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When Can We Do This Again?

by Amanda Bennett

Looking to put some excitement back into your homeschool? Searching for a new idea, a fun adventure instead of the drudgery of textbooks? I want the children to WANT to learn, and I would like to enjoy the process, too! Picture this ?Äì sitting with your child, learning about lighthouses, and touring the lantern room of a lighthouse online as you learn together. As the child experiences the adventure, they begin to want to know more, to question, to ask, ¬ìWhen can we do this again?¬î If you are like me, that is the question that we all long to hear as homeschooling parents ?Äì when can we do this again?! With great excitement, I ?Äôm writing you today to share a bit of a new adventure ?Äì a way that is demonstrating that we can hear this phrase on a regular basis.

What if you could study science through baseball, learning to throw curve balls online? Or spend an afternoon visiting the major ballparks from your kitchen table? Open up your children ?Äôs world to the lives of real people ?Äì the legends of baseball, reading their biographies online, without ever leaving for the library? Show me, show me, show me ?Äì and I will learn and remember! The longer that we have homeschooled at our house, the more we have learned this to be a very true statement for making the most of the learning abilities of our children.

Many of you know me as the author of many unit study guides, and I ?Äôm still writing the guides and homeschooling our children. My latest unit study guides, including Lighthouses, Sailing Ships and Patriotic Holidays, all make extensive use of the wealth of information available on the Internet. I have found that using these kinds of online adventures and activities at key moments in the unit study enhance the learning process, and the children remember what they see and experience. You can go whale-watching online, tour the USS Constitution, read Moby Dick, and learn about the author of Kidnapped ?Äì Robert Louis Stevenson. Did you know that he was of the Scottish family known as the ¬ìLighthouse Stevensons?¬î And that ?Äôs a whole NEW avenue to explore! Did you know that Rudyard Kipling wrote one of his classics while living in a lighthouse? The well-researched and planned combination of a unit study and the resources on the Internet can create a powerful and exciting learning adventure!

The more that I research and write, the more convinced I have become that learning can be enhanced in so many ways with the help of the Internet. With this in mind, I have begun developing and teaching online unit study classes on the Internet, and what a great time we are having!

Over the years, I have been asked so many questions about how to use unit studies "?± where do I begin, what do I include, etc. It occurred to me that by teaching some online unit studies as classes, I would be able to work with parents in all phases of the unit study, from start to finish. I could answer their questions, help with their problems, and encourage them as they progressed. We started with the Winter Olympics Unit Study class, then introduced the Easter Unit Study class, and now the Gardens class and the Baseball class are beginning. I ?Äôm not sure who is learning more, the instructor or the parents!

The lessons in my classes are similar to my new unit study books, but the links for each question and idea are ¬ìclickable¬î - you can visit them right from the lesson while online. There is plenty of learning going on, and the most surprising element has been the participation in the Class Forum - where the parents post their questions and ideas. People have shared some terrific ideas and fun things they have discovered, along with their questions. Everyone jumped into the conversation threads and helped each other - providing great support along the way. The classes help remove some of the fear of trying a unit study - the parent isn ?Äôt trying it out all alone. These classes provide help, support, and resources on topics that the parent doesn ?Äôt have the time or resources to assemble on their own.

For example, we are just beginning an online unit study on Gardens with homeschooling families from around the world. Everyone will be working at their own pace, visiting the gardens of Monet as they learn more about him and his interest in gardens and light. We ?Äôll be looking into the gardening contributions of presidents like Jefferson and Jackson, as we take virtual tours of their gardens online. Would your children like to grow a Pizza Garden with us? As we come across new finds and ideas, the students (parents) will post their findings on the friendly class forum online, and others will add on to their ideas, creating a warm and welcoming form of support.

I ?Äôm sure that some of you are wondering why I work directly with the parents instead of the children. Well, I can ?Äôt teach that many children very easily, to begin with - at one point, it was estimated that there were over 300 children in the families working on the online Olympics study! More important is my commitment to having families work on unit studies together. The classes provide parents with all of the tools that they need to work with their child, face to face. A computer will never replace the learning circle of parent and child. While you can see your child ?Äôs reaction, read with them, listen to their questions and ideas, there isn ?Äôt a computer or distant teacher that can replace this integral part of the learning process.

Now, you say that there are many online classes available these days - right! However, I want to point out that there is a VAST difference in the quality of online classes, particularly in unit study classes. What should you look for in a class?

1. Who is the instructor - what are their qualifications?

2. What is the topic - is it one that the children are interested in?

3. How is the topic covered - what are the lesson formats? What elements are included in the lessons - spelling, reading, etc?

4. How many lessons are there?

5. Is the class continuous, so that you can work at your own speed, or does it have a specific start and stop date with performance deadlines?

6. What is the fee for the class?

7. What is the availability of the instructor? Do they check into the class daily, responding to emails frequently?

8. Are there specified online class meetings that you must attend?

9. Is there a class forum, or place to post your questions and share ideas with your classmates?

I know that this is quite a list of questions, but I wanted to share what I ?Äôve learned, and hope that some of this helps as the world of education gets bigger and the choices broaden. I ?Äôve seen some people teaching online classes that were not qualified to develop or teach a class, and the students were disappointed. I ?Äôve also seen very qualified people teaching classes in a manner that has been very helpful to the students, utilizing the strengths of online learning in a dynamic manner!

When considering a class, ask questions. On most class description pages, there is a link or box where you can request further information about the course. Use this option to learn more - don ?Äôt be afraid to ask questions! Find out answers to some of the questions above, and ask your own personal questions, as well.

Expand your homeschool with some new adventures - check out online unit studies and other online classes. Summer is almost here, and it might be a great time to slow down and check out a different way of learning. Enjoy the adventure!

?Äì Amanda Bennett

Visit Amanda Bennett online at: and meet her at the New England Homeschool & Family Learning Conference in July.

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