Every once in a while we have a day that can be described as nothing short of educational, which we usually call “edumactaional” to make it more fun. These are the sorts of days that I dreamed of when my children were still babies and I thought about homeschooling them as they were older; fun and spontaneous learning–reading books together , doing experiments, talking about science, reading, math in the course of the day, and lots of other very traditional types of learning going on without fuss and with joy.
The sad thing is that, back then, my young mommy brain was kind of confused about how those sort of days would happen. In fact , you may even say that I was brainwashed by all the teacher training I had (most of which had the goal of good classroom management rather than good learning–regardless of what we are told, but that is another story). I thought that the fun , spontaneous, pain free learning would come with lots and lots spontaneous (on my part) “school” things. For instance I would wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, lets work on this and this and this and this today!” which would then lead to lots of tears of frustration on all of our parts because the kids were so overwhelmed by the stuff I had planned.
And so I listened to the homeschooling gurus who told me that learning would only take place if it was planned. So I set about using all that teacher training and planned our school days. Which, may I add, led to even more tears of frustration, refusal to work, and anger. Where was this beautiful, peaceful, happily learning together family life I longed for? When I asked others the answer was the same–the peaceful, happy learning is a myth, all kids have days where they refuse to work, complain, HATE math, science, history, language arts.
That didn’t make sense to me either. As a kid I LOVED science and art–except in the classroom where they never answered the questions I wanted answered. The science books were too dumbed down about anything I was really interested in using only “suitable” language for each year, covering the same information every year but adding a little more vocabulary, a little more depth, but never what I was really interested in WHEN I was interested and the teacher was in too much of a hurry to “get through the book” to stop and answer questions for one child when most of the class didn’t care. The same went for art. Our art classes were designed to expose us to a wide array of media and art history but most of it was busy work. Glue this leg here, glue that arm there. Later it was “lets paint a happy little snow scene” or make a pointillism bird. There was never the opportunity to really explore the medium or one’s own interests, because most of the kids would just mess around and didn’t really care. It was all done in the name of classroom management and “getting through” the curriculum.
And then it occurred to me. Why was I using classroom management techniques designed to deal with large classes to train my kids at home. Growing up I spent all summer exploring my interest in science and art and later in reading. I spent all summer running around, playing, experimenting, discovering. One summer I spent everyday out on the pond on the paddle boat. My cousin and I sent our Barbies diving into the depths of the pond, created a lagoon for them, a beach, a resort. Another summer I spent everyday out in the woods with my green backpack full of lunch, homemade lemonade which I figured out how to make on my own),drawing materials, notebooks, reading books, field guides, and my Cabbage Patch Kid, Sharon Renae, as my fellow adventurer. Yet another summer I helped my dad build us a tree house, and another I helped dig a trench for a pipe and pump to draw water from the pond up to our house so we could water our garden with pond water. During those summers I read tons, learned all about rocks and plants, learned to draw, got tons of exercise, and learned to enjoy my own company. For my birthday (at the end of summer) my mom always planned a birthday party which I looked forward but barely remember (loved the idea of it but HATE parties as a rule) and my dad always planned a trip to whatever museum/zoo/state park I wanted (usually within an hour drive). I almost always chose the art museum but sometimes the children’s museum or the zoo or better yet the science center or a bike trip at the state park. And those trips I remember. It wasn’t an educational trip, it was fun, it was a gift.
We also, when I was young, often went camping, and usually did so someplace with educational value (most homeschoolers would call them field trips–we called them vacation.) We went to Washington DC, Niagara Falls, Gettysburg, Hershey, Lancaster. Only occasionally did such trips include an amusement park and if so then it was most likely Idlewild–a park not far from us which has a wonderful history and isn’t all show, in fact it has one of the oldest merry-go-rounds in the US as well as one of the oldest wooden roller coasters. These activities were mostly spontaneous (unless my mom and grandma took us-then it was well planned and included lots of bus tours, because my grandma likes bus tours). We, my brother and I, preferred the spontaneous day trips or the sudden camping, canoeing, biking trips. They were fun, satisfied our curiosity, and we didn’t have too much fuss about them.
And that is what I wanted our home to be like. I didn’t want our home to be divided between school and life. I wanted life to be educational, spontaneous, fun. I was tired of the fighting (especially with our high strung and very determined oldest). If homeschooling was God’s plan for us then it should, as part of our life, help us develop the fruits of the spirit , not hinder them. It should help our children learn contentment and a longing for growth, not promote whining and complaining. As God changed my heart about what school should look like our lifestyle became our learning style. No longer did we daily get out a pile of books (though occasionally we do–a pile of books to read or books ful of potential activities to do). No longer did we sit at the kitchen table with pencils at the ready or in the basement school room. The basement school room became a playroom where the kids “played” school and later where laundry got stored as it was ready to sort. The kitchen table became the place where we ate and where the kids did various crafts and activities they found in the piles of books strewn around the house. Shamus and I became facilitators and question answerers, mentors if you like. Our focus changed from making sure the kids “knew what they needed to know by a certain age” to dealing with heart issues, character development, and encouraging the kids in the areas they showed interest and making sure they had on hand what they needed to grow that interest.
And sure, some days the kids spend the day playing a video game (though may I mention that video games are an excellent place to learn economics–especially RPG or Sim style games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing) and some days they spend all day watching old movies. Other days they spend all day playing pirates, dolls, practicing a play they have created themselves, baking, building, reading, playing board games, whatever captures their interest on that particular day.
And on Monday Issac and I spent much of the day together, cleaning up, doing laundry, reading a very boring and not nearly informational to suit his tastes science text book and then jumping up and doing all sorts of experiments that weren’t in the book to answer the questions he asked like: What is erosion and how does it work? What is sedimentary rock and how does it form? How did our area form? (the book didn’t use those words, deeming them too hard to read for a 2nd grader–Issac asked the questions because he likes studying volcanoes and knows that volcanoes form islands and wanted to know how our area was formed and shaped and what sort of rock we have–the answer is glaciers and sedimentary rock so I him showed him using flour and water) . A section in the book on plants got us talking abut how plants soak up water and nutrients from the soil so we got out the celery and dye and made bright blue and green celery. In one day we went through an entire science text book only reading the bits he was interested in–he knew most of the stuff anyway and wasn’t interested in the other stuff–in fact he had already done most of the experiments they had on his own. Issac later explained all about both experiments to his sisters who enjoyed seeing them (though Rachel was upset that we had used much of the celery as she was planning on using it in some soup for dinner.:)) For dinner the kids and I made curry and Chapatti from an Indian cuisine cookbook we had picked up at the library sale. Later, after our Bible reading during which all three read aloud Psalms of David) we read a beautiful picture book about Washinton crossing the Delaware river. It was a rather dry factual account with gorgeous oil paintings for images so the kids enjoyed it and Rachel added to the information by enthusiastically sharing all she knows about George Washington (one of her favorite people about which to read .)
And when I looked back over the day I realized that this was the sort of day I had dreamed of, and the sort of day that homeschool gurus had insisted would never happen without careful planning, and yet, there had been no tears, the children really loved learning these things for their own sake, their natural curiosity and love of being together made all of it possible. There was no need for any classroom management because there was no classroom. We were living life together and loving each other and spending time together and it was very good.