Curriculum And Activities: Homeschooling In A Box

Provide your child with rich, interesting, educational materials in a big box to stimulate the intellect. Homeschooling in a box- literally!

Forget pricey, boxed curriculum sets for children, who benefit more from imaginative play and hands-on exploration of their world. Get your own boxes and stuff them with educational goodies you can gather yourself from around the house, scrounge from yard sales or friends during spring cleaning, or purchase at discount and second hand stores. You'll save money, have more of a variety, and get more than a year's use out of them.

Start by collecting a variety of receptacles. Cardboard cartons can be used for most things, but have a tendency to start ripping or collapsing over time. If you start with cardboard boxes, you might want to consider eventually transferring the contents to more durable storage boxes, which can be obtained inexpensively these days at most major megamarts. Be sure to look after holiday and spring sales for great prices on storage containers. Plastic crates and footlocker trunks are also great alternatives that stack up neatly.

As for the contents, they are only limited by your own imagination. Here are some suggestions for a home-made "boxed" education:

The Reading Box: Fill with books, magazines, flash cards, magnetic alphabet stickers, and storybooks on cassette tapes or CDs.

The Writing Box: Paper, pencils, pens, old letters, news clippings, mad libs, word searcxh puzzles, unusual objects that can inspire a story.

The Arts & Crafts Box: Fill with a variety of art supplies, such as paper goods (not just sheet paper; try to include items such as small lunch bags, wrapping paper scraps or paper plates), crayons, markers, rulers, stencils, rubber stamps, ink pads pencils, blunt-edge scissors, glue sticks, tape, glitter, pipe cleaners, beads, string, popsicle sticks, paint and brushes, clay and molding tools (such as plastic knives, cookie cutters and a garlic press), a smock and some kind of protective plastic cloth to cover the area your child play's with these things.

The Music Box: Fill with song books, sheet music, cassette tapes of a variety of music (such as children's songs, folk music, classical, cultural, etc.), a small tape recorder with a microphone, and some blank tapes for your children to record their own private concerts. Be sure to include many simple instruments, such as tambourines, tin flutes, flutaphones, maracas, triangles, drums, harmonicas, rain sticks, jingle bells, and as many others as you can dig up. Also, encourage your children to make their own instruments (tissue box-rubber band guitars, old pot-cover symbols, spoons to clack together, comb-and-wax paper harmonicas, etc.).

The Science Box: Fill with plastic vials and containers (for mixing compounds or collecting specimens), tweezers, eye droppers, measuring spoons and cups, a magnifying glass, a small telescope, a microscope and slides (blank as well as pre-made), charts, models, and some interesting things to look at (shells, rocks, crystals, small fossils, etc.). A good "kitchen chemistry" book that shows you how to conduct experiments with simple household supplies such as baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring can be a wonderful addition as well (adults must supervise all experiments, even with kitchen products).

The Dress-up Box: In a trunk or container store old hats, shirts, jackets, aprons, scarves, costume jewelry, hand bags, wigs, shoes, work uniforms, gloves, etc. Much can be obtained fairly inexpensively at thrift shops, however don't hesitate to ask friends and family to remember you next time they clean out their closets.

The Water Box: Keep an empty 10 or 15 gallon plastic container to fill half-way with water when in use. Store in it such things as containers, funnels, squirt toys, toy fish and boats, big sponges, and other water toys. Its best to use this box outdoors in nice weather, and adding ice blocks with little trinkets imbedded makes for a fun time.

The Sand Box: Don't have the space for a big sand box? Keep another small 10 to 15 gallon plastic container with a tight-fitting lid filled half-way with dry or slightly damp sand (obtainable at most gardening centers for just a few dollars). Add some shovels, small vehicles, containers and plastic molds. This box can be stored and used on even the smallest doorstep.

The Geography Box: Fill with post cards, pictures of exotic places and landmarks, maps, and travel guides, and travel videos (many travel agencies offer such videos for free upon the asking).

The Math Box: Fill with a geoboard and colored rubber bands, a tangram, play money, dominoes, a deck of cards, some 3D shapes, a clock (preferably one that the child can move the hands with ease), rulers, tape measures, and items such as leggos or dried beans with a pill-organizer box can be used as math manipulatives for counting practice.

The Imagination Box: This special box will be something to pull out for those rainy days. Items should be added and subtracted from it regularly to keep it from getting dull. It should contain a variety of things that do not fit so easily into a particular category, things that will capture a child's interest and spark his imaginations. In the past, mine has held items such as my parent's small wedding album, a doll-within-a-doll set from Russia, a pokeno game, an old tape of me as a child making a "radio broadcast," a brain teaser puzzle, a rubber-band ball, and a face-painting kit left over from Halloween.

Its best to pull out only one box at a time, to keep the child focused on the activity at hand. As your children outgrow items in the boxes, you can remove them and add more age-appropriate materials.

Boxing your young child's home education materials is a great way to keep things organized. At our house, we have found using boxes helps keep everything for a particular subject area ready for portable, on-demand use in any part of the house or yard, while making clean up easy (just put everything back in the box and store it).

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