Today is the first day of school for some local districts. But for us, over the summer, school never stopped.
The blessing and the curse of living with your teacher: the blessing is that you can sometimes sweet talk her into making your favorite breakfast. The curse is that you are under her feet all the time and she has to find things to keep you busy, like… school. Stretching your brain. And if you cop an attitude, your live-in teacher just might impose more spelling words or essay writing as part of your punishment. Don’t even try appealing to the Principal for relief- he backs her up in everything. If you have to deal with Principal Dad, you have really messed up. You might be digging ditches into next week.
When I tell people that we are homeschooling our eleven, they typically give me a blank stare. You can just see the data refreshing. Finally, the “system error” screen pops up and they ask, “But…how do you DO that???”
Well… my first answer is a question. How many kids does a typical classroom in a typical public school have? According to the NEA’s website, the national average in 2013 was a student-teacher ratio of 15.9:1, with California at the top end of that range at 25:1 and Vermont at 9:1. So our student-teacher ratio still looks pretty good.
Logistics are key to keeping us moving forward in our day. We typically start by rolling the kids out of bed around 7:00am, and they start their chores (caring for animals, cleaning rooms, cooking breakfast, etc.). The small pre-K and kinder sized people don’t have a lot of chores, so they get Mrs. Mom for the first period of the day while older siblings are busy working. Then their job is to play happily outside in the dirt with their trucks (or inside with Legos, if it is raining) and be tranquil little angels while the bigger people do their school work.
Around 9:30am, chores are done and we all sit down to start the school day. Math and spelling are first; each does their math while I work with one level at a time on spelling. When it is your turn, you get a break from math. (Yippee!!!) If you have trouble with something, either get someone who already knows it to help you, or wait until Mrs. Mom has a minute to explain. The other subjects follow, we break for lunch somewhere in there, and we are typically done by 3:00pm when it is time to leave for football practice.
Those are the dry, boring facts of life homeschooling lots of kids. The fun parts are like when the little boys unearth some insectoid creature in their outdoor excavations, bring it in all besmeared with filth, and want to know what it is (hopefully it doesn’t have a stinger). An impromptu entomology lesson then ensues. If I don’t know, we Google it.
Maybe we will switch up the schedule on a non-football day and go to the local WWII former POW prison camp for a tour and history lesson. Or go and buy breeding stock for our 4-H rabbit projects, and get an agriculture lesson from the friendly rabbit breeder. I believe that one reason homeschooled kids are such good students is that they have been immersed in a culture of learning and exploration. Really, our school day never stops. The books might be closed, the pencils might be in their box, but the minds of the children are soaking up life at an astounding rate. My hero has an insatiable appetite for knowing How Things Work. Even when I am ready to go on autopilot and just fix dinner already, he is digging the root end of the lettuce out of the compost bin, sticking it into a bowl with some water, and showing the children how it will root and grow a whole new head of lettuce from what we would have thrown away. Lesson #43 in sustainable agriculture. Or when I jokingly ask him for a plant for the front porch, and he sends the kids in to me with… ginger root from the grocery store.Yes, it grows quite happily here. Lessons in creative solutions and botany, coming right up.
Schooling eleven is far from easy. Matter of fact, you might even say that it is a challenge. But I am watching these amazing small people work together, help each other, challenge each other, learn from each other- and even on the days when nothing goes as planned, I know that their lifestyle of constant learning will pay off.