Incidental Homeschooling: Five Ways to Learn Through Everyday Life

Early in my homeschooling journey I had a friend who was homeschooled during her school years tell me- “Life is school.” I didn’t fully understand her at the time, but as we have traveled along this path, I have discovered the truth of that statement. All we do, our everyday life, is school. And that real life learning is usually more real, more authentic, and more meaningful than anything we get from a book.

Throughout over fourteen years of homeschooling, I can remember many, many times when the kids- and I- have learned more through a real life experience than through any textbook or curriculum. And often this kind of learning has the benefit of being more enjoyable and more relationship building than sitting kids down with a workbook to complete pages.

We have always done some traditional school. We’ve used some workbooks and textbooks, although I prefer living books to read. For most of our homeschooling years, we’ve kept a flexible schedule of regular school times. But I’ve noticed that much of our learning happens when I haven’t really planned it. It’s real life learning- learning through living.

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Here are five ways that your kids- and you- can learn through life experiences and adventures instead of through traditional workbooks and textbooks.


We started this new hobby after a class at our library. If you don’t know what it is, this post gives a good introduction and some steps to get you started. It’s basically a real-life treasure hunt that involves using GPS coordinates to find caches that are hidden. Usually the goal is to sign a paper left in the cache and to log your find. Two of my children have been my faithful geocaching buddies, and we’ve taken the opportunity to geocache all around our local area as well as on vacations.

Besides the map skills that you might expect, geocaching can teach problem-solving. There have been many times that we’ve had to work out what the coordinates mean and where caches could be hidden. It can also help to develop perseverance. While we’ve found some caches easily, others have literally taken us hours.


We’ve been blessed to live in an area with several great museums. Sometimes – especially when the kids were very young- I was tempted to have too much of an agenda when we visited the museum. But I found that the kids actually learn more when I didn’t. There have been many times when a specific exhibit triggered the interest of the kids, and we learned about a new topic that I hadn’t even planned on.

If you have a variety of museums nearby or in route on a vacation, take time to explore them. We’ve explored science museums, natural history museums, children’s museums, art museums, history museums, and aquariums. The best museums are the ones that have at least some sections of hands-on activities for kids. The kids learn better from exploring hands-on than from just walking through an exhibit and looking.


Most of my kids enjoy cooking. I know that it’s sometimes hard to let go of a little control and let the kids in the kitchen. Trust me, I know.  But cooking teaches valuable skills. Sometimes kids even learn things by accident-like the time when my oldest was young and switched the salt and sugar measurements in her chocolate chip cookies!

Cooking teaches math skills like fractions, multiplication, addition, and division. It also teaches problem solving skills- What happens if I run out of salt? Is there anything I can use instead? And it teaches kids to focus on tasks and follow instructions. For kids who deal with anything that limits their ability to pay attention and stick with a task- like autism or ADHD- cooking can help them to practice that and increase their discipline and focus.

Game playing

Lessons learned from game playing are often overlooked. Board games, role-playing games, card games, and even video games can have lots of learning potential. My son, when younger, had been a Minecraft fan for quite a while before I really realized how much math he was learning while he played. Once I realized the potential, I let him use the game to build several scale models for history. It was a great hands-on technique that used a game he already loved to reinforce what I wanted him to learn for history.

Playing games teaches critical thinking, turn taking, good sportsmanship, and more. Some computer games teach pretty advanced thinking skills and math skills. Role-playing games and escape games use problem solving. Games often require math, adding the total on the dice rolled, counting the number of spaces needed to reach the goal. Because kids are drawn to the fun of the game, learning comes easily and naturally.

Service opportunities

I’ve tried to involve the kids in service since they were very young. We’ve served with Operation Christmas Child, making shoeboxes to send to children for Christmas and volunteering at the processing center to get boxes ready to ship. We’ve helped in a kitchen preparing meals for the needy. We’ve read to and played with kids at a local Children’s Attention Home. As they’ve gotten older, my kids have helped in the nursery at church or taught classes for younger children.

Even young children can participate in service opportunities with your help, and, as kids get older, these opportunities expand. When kids serve, they face real-life problems that they need to solve. They learn relational skills when they serve with other people. They learn kindness and empathy. And they also learn specific skills related to the area of service.

It’s clear that leaning can happen anytime anywhere. Life truly is school. The key thing is to be aware of these opportunities and to talk, talk, talk. They more we’re talking with our kids, the more they can learn- and the more we can learn- as we share life together.

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