Life changes and makes the coolest twists and turns sometimes. It was yet another life change that brings me back here to Fredericksburg Parent & Family, writing a new blog that reflects our current place in life! Hopefully many of you can relate as you read along, or can at least take this opportunity to point and laugh at our family’s mistakes and missteps.
My family and I have embarked on a new journey this year in the form of homeschooling. Actually, I prefer the term “home learning” since I want my kids’ school experience at home to be crafted from their point of view as students rather than from mine as their educator, but it’s really just semantics and I don’t want to be that annoying person who insists people say “home learning.” It’s more just a reminder for me to keep our goals in mind.
Having been a classroom teacher for seven years, I do still feel stuck in classroom mode sometimes. It’s like when you shift your car into third but it keeps slipping back into second, and you have to jam it back and then keep an eye on it to make sure it stays. I struggle with guilt that we don’t stick to a tight schedule, because my schedule was quite literally to-the-minute in traditional school. I worry when I don’t have written proof that my kids have mastered something, because written proof was all-important in traditional school. And sometimes I forget that learning has no need for walls or desks or often even pencils, because those things are part of a format so deeply ingrained in my psyche, both as a student in and later as a teacher of traditional school, that I have to fight it back a lot. Our school is always experimenting, adapting, and evolving. But there is one thread that remains constant and never seems to fray along with my nerves, and it is this: it is all learning. This is why I used this idea for the name of this blog. It is truly all learning.
I’m not talking about forcing it. Forcing it would be letting your kids spend an hour of school time bouncing balloons off each other’s heads in their underwear while you played Candy Crush on your phone and then later bragging to your husband that you all studied deflection in physics in school this morning. Technically, yes, deflection happened. But, did you discuss it? Define it? Find other examples? Were any of you wearing pants? If not, I am going to go ahead and say you were probably forcing it.
But I keep finding opportunities where my kids learn a ton and there is no paper, no test, no chairs or desks involved (generally pants are involved; I’m not that laid back). When we make banana chocolate chip muffins together in the kitchen, it’s surprising what our kids are truly learning if we all pay attention. They are learning life skills, like how to operate the mixer and oven, kitchen safety, how not to waste. They are learning chemistry when you observe and investigate how and why ingredients react with each other to change the form of the batter to bread. They are learning culinary arts when you experiment with different combinations of flavors and textures. They are learning measurement of volume when you practice using measuring cups and spoons and comparing their sizes. They are learning about forms of matter when you talk about the need for different types of measuring instruments for your oil and your flour. They are learning about health when you talk about substituting applesauce for the oil and wheat flour for the white flour. A simple activity like baking banana bread can turn into multiple lessons across many disciplines for your little ones whose minds are so ready to take it all in.
A while ago, my kids were playing outside after school. I spied on them and they were using sticks and rocks to build a lean-to for their stuffed animals. They were pretending they were Native Americans who had gotten lost from their tribe and had to fend for themselves, and their stuffed animals were their “children.” They had ground a pile of corn meal (dirt) between two rocks to make cakes for their children; they had made a ring of stones for a fire pit with an invisible fire inside. One was working on the lean-to, balancing the sticks against the fence and when they all fell, trying again with a new plan involving driving stronger sticks down into the earth to use as anchors. The other was dressed in what I think was her version of ceremonial dress, wearing a cape made out of a large scarf and leaves strategically placed in her sweater pockets and under her headband, performing a dance and chant using two sticks and the bumper of my car as a drum to ask the gods for directions back to their tribe. At one point, they couldn’t decide what to do next and the younger one wished aloud that they could ask the tribe elders for help. All of this play told me that they were applying some of the concepts we had recently learned in science and history, and the seriousness with which it was all carried out hinted that they understood the significance of these ideas. It warmed my heart and made me hope that maybe, indeed, we are doing the right thing.