have two problems: choice of math curriculum, and fostering math practice.

How do you help your student excel, or simply become competent in math?

The Obvious Solution

Khan Academy. Takes you from grade school through multiple levels of calculus. Anything beyond this, you’ll be in college and going for an advanced degree. It’s comprehensive, free, self-directed, mastery-oriented, and encourages practice and engagement through a points-based reward system. Go check it out. This has been my main math-learning source.

Article done; go start learning.

…wait…you’re still here? Khan Academy wasn’t enough? Or it didn’t work for you? Your student still isn’t doing math? You want something more? That’s alright. You’re not alone. And my contract says I have another 623 words.

Other Curriculums

Here are a couple guides for picking mathematics curriculums with suggestions. The first is more general, while the second focuses on elementary. And here are a series of reviews for more curricula. Not every curriculum will work well for every student, and to help it work, see “Operant Calculations” below.

Are you more comfortable with textbooks? Reddit has multiple threads of recommendations. Just make sure to pick up the Teacher’s Edition (or you’ll have to do the problems along with your student!).

When Access Isn’t Enough

You’re on Khan Academy, you have the textbooks—but your student still isn’t motivated towards math. What now?

Make it matter.

Everyday Problems

How well can your student budget? Which is cheaper per ounce, 160 oz. of generic flour at $2.84, or 5 lb. of Pillsbury’s at $2.48? If your student gets a $5.00 allowance, how long until they can purchase an 11.5 in. television? What if they invest in their sister’s lemonade stand that’s made $335.00 last week, and has made $285.00 this week as of Thursday? (Is your sister’s lemonade a growth industry?)

How much wood would they need to build a shelf for their new screen in their room’s wonky 84⁰ corner?

Math was created to help us solve problems.

Ask yourself: what problems can math solve in your and your student’s lives?

After all, why else learn math in the first place (aside from truth, beauty, and the fostering of critical thought)?

This works for tests too. Is your student aiming for college? The SAT and ACT can become the curriculum. Try practice problems; learn anything you don’t know.

Interdisciplinary Integrals

Newton invented a new branch of math to explain acceleration.

Whether its fractions for stoichiometry or calculus for physics, your other school subjects will likely include math (that’s why it’s taught!).

What is your student interested in? Chances are you can somehow integrate math.

Find and replace. Student interested in trains? That scalene triangle of 110, 350, and 245 in. has just become Cities A, B, & C (you can name them Metropolis, Gotham, and Star City if you want), 110, 350, and 245 mi. away from each other, respectively! And instead of looking for a perimeter, your student is now looking at how many miles is a round trip. Get creative! Even if it is only tangential or arbitrary, humans respond better to things they like. Start encouraging your student to do it too! Ask them: “what is an example of this?” (Lots of math people say this is the way they solve problems.)

But it doesn’t always have to be that arbitrary. Math is more integrated in subjects than one might think. My interest in Psychology has led me to learn statistics. Art and music have some beautiful mathematical representations.

Operant Calculations

But what about encouraging daily practice (or something more frequent than trips to the store)?

Mohamad Jebara, founder of Mathspace, refunds users their membership fee—paying its students—with certain amounts of math practice (Here’s his TED talk about it). Through this program, they saw a significantly higher user engagement.

Just as you tied math to tasks and subjects that mattered above, tie math practice more arbitrarily to privileges or other concrete rewards. It doesn’t have to be cash—though it helps! (IT DOES NOT. Keep cash as a final option.) Just make the reward anything your student values enough to work for. Yes, it’s bribery, but don’t you get rewarded for your job?

What standards you set depend upon the subject and your student. A variable-ratio schedule statistically creates most intense and consistent performance. If you’re into precision, this article explains how to create variable-ratio, variable-interval, variable-time, random-ratio, random-interval, and random-time reinforcement schedules in Excel (skip to Methods section).

Too complicated? For a variable-ratio schedule, let your student role a d20 (or d4 or d6…).

When you dream of derivatives (and it’s not a nightmare)

Miracle of miracles, your student loves math. What now?

Ask your student what they’d like to do. For higher-grade math textbooks, a college library is definitely recommended.

Then try a math competition! Good for socialization and stretching your skills! The Russian School of Mathematics has this guide to math competitions, and here’s Wikipedia list for math competitions around the world.

Kitchen Science

Kitchen Science (and Other Ways to Close the Science Gap)

There are few things more daunting than dissecting a frog on the kitchen table—except physics. Should Science be left to the professionals?

The answer, patently, should be no. The first scientists weren’t professionals; they were often hobbyists and magicians (hence “electrician”). High school laboratories are less well-stocked than you think. Nonetheless, multiple studies have indicated homeschoolers’ tendency to be less engaged in math and science.

How do we fix that?

This article is two parts: Everyday Science, covering components of science and creating a solid science base, and High School, covering duel-enrollment and AP’s.

Everyday Science

There are at least three parts of Science: science as a Process, science as a Language, and Facts found via the scientific process. For example, the process of dropping different weights off of a building to measure momentum, measuring it via stopwatch or pressure gauge, recording it, and repeating everything is an example of the scientific process; you can use this to answer any question. The measure of momentum, the concepts of velocity and mass, their symbols, and how to measure them are all part of science as a language. p = mv is a fact that has been found through the scientific process and is communicated through the language of science, but is not science in-and-of-itself.

Each can be taught in different ways, has different benefits, and requires different tools.

Process (Or: What happens if…? …Try it again!)

What it is: The scientific process—Research Question, Hypothesis, Testing, Analysis, and Conclusion. Or, try something, watch it, figure out what it might mean, and do it again.

How to teach it: Encourage your student to create questions about the world and test them. In “Everyday Lessons” we posed a few, like: Why do people go shopping? Encourage the development of reliable and valid measures.

What does Ms. Frizzle say? “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Potential Project: Nature/Field Journals

From 19th Century naturalists like Audubon and Muir, students keep a journal of sketches, notes, and samples they find of their world. Wonderfully portable and scalable, these help students refine their skills of observation and recording. (More resources: How to Keep a Nature or Field Journal; WikiHow’s guide; Here’s an example from Celeste, blogger and homeschool mom of 9; Here are several other examples using sketches and photos.)

Things to remember when learning the Practice of Science: Let students try things. Let students fail. (If they do this right, there will likely be a mess.)

Language of Science (Or: X)

What it is: Science jargon. Element names (e.g. Carbon), parts of things (e.g. atoms, electrons, quarks), concept names (e.g. work), etc.

Don’t be afraid to teach science jargon to your children; it’s just another component of language. A lot of the basics you can teach early, then your student will expand their vocabulary their entire lives (and might contribute themselves!). Learn the basics; you and your student can google the rest. (I’ve linked the Periodic Table Song above)

Science Facts (Or: e=mc2)

What it is: What you figure out through the scientific process.

With the internet, these are probably the easiest to teach. You can find these almost anywhere (just check your sources!). Along with traditional magazines, YouTube is a great resource. Here’s a list of 50 of the best (overwhelmed? here’s a list of just six). Also check out 3Blue1Brown and PBS SpaceTime.

Rule of thumb: learn what’s interesting. Google “[FAVORITE TOPIC] science” to start.

Don’t be afraid to go to the source. While some scientific articles have a paywall, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has plenty of free articles, and scientists are working on making more public (how to find free articles). Certainly some articles, particularly harder sciences like Physics, will be more difficult than Social Psychology, but most of the difficulty is jargon that can be understood with a little patience and Google. Anything beyond Wikipedia should be covered in the article’s Introduction section. (Check our Resources page for more.)

And don’t just stay on the couch—museums are a great way to learn too!

High school

Here’s a blog post that outlines homeschool lab science options:

Co-ops

Have a science-oriented homeschool parent? Convince them to teach your kid too! You can combine these with the APs.

DuelEnrollment

Take community college courses in high school (myths). Varies state-by state. LetsHomeschoolHighschool.com has a Duel-Enrollment FAQ.

APs

Why do AP’s? If you pass the test, you get the credit. You also get a structured curriculum of Things You Need to Know for College—but avoiding 500-student “College Subject 101” courses is its own reward.

How-to AP: Here’s the link for College Board’s website on getting the AP test itself. The most popular solution for studying, outside of co-ops, is online classes. (Here’s an article about online AP pros and cons. Did you know your course could be AP certified?) Here’s a good blogpost that outlines what to look for in an AP course, good AP courses, and a few to avoid—for all subjects, not just science. Here’s a forum that compiles curriculum options for Physics 1 & 2. And here’s one for Chemistry, from basic to AP. Here are College Board’s recommended AP Biology labs. Here are blog posts from parents who taught their own AP Biology courses.

You do not have to take the course to take the test. I didn’t for either AP English test. I prepped by looking over the questions and essays beforehand and reading a couple of articles about what they were looking for. If your student is highly passionate and/or confident about any AP subject, I would recommend this route. Remember: If you pass the test, you get the credit.

Have fun! And remember:

“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

How am I stacking up?

How am I stacking up?

Our greatest fear when homeschooling was that we weren’t stacking up.

Was our unorthodox tire swing physics comparable to 30 hours a week of dedicated, professionally-supervised studying?

What of Ivy-League boarding school funnels? Potential magnet opportunities? Missed social connections?

Am I stacking up? In attempting to do everything to help my child, am I hurting them? Am I condemning them to obsolescence in the face of their properly-schooled peers?

The Statistics

In 2012, Kathi Moreau, a Masters student at Northern Michigan University, wrote a somewhat comprehensive review of homeschooling history and success. Her Abstract partially reads: “…the level of success for homeschoolers is a good argument for this type of education.” One of her sources is a 2007 study that tested 185 former homeschoolers on self-esteem and found no difference versus their regularly-schooled peers and that the homeschooled students were less likely to have depression. The study’s authors concluded that neither result supported parents’ socialization worries.

These results are echoed in other literature. Homeschoolers perform 15-30 percentile points higher on state standardized tests than their publicly-schooled peers. They score slightly higher on the SAT and ACT. They are slightly less likely to drop out of college. They show no differences (or small advantages) in self-esteem and in any other measure of socialization ability. They perform more community service and are more likely to be involved in their church in their lifetime. (Here are my sources.)

The results are clear: Homeschooled students preform equally to, or better than, their regularly-schooled peers.

Why the worry?

  • It’s not your curriculum, it’s you. (and that’s okay)
  • You want to do the best for your child, the best for your family (why else would you have taken such a radical path?). Your doubts on homeschooling aren’t doubts of the practice or institution, but in your own ability to fulfill these goals.
  • You want things out of homeschooling that it cannot give. Whether that is a professional chemistry lab, more externally-imposed structure, or that elusive sense of normalcy, you might actually be doing well, but you want something different.
  • You want things out of life that it cannot give. You want your children to work harder, have more opportunities. You’re comparing them against those who have different skills, abilities, motivations, and presentations. Remember: the grass is always greener when you’re too far away to tell it’s plastic. Rest assured, if your grass has brown patches, it’s real grass. And it grows.

Homeschooling, foremost, is learning how to learn. Reassess your own goals and desires. Are they based upon your values? Sensible? What are our other paths? (Try to look for the smallest possible change; it is often enough.)

  • You know there’s something actually wrong.

You’ve gone through the other options and you can tell—You’re not the homeschooler parent that you could be. And maybe, we are failing.

My family thought we were failing too. We didn’t know how our experiment would turn out, and we were terrified. What if I had just abolished my future?

You’re in the middle of it now, though. And you can’t always tell in the middle if you’re right. Maybe, against all odds, you are.

Or maybe it will just take a little troubleshooting. Ask yourself: How can you not just survive, but thrive? Your answer may be unconventional, but you’re already a homeschooler, what’s one more step?

Switch it up. Try another paradigm. Get some help from your most conscientious, least agreeable friend.

But what if it doesn’t work? What then?

You’re not always going to get it right. Maybe your student is abysmal at math and four years behind in reading.

Maybe it just isn’t working.

What then?

What I wish I had heard

You’re doing alright. It’s going to be enough.

I know, right now, it seems like everything—that you’re strange, that you’re different, that you just want to be normal, that you’re slacking on algebra and doubling up on Literature, but it’s not everything. And Literature is all you really need.

You’ll pick up everything else as you go along.

If you’re feeling isolated on this adventure, look to your friends; they’ll help you through it. Or pick up a hobby to find some more.

Yeah, there are problems in your life, but 30 classroom hours a week isn’t going to solve them (trust me, I’ve tried it; I know).

This is a learning opportunity for you (trite as that sounds). Because you’re going to come upon other times in your life when something’s going to go wrong, and you’re going to have to repair yourself.

And part of homeschooling is learning how to live.

Just spend ten minutes, just ten, and be really honest with yourself. You don’t have to do anything with what you find, just think of one or two things in your life that you really wish would go better (and if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll know).

And one day, the phrase “I was homeschooled” won’t seem so funny, or as relevant.

Or it might be the most relevant thing there is, in a good way.

Another Path

Maybe homeschooling isn’t for you, at least not right now. Go back into school for a year or two (it might be a little rough). Remember, if you work at it, even sitting in a classroom 30 hours a week, you can still learn what you need.

And we all become homeschoolers; you can homeschool for the rest of your life.

Conclusion

How did we actually do?

I finished college in 2.5 years, Honors Program, magna cum laude, doing projects with my professors, and completing a rocking thesis. (Though the highest math grade I got was a “B.”)

My sister has survived her freshman and sophomore years in Physics, has gotten one “A” in English, and is overall a much more rounded student than I.

And fear not—even if Harvard is still important to you, I know of a homeschooler from my church who was accepted.

Do we have (real) lives?

Do we have (real) lives?

You continually hear that school is said to combat isolation, provide socialization, and connections.

It was always the third question my sister and I were asked—

“What about socialization?”

Or some other equally awkwardly worded question of whether or not we had friends.

And it got us wondering: do we have (real) lives?

Do any of us?

You don’t have to be homeschooled to be isolated. There are an unfortunate number of publicly-schooled shooters and an equally nauseating number of isolated, normally-schooled children who have taken their own lives.

In fact, a desire to remove your children from this isolating atmosphere is a frequently cited factor in parents’ choice to homeschool (source).

Given the innately paradoxical schooling structure, the state-mandated 6-8 hours of mandatory peer-to-peer contact sometimes seems a schools’ primary—if not only—benefit. After all, aren’t your friends some of your best memories of school? Aren’t homeschoolers missing out?

What do the statistics actually say? Is it scientifically advisable to abate your socialization concerns by dropping your children off on a veritable concrete island? Is it better than braving isolation?

All studies of homeschooling and socialization that I have found show no significant difference in homeschoolers versus traditionally-schooled peers.

Homeschoolers score equally or better than their traditionally-schooled peers in any test of social adjustment researchers have posited, including peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem (source).

They have been shown to be more comfortable socializing with adults and others outside of their immediate peer group (see above).

Homeschoolers are also more likely to be involved in their church and more likely to do community service (see above).

Thus, Homeschooling is not the cause of this dreaded isolation; it can merely aid and abet. For a twisted few, the option of such seclusion is like giving a credit card to a gambler. But for most of us, credit cards are just fine.

So how do you use this credit card? Here are the things my family (and a lot of homeschoolers) have done to socialize:

  • Look for Established Communities and Offerings—Libraries, churches, city and town “Activity” and “Calendar” pages, scouts, museums, and conventions.
    • I found a number of my friends at my church’s local youth group, which offers the added bonus of service.
    • Libraries host book clubs that you can work into your curriculum; for the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my libraries hosted a book discussion and movie viewing. There are also writing groups, knitting groups, and coloring groups. All great places for meeting likeminded people.
    • Many city and town “Activities” and “Calendar” pages have information other items of this list like service projects, extracurriculars, summer camps, and programs.
  • Service—Why not help the community while helping yourself? Maybe you will become lifelong friends with someone you would have never otherwise met, or maybe you’ll just get a broader understanding of people or the world.
  • Do Extracurriculars — Sports, art, writing, or acting. Anything about which you are already interested or towards where you wish to expand.
    • Even if the sport is normally school-supported (like football), look for one of the homeschool teams emerging across the country.
    • (These look great on a college application or résumé!)
  • Hang out with Homeschoolers
    • Co-ops are a lifesaver. Take classes, learn crafts, and interact with others who share your schooling experiences.
    • Events like Science Olympiad and FIRST often have homeschool teams. (If not, make your own!)
    • Homeschool conferences aren’t just for curriculum buys—network!
  • Summer Camps and Programs—My sister met some of her best friends at a local nerd camp, both during and after homeschooling. Not only did she meet regular schoolers, she met people from diverse backgrounds from across the world, with 14 consecutive days of socialization.
  • The Web—From online forums to craigslist meetups, the web is truly the communication revolution for our time. Stay safe, but don’t let potential danger put you off this phenomenal resource.
  • Family—While sometimes a middle school curse, I am closer with my family than most anyone I know. Don’t take it for granted.

These should give you a sufficient amount of socialization.

But when we’re worrying about socialization, how-to is seldom the real question. The question is instead: if our lives are not filled with irrelevant history and math assignments and Silly Bandz, is what we’re doing even real? Is it but a deluded dream?

If we’re not living like everyone else, are we really living?

Perhaps that is the worry strangers have when they ask about our “school friends.” That even if we find a crowd, we will be alone.

(“What did you do today?” “…I continued to play in the yard.”)

At times like these, I seemed inexorably isolated, listening to a language I did not know. Watching from the shore while my friends caught waves.

When the people stopped us at the supermarket to ask us about socialization, this was the experience about which they worried. Despite being on the shore of this fad, being adrift. And this, too, is one of a prospective (or even current) homeschool parent’s greatest worries.

Any person can be alone in a crowd.

But, we weren’t really that different. Despite occasionally feeling adrift, my friends and I did find common ground. Enough to be friends outside of the classroom’s 6-8 mandatory interaction hours. We did have fun. And I was certainly less stressed than them.

And just because my outlook was different than theirs, doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable. Didn’t mean that I couldn’t find meaningful relationships outside a traditional classroom. Doesn’t mean that my lack of regular school socialization was wrong.

Unschooling

Unschooling

“If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would create something like a classroom…”
—Dr. John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Unschooling—What is it?

Unschooling is actively learning from life.

You’re unschooling right now. (Yes, you, graduated, college-educated adult.)

Today, lots of educators focus upon assignments or curriculum. Reading the classics or memorizing the periodic table.

That was not my school.

Instead, I homeschooled—or, more accurately, “Unschooled.”

Why not learn because you’re curious?

Why Unschooling?

Unschooling was coined in the 1970’s by educator John Holt. After decades of teaching, Holt figured that the classroom model was completely counterproductive, creating a group of students where half were bored, half were left behind, and none invested in learning. The model of traditional school leaves any students’ innate curiosity unfed. School, he wrote in How Children Fail, could not service diverse students’ interests, needs, competencies, and learning styles. Furthermore, he wrote, it exacerbated students’ mental illnesses, particularly anxiety.

And, he wondered, was this information they were shoving down students’ throats even worth anything? Proved truer by the advent of the smartphone and Google—Why spend sixth grade memorizing what you could just ask Siri (or Alexa, or Google, or Watson…)?

And what about the system itself? When was the last time you submitted a multiple-choice contract? Made an “A” in purchasing a home? Got “extra credit” from your boss?

We attempt to help students by making them “well-rounded,” but are any of your friends? Is Bill Gates? A best-selling author? Can a silicon valley engineer discriminate between a simile and metaphor? How much, to anyone but their 6th grade teacher, does that matter?

And, after all this, how much of your school do you remember?

Do you know the difference between a simile and metaphor? What about when to use sine versus cosine? And, really, how much do you care?

Why subject students to a system they will never use and is also making them sick?

Holt’s proposed solution: Let students learn what they want, where they want, when they want. Simply provide resources and encourage them. (Because they will learn; children are endlessly curious.)

Enter: Unschooling. Where one’s goal is not to learn subjects but to learn learning. Not to force uniformity, but foster creativity by helping students learn about what interests them at their own pace.

How do you do it?

How would you learn something?

You’d Google it, read some articles, maybe check out some books. You might talk to experts about it. If you’re really interested, you might even sign up for a class.

But, really, how do I teach that?

You don’t have to. Watch your student for an afternoon. How many times do they ask Siri? Try something out? Phone a friend?

All you have to do is facilitate.

  • Provide Resources.
    Teach them how to use Google Scholar; drive them to the library; help them meet up with people who love what they do.
  • Teach Source Evaluation.
    Teach them how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
    Here are some articles on how to read academic papers. (Here’s a video)
    Here are some articles about evaluating sources.
  • Broaden and Piggyback.
    Ask the question “What about…”
    If you want to broaden their horizons, state a related thing or alternative view.
    If you have a difficult subject, piggyback off one of the subjects they do
    ‘Sherlock Holmes likes chemistry, right? Doesn’t he need math for that?’

NOTE: Don’t underestimate your students. Give them the hard stuff. The real stuff. Part of learning is learning how to work through things that you don’t know. Go over it again next week or next month—resiliency is an even better lesson than content.

There. Three points. The secret sauce.

Now, close this blog, close your computer, enter into your new, free, unschooling life.

(Please, please come back for tips!)

If you’re not convinced…

Why (purposefully) do it?

‘So,’ you say, ‘It’s learning. We do it every day. What benefit might I get from pulling my student from school to learn something they already know, when they’re likely to go back? Why would avoiding a classroom matter?’

Let’s be honest. No one homeschools forever. And you’re right; everyone is always unschooling. Your official stint homeschooling will likely be a temporary one; out of the former homeschoolers I know, only three homeschooled to college. For many, it was only one year.

But even if it was a year spent fishing, that year was an important one.

And you take something from it—not just a graduation certificate from your Mom.

Because you don’t just learn the subjects; you learn yourself.

All the homeschoolers I’ve met are uniquely passionate. They don’t just clock in. They never learned how.

Instead, they learned to love their lives enough to live them.

Teaching your student how to ask and investigate the questions they have about the world lets them learn that.

Why subject them to a time-consuming, counterintuitive, potentially sickening system? Especially when you already have everything they need?

If you’re worried about math, science, falling behind, and/or socialization, fear not—I will write an article on that for you.

Because giving your student time to learn themselves is important.

Because even if the world is changing and knowing facts no longer matters because Google or Siri can learn them for you—learning how to live will still matter. Always matter.

And parents?

(That means you’re just as much of a student as your student.)

Every one of the tips, tricks, and lessons on this blog are equally applicable to you, and every learning experience for your student is also one for you.

Because you’re not just homeschoolers, you’re a homeschool family.

And homeschooling (or unschooling), after all, isn’t a ream of paperwork, a classroom designation, or something that happened between 5 & 18. It’s a way of life.

everyday lessons on living by learning

Everyday Lessons

Or: How to turn every day into a school day.

“Mom,” we used to ask, “can this count as a homeschool day?”

The state of North Carolina requires homeschools to record 180 school days.

More often than not, my sister and I would make this plea when having to compare labels at the grocery store or listen to elderly gentlemen pontificate about “back in their day.”

More often than not, it was granted.

Economics? Math? Marketing? History? Yes!

Homeschool Rule #1: Ask yourself: How can this be a Learning Experience?

Let’s return to the grocery store.

But before we step inside, let’s learn some life skills and economics. Let’s do some budgeting.

Adding, subtracting, multiplying, fractions. Work your way up to statistics. All of these can be done as you budget. Depending upon your student(s), you can do this with a calculator or by hand. Always let your student(s) try to figure out what they can, especially if it means they have to look something up; the more they can learn to learn, the better.

When you budget, don’t be afraid to let your kids look at your checkbook; they’re going to have a checkbook of their own someday.

There is no end to math and economics.

Homeschool Rule #2: You can go as shallow or as deep as you’d like.

Your homeschooler just needs enough skills to get by, or the ability to look up what they need. When was the last time you used trigonometry? Had to distinguish between a metaphor and a synonym? Don’t worry about deprivation or falling behind.

Is your student(s) fascinated about routes? Anatomy? Really hate math?

Feel free to limit their less-favorites and go all-in with their interests.

Here are some more pre-shopping ideas:

  • Research online: which stores have the best prices? Specials? Should you only drive to one grocery store, or several? Calculate gas vs. savings. (Use Google Maps)
  • Smatter in some Psychology: research shows you spend less and are healthier when you bring a list.
  • What is healthy?
    Have your student(s) investigate.
    Don’t just investigate the food pyramid; look at alternative paradigms too. How do you sort between them? Have your student(s) brainstorm for a solution—or have a lesson in anatomy! Try each diet you find for a month and record your findings; experience is the best teacher.

Have your budget? Have your list?

Awesome!

Listen to Schoolhouse Rock on digestion on your way there.

There is so much wonderful science you can do at the grocery store. Feel free to pick up ingredients for science at home (here are some links), or stage some social science.

Try to answer the questions: What makes the best marketing for cereal? (At home marketing/art project: How would you market your least favorite vegetable? Can you market to a family member their least favorite vegetable and get them to eat it? If so, how?)

How about some marketing math: What is the expected volume of a box of crackers? Based upon box size, how many more ounces of crackers would you expect to have? Based upon the difference, calculate profit.

Or, what about history?

Go grab some spaghetti sauce. Mild? Spicy? Chunky?

How did Prego change the world? Listen to this video to find out. And then listen to the other side.

Essay prompt: How should choices be presented to us? Why?

Spend some time people watching. Your student(s) will ask questions. Develop your research techniques and socialization skills attempting to answer them.

Talk to people—politely (even if it is a little embarrassing and weird). What brings them shopping today? How did they acquire that handbag? What do they think of Prego? Start a survey. Bring home some data. (The nice thing about strangers is that they won’t have to see “that weird homeschool family” again.)

Okay, stop disturbing fellow shoppers. We’ve done enough hands-on science for now.

Let’s learn some scientific language. Pull out your phones; let’s check out some labels.

Pull out some boxes. Look up anything you don’t know. Find out: What is sodium acid pyrophosphate? (Wikipedia is your friend.)

Have a grocery staple? Try to find out something new about it. (Prepare to be disturbed.)

For instance, bagged cheese is mostly made from 1% and 2% milk (yes, there is apparently a government conspiracy).

Do you know that other countries don’t put their eggs in the fridge? Try to figure out why! You will learn things about American egg processing you never wanted to know.

When you get home, use your supplies to do more kitchen chemistry.

Have your student(s) write something about their adventure. Was there an item that struck them? A person they saw? A story they learned? See how much they had to say here.

The great thing about this lesson is that it meets you where you’re at. Teaching a 1st grader to read? You have some ready-made text. Your student interested in physics? Have them calculate the height they expect the egg to survive being dropped. If you can, buy an extra carton and test their calculations by dropping the eggs on different surfaces. Even kids their age like making a mess. (Then, have them clean it up. Responsibility is an important lesson too.)

I encourage you. Nay, I challenge you: Take your family and do this. See how much you can learn in the yogurt aisle. Bring your cell phone. Prepare to look crazy.

It will be worth it.

How do I build my own Everyday Lesson?

  1. Find a place or situation.
  2. Then follow guidelines (as much as it’s helpful):
  • Homeschool Rule #1: When in a situation, ask yourself: How can this be a Learning Experience?
  • What have you always been curious about? Is there something that you never noticed? Didn’t understand? How can you figure it out?
  • Can you discover something new about something you take for granted?
  • In five years, what about this will my student(s) need to know?

Remember: Homeschool Rule #2: You can go as shallow or as deep as you’d like.