Why the Rabbit Trail is the Right Trail: Wonder and Curiosity in Your Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth practical look at the eight essential principles of classical education. This month we are focusing on wonder and curiosity. You can check out the previous posts in this series as well: Charlotte Mason and Classical Combined, Slow and Steady inYour Homeschool, Multum non Multa Exhibited in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool, and Practical Ways to Use Repetition to Memorize.

Very often I hear other homeschool moms make a comment similar to this, “Well, we got off on a rabbit trail today and didn’t finish our actual work. Now we’re behind and I feel like we wasted a day.” Even if I don’t make a comment like this, I definitely think it! Anytime we stop to pursue something that sparks our interest or imagination, my default train of thought is failure. I’ve failed at accomplishment that day. I’ve dropped the ball on learning. I’ve let the children get away with something I shouldn’t have. After listening to Dr. Perrin’s talk about wonder and curiosity earlier this month, I realized that sometimes what we call the rabbit trail is actually the trail on which we’re meant to be.

Children are naturally born with an inquisitive spirit and a sense of awe about the world. Unfortunately most of that is drained or forced out of them in the typical school setting where time, curriculum, and testing limitations rule the classroom. Too many times homeschoolers follow this same trajectory of killing wonder and curiosity in our children, not purposefully, but because we feel the pressure to keep up and achieve.

However, as Dr. Perrin points out, the current school system is not creating students in the true meaning of the word. The original word is studium and means zeal, diligent, striving, and eager. Those words are not ones I would use to describe most children in school today. They do not seem zealous or eager to learn in the least! Unfortunately many times our homeschools become more like the traditional school system and wonder and curiosity are squeezed out of the way.

When a rabbit trail comes along suddenly in our school day, it usually is because something has captured a child’s wonder or their curiosity has been aroused about a particular bit of information. The learning that follows as you wind among the trees of ideas, over the brook of discovery, and step carefully along the path that other true students have trod leads to a day where you have focused solely on reveling in true education. Don’t do the disservice of dismissing these days as a waste or a loss. These are the days that you have taught your children the value of a true education: that following a path of wonder and curiosity is what true scholars, inventors, authors, artists, and world shapers have done since the beginning of time.

 So how do we become better about incorporating wonder and curiosity into our school days?

Plan for it. One of the best things I implemented this school year is having free afternoons (on the days when we’re home in the afternoons that is!). Once our official school time is over, around lunch or a little after, the kids have a couple of hours to do nothing but pursue their own interests and studies. Sometimes they continue with work we started before lunch, or they get lost in library books we checked out that week or they simply play. I have been guilty every year of over-scheduling our days, weeks, and academics, and I wanted to purposefully create a time in our day for exploration, wonder, and curiosity.

Strew books, games, and movies. Every week when we go to the library, I grab some books (usually non-fiction) and movies (usually documentaries) that look interesting or are about something we’ve recently experienced or seen. I keep all of these resources in an easily accessible cabinet in the living room for the kids to enjoy during our afternoon time or any other time they wish. For example, we recently went on a tour through a cave. The kids were fascinated so even though we aren’t technically studying caves right now, I checked out lots of books about caves, animals that live in caves, a documentary about caves, and a travel video about Carlsbad Caverns.

Nature study. So many times, nature study is dismissed even by people who love it as an extra or something to get to if we find the time. However, nature study is the original God-given source for wonder and curiosity in not only children, but adults throughout time as well. Teaching your children to be observers of nature and ask questions about nature is the easiest and most hands-on way to feed their natural inquisitiveness. For the past six months or so, I’ve made nature study an important part of our week and a subject that each of my girls studies on their own a couple of times a week. I’ve been amazed at how much science we’re actually learning through nothing more than awakening wonder and curiosity about the natural world.

Of course, the best way to inspire your children is to be someone who is curious and finds wonder in things as well. Once they realize that learning is not a onetime endeavor, but a lifelong pursuit, they will be more apt to hold onto what they already possess: a desire to know more about everything.

Be sure and check out what Tonia and Sara have to say about wonder and curiosity in education as well by clicking on the pictures below:


How do you inspire wonder and curiosity in your homeschool?
Let me know in the comments.


Embodied Education: Appealing to the Senses and the Soul in Your Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth, practical look at the eight essential principles of classical education. This month we are looking at embodied education. You can check out the previous posts in this series as well: Charlotte Mason and Classical Combined, Slow and Steady in Your Homeschool, Multum non Multa Exhibited in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool, and Practical Ways to Use Repetitionto Memorize.

I’ve got some great news for those of you following this series. If you are not even remotely a classical educator, then this principle of classical education is the one for you. It’s actually addressed quite a bit in other educational philosophies as well. Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, and Montessori all address the learning space and what it should be like. I’m referring to embodied education or making sure all of your senses are engaged in the learning environment.

Embodied education is probably already something you are achieving in your home just by virtue of being a homeschooler, as you will see in the examples below. However, I wanted to give some examples of exactly what embodied education looks like in our home and I really want you to share how your homeschool exhibits embodied education as well in the comments. Hopefully this will become an interactive post where we are all sharing ideas.

The principle behind embodied education is a simple one. Children learn better when they are comfortable, surrounded by beauty, and have rituals or routines that focus on virtue and character formation. And I can guarantee that you are already providing an embodied education to your children, so that’s encouraging! But what are some more ways we can practice embodied education?

Make your school area as comfortable and home-like as possible. Nothing wrong with desks and tables, but make sure you include comfy cushions and couches, pillows, and rugs. One way I’ve helped my children with their desire to sprawl and school, as I call it, is to create little nooks in the living room for each of them with pillows and blankets so they can retreat there to work on their independent work. I also give them a clipboard to use because none of them like to write without a hard surface.

Make your school area beautiful. In our official school area (at the end of our dining room), I keep prints of famous artwork on the wall intermingled with their own art creations. I purposefully chose a soft yellow to put on the walls in that room knowing it would be our school area as well. I buy fresh flowers (usually the discounted ones from the grocery store) and place in a vase on the dining room table for the week or if the children pick flowers, we put those in there.

Make your school time a sensory experience. I actually started doing this at the end of last year. During school time I burn scented wax in a wax warmer to provide a pleasant smell during the day. I also play classical music at a low volume all day long while we’re doing school for some background noise. When everyone gets quiet reading or doing work, it’s really nice to hear it fill the room. Adding in field trips about the places, events, and concepts the children are studying in history and science is a great way to bring those things to life through the senses. It’s one thing to read about Egypt; it’s quite another to go to the natural history museum in Houston and see actual Egyptian artifacts.

Create rituals that serve a purpose. I’m not talking about schedules or routines, but practices that you insert in your day to reach your children at the soul level as you form their virtue. While all of that sounds kind of out there, let me give you some examples. The easiest one is starting our day with Power Hour (aka Morning Meeting). During Power Hour I try to focus on good discussion and learning things that are good, true, and beautiful. Within Power Hour, we have our own routine of always opening by singing a hymn and then having prayer. That is how we always start out school day, even if we can’t get to Power Hour that day, and the kids will call me on it if we don’t.

Over the summer as part of my teacher in-service (books I assign myself to read to be a better mother and teacher), I read Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. It made me realize how I need to be better about cultivating an attitude of gratitude in our family as a whole. So starting this school year, of which we’ve completed a week at this point, I began a new ritual where at the end of our school day, we light a candle in the middle of the table, stand around it while holding hands, and say the following together, “Jesus, you are the light of the world. Help us to be lights as well through having a grateful attitude, a humble spirit, and a love for all.” At that point, we go around the circle and we each share three things they are grateful for that day. I close out our school day by reading Philippians 1:3-11 as a blessing for my children and we sing The Doxology together. 

I had honestly never considered how important a pleasing environment and rituals are in a child’s education, but as I learned more about embodied education, I was not surprised to see that I’d already incorporated a lot of embodied education into our day because it makes it more enjoyable for all of us.

I’m looking forward to reading what my fellow Everyday Scholé bloggers have to say about the subject so click on the links below to read more about embodied education.


I also want to see what ways you incorporate embodied education in your homeschool so please leave a comment below.

Tell me how your homeschool environment is pleasing to the senses and any rituals you have in your homeschool day.

Practical Ways to Use Repetition to Memorize in a CM Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth, practical look at the eight essential principles of classical education. This month we are focusing on repetitio mater memoriae or repetition is the mother of memory. You can also check out previous posts in this series: Charlotte Mason and Classical Combined, Slow and Steady in Your Homeschool, Multum Non Multa Exhibited in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool.
Memorization has become a bad word in most education circles today and even among most adults. Why memorize anything when you have your very own portable computer in your pocket or purse that can find out anything you need to know with a quick question? Probably the reason for the backlash is that memorization is usually not fun and it’s difficult (more so for some of us than for others!), but if our goal as homeschoolers is for our children to really remember what they are being taught, then we must employ some strategies that will lead to memorization. This month, we’re focusing on one of those strategies, repetition. Next month, we’ll look at songs, chants, and jingles.

While I don’t consider this list to be the be all and end all of ideas of using repetition in your homeschool to reinforce learning, I did want to give some practical ways that I use repetition with my kids to keep information from being forgotten almost as quickly as it was learned. Charlotte Mason had children memorizing loads of information in her schools even for children that were her youngest students. While most of the ideas I’m sharing today are easy to use with any homeschool method, some are very much a CM way to store things of most importance in your long term memory.

Why Does Repetition Work and Why Will It Fail?
Before we get started with practical let’s dip our toes quickly in some theory. We need to know why we are using repetition to lead to memorization in the first place. The more things are repeated the easier it is to remember. At some point I can repeat a set of numbers to you, like the first 10 digits of pi, enough times that you can eventually recite them along with me. At its most basic form, that is why repetition leads to memorization. Most people understand this, but the problem lies in two arenas: rote memorization and too much to memorize.

Rote memorization is what most of us think about where an elementary aged child can stand up in front of the class and recite the presidents or the times tables from memory. It’s impressive for sure, but drilling your children until they can accomplish this feat is probably not going to be enjoyable for either one of you. However, there are ways to repeat what you’ve learned without drill, so don’t let the idea of repetition or memorization scare you off just yet.

The other sure fire way to make sure repetition will fail to lead to memorization is if you have too much curriculum that is spread too broadly. I discussed this in my last post about multum non multa. When we are teaching our children a vast amount of information, instead of fewer subjects more deeply, it becomes very difficult, very quickly to keep up with the amount of information you want your children to memorize. Whenever I’m planning our studies for the year, especially history and science, I choose the facts, ideas, and concepts I want my children to remember from our studies. Those are the things I will repeat and focus on with our notebooking and activities. The amount I expect from each child varies depending upon age, but having a plan helps keep me on track and it helps me feel that we haven’t wasted a year of study when I can ask them what they learned in science that year and they can tell me. Don’t spread your too studies too thin or too much ground will be covered to make repetition and memorization nearly impossible.

Practical, Fun Ways to Use Repetition  

1. Create associations between different disciplines. Like we talked about last time, all knowledge is one big interconnected web so use that to your advantage when you want your children to memorize. Instead of repeating facts about Paul Revere, show them the portrait of Revere painted by John Singleton Copley. Explain that having his portrait painted meant Revere was an important man in Boston and holding a silver teapot with tools lying in front of him reminds us of his profession as a silversmith. Also it’s a good way to have children remember Revere’s participation in the Boston Tea Party. You just succeeding in repeating information that you wish your children to know about Revere without drilling it, but associating his life through art.

2. Use visual and artistic methods. We studied Latin together this year for the first time and one of the things I had my girls do was create Latin vocabulary notebooks. Instead of merely copying the words and their definition, I had each girl illustrate the word’s definition in their notebook. For poēta, Sophia drew a picture of William Blake sitting at a desk with a feather quill thinking, “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,” which was a poem we were memorizing at the time. She brought in her own associations across disciplines in that assignment!
When we were memorizing a passage from A Midsummer Night’s Dream some of the lines referenced different flowers growing on a river bank. I found pictures of the different flowers online and printed them out so when the girls were trying to memorize the passage, they could touch the picture of the flower they were talking about.

3. Play games. There are lots of educational games on the market and we own quite a few. They are wonderful to use as a fun way to review. One of our favorites is Timeline which all my kids like to play. It really helps with learning the order of events in world history and it’s a quick game. There are lots of online games the kids enjoy to help review information: Prodigy for math concepts, Reflex Math for math fact review, and Sheppard Software to review almost everything, but especially geography. However, we also make a lot of games. Grace made a version of Clue that was all about mythology. The rooms were various places mentioned in Greek mythology, the characters were different Greek gods and heroes, and the weapons were taken from Greek myths as well like a lightning bolt and Medusa’s head. We also made a board game to review Spanish vocabulary a couple of years ago out of a cereal box. Depending on the space you landed on, you would translate a word or sentence from English to Spanish or from Spanish into English. It was super fun and the kids never realized it was repetition leading to memory.

4. Look for built in review in your curriculum. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that almost all of the curriculum we use has review built into it. The spelling curriculum I use for my oldest, Apples and Pears, is constantly going back and reviewing words and spelling patterns. I use a studied dictation approach for Sophia like Charlotte Mason espoused using the vintage spelling book, Modern Speller. The book is set up to constantly review words that have previously been studied as well. Even our mastery based math books have review built into them as well because previous skills are touched on again and again in subsequent chapters. The phonics program I used with Sophia, Logic of English, is awesome at built in review using games and speed drills to remember phonograms so that learning them is pretty much painless. Let curriculum work for you in this area!

5. Point out practical applications. Grace is finishing up Math U See Epsilon this summer and as we’ve worked through the book, which is all about fractions, I’ve explained to her how useful it is to know how to manipulate fractions when it comes to cooking (something she loves to do), so for part of her “school” time, I would bring her a recipe and ask her to double it, halve it, third it, etc. By having her do this, I’m not only answering her question of “why do I have to learn this?” but I’m using repetition to make sure she remembers the steps to multiply, divide, add, and subtract fractions.

6. Let them be the teacher. One of the best ways to learn something is to have to teach it. Every evening, I try to let the kids tell their father one thing they learned about during school that day or demonstrate something they’ve mastered. Sometimes I give them a heads up ahead of time so they can really give a thorough presentation. For example, Grace recently learned about photosynthesis so I told her that I’d like for her to use her diagram she drew of the process and explain it at dinner that night. Come to find out, she didn’t understand it as well as she thought since she had to reference some books to make sure she said things correctly. She had to use repetition of what we’d already learned to memorize the process of photosynthesis.

7. Implement a Charlotte Mason style assessment week. In most CM schools at the end of the quarter or semester, there would be one week set aside for assessments of what the children had learned. I’m not talking about standardized tests or tests at all, but a time to present the body of knowledge they had learned. I’ve never actually scheduled these assessment weeks into our school year, although I might give it a whirl this year, but I think using some out of the box assessments that week would be a really fun way to see how much we’ve all learned. One spontaneous assessment that happened this year is I asked Grace to tell me all she knew about Hammurabi who we’d been studying for history. She decided this was the perfect time to throw a costume together, give me a list of questions to be the reporter, and have an interview with the ancient Babylonian king himself. I still think back on that and what a fun way to do a “test” for history. Assessing how much your children have learned doesn’t necessarily mean filling in bubbles or a pop quiz, it could be a great way to add in some repetition of what they’ve been learning.

Interested to see what the other Everyday Scholé ladies think about using repetition in your homeschool? Click on the pictures below to find out. I promise you that it will be good stuff!


What practical, fun ways do you use repetition in your homeschool?