Homeschooling with STEAM

EDITOR’S NOTE: Wondering how others do the homeschool thing? During the next few months, we’ll feature local families discussing what their homeschooling experience is like – from curriculum choices to how to stay sane. Don’t miss reading all of our posts about Homeschooling In Huntsville!
Doresa homeschools her three children (an 8 year old son in third grade and 6 year old boy/girl twins in first grade) in the Greater Huntsville area. They cover the fundamentals (reading, arithmetic, writing) in the morning, but when afternoon rolls around, things get really interesting. Theirs is a STEAM-based homeschool encompassing science, technology, engineering, art, and math. STEAM is a hot idea in education right now, but for Doresa and her family, it’s a way of life.

Why Homeschool?

All three of Doresa’s children have been identified as highly to profoundly gifted and also have relatively severe cases of dyslexia. As twice exceptional (or 2E), her kids’ needs would be difficult to meet in a traditional school environment. Homeschooling gives her the opportunity to help her children where they need it (reading word problems or instructions for them) and help them excel in areas that would otherwise be limited or even off-limits due to their learning differences (doing math 2-3 grade levels above).

The whole family can get in on the STEAM action!

The whole family can get in on the STEAM action!

Curricula and Classes

Doresa’s approach to homeschooling is inventive and eclectic. Since their homeschool experiece revolves around STEAM, learning is less about a set curriculum and more about using materials at hand to make the most of the learning experience. “For STEAM to work,” she says, “it must be hands-on.”

STEAM is a hot idea in education right now, but for Doresa and her family, it’s a way of life.

The kids’ dad serves as coach/mentor in various contests they enter. He also created a “Maker Lab”: their dedicated space where they can explore, create, and “tinker.” The Lab has things such as a 3D printer, a number of kits to create Adrino based robots, an heirloom chemistry set, LEGO Mindstorm kits, and “pretty much anything else he and the kids come up with.”

Doresa pulls from a lot of different resources to make learning happen: “Because they are gifted and enjoy depth for various topics, we use a wide range of resources that don’t rely on reading. This includes videos from Great Courses or specials on NOVA. We use hands on learning whenever possible, like using medical models and visiting a blood bank when studying the human body.”

For math, the kids use:

To accommodate their dyslexia, they use:

For engineering:

  • Engineering is Elementary (Boston Museum of Science)
  • Various kits, like K’Nex Education Introduction to Structures or LEGO Education Kits

For technology:

  • LEGO Mindstorms kits
  • FischerTechNik kits
  • Maker Lab (where they encourage the kids to develop their own inventions)

For Art, Doresa says their work “is vast and encompasses everything from music to visual art. One thing I make sure to do is have a variety of materials available so that my children can experiment with various mediums as well as use art in practical ways.”

Science is an eclectic blend with a lot of “hands on.”

STEAM painting.png

A Typical Day

Mornings are dedicated to “basics” including math, reading, and writing. During this time, they generally use the school room and office (with two computers). Each child will do:

  • 30 – 60 minutes math
  • 15 minutes Kahn Academy
  • Session each of EasyRead program, Reading Assistant, Sequential Spelling
  • Science videos (such as Bill Nye)

In the afternoon, they work on science, technology, engineering, art. They might choose to work together to write a book, do an art project, or work on an ongoing project. Usually, they’re working with an Engineering is Elementary book which includes a hands-on component and may take a considerable amount of time.

Doresa says: “…there is never ‘nothing’ to do. Someone always has some project they are working on… My goal is to give them plenty of time, space, and materials to let their imaginations bring things to life. By the very nature of ‘doing,’ they [cover] the STEAM areas pretty thoroughly.”

Other Activities

The kids run indoor track (winter) and outdoor track (spring/summer). They take dance classes at the North Alabama Dance Center. They are also active in DIY.org. And, they really enjoy the homeschool classes at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

Doresa also arranges small field trips for them and a couple friends to various STEAM related places throughout the area. She’s been surprised at just how receptive organizations have been to talk science, engineering, and technology with elementary aged children.

Music lessons in violin and piano are at Colors Fine Arts Studio. “Thankfully they are all involved in the same activities (aside from one child doing drum lessons),” says Doresa. “This cuts down on running around too much.”

They also do the Mensa Brain Trek program as a family.

Keeping Sane

Doresa is a self-proclaimed “typical type A personality,” so staying busy actually keeps her sane. She works part-time as a college professor for 4 universities (3 online and 1 local), so her work day starts around 3:30 each morning to get her online work done before the kids wake up. She also works in the evening once the children are working with her husband. Working part-time for several places ends up being quite a few hours of work each week, but, she has great support: “My husband is amazing, so he always has some fun project for us to do or a weekend trip for us to take.”

She also enjoys trying to learn to cook (but isn’t sure how that is progressing), and she has a YouTube) channel that focuses on homeschooling and showing people how to incorporate STEAM into their homeschool (as well as a lot of reviews of interesting materials she finds).

“Chocolate also helps!”