Answering a Question

Rich Czyz, who is behind the blog 4 O’Clock Faculty, posed a question today. (Remember: Begin With a Question!) What would kids be doing now if they weren’t being assigned school work?

First, a story.

Two weeks before the start of 3rd grade, my youngest announced: By the way, I am not going back to school. We lived in Princeton, NJ at the time, and she her upcoming third grade teacher, Chad Lebo, was creative and fun. I was ecstatic.

I shot back with a question: You’re going to be a drop-out in elementary school?

The volley continued.

If you can substitute teach, she said, then you can stay home and teach me.

She and I went to lunch, leaving my husband home to ponder the reality that I was even entertaining this conversation. I assured him, even if I agree to homeschool her, it would last a week.

The adventure lasted eight years.

As I watch remote learning unfold during this pandemic, I see how those of us who homeschooled our children have much to offer. I will admit upfront, equity issues grow large under this model. I will admit that no two homeschooling families look alike. There are people who buy curriculum and just recreate school at home. There are people so wedded to literature, for example, that they would lead book clubs where kids would read and discuss the classics, or use the Great Books curriculum. Parents started co-ops. Parents organized field trips. Homeschooling becomes almost a life style because there is so much one can teach and learn. The biggest caveat? It takes an adult invested in learning in order to lead and provide feedback; and I was lucky enough to be that adult.

In our house, we had academic ground rules. There was no wiggle room when it came to math, reading and writing. I used Saxon math because for my daughter, the structure and built-in repetition was exactly what she needed. She was already a strong reader; and honestly, I am a “read what interests you” person. The other piece of learning was completely self-directed.

Homeschoolers will talk about giving their kids time to “detox” from the regular school environment. As someone who attended public schools, even in college, I thought that was odd; but many assured me I would see the detoxification. They were right. In assessing her math skills, I discovered she had never learned to carry correctly. She told me that she would always wait for the teacher to come and help her, but she rarely did. She told me how she loved art but could never focus in art class because the teacher had put her at a table with three rambunctious boys. So math needed remediation; art was something she wanted to explore.

Our first lesson began the Saturday before the official start of public school when we found a turtle in the middle of the road in front of our house. I was on the way to the grocery store. I left instructions.

Answer these questions: What kind of turtle is it? Can we tell if it’s male or female? What does it eat? And what are we going to do with it?

It turned out to be a female box turtle that got raw hamburger and was named Princess. We drove it to The Great Swamp thinking that would be the best home. The folks at the Great Swamp told us the turtle had to go back to Princeton because it was a protected species, but we could put it in a park. We took it to Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve. We were off and learning.

And so it went. I always had math work ready. We were always either listening to, or reading a book. She self-directed so many interesting adventures. I loved the morning she got up and decided she wanted to learn about Komodo dragons. She did her research. She wrote a paper. That night, my husband arrived home to find tape on the kitchen floor.

What’s this?

Dad, that’s how big a Komodo dragon can get!

We made a century timeline with chalk in the driveway. We added one hundred pennies.

A homeschooling family had to relinquish their cockatiels and we took them. She fell in love with those two little birds which is how we ended up with three parrots in our house. She learned to bird band. She worked with a wildlife rehabilitator. We traveled to the National Aviary where she piloted the aviary’s Trainer for a Day program.

Her love of birds became a nice portal to other adventures. One day the question became: Did any presidents have parrots?

Why yes. Teddy Roosevelt had a Hyacinth Macaw named Eli Yale. Martha Washington and her granddaughter had parrots. Andrew Jackson gifted his wife a parrot.

And, she wrote. She was very taken with the book by author Jean Fritz titled, Homesick: My Own Story. She sent a letter to the author. One thing led to another, and we had lunch with Jean, a remarkable and kind woman.

So, Rich Czyz, kids could be doing so many different activities at home. There’s math in cooking. There’s science all around us. Going to the courthouse and doing a deed research on one’s house can lead to interesting historical discoveries! All we need is a love learning.

Thanks for beginning this conversation with a question!

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