Following a Rabbit Trail: Allowing Kids to Direct Their Learning

Rabbit trails. I’ve heard this term a lot lately as I follow some homeschoolers on Periscope and Facebook. Here’s the idea: As homeschoolers, we have a responsibility not to impose the traditional “rules of school” onto our kids. Why homeschool if not to embrace the freedom allowed by our educational choice? Are we really going to set up a traditional classroom at home, complete with prescribed curriculum and schedule of subjects to be covered throughout the day?

If you’re me, the answer has too often been “Yes” to that last question. As a former educator, it was so hard to let go of the school mentality. I felt bound to “cover” a curriculum completely, although I never once got all the way through a textbook when I was a teacher in middle and high school. Ha! I adore the idea of interest-led learning, where a kid finds a topic she is interested in knowing more about, and then takes time to pursue it. We have done this a bit over the years: my kids have delved into the Celts, ancient China, and animé. But too often, I must admit, we depended on prescribed curriculum to get through a homeschool year, mostly because I was busy doing other things and didn’t have time to help my kids access the resources needed to follow a rabbit trail.

I am inspired to give my daughter the opportunity to build her history class for next year, though. Her story begins with a love of the soundtrack for this musical:


The girl has gone absolutely bananas for all things related to Alexander Hamilton, first Treasury secretary under George Washington. No one could have predicted this obsession! I had a sudden idea: What if we created a year of history related to Alexander Hamilton? A sort of “Six Degrees of Separation from Alexander Hamilton” if you will?

My daughter was on board. Great! Now what? Internet searching is a tiring procedure, but I started there. Resources for teaching history to a high schooler, U.S. history from the colonial era to the Civil War, to be exact. My daughter is going to create a website tying whatever we discover to Alexander Hamilton in some way. Here are some of the resources we’ll be using:

  1. Crash Course. Author John Green and his brother have created a series of informative, engaging videos on a range of topics. My daughter finds them hilarious, so we’ll definitely include the U.S. History ones.
  2. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  A search for topics related to the AP U.S. History exam led me here. I love the collection of videos, essays, and primary source documents because they are organized by time periods and by themes. There’s even an Alexander Hamilton-themed page! Score!
  3. Musicals. We’re looking into every historical musical we can find as well as information about what musical theater looked like during this era. We’ll see Hamilton this summer, and we’ll try to find 1776, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Amazing Grace and any other musical of note either in person or on video. I love the idea one educator had of comparing songs from the musical Hamilton with primary source documents (Washington’s farewell letter and the song “One Last Time,” for example).
  4. Field Trips. Historical sites from colonial times and the Civil War era abound in our neck of the woods, so we’ll definitely make a few pilgrimages. Gettysburg, Yorktown, Williamsburg, the Freedom Trail, Historic Philadelphia, and the Minute Man National Historic Park are all possibilities. As well as any site where Alexander Hamilton may have set foot, of course. 😉
  5. Books. We are trying out this book for a spine since it’s not a meaty textbook, but covers the basic scope of the time period.  We’ll pull from the great suggestions of the homeschool community for light reads, including Genevieve Foster’s books and the Horrible Histories series. Because, books = fun.
  6. Othello. We’re also delving into a year of Shakespeare per my daughter’s request, so I’d like to pair a study of Othello with the topic of slavery. While many of Shakespeare’s plays explore the problem of difference, this play does it excellently. I’m learning a lot from the Folgers Shakespeare library, and I relish using the wonderful ideas in this text to learn Shakespeare by doing Shakespeare.

[Edit: I had to add in this fabulous article tying the language in Hamilton to that of Shakespeare.]

That will get us started, anyway. I leave room for new stuff to crop up as we explore the topic. If we’re feeling ambitious, we might also explore History Day and see if we want to get in on that action. How are you planning for rabbit trails next year?


Prepping for College: Help Kids Find Their Story

As homeschoolers, we have the option to do high school in a myriad of ways. From unschooling to part-time public school attendance, we homeschoolers take advantage of the offerings to pick and choose what works best for our families. Awesome, right?

Well, somehow, high school threatens to steal our joy. As parents who have likely ridden the college prep high school education train, and as people with public school friends who are riding the bullet train version of that path to college, we start to worry that we’re not doing it right. What about transcripts? AP exams? Extra-curriculars? Resumés? Volunteer hours? Test scores? Yes, we homeschoolers panic as much as, if not more, than our public school counterparts because we are IN CHARGE OF IT ALL. If our kids don’t get into college, responsibility rests on our shoulders. Yikes.


I’ve spent a lot of mental energy on that worry. I still do. But I’ve learned a little something about what’s important for our kids to do before they get to college. Academics, sure. Volunteering in an area of interest, absolutely. Pursuing extra-curricular activities, why not?

But here’s the important one: Let’s help our kids figure out, to the best of our ability, who they are. What they care about most. What they want to pursue in this life. Because without that, college becomes an expensive exercise in spinning one’s wheels. No one wants that, right?

Here are a few online resources to help kids start to find their story:

  • Find your passion. Studies in temperament can help here. We like this one. We took a quick quiz in this temperament alignment at a homeschool meeting one day, and I remember finally getting why I sometimes look at my good friend like she’s a crazy woman. It’s because I’m a Guardian and she’s a Rational. We see life entirely differently. Kids will benefit from knowing how they see life.
  • Find how you learn best. This tip will make any learning situation your high schooler encounters from co-op, to online classes, to community college work go more smoothly. One learning styles inventory can be found here.
  • Get out into the community. Homeschoolers have a unique opportunity to volunteer during the day at the horse rescue or the library. This is the time to explore, to see what sparks an interest.

So let’s worry a bit less about helping our high schoolers ace the ACT. Now I’m all about the story my kid is writing. I’m helping her find the points and particulars for the essay on Life. Join me.