Thursday, March 02, 2006

Homeschool Rules

We have friends who sail the Ohio River to Florida and float there on the ocean for a while. The mom reads the kids Huck Finn and they learn about the world from the other sailing families in port.

"So are you thinking homeschool for your kids?" I asked the dad one time.

"We're thinking no school," he said. His plan was to let the kids read what they wanted, investigate what they wanted. And that was fine for their family, I thought. Life at sea is obviously a great education.

But here in the landlocked Midwest, when I decided to homeschool my kids for preschool, I wrote out a tight schedule: Math Monday, World Wednesday, Writing Thursday and Science Friday. I didn't anticipate a slight problem in the regimen: ADHD--mine. Then there's the tendency for kids to tune out their parents. I'm sure that comes as a complete shock for those of you who have children or were children at one time.

I know there are homeschool moms who use textbooks and make their kids do worksheets, but this approach wouldn't work for us.

My kids would say, "Mom. It's your turn to read. Mom. Mom! You have know idea where we are on the page, do you? You were daydreaming again."

At our house, the no school approach works better for everyone. We pursue interests as they arise. So when Johnny, 5, asks who the first presidents were, I say, "Well, there was George Washington, of course. And then...hmm...and then there were several other wigged men who shall go unnamed for security reasons. Jimmie Carter came later, obviously. The Roosevelt brothers were in there somewhere."

And we look it up before I screw up my kids' chance of ever passing social sturdies.

This leads to conversations like this:

Me: John Adams was the second president.

Richie, 3 years old: No, he wasn't.

Me: Then who was?

Richie: Was it Hawkman?

Me: No.

Richie: Yes. It was Hawkman!

Me: I don't think so.

Richie: It was.

We agree to disagree.

The boys love science, so we explode a lot of volcanos (Just mix vinegar and baking soda in a bottle surrounded by purple play dough and voila! For extra fun, set dinosaurs in the path of the lava flow.) We read about foot problems in the medical encyclopaedias my mom gave Johnny. We make flubber by mixing glue and borax. Not only is this a fun project, it's also a great way to strip the finish off your hardwood floors and make your hair permanently stick together. We go to the zoo and Lakeside Nature Center a lot.

Johnny teaches J.J., the baby, a class about dinosaurs and general safety.

"J.J.," he says. "You never want to touch electricity because you will die."

J.J. stares out the window and laughs at inappropriate times, such as while learning the life and death information above.

The truth is we all daydream a lot. The majority of homeschool is spent with Richie running around the house in his Batman costume and Johnny moving his dinosaurs away from a flood that is always looming.

Of course, there are things I have to teach to get Johnny ready for kindergarten. He'll go to St. Elizabeth's next year rather than be homeschooled, for reasons that I'm sure are obvious by now. I teach him to count to 20 and write his alphabet and add and subtract and share with his brother. These formal lessons are torture for everyone involved, so we do them quickly and be done with them, like getting vaccinations.

I know that a more rigid structure would advance the boys faster academically. Studies show this to be true. That's why there is a movement in this country to get kids in school younger and younger and make them go to full day kindergarten.

But to me, there's more to life than academics. I don't think Christopher Robin should have to leave the 100-acre woods--or in our case, the one hundredth of an acre patch of crabgrass--a year earlier just so that he can learn algebra in seventh grade instead of ninth grade.

Kids need time to ask their own questions before they answer questions on tests. My boys want to know: How does electricity work? Who would be a better lifeguard, an elephant or a human? Why do people die? Why did the chemicals make Mr. Fantastic stretchy? If we evolved from mice, why do we kill mice? I don't know the answers. But I can make stuff up and have it sound halfway feasable.

Next year, Johnny's teachers will introduce him to questions he never thought of asking, lessons he never dreamed of learning, games he never heard of playing. He'll sit still for them because teachers have a way of making you do that. Teachers are smart. They'll be able to explain to him how electricity works. I read all about and still only know that flipping the light switch on and off will cause your bill to skyrocket to unthinkable prices. My dad taught me that.

For now, we have fun at home school/no school. Yesterday, we were supposed to write the alphabet in shaving cream but the boys wanted to make clouds instead. A huge flood was coming so all the dinosaurs had to migrate to the sandbox. Richie asked me a thousand times what caused Spiderman, Superman and the Fantastic Four to have superpowers. I actually knew the answers to those questions.

After dinner, we brought blankets outside and looked at the stars. All two of them. (Damn city lights.) We took turns rhyming. Star. Far. Dar. Nar.

Sure we're not the brightest tools in the shed. We're not the sharpest stars in the sky. But we sure have fun trying.


Anonymous Pat Brewster said...

Cute ! Cute! Cute!! So our little magna cum laude graduate has ASHD?

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to your mother's have ASHD and she should know, she had you. I need to talk to her though. As Student Success Coordinator of St. Elizabeth's I need to know about these new conditions. How will I ever help the Heos boys if they also have this ASHD and I don't know what it is???? Just kidding, Pat!

Have a learned weekend...PVD

5:42 AM  

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