I mean, there’s just so much cool stuff out there, right? Everywhere you turn there’s someone learning Latin, or an awesome science experiment, or really into cross stitch, and you know your kids have a million ideas for things they want to create. And yet there are only so many hours in the day and somehow you never quite manage to act on all the ideas that pop into your head.
For a few years now, we’ve used electives as a way to deal with the FOMO that comes from All The Ideas For Your Homeschool (aka Pinterest, social media, and that super organised friend of a friend who is always doing something cool).
What are electives?
When I say electives, I mean something specific that we choose to focus more time on for a while. I have a timeslot in our schedule – an hour or so a week – when we’ll work on an elective (ideally more than one, so we can run multiple electives each block, but that depends on what time we have available). At the start of each block, I draw up a list of ideas for electives, and invite the children to think of their own as well. Then we choose what we’ll focus in on for this block, and I come up with a plan for what that means!
What’s the benefit?
Electives help us learn that even if we really want to do something, it often doesn’t ‘just happen’. Dedicating time to work on something – and following through, even if at the time you don’t quite feel like it – can work better than waiting for the mood to strike just when you’re able to act on it.
Electives show us that we can’t do everything, and we have to prioritise some ideas over others. Swimming in the pool of possibility is great – it’s my natural home – but leaving space for everything more often means skipping from one thing to another and never actually completing anything.
Electives are also a way of showing that we value and support our children’s interests even if they don’t look like something that would traditionally be ‘school’. We are saying ‘tell me what’s important to you, and I’ll dedicate time and effort to making it happen’.
Who chooses and takes part in the electives?
It’s broadly a joint decision. The first year we did electives, we had three timeslots available, and the girls chose one between them, the boys chose one between them, and I chose one. Everyone was expected to join in, and we took account of what would be enjoyable for all, but that was who got the final say. Last year we only had one space for one elective timeslot, which was focused on the boys, but the girls sometimes joined in too. This year we have two, with one chosen by each boy, and the girls have the time free or for their class work (though if we do baking again at any point I’m sure they’ll join in!).
Usually we can come to an agreement on something that works for everyone. Sometimes that involves negotiating two blocks at a time so that the one who doesn’t get their preference this time will get to choose next block.
How long do you study an elective?
We do an elective for a block, which is around 6-8 weeks. I find that’s enough time to get into something without it dragging on for too long if it’s not working out. If we’re really into it, then we can choose the same elective for the next block as well, or give it a permanent place in our plan. With very young children you might want to make this shorter.
How do you decide what to do?
Mostly, I wing it, and figure it out as I go along. Sometimes there’s quite a specific focus – like write a book about a particular topic, or sew a dress – and it’s just about dedicating time. Sometimes it’s easy to decide week to week, like ‘train for Junior Bake-off’. You might be able to find a unit study or intro curriculum that you can follow for a while, or plan out your own. Or you can decide on something the night before based on the general theme :). For example, when we did maps, we
- visited our local village and drew a map of the main street
- used maps, an atlas and a globe to find places from the stories we were reading
- planned out our route for an upcoming holiday
- looked at interesting places on Google Earth
- made a puzzle of the US
- looked at an OS map and marked on important places like our house, our friends’ houses, the library and the swimming pool.
What about electives that don’t get chosen?
That’s fine. In fact, it’s part of the benefit – an opportunity for everyone to learn that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. There will always be more ideas than we have time for, and focusing in on some and not others is just something we need to do. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never get to those things – maybe they’ll get chosen for a future block, or maybe you’ll decide it’s important enough that you want to dedicate time for it in whatever ‘compulsory’ part of school time you do.
Enough already – give me ideas!
Here are some electives we’ve done.
- Philosophical Ideas
- Dungeons and Dragons
- Junior Bake-off training
- Science experiments
- Creative Writing
- Life Skills
- 3D design
And here are some of the many choices that we haven’t yet gone for. Many of these things have come up in other ways – just not as electives.
- Art History
- Element of Art
- Study skills
- Big Ideas
- Classical Civilisations
- Music – composer studies
- Music theory
- Pottery/clay making
- British History
- World History
- World Religions
- Financial choices
- Business plans
- Bread making
- Graphic design
- Cheese making
- Business studies
- Poetry and wordplay
- Logical thinking
- Board games
- Environmental Management
- Nature walks
- Extra reading
- Learning about trees