As homeschoolers, we are often tempted to fit into a box of what learning and results are supposed to look like. But what if we went off-script and embraced the simple joys of childhood? Lifestyle learning gives us the opportunity to create an environment where our children love to learn, and they approach everything in life with a curious and creative perspective. Every child is unique, every family situation different, and every season temporary. Instead of trying to make our homeschool fit into a box defined by someone else, lifestyle learning brings out the freedom and joy of a natural approach to education.
What is Lifestyle Learning?
When I first started homeschooling my children over a decade ago, we used a very traditional method that looked similar to what might happen in a school room. We essentially “did school” around our dining room table. However, over the years as our family grew and our lifestyle changed, the traditional methods became less and less effective. We began to branch out, trying new approaches, and settled into something entirely our own: a lifestyle of learning.
Lifestyle learning capitalizes on our children’s natural inquisitive energy and fosters an environment where kids are always learning; where there is no separation between school and life – where learning just becomes a lifestyle. It allows us the freedom to use any and every learning style available to us without being defined or confined by any of them, and in the meantime, we create an environment where our children love to learn.
| Related: Download the Lifestyle Learning Guide today!
Why Choose Lifestyle Learning for your Child
Your children are individuals and each one learns in a unique way. Lifestyle learning empowers you to embrace that. There is no mold to fit them into. Instead, they are free to learn, to play, to create, to explore…they are free to be children. As naturally curious beings, lifestyle learning allows them to organically grow in creativity, ingenuity, individuality and intellect as they pursue the things that interest them.
Curiosity plays a significant role in learner engagement. Lifestyle learning gives us as parents the freedom to embrace their questions, to try new things, explore new ideas, and adopt new approaches. With this kind of perspective, every experience becomes a learning adventure.
There is so much to be said for letting a child have questions and the space to find the answers. They will fail sometimes, but failure isn’t failure when it’s part of the learning process; it motivates and refines their search. In this approach, even mistakes have purpose, because they are helping your child reach their ultimate destination. When a person is free to both explore and fail, they are existing in the kind of environment where engagement, joy, and a love for learning bloom.
Benefits of Lifestyle Learning
There are so many benefits to lifestyle learning – I could go on for days! – but since a homeschool mom’s time is precious, let me just give you a few of the key things we have loved the most about it:
- It’s fun.
- It’s flexible.
- It plays to each child’s strengths.
- The retention level is high.
- It builds lifelong learners.
Lifestyle Learning is Fun
There is nothing quite as powerful as curiosity and interest when it comes to igniting a passion for learning. Why? Because it’s fun to explore something we haven’t seen before or to discover something new! With a lifestyle learning mindset, kids are learning, but they feel like they are playing (more on this later in the article).
Here is a sampling of the kinds of skills and activities my kids have pursued on their own, simply because they had fun doing it:
- Developing science experiments, evaluating the data, and retesting their hypothesis as they change elements of the experiment
- Sketching, painting, and pretty much any art experience they can get their hands on
- Math skills like fractions, multi-digit addition, and money skills
- Nature studies of all kinds – birds, bugs, plants, gardening, solar power, the solar system, and more
- Learning to play the piano and guitar
- Game development such as board, physical/sports, and computer games
- History, historical structures, games and notable people
- Creative writing including stories, poetry, books, playwriting, cooperative storytelling and more
- Mental math drills (YES, my kids actually ask for these!)
- Jewelry making and beading of all kinds
- Entrepreneurship (Two of my children started their own small businesses and made money with them.)
- Cooking including meal preparation, baking, grilling, food prep, food presentation and more
- Creating and editing videos (including video shorts, writing and directing)
- And so much more!
When kids are having fun doing something, they will pursue it on their own. Likewise, when learning is fun for them, it ceases to be a chore – it becomes something they choose to do out of their own free will simply because they enjoy doing it.
Lifestyle Learning is Flexible
With lifestyle learning, counting school days is out the window. Why? Because lifestyle learning isn’t a homeschooling approach; it’s a mindset. It is essentially a shift from “doing school” to “always learning.”
With traditional homeschooling methods, it can be all too easy to get caught in the traps of finishing curriculum, logging days, and detailed planning that leave little room for flexibility. There’s no freedom there. Life revolves around school.
But with lifestyle learning, life is school. Learning becomes a natural process that is happening every day, all of the time. When learning is our lifestyle we accumulate far more than the necessary “school” days required by many states’ homeschool laws, while still enjoying the flexibility to arrange and rearrange our schedule at will (even if it’s just to enjoy the first warm day of spring outside!).
Holidays, spontaneous trips, sick days, and play dates cease to cause frustration because we no longer bend to the demands of our tight schedule; instead, we make our schedule work for us.
Lifestyle learning allows us to:
- Make the most of every opportunity (whether that be vacation or just great weather outside)
- Enjoy our days (there is less stress and more joy)
- Increase our quality family time (we can schedule around our own family’s needs and desires)
Lifestyle Learning Plays to Your Child’s Strengths
Lifestyle learning not only teaches your child that their questions are important, that they are fully capable of finding the answers, and that learning is a fun experience, it also plays to their individual strengths because it is completely customizable.
Have a child who loves to read? Incorporate living history by reading real books about real people and their experiences. Have a child who thinks like an engineer? Use blocks, snap circuits, Lego science and more! Have a child who learns and understands in very different ways than their peers? Lifestyle learning lets them pursue topics they love in ways that make sense to them.
Studies have shown that learning happens at a greater rate when a person’s curiosity is piqued. Lifestyle learning capitalizes on this concept and allows your child to embody that experience in their own unique way.
Kids Retain Information at a High Level
When children are learning about something they are interested in, the retention level is very high. Research has shown that learning occurs best when children are active, engaged, and building meaningful connections to their lives.
Education that happens through more traditional methods introduces information to our children from a top-down approach. They are learning about something because we, as their parent teachers, believe it is important for them to learn.
Lifestyle learning does not abandon that concept. Instead it reframes it in a way where both the parent and the child are motivated in the experience. When the experience originates with the child, it is directly meaningful and applicable in their own life. They want to pursue learning because they find it interesting and important. In those situations, we as parents get to make the most of that opportunity and guide our child to reliable resources and information that we believe is important to the conversation.
Because the child was instrumental in pursuing the topic, and because they find personal meaning and application in it, they retain the information at much higher levels. It’s no longer something they are being told is important to learn – they believe that it is something important to learn. It’s not being fed to them – it’s something they want to know.
Lifestyle Learning Creates Lifelong Learners
You’ll find that when you adopt a lifestyle learning mindset, your goals and outcomes transform. You are no longer working to produce “educated people”, you are instead building life-long learners. This may seem like a subtle difference, but that difference is powerful. Instead of focusing on the quantity of information they consume, your sights become set on building the foundation that will set them up well to think intelligently, creatively, and critically for the rest of their lives. The goal is to maintain and capitalize on the natural, lifelong learning process. This comes through developing a love for learning, and that love for learning is fostered by encouraging our children to pursue what interests them, letting them learn in whatever way suits them best, and by piquing their curiosity for new and exciting things. It develops because they are having fun learning.
When a child has fun doing something, he often develops a love for it. Once he has a love for learning, he seeks it out everywhere he goes, all of the time. When we arm our children with a love for learning, and they understand how they learn best as an individual, nothing is beyond their reach.
How to Start Lifestyle Learning
Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of lifestyle learning, how do we go about actually doing it? The application will vary depending on your own child’s needs, interests and learning styles. However, here are a few suggestions that can be applied in a variety of ways:
- Set goals. The first thing to do is to consider the reasons behind your choice to homeschool. Evaluate whether or not those reasons are a strong foundation to build on, and if not, identify what is. Set long-term, big-picture goals. Then, start to filter everything you do through those goals. If something you’re doing is effective at working toward your goals, keep it; if not, ditch it with no regret. Anything and everything is on the table here – there is no need to try to fit into one mold or another. Just go with what works for your family, for each individual, and keep the big picture in mind.
- Play. Play is such a powerful way for children to learn. Utilize both structured and unstructured play that is developmentally appropriate for your child. Don’t feel the need to cut down on play time in order to have more “educational” time. Play is educational. Embrace it!Note: Play is doing something purely for the enjoyment of it (as opposed to the outcome). This will look different as your child ages. Learn to recognize what your child loves doing and encourage them to do it often! If possible, make the most of the opportunity by directing them to rich resources in which to pursue those activities.
- Direct their interests: Notice what your children are interested in and direct their focus to activities that support, build on, or invite discovery. For example, if they like to play in the dirt, then plant a vegetable, flower or herb garden together. If they like to draw and paint, supply them with lots and lots of art materials, join an art subscription service, or learn about famous artists through history and recreate their styles.Don’t know what their interests are? That’s okay! Start exposing them to a variety of experiences, then pay attention to what they’re drawn to.
- Engage with your kids. Play with them. Explore together. Ask questions, answer theirs, and learn together. Talk together about current events related to topics they’re interested in or learning about. Wonder aloud (“I wonder why…”), then go about finding the answer. Model curiosity as well as how to discover the answers to your questions.
- Say yes. When your children say “Mom can we…?”, it is a great indicator of what they’re interested in. Mom, can we paint? Yes. Don’t worry about the mess. Get out the paints, paper, a plastic table cover, and paint with them! “Mom, can we play a board game?” Say yes and play it! You’re helping them build language, critical thinking, strategic thinking skills and more. A simple “yes” can lead to a rich learning experience! Anything can be a learning experience if you are intentional with it.
For a list of over 40 ideas of what this can look like in daily life, download your free copy of the Lifestyle Learning Guide for All Four Seasons. This guide includes 10-12 lifestyle learning ideas for each season to inspire everyday learning all year long.
How to Document Lifestyle Learning
The best way that I have found to document lifestyle learning is to keep an ongoing, informal record of what my children are doing, learning, talking about, reading, and more. This can be as simple as writing things down in a spiral notebook, purchasing a yearly planner, or using a Digital Trello Board (like this one!) to take quick daily notes about what your kids do each day. The main goal is to have one place that you keep track of learning.
Basically, instead of taking note of what you will do, record what you did do. For example, here is an excerpt from my own planner (ages are substituted for names):
(16) worked on sketching, made homemade banana muffins, free reading and writing
(15) did home improvement projects and interior painting with dad
(11), (9), (7) and (5) played Legos this morning. They created a town, currency/bartering system, businesses, and were holding a ballot vote for mayor. (11) and (7) gave campaign speeches about their vision and plan for the town and how they would serve as mayor.
We played Speed Run (human board game style) in the afternoon. In the game, (11) and (9) did math flash cards, (7) and (5) did letter sound and reading flashcards.
In evening, [Neighbor] came over to make gingerbread houses with the kids and decorate cookies.
Here are some ideas of things to record:
- Activities they engage in (Legos, puzzles, art and drawing, playing outside, etc)
- Any writing they do (free writing, letters they write to family or friends, copywork, etc)
- Anything and everything they read! (Along with keeping a book log, make note of letters or recipes read, little learners who read road and store signs on a shopping trip, etc. Don’t forget news articles, blogs, plays, and more for older students!)
- Educational programming they watch (my kids have learned a lot from You Tube and watching episodes of The New Electric Company, Sid the Science Kid, Tuttle Twins and more!)
- Conversations you have (Questions your children ask can easily turn into high quality teachable moments. This is a legitimate form of education – don’t forget to take note of it!)
- Online classes, field trips, co-op classes, private lessons, activities, camps and more.
- Cooking (This is such a great life skill and utilizes reading, writing, math and more!)
If you’re crafty and enjoy scrapbooking, you may find yourself wanting to put this all together in a document with photos and examples of work done by each child at the end of the year. If that’s not your gig, keep the planner in a folder with examples of work done by each child. If you don’t use or keep a lot of paperwork, print photos or create a photo book with some descriptions to keep alongside your planner.
Here are a few additional links that may help you organize the learning you track:
- Creating a Portfolio This post by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association is a great introduction to keeping a portfolio and has several links to resources for keeping records.
- The Complete Guide to Homeschool Course Descriptions for Homeschoolers This is a great blog post that includes a section about writing descriptions for courses you created or that have no curriculum. It’s a great read for parents of older students.
Lifestyle Learning vs. Traditional Approaches
There is nothing quite as powerful as curiosity and interest when it comes to igniting a passion for learning. Research has shown that learning occurs best when children are active, engaged, and building meaningful connections to their lives. Consider the difference in the quality of education taking place in each of the following scenarios:
- My daughter reads about the plant life cycle in her science text book. She sees pictures, diagrams the parts of a flower, and studies for a test she takes at the end of the week that evaluates her retention of the information she learned. OR…
- My daughter is outside playing on a spring day and begins to notice the differences in the handful of dandelions she’s collected for her bouquet. When she asks me about them, we begin to search for more flowers, each in a different stage of growth. When we’ve collected several, she organizes them and then begins to dissect and inspect the different specimens. We talk about why the dandelion seed is attached to cotton-like whips as I ask her why that might be helpful to the plant. She observes the plants and is able to form her own correct judgments about why the wildflower is designed that way, arranging them in her own version of a plant life cycle.
Neither of these situations is a correct or incorrect way to approach learning. But having utilized both forms of education in our own experience, I can tell you that the learning that takes place in the second scenario has far outweighed that of the first. (The second scenario is a true example from my family’s life.) When left to her own, my daughter naturally became curious about the world she was interacting with. Instead of saying “I don’t know honey” or “because that’s what happens as they grow and change” when she asked questions about the dandelions, I recognized it as a learning moment, and we went about discovering and exploring to find the answer together.
Learning through more traditional methods is a completely acceptable approach for homeschooling, but it rarely inspires love or excitement about the material being covered. Studies show that curiosity plays a large role in the retention rate of information. Lifestyle learning embraces that curiosity and builds the experience around the child, helping them to make meaningful connections with what they’re learning and boosting the overall effectiveness of that education.
Lifestyle Learning vs. Unschooling
There are many similarities between lifestyle learning and unschooling. Lifestyle learning embraces the heart of unschooling and leans heavily on it’s key component of delight-led learning. However, at the foundational level, lifestyle learning is not a method (as is unschooling), it is a mindset. Lifestyle learning takes advantage of every opportunity and builds on it.
Instead of saying “what do you want to learn about” as an unschooling approach might do, lifestyle learning follows every question, every opportunity – big or small – to take advantage of every teachable moment. It is modeling learning as much as giving your child the freedom to practice it.
There is no solid definition to what lifestyle learning looks like because it will vary between families. The main unifying factor is that parents who embrace a lifestyle learning approach to education are making a shift in that learning is not a part of life…learning is a lifestyle, practiced consistently in all things and all ways.
This mindset empowers you as the parent to pick and choose from a variety of homeschooling options and learning approaches without being defined by any of them. More than an eclectic approach, it is the understanding that we are individuals who are always learning, and builds on the truth of that, utilizing whatever resources help us in that quest.
Lifestyle learning is freedom.
Lifestyle Learning Brings Freedom and Joy to Homeschooling
Stop burning yourself out trying to create the perfect homeschool setting. Instead, let go and let your children lead the way. Let them learn, create and go with the flow, and watch where it takes you all.
You are not confined to a narrow definition of education. You are completely free to use anything and everything at your disposal without being confined by any of them. As homeschoolers, we have the ability to take what is best and leave the rest; or to abandon it all in favor of embracing the simple joy of wonder.
For more information on Lifestyle Learning, check out There Is No Box: How Lifestyle Learning Can Bring More Freedom and Joy to Your Homeschool. This guide goes into greater detail about the heart of lifestyle learning and includes personal application pages that equip you to put the principles found in the book into practice with your own family.
About Amanda Allen
Amanda has a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education and over 20 years of experience working with both students and parents. She has been homeschooling her children for the past 13 years, transitioning from a traditional educational approach to a lifestyle of learning. She is passionate about helping others find the same kind of freedom and joy in their homeschool journey that her own family has discovered. You can find Amanda at There Is No Box in the Create Your Homeschool Shop. Connect with her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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