Put Homeschooling in the Bag
Your homeschool group or co-op might enjoy working together to create homeschooling activity bags for a swap. This was a fun idea our family did with a homeschool group, and it sort of works like a cookie swap at holiday time.
You gather inexpensive supplies for a single hands-on pre-school activity, homeschool craft, or simple science experiment or demonstration (up through elementary age), and you put them in a zipper plastic bag with instructions. The beauty part is -- you make up ten or twenty identical activity bags (according to the number of families participating), and you take them to the swap. There, the box of activity bags you prepared will be set on a table with everyone else's boxes of bags that they prepared -- and you'll pick one activity bag from each box to take home with you.
In a cookie swap, you go with chocolate chip cookies, but you trade with the other participants so you come home with oatmeal cookies, snicker doodles, sugar cookies, brownies, and so on.
How It Works
In an activity bag swap, you go with twenty bags of identical activities -- but you trade with the others so you come home with twenty different homeschooling activity bags.
The idea is that this gives you a wide variety of easy activities to do at home, later, with your own kids, without your having to go to the trouble to track down the bits and pieces to do each one -- they're already collected for you, complete with instructions.
Some people have told me that they used one activity bag a week. Others told me they "saved" the pre-school activity bags until they were really needed -- the kind of day when a little one was really at loose ends while an older child needed more attention. One mom told me they did the twenty elementary science observations in twenty days during the Thanksgiving-through-Christmas period when it was difficult for her to plan extras. Other parents just let their kids decide when it's a Grab Bag Day.
What to Put in the Bags
The very best resource I've seen for activity bag ideas is (no surprise!) ActivityBags.com. They provide eBooks of activity ideas, which can be distributed to the parents who are participating in the swap. Each participant can buy an eBook, but ActivityBags.com says it's permissible for a coordinator to distribute specific pages to the participants in a swap, which is a little more trouble, but a little less expensive.
Our activity bag swap was held at a lovely park on a beautiful day, which meant the kids had fun playing while the moms picked up their bags from the picnic tables under the trees. About twenty people participated in our swap, but you could tweak it to fit your group size, even asking parents to bring two sets of bags if you want to get more baggage -- I mean, mileage -- from a smaller number of participants.
One cautionary note -- many of the items in the bags are quite small and are choking hazards for babies and toddlers -- buttons, beads, small magnets and so on. When you bring the activity bags home, be sure you have a place where you can keep them safely if you have very small children.
ActivityBags.com offers a free sampler of seven preschool activities and three science experiments, if you're willing to fill out a survey. This will give you a little feel for what the activities are like and what kinds of supplies you'd need to obtain.
You might be just the person to coordinate an activity bag swap for your homeschooling friends. There really aren't that many ways to make homeschooling "efficient" -- it's a messy, customized, time-intensive endeavor, even if it is effective and rewarding. However, activity swaps do deliver in efficiency -- the brain power and time it took me to assembly the supplies for one activity twenty times was definitely worth the effort since I got all the supplies and instructions for a wide variety of unique hands-on activities in return.
The only thing that might improve the process for me? To do a cookie swap at the same time!