Thinking Outside the Desk

Thinking Outside the Desk while Homeschooling

When we first began homeschooling, I was a voracious reader about teaching styles and methods. I read many books that caused me to rethink education and convinced me that I didn’t need to recreate my own school experience. Maybe it was even better not to. With my mind opened to new possibilities, I was motivated to think outside the desk, and determined to find what worked for our family – what allowed our children to flourish and didn’t burn me out as the teacher. I wanted all of us to enjoy our homeschooling lifestyle.

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Living Books

When studying different approaches to homeschooling, the Charlotte Mason, or  “Living Book Approach” most appealed to me. It relied heavily on literature (versus textbooks) and allowed me to teach both of my children, who were four years apart, at the same time in many subjects. As a result, I spent a lot of time reading out loud to both of them in subjects such as Bible, Literature, Science, and History. A few years into homeschooling I discovered Sonlight Curriculum and we used it for over ten years.


I had read The War Against Boys when our son was about four years old. In her book, author Christina Hoff Sommers wrote that many schools were cutting recess time, or doing away with it altogether, and how that negatively affected boys, in particular. It made sense to me that young children needed to move around, so when we started homeschooling I did as much school outside as possible. While I read aloud, I would let Hayden (and later, Margaret) swing, climb a tree, or even ride his bike nearby, as long as he could hear my voice. When we had school inside I also let the kids keep their hands busy. Hayden usually played with Legos while Margaret usually drew. I stopped often and asked the kids to tell me what I had just read. It amazed me, that even though they were being active, they could usually repeat what I had read, pretty much verbatim.Thinking Outside the Desk While Homeschooling

Kinesthetic Learning

In 2006 there was a movie called Akeelah and the Bee. It was about a young girl who discovered she had an aptitude for spelling, and she advanced through the local and regional Spelling Bees, eventually winning the national Spelling Bee. The movie followed her through the process and chronicled how she came to find and hire a coach and the methods he used to prepare her.

Jump rope

At one point he discovers that she retains the information better while she is doing something rhythmic such as jumping rope or bouncing a ball. This type of learning is called “kinesthetic.” I had already discovered for myself that my son learned very well while having the freedom of movement.

Also consider this report from Plymouth University and Western Sydney University which considers the impact that outdoor learning has on a child’s quality of life. Student Outcomes and Natural Schooling.

Homeschooling Advantage

This is one of those areas where homeschooling really gives us an advantage to cater to the needs of our kids. I started homeschooling with an assumption that, in order to learn, kids needed to be sitting quietly at a desk (or table). Not only is that not true, but from my own homeschool experiences, I now believe that by meeting the physical need for muscles to move, it frees the mind to learn even better. Not all children have this need, but for the ones that do, it makes a huge difference.

If you are new to homeschooling and have young children, try letting your kids be busy with their bodies, or even just hands, while you read aloud and see how it affects their listening and retaining skills. If your kids are older and you have similar experiences, I would love to read about them, so please share in the comments.

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Helpful Links

Sonlight Curriculum

Five Homeschooling Styles

What Schools Can Do to Help Boys Succeed

Characteristics of Kinesthetic Learners

Student Outcomes and Natural Schooling

Thinking Outside the Desk While Homeschooling
Thinking Outside the Desk While Homeschooling

15 thoughts on “Thinking Outside the Desk while Homeschooling”

  1. These are all great thoughts! We do most of our homeschooling inside, but we keep our book shorter than some. The kids get lots of time outside and my 6-year-old son especially enjoys it. Lately, he spends hours kicking his soocer ball or playing with the neighbor girl. We also do “recess” half way through each morning. I find that this has often been the re-set we’ve needed when everyone is grumpy.

  2. YES! One of my boys had to be moving, or at least fiddling with his hands….even in church. Someone watching him would think he wasn’t paying attention, but if asked he could repeat a lot of what was preached! That’s what I love about home schooling…we can work with the needs of our kids, rather than expect them all to fit the same mold…or desk. 🙂

    1. Exactly! Thank you for sharing. I’m that way, too, even now. I’m always swinging my leg, or something. It’s a physical need, not something that needs to be medicated.

  3. This is great information! I don’t actually home school, but my kids go to a charter school that was founded by homeschooling families. Parent involvement in the school and the learning process itself is extremely encouraged.

    My son is in Kindergarten and although the rest of MN has gone to all day everyday kindergarten, our very small charter school files to be exempt and continues a half day program. With the standards for kindergarten so incredibly high and only 3.5 hours a day at school, we do a lot of extra learning at home outside of school (with guidance from his teacher)

    He is a very active 6 year old and I love the idea of reading while he is moving or playing. He loves legos, I’m going to start reading to him while he plays!!


    1. I sometimes daydream about designing my own school. I’m glad that you got that you can still use some of the principles. They can definitely be used by families who don’t homeschool. Think practicing counting or spelling while doing something else. You can be drilling him while he’s playing. Young kids these days don’t get near enough free time, imho.

  4. This post made me smile, remember our first year homeschooling 18 years ago. We had pulled Stephanie out of public school at the end of 3rd grade and embarked on a whole new lifestyle. But in those early days, she insisted that we “do school” the way she was used to. We started each day with the Pledge of Allegiance, had regular recess time, and ate lunch each day on school trays. I told her that I was drawing the line and refused to pretend to be the bus, coming to pick her up each morning. Haha! By the next year we were able to relax into our new routine.

    One thing that often amazes people is how little time it actually takes to do academics at home. As I still have two in phonics and do unit studies with the older ones, it takes me about 3.5 hours a day. Of course the children each have their assignments, but it all takes much less time than a day in public school, which leaves them free to pursue their own interests. We have musicians, singers, a weaver, writers, an artist, several cooks and bakers, and a woodworker!

  5. GREAT article and thoughts on homeschooling. I am actually a fourth grade public school teacher, and I completely understand your reasoning. I am also the mother of three (now grown up) boys who came to my schools with me (I picked out their teachers…lol). I began teaching decades ago during the days of authentic learning—-chapter books instead of textbooks, developmental concept based learning in mathematics—instead of going page by page through textbooks, and creating themed units that spanned content areas. It was a much more holistic, and in my opinion, better approach. If I were younger and still had my kids to raise, knowing what I know now…and seeing where our education system has plummeted due to testing pressure and a lack of understanding about how children (and people for that matter) best learn….I would choose homeschooling if it were an option for me. Anyhow—it’s great to see that homeschooling is becoming more of a positive trend, especially when done right! I found your article on Our Simple Homestead Blog!

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