Five Free Learning Resources

by ChristinaPilkington on February 18, 2011 · 0 comments

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 In many homeschooling circles the conversation inevitably leads to curriculum- what’s out there, what will work best with their child, how to find great material without it costing a fortune. It’s like the Holy Grail of home education- finding that perfect product that will provide everything your child needs to be successful. In fact, even in school settings, finding the right curriculum is a top priority. New reading programs, textbooks, and cute little graphic organizers all seem to be the answer to fixing the “low test scores” and the “children who are behind.”

Let me let you in on a secret: they’ll never find their Holy Grail because it doesn’t exist.

A textbook company, school board or anyone outside your family cannot have an intimate knowledge of your child. Only you as his parent have that privilege. Also, every child is an individual with unique needs, and those needs change daily, even hourly in the case of young children.

You might have some success purchasing a boxed curriculum for your child after researching several and finding one that best gels with the interests and learning style of your child, but there are two problems with this option. The majority of what’s contained in a pre-planned curriculum will usually not interest your child or be relevant to what she needs or wants to learn, and they can be very costly.

So what do you do when your child’s interests and needs are constantly shifting and changing direction, especially in the younger years?

First, you always need to look at where your child is now. What does she already know and what does she want to know? Connecting with your child in a way that captures his unique spirit is always a key way to ensure a rich education.

Then, consider the rich, free resources available in your community. If your goal is to open the world to your child, then show him how to navigate in that world and take advantage of what it has to offer. There a dozens of programs, exhibits and apprentice opportunities that your child would be excited to experience.

Here are five resource ideas to get you started.

1. Libraries – They are usually the first free community resource that comes to mind for most people. Libraries do provide a great way to check out free books, DVDs and CDs. Also, if you are thinking about purchasing a computer software program, chances are you can preview a copy at the library to see if it’s a good fit before shelling out money for your own copy. But don’t stop with scanning the shelves for resources. Libraries have amazing free programs. We’ve seen puppet shows, shown how dogs are trained, observed artists work and watched a theater performance of musical traditions around the world.

2. Nature Centers – Most nature centers provide incredible programs free of charge. In our area, there are often free seasonal programs that include maple tree tapping in March, archery lessons, and guided hikes through the woods. The centers themselves often have well-planned exhibits that are hands-on and interactive. Most centers also have rotating exhibits so it’s best to check their websites often. If your child has any interest in nature or animals, he can often find an expert at a nature center who would love to answer his questions, and guide him in finding volunteer or paid positions in his interest area.

3. Village and Town Halls – Some cities are better at offering free events than others, but check out your local city, town or village hall. We’ve learned some amazing things just by attending locally-sponsored events. My children love the petting zoos in the summer and different holiday parades. Going to “music in the park” nights during the summer months is a fun way to hang out with your family and introduce new types of music to your kids.  Don’t forget to check out what neighboring towns are doing, too.

4. Museums – Almost all museums have free days. Take advantage of those days, although be forewarned. A lot of other people will do the same thing, too, so get there as early as you can. Besides just visiting the exhibits, check out if the museum offers any free programs. We’ve seen an incredible free show on using chemicals to create explosions. (Yes, I kind of hope they don’t try it at home!) Museums often have pre-made teacher packets so don’t forget to ask for those, too.

5. Local Businesses – This resource is probably one of the most beneficial and practical for your kids. Kids love to be involved in adult work, especially if they’ve grown up never having to separate from that world. You’d be surprised at how many local businesses would love to have your kids check out what they do, especially if the request comes directly from your child. There are so many opportunities to connect with local businesses from a one-day tour, to a more in-depth apprentice program for teens. Whatever your children’s interests are, try finding local business that match those interests. It will be one of the most practical, eye-opening, learning experiences they will ever have.

There are so many more free or almost free learning resources in your community, whether you live in the city or country. They provide chances for your child to connect with their surroundings in a real and authentic way.

What are some free resources in your community?

P.S. In this article, I could only dig a little bit into the amazing wealth of free or inexpensive resources in your community. I’m working on an audio workshop and e-book where I’ll go into greater detail about what is out there in your community and provide valuable tips and tricks to take advantage of that wealth. If you’d like to take a peek at one of the chapters of the e-book, then sign up with your name and e-mail for my monthly e-zine on the home page of the site, and I’ll send you a copy.

Image: Asheboro Public LibraryCreative Commons License

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