Using iCivics in My Homeschool

May 07, 2020

As the United States continues to become more racially and ethnically diverse, so does the homeschool community. Moreover, not everyone who teaches their children from home thought it would be their lifestyle choice at the start of their homeschool journey. Many of you reading this might be schooling your children at home based on circumstances wholly outside of your control.

I never planned to homeschool my child. Yet, I find myself enjoying this season of life more than I could have imagined. Let me tell you a little about our homeschooling journey and how it led us to iCivics. 

My background is in Early Childhood Education, and I have served in a variety of roles in the field. I have taught both young children and college students over a number of years. Thus, teaching is naturally part of who I am. 

I became my child’s teacher as he entered second grade. Selecting a curriculum for the different subjects we would study alongside one another was, and continues to be, one of the most exciting parts of homeschooling. In choosing subjects and curriculum materials each year, my “guides” include: 

  1. what is of most interest to my child and
  2. what our state requires of students in our public schools.

In April of 2019, as our son was nearing the end of his 5th grade year, my husband and I realized our family was having a variety of discussions around topics related to civics and government. Our son has always enjoyed social studies subject matter even while his strengths lie in mathematics, coding, and gaming. Based on our discussions, I began looking at our state requirements for Social Studies broadly. I noticed Tennessee schools require the implementation of a project-based civics assessment for students grades 4-8. 

Keeping my child’s interests and the state requirements in mind, the question for me then became, “What’s happening...in Civics today?”. Utilizing technology to help answer that question, I took advantage of the strengths of Twitter to follow middle school Social Studies teachers, observing what resources they employed to teach Civics. It was obvious very quickly that iCivics was a resource which built upon important current events and topics which were of interest to our family. 

On the iCivics website it reads, “iCivics works because we make the subject come alive. Our innovative games and supporting classroom resources teach young people to understand how our political systems work…”  Key words in those sentences that grabbed my interest were: “make the subject come alive” and “innovative games”. 

So…skip forward to today. After deciding iCivics was a perfect fit for the way my child learns best , we started using it 2-3 times per week. Actually, let me correct myself. I had only planned to teach Civics once a week. However, once my child got hooked on learning through game play in iCivics he asked if we could use it more often. My answer, “Yes we certainly can!” 

As we get close to finishing our school year, looking back I can see I’ve utilized many iCivics lesson plans and a few different WebQuests. Importantly, my child has played at least 12 different games on iCivics (100 hours of gameplay). Remember, every game teaches your student about a different concept related to civics and government. My child has not only played lots of different games, but he has played several games more than once and he has favorites. 

When learning through iCivics from home, my child stated: “iCivics isn’t in your face with the facts. It isn’t so obvious what you are learning because it is fun and you are learning, but it is subtle.”

From the perspective of my 6th grade iCivics learner, play these games first: 

  • Do I Have a Right?: He made the comment that if he didn’t have Xbox games to play at home, he would choose to play “Do I Have a Right?” on iCivics! That is big praise! In this game, students learn about U.S. Constitutional amendments including those in the Bill of Rights. Even without having studied in-depth about the Constitution, this game informs students about rights they have as citizens of the U.S.
  • Win the White House: He labeled this game as a favorite because it is strategy-based like chess, as the student runs their own Presidential campaign. In his perspective, it is enjoyable for someone who likes to argue points and there are timely issues that are used today in running for public office. 
  • Lawcraft: In this game, students choose an issue important to them and bring it through the process of becoming a law. My child enjoyed playing Lawcraft because it involved strategy and he felt like he learned about balancing differing perspectives in order to pass a bill into law.

Written by Tisha Bennett Sanders, Ed.D.
Tisha is currently an early childhood professional and homeschool mom. She is a former professor of Early Childhood Education and board president of a non-profit early learning center. Follow her on Twitter at @tb_sanders.