Back to School

Around here, school starts tomorrow. All those Facebook statuses about sending wee ones off to school have me pondering the most oft asked question I received on (and off) the beach this year: Do you homeschool through the summer?

Well, yes. We pretty much homeschool all the time. We’re homeschooling right now, at this very moment, as I type this. I bet you are too. And you. And you. And even you.

For us, education isn’t something one picks up and puts down on command. It is how we live our lives. We, like you and your family, are always learning.

Hopefully, this idea does not conjure images like that of a mother I witnessed at our town’s 4th of July picnic this year. As Jr. sat passively in his chair (he was between 5 and 7), mom stood next to him, dictating each and every detail she clearly wanted him to be learning from the parade: “Oh look Tommy, (I made that up; I can’t remember his name, though her voice is woefully etched upon my brain forever) that truck is blue, B-L-U-E, blue. It has 4 wheels. If we add the wheels of this truck with the wheels of the truck before it, we have 8 wheels; Oh look at that Tommy, that float is Irish. Irish people come from Ireland. Ireland is in Great Britain; Tommy, there are 4 two-wheeled bikes so there are 8 wheels all together because 4 bikes times 2 wheels equals 8; Tommy, do you want to stand up? You look like you want to stand up; Oh Tommy, I see a float that is red, R-E-D and purple, P-U-R-P-L-E and green, G-R-E-E-E-N….”

I shit you not.* That’s how she dictated the parade.

That is not how we learn.

For some, the assumption that lies beneath the question of whether or not we homeschool through the summer is that education has a beginning, middle, and end. The other assumption is that homeschooling looks like traditional schooling.

This is where it gets complicated. There are times when our homeschooling does indeed resemble traditional schooling (though in a living room, on a couch, on a beach, or at a dining room table), like when my kids have a goal in mind that requires pre-requisite learning. Each of the older kids, for example, is interested in architecture and/or interior design. The engagement of these topics, as we are learning during our building of a model house, requires quite a bit of math. Having figured this out early in the game, my two eldest have spent the summer boning up on automaticity of quotients and dividends, plus a good dose of geometry. Furthermore, looking ahead to future topics of interest for all of the children, we can develop more sophisticated goals for arithmetic that fit their interests (music, art, robotics, carpentry, design, medical science etc.).

Additionally, Blueberry wants to start following some interesting science websites, all of which require a higher level of reading. We spent a lot of the summer really working so that her reading level more closely matches the level necessary for these sites. And Rhubarb and Eggplant both want to create their own books this year so we have been practicing writing all summer.

Therefore, when asked on the beach if we have been homeschooling this summer, I have been able to easily offer a satisfying (to the questioner) affirmation that we have indeed been learning loads and loads of math, reading, and writing. It is more simple that way and requires less explanation.

The truth is that these are just the three activities we’ve done this summer that look the most like what people expect of traditional schooling. They are only a small piece of all that we have been learning, though. They don’t encompass the hundreds of hours the kids spent negotiating social situations on the beach. Or the dozens of books we read (together and separately) on their favorite subjects (Blueberry’s topics this summer were meningitis and toxic substances). Or the hours we have spent pouring over meteorological information (it was a weather-intensive summer). Or the scores and scores of scenes from musical theatre produced and performed. Or the musical pieces figured out and learned on violin and piano. Or the surgeries viewed on youtube. Or the new art media mastered (from acrylics to bedazzling). Or the viewing of several PBS series on living during historical eras. Or the complexities of familial relationships. Or…..

You get the point.

So when we watch our neighbors and beach friends walking to school tomorrow, backpacks loaded and lunch bags filled, we will take comfort in knowing that the only really big changes in store for us are the outside classes that will be offered anew, the relatively empty museums and libraries that we get all to ourselves, and the weather.

Other than that, it is learning as usual.

*This might be my new favorite expression — re-catured from the eighties, of course.