By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.
With the pandemic still throwing curve balls at anyone’s ability to plan much beyond tomorrow, the idea of homeschooling two of my grandchildren became a tempting option to offer their parents. Masks and vaccines are frustratingly still being questioned by some people, giving the virus more time to threaten us with its mutations. Parenting can be stressful under the best of conditions, but the current situation is unsettling to say the least. I also longed to get reacquainted with two of my favorite people who were 8 and 5 years-old the last time they stayed over at my house. All of a sudden they are approaching fifth grade and second grade.
Have I homeschooled before? Never. Have I been a school teacher for either of these grades? Neither, just preschool. Do these grandchildren live nearby? Nope, they’ve since moved an hour away. Do I have a clear plan for how to go about this? Not really. Are everyone’s schedules coordinated? We’re getting there.
Do I have a passion for fostering inquiry, creativity, and the joy of learning? Absolutely.
Maryland is pretty vague about what is expected of homeschooling. The exact language says the student must receive “regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.” I have committed the eight subjects to memory. Compliance is evaluated once a year from a student portfolio with at least two examples of evidence of learning for each subject. If deficiencies are found by the evaluator, a second review is scheduled to assure that corrections have been made.
Two large 3-ring binders will serve as our portfolios. I’ll have the children help assemble them with labels on our first day. Entries can be the children’s writings, computations, and drawings, as well as short descriptions and or photos of learning activities and projects. I can do this. I have ten years of experience taking photos of my grandchildren. I make a mental note to always keep the cell phone charged.
I dig further for clues on the school system’s webpage as to what exactly they’d be missing from the classroom. I remember reading voraciously as a child and hoped to see these children do the same. We used to read lots of books together when they came for sleepovers – so long ago, before the pandemic. As toddlers they eagerly shouted out what was under each flap in Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo and Eric Hill’s Where’s Spot? They could tell me oft-read stories from memory, such as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and chant the refrain from Kimberly and James Dean’s Pete the Cat.
Hurray! I find the county’s reading lists! The public library, including Marina – the interlibrary loan system, comes through for the cause with about half the titles. I order others from an online second-hand bookseller. Then I catch a post on the Maryland Homeschoolers Facebook page saying, “You can do better than sticking to those lists.” Hmm, I don’t have to stick to the lists. I’m already liking this.
What impresses me most about homeschooling families I have known is that each family, each student, is free to approach learning as it best suits them. Following a recipe to help make the family dinner can count as math, reading, science, and or health. An ethnic or regional recipe can count for social studies. Lessons are part of the natural flow of the day. There’s no pressure to herd twenty or thirty students through the same activity at the same time and get on to the next lesson before the bell rings. I wonder, though, how we’ll juggle second grade objectives at the same time as fifth grade objectives and realize that there’s no harm in them doing a lot of things together. After all, in my experience as a mother and as a grandmother, the younger sibling usually wants to be involved in whatever the older one is doing. And vice versa, if a younger sibling is having fun, the older one often wants to join in.
So I resolve to loosely plan our initial days together with some grade level math activities and a handful of the “required” books to choose from for reading, while ready to substitute with other great selections I have on hand. Phys. Ed. will be parks and playgrounds. Hula hoops are ready for a rainy day indoors. Fifth grade is studying the colonial period and the American Revolution, so I figure that baking our own bread from scratch, and or pickling some cucumbers from the garden will help set the tone for some time travelling. Did I mention I’ve really missed gardening and cooking with these children? “Rocks” is a subtopic for second grade science so we’ll make use of the geode kit that’s been collecting dust on the shelf since two Hanukahs ago. Maybe we’ll make salt crystals. Ooooh! I am alerted on Facebook that Luray Caverns has mid-week dates at a discount for homechoolers. I think that calls for an overnight camping trip. We have all the time we need to do the things that I, as portfolio assembler, can connect to “the studies usually taught” inside a school building. But we’re free to do them wherever, and whenever we want.
The children’s reactions the first day of homeschooling ranged from shock to delight. They tried to wrap their heads around my words. “We can learn the same things you’d be learning in school but we can add things. And go places. And cook.” As they were absorbing this, and acclimating to being in my car for the first time in a very long time, I mentioned rocks and George Washington. “Maybe we’ll go back to Mount Vernon?” I posed. They barely remembered a family excursion we took there about four years ago. It was all so confusing, yet intriguing at the same time.
We went to Kinder Farm Park, a place we’d visited together a couple times before the pandemic. They remembered the animals and took turns tracking down their favorites – chickens and rabbits. After our snack break the second grader used the magnifying glass to get a close look at some rocks I’d brought along. I snapped a picture for the portfolio. As the fifth grader took a swig of water I snapped again and said, “You’re hydrating. That’s Health!” We were doing it.
Although they were pleased with the surprises they found at my house – a microscope, a “school” desk with art supplies and a dictionary, and a puppet theater (but no puppets yet; we’re going to make them ourselves), I think they were just so glad to be back inside my house again. “It’s been forever!” was one remark.
The next day there was interest in smashing the geodes. No concern on anyone’s part that this was “second grade work” and not “fifth grade work”. Safety goggles for all. I took a few swings with the hammer myself. The fifth grader observed that sometimes a spark flew off the rock when it was hit. The magnifying glass was still in the bag from yesterday. Next thing we’re doing is looking for a dry leaf to ignite with the magnifying glass (it was a very sunny day). Girl Scout training dictated that we place one of our water bottles next to the operation for fire safety. It lit!
Was this in my lesson plan? Of course not. But this is homeschool. Anything can happen.
Keeping it loose. Holding them tight.
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