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Beyond the Basics: Making the ‘Extras’ Work in Your Homeschool

When you focus on providing a rigorous education for your children, you are busy.  Very busy.  And so are your kids.

In fact, there seems to be little time and energy left for extras, things like life skills, personal projects, chasing rabbit trails, art, music, nature, reading aloud, volunteering, and competitions.  Occasionally homeschoolers are tempted to ‘just stick to the books’ and ignore all the rest. This is sad and, in the long run, it is counter-productive.

So, although our family is not involved in co-ops or other regular group enrichment opportunities, we do encourage ‘extras’ whenever possible. 

Finding the Time

We don’t need to do it all, but I do need to make wise decisions about what we do and when we do it.

I’ve learned a lot from Laura Vanderkam’s approach in 168 Hours:  Even though you can’t fit everything into a day, most people can fit the most important things into their week.  (For more information check out my review.)

Finding Ideas

If you’re wondering what enrichment activities could benefit your family rather than wear you all down, explore Charlotte Mason’s ideas.  In its left sidebar, the Ambleside Online website, which is free, has helpful lists for nature study, picture study, composer study, Shakespeare, Plutarch, handicrafts, and more.  Ambleside Online is also where we learned about doing science reading beside regular our science work. 

Check out your homeschool newsletter.  That’s where the math contests and spelling bees are announced in our area.  There may also be field trips and other group outings that would work for your family.

Keep up with what’s happening in the community.  We learned about the World Broomball Championships from the local newspaper, and were able to spend half a day helping out, meeting people, and learning new things.  There are so many calls for volunteers, and so many interesting events.

In Our Family

This is how the ‘extras’ work in our family:

  • Charlotte Mason style ‘extras’

We do a minimalist version of nature study every week.  I assign composer and art studies based on the Ambleside Online schedule.  We watch a worthwhile movie—a modern version of ‘living books’—most Friday evenings.  The girls practice their music daily.  We read aloud after lunch almost every day, the best part of my day.  And we’ve taken the idea of science readings and expanded it to include math readings as well.

When we actually followed the Ambleside Online curriculum we also read poetry every day.  Now it is one of the things I have to make an effort to fit in. 

  • Events and Contests

We also enter events, everything from NaNoWriMo and writing competitions to spelling bees and math contests.  Occasionally our kids win prizes, but the real goal is to get them trying new things and to give added incentive to learning.

  • Outings

We visit museums (hey, we’ve even set up our own!), art exhibits, (such as the Van Gogh exhibit) and festivals (such as the Heritage Mica Festival).  We only do a few each year, but they are fun, make good memories, and teach us a lot.  When the children were small, we’d go to mall events to see the local reptile museum exhibit or the petting zoos.

  • Sports

 We do not participate in group sports because, as with co-ops, the logistics don’t work for us, but we try to emphasize healthy activities that our children can enjoy for the rest of our lives.  Currently our family does judo, enjoys swimming and hiking, and is slowly getting involved in archery.  In the past we’ve emphasized cross-country skiing and biking as well.

  • Hobbies

This is where homeschooling really shines.  There are so many opportunities to encourage our children’s interests!  Our children have been interested in bee keeping, dairy farming, reading, writing, baking, Tolkien, crafts, blogging, photography, biking, and more.  They have been able to explore many of these enriching interests and have benefited in many ways.

  • Rabbit Trails

These are unexpected, unplanned activities that make we want to remind the children that they should really be doing their schoolwork.  Occasionally I manage to close my mouth in time and just let things happen, like a few days ago.  Mr. 17 was fascinated by a book on food styling and just couldn’t get away from it to more ‘ useful’ things.  There was a whole pile of schoolwork waiting for him, and I was getting frustrated.  It turned out, however, that going through this book was very important to his future, because it helped him finalize his decision not to become a photographer.

  • Volunteering

We volunteer when possible, whether to clean up our city, to help handicapped people with their horseback riding therapy, or to assist at our church. It is also possible to volunteer from home.  For example, Mr. 17 has spent many hours helping others on the Microsoft Answers Forums and is currently a moderator there. 

  • Life Skills

All the academics and ‘extras’ in the world won’t benefit your children much if they cannot cook, work, manage their finances, or care for their home.  Our children prepare meals regularly, help clean house, work in the garden, and manage their money.  They volunteer and take on paid jobs as well. 

  • The Ultimate Goal

Of course, all academics, life skills, and ‘extras’ are only meaningful if they have the right goal:  To love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Otherwise, as Solomon discovered, everything is only meaningless and a chasing after wind.

For more discussions about homeschooling, visit the Carnival of Homeschooling.


  1. I’m finding that there is more and more to fit in even with younger children.

    Your post on co-ops was interesting. Our groups are probably different but I teach at one regularly and it takes so much more time to prepare than to teach the same topic to my own children. I’ve been thinking about the logistics of groups for next year and really don’t know but they certainly are exhausting.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, co-ops are not an effective use of teaching /learning time for our family either. But it’s surprising how many people love them.

      It’s so wonderful that we can all do what works for our family!

  2. Good reminder! Thanks for the post!

  3. […] Beyond the Basics:  Making ‘Extras’ Work in Your Homeschool-When you focus on providing a rigorous education for your children, you are very busy.  So are your kids.  There seems to be little time and energy left for extras like life skills, personal projects, rabbit trails, art, music, nature, reading aloud, volunteering, and competitions.  It is, however, important to find extras that will work for your family and to fit them into your homeschool. […]

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