Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our New Approach to Homeschooling: Scout Style

Image courtesy of Adafruit

I've been in a weird place with homeschooling lately. Sometimes my brain reminds me of a snowglobe. I've got all of these seemingly random ideas floating around in my head, and until I give them a chance to settle, I have a hard time seeing the pattern. I've been in one of these snowglobe phases with homeschooling the last few months. I could tell there was a plan brewing, but I couldn't really see it yet.

I have never been able to totally nail down our homeschooling style. On one hand, I really, really love classical education. I love its focus on quality reading materials and its rigorous standards. I was not especially challenged in school, at least academically. I'm not saying I was a straight A student, but the main cause of my stumbles was boredom. As an adult, I have struggled with the consequences of the lazy, undisciplined attitude that grew out of too many years of remaining unchallenged. Classical education does an excellent job of addressing that. The downfall is that a lot of classical education is very book oriented. That's great in some ways. We love to read. We love our poetry recitation and our Latin. We're a little obsessed with books, actually, but we are also very hands on learners. Any approach I take that doesn't consider that part of our learning style is going to be incomplete.

Because of our hands-on style, I also have a great love of project based homeschooling. I love its interdisciplinary approach. In the real world, almost nothing falls into neatly divided categories. You don't go to work and work on your math, reading and science. You go to work and do a whole job, often divided into projects. It seems like a more natural way of approaching a lot of learning oriented tasks and the hands-on aspect of it really helps to cement the concepts in the children's minds. We can (and do, all winter) read about gardening, but there's no amount of reading that replicates the experience of taking a garden through all of its stages, planning, planting, tending and harvesting. A project like that touches on a variety of subjects, from the composition of e-mails to a gardener friend asking for advice, reading books on different methods of growing, to the obvious science of actually planting and growing a variety of flowers and foods. The big downfall of this method is that it can be extremely hard to quantify what we have learned and make sure that nothing gets through the cracks.


I've been trying to integrate these ideas for a while, with varying degrees of success, but I've lacked that key something that would make it feel like a more cohesive school experience. Then yesterday, while I was conversing with a friend about her son's progress in Boy Scouts, it hit me. Badges!

I've seen these Maker Skill Badges from Adafruit before and really liked the idea, but what if I put together my own system of badges that correspond with skills or academic units that we want to cover? Each badge will have a specific set of activities associated with it that have to be completed. Some badges, like mathematics related badges or reading related badges, will be required. Others will be chosen by me on a monthly basis and others will be chosen by the children themselves. Badges that cannot be purchased, we will make using a button maker. We'll make each of the children a wall-hanging to put over their bed to display the badges they have earned.

We have been brainstorming our lists all morning as we recover from our latest bout of sickness. Here is a sample of what we are thinking of. Some of these ideas are borrowed from the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or Adafruit, others are our own creation.

Car care
Fossil Hunter
Tesla Coil
Ohm's Law
Soldering (already working on)
Solar Panels
Cooking (Series of Badges)
Money Manager
Adventure (borrowed from Cub scout list)
Animal Care
Reader (Series)
Marine Biology
Faith (Series of badges)
Personal Safety
Road Safety
First Aid
Out of Your Comfort Zone
Mathematician (series of badges by skill)
Historian (series of badges by historical era)
Winter Sports/Recreation
Summer Sports/Recreation
Child Development
Spelling Star
Foreign Language (Series)
Family Camp
Fire Safety
Knife safety
Knots and ropes
Fiber Arts (series, knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery)
Fine Arts (series, drawing, painting, sculpture)
Paper crafts
Bike Repair
Wild Life
Adventure Racing
Music (series)
World Cultures
Scientist (series)
Domestic Skills
The Great Outdoors
Jewelery making
Map Master (Geography)
Corporal Works of Mercy
Citizenship and Government
Fiction Writing
Non-fiction writing
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)
Nature Journaling
Memory Master
Handwriting Hero
Adventure Sports/Recreation
Crafts (series)
Human Anatomy
Martial Arts
Scuba Diving

Obviously, this is quite a hodge podge of ideas, some of which will have to be sifted through, organized and sorted, but its an exciting list of learning activities that should help to get the brain juice flowing.


  1. Love this idea! And you have some cool badges for them to earn!

  2. For grown up girls, but may give you some ideas:

  3. This is a great idea! I love it, and it could make for a fun independent group for those of us whose families either have objections to Boy Scouts or are unwelcome in the group, and who have limited other scouting opportunities.

  4. That's a good idea, Tiffany. It's a pretty flexible plan. I am going to be posting some of our ideas for the badge activities as I get that all worked out. I think it's going to be fun.

  5. Some others they might enjoy: Tiny Houses, 100 Item Living Challenge, Oral Historian (learn how to do oral history interviews), Genealogy, Learning to play different musical instruments-series, songwriting, Music editing, Vocal and/or Instrumental Performance, Dyeing with Natural Materials, Flintknapping, 100 Square Foot Garden Challenge (and possibly compete against a standard and not with each other; more tickets for all the more people who reach a standard with their plot, etc), Food challenges such as Foodstamp, Live Below the Line, X number of pantry items plus garden plot, $2 a day; Outdoor Cooking, Building an Outdoor woodfired oven, Habitat for Humanity Building Skills, Greenhouse vegetable growing, Canoeing, Sailing, Cooking with minimal equipment such as a wok, wok tools, a cutting board and a knife OR a dutch oven, a bowl, a cooking spoon, a knife, and a cutting board; Origami, Tangrams, Various types of ethnic cooking-series of badges, Website design, Twitter Marketing, Creating Effective Pinterest Pins, Bird Identification, Insect Identification, Tree Identification, Medicinal Herbs—perhaps a badge for cookery oriented ones and another for external and household use; Bicycle Camping; Bicycle Race across America (they have teams of 4 and 8), Detective Skills—Learn from Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Cam, Encyclopedia Brown books, etc.); International Pen Pal, Card Games and Card Tricks; Magic Tricks, Pottery Making, Appropriate/Primitive Technology—might need to be a super badge with perhaps a camping trip to solidify everything once the skills are learned; Stain removal, Pallet DIY, Textile Transformations, Powerpoint + vocal presentation creation and presentation, Magazine Article Writing, Native American Skills, Historian Survivor Challenges—once skills are learned and necessary items created, live for a week doing activities similarly to the way they would have been done in Viking Times, Italy 1600s, Victorian England, Thoreau’s Walden, etc.; One yard/meter challenge—use a rope/string to create a circle 1 yard/meter in diameter. Place on ground in diverse locations at different times of the year. Be able to id items inside circle.; Square Foot garden challenge—Can you average getting a serving of vegetables from the plot every day for a year? May need coldframe or hoophouse in some areas.