Matt and I have homeschooled our children for years. So when summer comes around, I don’t know who’s more excited – us or them. After the last test is graded, we throw on Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” and then dance around like a bunch of drunken sailors. We’ve got a whole lot of nothing to do for a few months.
I want to clarify; we don’t homeschool because we think teachers aren’t doing a good job. On the contrary, we think teachers have the hardest job out there these days. When I was younger, if your teacher looked at you cross-eyed, you were nervous; bullies were thrown out on their bullying rear ends. These days, teachers are asked to be teacher, friend, parent, babysitter, nurse, mentor, role model, and a host of other things. Parents are suing them for doing their job because they might have hurt their special snowflake’s feelings. Teachers, my hat’s off to you.
Still, homeschoolers are just like everybody else, whether you send your children to public school or teach them at home. We all look at education and teaching opportunities differently.
The first group consists of people like Matt and I; when school is out, we plan vacations and ways to relax. The second group is a little more vigilant – I refer to them as enterprising homeschoolers (or educators). They believe in continuing education year round and view every opportunity as a learning experience. I think that’s admirable, but I’m lazy; I could never do it. Like public school teachers, my hat’s off to parents who work year round to educate their children.
At a “back to school” picnic a year or so ago, I asked other homeschoolers what they did over their summer vacation. The answers were varied, but the theme was the same; the enterprisers continued educational projects while others, like me, did as little as humanly possible. The following is a comparison between what we did on summer vacation, and what others did. I’ll use EH for the enterprising homeschoolers.
EH: Took trips and discussed wildlife, catalogued birds, and made scrapbooks.
Me: Took trips and rarely, if ever, got up off the couch, beach or wherever else I may have been lying down. I already co-exist with wildlife; they’re called my children. The only scraps I cared about were food, most commonly in the form of s'mores.
EH: Read books of any kind. Some families held book reading contests.
Me: Does the TV guide count as reading?
EH: Worked on crafts or created puzzles.
Me: Went to festivals to admire others’ crafts. Puzzles seem like work and give me a headache; worse, they interfere with doing nothing.
EH: Used the telescope to map constellations, identified stars, and downloaded NASA astronomy worksheets for the kids to complete.
Me: Laid in the grass, on the hammock, or on the porch and looked at the sky; saw a few falling stars and made wishes.
EH: Taught the kids to can and make homemade spaghetti sauce as a way of learning the metric system.
Me: Became an unwitting example of what happens when you put Ragu spaghetti sauce on high and leave it on the stove. However, I turned it into a learning experience by making the kids help me clean it up. When they demanded to know what was so educational about wiping tomato sauce off the ceiling, I explained that it’s a lesson called “life skills.” Plus, they learned the ratio of Pine Sol to water. That’s called math.
We approach the end of summer every bit as differently. As summer is coming to a close, we are again miles apart on how to handle it. For example:
EH: Get a jump on next years’ curriculum and organize school space.
Me: Wait until the very last minute, then turn into the Tasmanian Devil as I line up electives and sign them up for classes.
EH: Assign their children, “What I did over the summer” essays.
Me: I was there. What’s to know?
I admire the parents who use every day as a teaching experience. During the school year, I’m very much like them. We take the children’s education very seriously, and try to make learning enjoyable.
But there’s something to be said for taking it easy and letting life teach a few lessons on its own. Those nights spent lying on the deck, staring at the sky and making wishes on stars prompted questions about the constellations, space travel, and how far it is to the moon. Going to festivals they heard new music, ate new food, and learned about other cultures. Even lying on the beach while the kids made sand castles, an occasional crab or star fish was found, prompting discussions of sea life. I guess the point is that when it comes to learning, every day holds opportunities to teach an inquisitive child. And it’s an opportunity to look at life anew, to experience the wonder of the world through the eyes of your child. Isn’t that the real magic of life?
Now that the long lazy summer days are over, it’s time to get back to school; and back to work. Besides, September marks a countdown in our house – three months until Thanksgiving. After which, we answer the phone like this: “Buddy the Elf, Merry Christmas! What’s your favorite color?”
Yup, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
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