Beyond textbooks at homeschool expo; Power of games, field guides

Girls and mom talk with an exhibitor at the annual homeschool expo in East Ridge set July 20, 21.

Here’s the game Pictionary.

When my kids were growing up, I set aside $300 to spend at the curriculum fair every year. Your budget may be bigger or smaller. You may be looking for actual curricula or supplements.

By Tammy Drennan

I was always looking for supplements – things that would make education pop for my kids. Here are some things that turned out to have lasting value for me.

Math: I wish I knew the name of the company that makes the best math game I ever bought. They’ve been showing up at the CSTHEA fair for a long time. Take a look at the photo of the game I love and see if you can find them this year. If they’re not there, look at other math games. Muggins is another great game and there are lots more.

Why math games? I’ve done a lot of tutoring over the years and in my opinion teaching math without math games is only half teaching the subject. Games take math to new levels – they teach flexibility and real life application — and they’re fun. Kids who play math games learn to own their math education. They learn beyond the test.

Dice: How do you homeschool without a big collection of dice? I bought a game at a curriculum fair that had 100 dice in it – some of which went up to the numeral 20. I took out the dice, put them in a zip bag and tossed the game. Kids love throwing dice and will put their brains to any equation you ask them to solve with them. Or ask them to make equations for you.

Novels and histories adorn a table at the homeschooling book fair just ahead .

A math game you’d like.

Geography: I love placemat maps – those laminated maps that are kid-size. Totally worth the tiny investment! You can use them on the table, tack them to the walls, take them on trips. They’re always handy. “Uncle Bill was born in Montana – can you find it? Aunt Polly is on a missions trip in Guatemala – where is that? Name all the states that border Tennessee.” Endless possibilities.

And don’t forget geography board games. Even young children will rise to the challenge and learn muchbetter than they would from workbooks.

Field Guides and Reference Books: A kid curled up on the sofa or under a tree with a field guide to birds, trees, rocks, seashells, insects, flowers, fish, the heavens, armor, flags, cowboys, castles, costumes… the list could go on almost forever – it’s the stuff education is made of. Can you find a lot of this on the Web?

Sure, but a book has no ads, no links to distract, and it invites a child to linger and think. That’s priceless.

Surveys Courses: Not everything has to be studied in depth. It’s good for kids to just be exposed to some subjects to whet the appetite or stick some hooks in the brain or round out cultural literacy. Take art history, classical music, architecture or any other number of things. Some families may choose to delve deep, others may not. But just because you don’t feel your kids need to master the major artists or forms of architecture doesn’t mean you need to ignore the subjects. Look for card games, picture-laden books (Eyewitness, for instance), videos (movies, documentaries), fiction (my kids loved the audio “Beethoven Lives Upstairs”), computer games, posters (those laminated placemat posters again – they have them with instruments, composers, war generals, flags, the skeletal system, weather, the periodic table, etc.).

Take a look at homeschoolers’ wonderful newsletter, with details about July 20, 21 expo

Board games: Again, how do you homeschool without them? There are the obvious: Scrabble, Monopoly, Pictionary, Boggle, Pay Day, Battleship, Where in the World. We loved Hail to the Chief and learned a ton about American politics that way. Global Pursuit by National Geographic is great (may not be available new). When I bought On Assignment, also by National Geographic, I ended up taking out all the cards and tossing the game. Quite often, one part of a game is worth the price. And don’t be afraid to change the rules of a game.

Take a look at this year’s curriculum fair with new eyes. There are treasures galore that will enrich your children’s education beyond the textbooks.

Tammy Drennan is a veteran homeschool mom with grown children who writes at

Homeschool expo puts educational choices in your hand

Register for homeschool expo July 20, 21 at Camp Jordan in East Ridge

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