I was talking to a new friend about rabbit trails while we waited for our children to finish up a homeschool class at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History recently. It was a lively discussion, and I was glad that I wasn’t the only one that struggled to keep everyone on-topic.

What are rabbit trails? Well, if you’ve ever watched a rabbit hop away once it’s startled, you can probably picture it – a rabbit trail goes this way… then that way… then in a little circle… then back the way it came in a zigzag… then… well, you get the picture.

Embracing Rabbit Trails in Your Homeschool

In our home, they look a little like this:

Me: “Parallel lines don’t ever cross each other. Perpendicular lines meet at right angles, and cross.”

Child: “So, a right angle is a made up of perpendicular lines?”

Me: “Yes.”

Child: “Can I go find perpendicular lines? And parallel ones, too?”

Me: “Ummm… I guess, but you still have to do this page in your math book.”

An hour later…

Child: “This is cool! There are all kinds of lines and angles all over. Acute angles are the ones smaller than right angles… so they’re cute. Obtuse is kind of big-sounding… those angles are bigger than right angles. Did you know that train tracks are parallel?”

Me: “Ummm… yeah. Okay, forget the math worksheet. I’m going to make lunch.”

Learning took place, right? It may not have been the learning I had planned, but I’m not really in charge, am I? It can be tough to remember that when the plans seems to be falling apart around you, but there is Someone else that holds your days in His hands. Maybe that was the day that small child was meant to “get” the basics of geometry.

By running off to explore (and tossing the worksheet) my child managed to internalize the concepts of different types of angles and different types of lines – all in one go!

Rabbit Trails Make for Memorable Learning Experiences

If we’re afraid to follow rabbit trails, we may be missing out on one of the most beautiful things about homeschooling – the flexibility (and joy) of running alongside our children all day, every day.

My friend and I both agreed that we find it easier to embrace the kind of learning found through rabbit trails in subjects like science and history. and struggle a bit more in areas like math and reading.  It’s hard, even for someone like me who truly believes in interest-led learning and allowing children to have a say in their education, to let go of our plans to run with the kids.

But I know that, when I do, we have so much more fun and my kids remember so much more. 

Take this week, for example. My girls are thoroughly enjoying their Kiwi Crate subscription. It’s probably the best money I’ve spent in our homeschool to date. We’re still working on last month’s crate while this month’s is put away for a rainy day. Castles and Catapults has kept all four of my kids {from a toddler to a pre-teen} happily immersed in medieval England.

Using the information that came with the crate as a springboard, the kids pulled out their abandoned Galloping the Globe binders from last year, asking if we could “gallop” to England. Together we visited the library and pulled some books about England, knights and castles, and Europe in general.

We’ve gotten hooked on the Horrible Histories series of books and the BBC television show based on the books. My children are reading biographies about Queen Victoria for pleasure and practicing their British accent at the dinner table.

Rabbit trails are being followed left and right.

And lots of learning is taking space.

It’s been fun, and what I always dreamed homeschooling was all about.

Do you embrace the rabbit trails, or do you fight them like I so often do? What are some of your best “rabbit trail” moments?

Colleen Kessler

Colleen is an explorer, tinkerer, educator, writer, creator, and a passionate advocate for the needs of gifted and twice-exceptional children. She has a B.S. in elementary education, a M.Ed. in gifted studies, is a sought-after national speaker and educational consultant, and is the founder of the popular blog and podcast Raising Lifelong Learners, as well as Raising Poppies, a community of support for parents of gifted children. She lives in northeast Ohio with her four bright and quirky kiddos, patient husband, and ever-changing collection of small reptiles, mammals, and insects.

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