Monday, April 12, 2010

Who Needs Textbooks?

This is the box of crackers I bought for my boys, for no other reason than A) they love them and B) the crackers were on sale. (If I'm honest, I'll have to tell you that Reason B trumped Reason A. Reason A is true all the time, but the only time the Cheez-Its show up at home is when Reason B is also true!).

Turns out it was the best $2.50 I spent all week.

A couple weeks ago, a sensationalistic headline lamented the lack of appropriate, non-biased textbooks for homeschoolers, a headline and story that fed the fears of every American who ever wondered how in the world homeschooled children learn anything, surrounded as they are by questionable parents and questionable materials. At the time, I and many other homeschoolers argued that there are plenty of resources available, including secular texts, the public library, community classes and more. I forgot to mention Cheez-It boxes.

Never in a million years would I have planned a unit study around Cheez-Its. Never in a million years would I plan a lesson with a Cheez-It box as the text. But that's exactly what happened.

I was eating breakfast with my youngest two boys when Boy #3 began reading words off the box. He recognized the word "it" and "win." We talked about how "win" can become "wind" with the addition of just one letter. (At that point, we were using the magnetic letters on the fridge behind us to enhance our impromptu lesson.)

Boy #4, meanwhile, became very intrigued with the big, bold letters. At 4, he's just beginning to recognize certain letters. He pointed to each one, asked what it was and traced the letters with his chubby, not-quite-baby fingers.

By then, Boy #3 had moved onto the side panel, the nutrition information. What's s-o-d-i-u-m, he asked? Sodium, I answered -- salt. He read the nutrition information, the percents posted on the side, and we talked about why your body needs sodium (salt) and why too much (of anything) can be a bad thing. We talked about calories as a source of energy. We talked about vitamins. And we had a lengthy discussion about the food pyramid.

For almost 20 minutes, over a casual breakfast with my boys, we studied phonics, language arts and science in a completely natural, unhurried manner. My boys were asking for information; they were ready to learn. I answered their questions, before I even realized what I was doing. The Cheez-It box, that lowly orange-and-red cardboard casing, had become our text.

Non-homeschoolers often wonder how homeschooled children can learn anything outside a structured classroom. Veteran homeshoolers often shake their heads at such queries. To us, the answer is obvious. Children learn all the time, whether you want them to or not. Children ask questions, adults answer and learning occurs. Children express an interest, adults help them find resources and learning occurs. Mom buys a box of Cheez-Its, children ask questions and learning occurs.

Sometimes, it really is as simple as that.

What non-traditional material has become a "text" at your house?


  1. Pokemon. We have the trading card game, the complete pocket guide, the online resource Serebii which they refer to daily, the Nintendo DS games that go along with the cards and the guides and then we also get the Pokemon videos from Netflix. There is so much math, reading, problem-soving, creativity and fun in all their Pokemon. So there it is!

  2. Love it! Funny, I was about to write a similar post (and still will) about my move away from textbooks. Real life provides the opportunity to go so much deeper and in so many different directions than mere "textbook mentions."

    We own a bike shop and the other night we were discussing the latest industry rage of 29" mountain bike wheels. Thirteen year old asked why they might be better and a physics class ensued right there at the dinner table, using whatever household items my husband could reach to make his point. He was 100% more interested in this conversation than in Chapter 9 of the science book we had used earlier in the day and consequently, actually learned.

    Thanks for sharing. We all need to be reminded the impromptu lessons are learning at its best.

  3. Andrea -- We did a whole YuGiOh "unit study" about a year ago. The boys had a ton of cards, which they traded, sorted and read. We read the books and watched the movies and the boys participated in weekly YuGiOh matches at a local card shop. (And there's a ton of math involved in the scorekeeping, not to mentioning the budgeting that goes along with building with collection.)

    Carrie -- Send me a link to your post. Pity you're not closer -- Boy #2 just informed me that we need to go to a bike shop to 1) replace his broken pedals and 2) get some chain lube. :)

  4. we are actually moving TOWARDS textbooks. We have never really used textbooks/workbooks much. Never really used a curriculum or testing or grades/grade level. But now with kids in high school, kids that desire higher math and things like...
    ... physics, we need textbook type stuff. I can;t teach that stuff with 3 bugs and a ball of string, at least not on the level for my boys who have goals of being robotic engineers.

    But i am very very glad for you many years of 'out of the box/non-text' learning. Even though we use a bit of them now, my boys know how to learn in all circumstances, I guess you can say. There is still lots of 'non-text'learning going on.

  5. Here is my post: A Clean Mind Leads to Projectiles
    Thanks! Love all the comments on your post. So many ways to learn.

  6. Kimberly -- You bring up a really good point. Isn't it funny how kids who started out without textbooks often gravitate to them later, when they're seeking specific knowledge? Best of luck to them!

    Carrie -- Great post!

  7. Our complete collections of The Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes have provided more hours of here-and-now education than I can even quantify. Science, history, sociology, art, math - you name it, it's in there...and we've talked about it.

  8. I figure if I teach my kids HOW to learn they will find what they need when they need it. so far it works...


  9. Driving with my eldest - then about 4 - he read a sign that included the word "available." Picture me with knit brows. "How do you know that word?" I asked him. "From the LEGO catalog. You know: Not Available in Stores!"

    Catalogs, maps, road signs, cereal boxes. I wrote about this once, somewhere, long ago. ;)

  10. I love it, Kris! If you ever find that post, send me a link. I'd love to read it.