By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.
Six months into the pandemic, my husband and I bought a camper as we looked forward to weekend and summer trips with our extended family once vaccines made the world safe again. Good advice for enduring the difficulties of being apart from loved ones includes savoring memories and holding positive visions of the future. A year later, we’re still waiting for vaccines for children, while in-person school is being challenged by Covid-19 outbreaks which send whole classes home to wait out virus tests and permission to return.
This is backdrop to our current situation: an extended family arrangement (a pandemic bubble) whereby I get to gleefully homeschool two of our beloved grandchildren. This sure beats dodging contagion by keeping our distance from each other.
We recently spent two nights camping on Maryland’s eastern shore in our third week of figuring out what homeschool means for us.
Count the Cookies
In preparation for the trip the children and I baked a batch of peanut butter cookies. Those who know me, including my dear grandchildren, know that my cuisine leans toward healthy foods. But since this was our first trip together in the travel trailer, the occasion called for something special to take along. Unsweetened peanut butter and whole wheat flour somewhat make up for the 2 cups of sugar, right? And of course I ration them.
A second reason for baking the cookies, though, was for Math. A suggested objective for second grade math is to gather 1,000 of something. In our first week together we had done some counting of buttons, but didn’t get very far. I was hoping to at least get up to one hundred, which would go along with learning about coins and dollars. I considered rocks (small ones), acorns, and even pine needles but none of these caught this student’s interest. When the cookies came out of the oven we happily lined up and counted 50 of them! A very satisfying math lesson.
Spot the Rabbit
I had been looking forward to hiking with these children, especially while my husband and I spent time in parks without them for a year and a half. Tuckahoe State Park Campground provided a nice opportunity. There is so much beauty and so much to learn directly from plants, animals, weather, rocks, water, and the path of the sun in the sky. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources website boasts 20 miles of “scenic hiking, biking and equestrian trails.” Not that I needed, nor wanted, that many miles for hiking partners who weren’t that experienced.
Poor cell signal strength rendered my AllTrails app useless, so we studied the paper map on the campground bulletin board and headed in the direction of the trail that would lead to the lake and playground. As we left the circle of campsites heading through the woods to the official trail, I pointed out a visual landmark – a fallen tree – to mark our way back into the campground. I continued to point out navigational aids such as the paint patches on trees, choosing to go downhill – toward sea level – rather than uphill at a fork in the trail, and the counting of three footbridges before we reached the playground and lake. Confidence as a hiker, in my yet-unwritten book anyway, includes knowing how to find your way around.
The students were totally focused on these lessons. Since I’d never been in this park before, we were all enjoying the uncertainties we faced along the quest to find our way – and then to find our way back. Homeschooling is adventurous!
We heard the deep and rapid croak of a frog by the first footbridge. Maybe we’ll identify it from memory from an online Maryland frogs and toads list. We tried looking for the source of the sound to no avail. To our delight, however, another frog, plopped into the shallow water by our feet while the call continued.
On our way back, as the daylight was dimming, it was the second grader who first spotted the rabbit. We froze so as not to scare the rabbit. The rabbit froze, too. A few seconds was all that any of us had the patience for (we were hungry; maybe the rabbit was, too), and so I snapped a quick picture and off we, including the rabbit, went.
Playing with Words
As we read A Game of Catch by Richard Wilbur together, the fifth grader and I came across a word that warranted grabbing the dictionary. My heart filled with joy when, after “indolently” was authoritatively defined, the MacMillan School Dictionary held this student’s attention for at least another fifteen minutes. So many words to read about! Soon the second grader came over to see if “axolotl” was in there. Nope. I was informed that this adorable sea creature is in Minecraft. A quick Google search in my cell phone told us more, with photographs of a salamander that is native to Mexican lakes and threatened with extinction due to loss of habitat. Plenty of them are in laboratories, though, being studied for their ability to regenerate injured cells including brain and spinal cord cells.
But I digress, as often happens during Bubbie’s homeschool.
While throwing a stick, the second grader introduced me to the word, “Yeet”, which I am still learning to use in a sentence. (I was told it means “to throw with force” and is also exclaimed when one is in the act of throwing with force.) And no, it’s not in the old dictionary, but, as I learned from Google, it was added to Dictionary.com about 2 months ago. Apparently this word is being spread among the younger generation through social media.
I am enjoying the children enjoying words. When we arrived at the playground for one last romp before leaving the park, by car this time, one child’s exclamation, “I can swing on the swing,” prompted me to respond with, “You can slide on the slide, too!” Thus a challenge between myself and the fifth grader began, after I explained it, to make up sentences that used the same word as both a noun and as a verb. We added more: “park in a park” and “fish for fish”, etc. until the game lost its appeal to the appeal of this unique playground. I noted out loud, “This playground is made almost en-tire-ly of tires.” I scored points in Language Arts for my quip.
We are having such a nice time teaching each other during this pandemic opportunity.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.
Dr. Wood will be Keynote Speaker and one of the workshop facilitators for parents and early childhood professionals at a one-day conference, Come Outside – Where Learning is Great! at Chesapeake Children’s Museum on Saturday, October 23.
Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.