Every time I go to The Homeschool Store just north of Houston, I get a little excited and at the same time, overwhelmed.
Do you remember that scene in the old Disney movie “The Sword in the Stone”? The owl was taking on giving lessons to Arthur. He began by instructing the boy Arthur to “…Read these books”. To which the shocked boy replied, “All of them?” The owl knowingly told him, “That my boy…is a mountain of knowledge”. And boy was it! The books were stacked in enormous piles all the way to the cathedral ceiling.
That’s a bit what it feels like to walk into The Homeschool Store. It’s a mountain of knowledge. Some of it is curriculum style. Lots of it isn’t. The options are purely overwhelming. I found some that looked more dull that a 1960’s textbook of polymer chemistry (trust me, it was bad!) Others, I just wanted to drink in myself. I wanted to look through them, dive into them, and just savor them because they were so colorful, so richly detailed. I get giddy when I think that we could choose to literally devote studies to books like those.
There were different types of ideas on how to teach science in the elementary years. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t remember much science until I got to middle school. There was some, but not enough to really make a deep impression. Some would argue that kids might not be able to comprehend science at a deeper level, and that lightly covering a lot of topics might be the better path before getting into great specifics. However, I remember myself at 8 years old, getting obsessed with dolphins and whales. I studied them – all of them. Obsessively so. I wanted to work at Sea World as a whale trainer so I wanted to learn everything possible about them. All of my birthday and Christmas presents involved whale and dolphins. I drew them. I diagramed them. I plastered the posters on my walls. I did outgrow this (eventually), but this means that if a subject is interesting enough, a person, even a very young one, might just study it for the joy of learning it. Anyways, there are entire curriculums where you study for a very long period of time (maybe half or all of the year) on one subject matter- in order to become a subject matter expert in the elementary years. One year could be zoology, another aquatic science, another space science. Imagine getting to really dig into the good stuff, and not just skimming it. In addition to the rich text, The “workbooks” were more like field guides (and wouldn’t you know it, they are in a fashion of the science journals I had to keep for all of my labs in college!) where the kids would take notes and comments. It was fascinating and beautiful.
If you think the science stuff is awesome…you should see the history. Talk about the pictures, the rich text, the details that aren’t text book boring but lifelike.
One of the reasons that I love the homeschool plan is that I get one more chance to fix something that I missed out on in my youth – I get to actually learn this stuff for me, and not because it’s going to show up on a test, that I have to get an A on, because I want to get scholarships, and get into college, and get a degree, and a good job, etc. It can mean something to know it just because it is worth knowing. I’ll never forget that I never had a single class, in my entire school life, that managed to get through history past WW1. WW1! Never mind that at the time, I had a living breathing family member that could have told me all about events following that time as he actually recalled them. The curriculum just never seemed to get that far, because the school year ran out. But, I remember spending countless years studying the foundation of America, and the Revolutionary War. I’m not trying to make a case against studying that…but I am saying that our more recent history is pretty relevant to our current lives, and maybe more time should be spent on some of that?
We’ve been in the midst of a war on some front since 2001. That’s over 15 years (as it stands right now). Doesn’t it make sense to make sure that kids know what exactly led to this, (besides 9/11), but the history in the 20-30yrs before? How did we find ourselves in this situation? I sometimes feel like maybe we should teach history, in depth, in reverse – starting with the most recent and going backwards a decade at a time.
And what about literature? What passes as literature and “classic” literature is something of a mystery to me. If we are going to study classical literature, in order to get a sense of the time period and the struggles and the historical social norms, doesn’t it make sense to have classical literature as a device of studying history itself…as in, part of the history lesson? It doesn’t make sense to separate the two, because lets face it…reading The Hunger Games, will always be more exciting than reading Wuthering Heights. Wuthering…a word so foreign now that spell check can’t stand it… Does it make sense to deeply delve into these characters that I never ever felt connected to, and more, were truly despicable or utterly unbelievable characters? I was a voracious reader as a child, but I can’t recall a single book that I loved reading in school. Why is that? I remember reading The Great Gatsby as a 10th grader. It was a summer read. I can’t tell you how often I fell asleep reading it. I hated it. The characters were, to put it frank, just awful. How about reading Beowulf…man that was tough because it was like reading a foreign language where you only understand a tenth of the words. One day, I picked Robinson Crusoe for a book report…Oh my dear God that was a bitter mistake. It’s terrible when you are FORCING yourself to read something that you can’t get in to, or you just don’t like the character you are reading.
Homeschooling lets you turn this idea on its head. You see, sometimes, I think we only need to know about the story to understand how it relates to our lives. I’ve never read Lord of the Flies, but I know that basically a bunch of kids were stranded on an island, and eventually starting killing each other off, even the nice ones. The point – we are each capable of unspeakable acts of evil to each other. To be honest, there are quite a few good and accurate theatrical adaptations of famous books that get the major points across, and I think that maybe it might be better to ensure that the content was gotten, even if it means we don’t have to read the entire book. Why read Shakespeare, when it was truly meant to be watched anyways? I just think I can get more time value of learning in place if I can conduct it without someone’s snotty idea of what makes up “good literature”. I think there are more valuable books to read and study – especially for boys – than Withering Heights. If it’s that important, we’ll watch the movie. The characters are still unlikable.
The upside of homeschooling is that you get to direct this learning adventure It’s going to be more fun because you’re not going to pick the sadly boring, uninteresting, textbooks. You get to pick the media that will get the information inside of their little heads as best as possible. You get to take real field trips and vacations. You can make it tangible. You can be honest about history and the choices people made, both good and bad. You can be honest about the stories that they are expected to know, and be understanding when the material is on the boring side or difficult, and scale it to what is truly meaningful and relevant. You can choose when to start, pause, and move on, when you are satisfied of their mastery level. Kids can fool their teachers. They can ace tests like I did, but without ever learning the information. But, when Mama is the teacher…there is no fooling Mama. And I love that. I love that I can know EXACTLY where they are, what they are capable of, and more importantly, what they are not yet capable of. I can know exactly what areas to work on.
The scary part of homeschooling is when you walk through those doors to the Homeschool Store, and you begin to realize that the kids are only going to be home for a very, very short time of their lives, and then they will move on. An that’s terrifying because there is a mountain of knowledge sitting in that store, and you have precious few years to get it inside their heads where it means something. It’s just not much time. Homeschooling makes me feel each one of their days a little more strongly. It’s one day down on the way to adulthood, and I swear, it’s moving too fast. I feel as if I will never have enough time to teach them everything that I want to – not unless I get real creative.