By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.
Addressing fifth grade Social Studies content, Grammy and I worked in a tour of Annapolis last week, focusing on the colonists’ quest for independence from England.
Negotiations following the end of the Revolutionary War had begun in Paris with Ben Franklin among the representatives of the United States. From the car, I pointed out the Treaty of Paris restaurant on Church Circle. It is so named because in 1784, when it was known as the King of France Tavern, the paperwork for the agreement between the British monarchy and the new country was finalized in Annapolis, in the State House just across the way from the tavern. History facts were not something I enjoyed in school, I must say, but I’ve learned a lot just living in Annapolis! The internet certainly helps.
I saw in the news that the State House currently has an exhibit of historic copies of: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Our little tour group was following strict Covid-19 protocol to stay outside, however, so we ogled the stately building on State Circle and drove on.
Our agreed upon destination was the William Paca House, or more specifically, the garden behind the house. (As was Benjamin Franklin, William Paca was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.) There our students gamboled on the stone paths, romped through the hedge maze, and tarried on the little bridge as they checked out the pond and drainage canal. I suggested that the children who lived in the house long ago may have had some of their lessons in the garden, too.
The Liberty Tree was the next stop, although, sadly the 400-year-old tree was destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. It was under this tree, and its counterparts in the other 12 colonies, that the revolutionaries plotted their uprising. A proper funeral was held for the tree on October 26, 1999, complete with eulogies, on the grounds of St. John’s College, (third oldest college in the country, established in 1636). The Liberty Bell, a replica of the one in Philadelphia, and its matching bells in each of the other colonies, all cast in 1950, still stand. The plaque mentions a fundraising campaign by the children of Anne Arundel County for the bell’s base. Donations were collected in pennies. Now that’s how to involve children in history! I wonder how many of those children have been back to show the Liberty Bell to their grandchildren?
While Annapolis certainly has fabulous spots for absorbing History, we find that Math is possible anywhere. The second grader is working on addition while keeping track of ones, tens, and hundreds. (We started the school year trying to get past, “Five plus five is fifty-five.”) Math lessons can be done on paper, on our portable dry erase board, on the calculator in my phone, or in the sand at our neighborhood beach. Some of our math learning is done in conversation in the car. A child or adult might pose the question, “What is five hundred plus ten?” for anyone in the car to answer. This can go on for several minutes, mostly to accommodate the second grader. We give clues to help if needed.
As a completely self-motivated challenge, this student has been going higher and higher by doubling. Within a few days we went from, “One plus one equals two” to “Sixty-four plus sixty-four is one hundred twenty-eight.” I can’t tell if it’s rote memorization going on or actual computation by carrying the tens, but after a few requests for me or the older sibling to answer, “What’s one hundred twenty-eight plus one hundred twenty-eight?” the answer, “Two hundred fifty-six” now comes as quickly to the second-grader as it does to anyone else.
What’s great about math, the fifth grader agrees, is that it’s based on unchanging patterns. Two fives always make ten. Even numbers are all divided by two. One day last week, as we were carrying a bicycle out for some practice, the second grader spontaneously counted by tens up to two hundred. Just because. Once you spot a pattern, answers are obvious. Sometimes the second grader gives us a whole equation out of the blue. “Five hundred plus five hundred is a thousand, right?” “Yes, it is,” we had to agree. Amazing things are happening in that brain.
Homeschool is working out just fine.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.
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