Thursday, November 22, 2012

On (home)schooling

So I posted a video on facebook a couple days ago of Samaya identifying countries on our giant map of the world.

It seems that people have been led to believe that this has something to do with homeschooling or is at least somehow connected to ME teaching HER. I assure you it does not. Yes, we stay at home a lot together. Yes, we have at least twice consciously and deliberately sat down for 'circle time,' to get our calendar on, sing some songs, and brainstorm lists of 'A' words. But all the days in between...mostly consist of me in the kitchen and the girls fending for themselves. I mean...learning to work/play together peacefully in a structured environment. And by structured I mean minimal, mostly wooden toys, a play kitchen, (too) many books, TV (yes, TV), access to basic art materials, and a distinct lack of multiples. This is mostly because we're to fork over the money for two of everything, but is also because it forces communication and cooperation. It also exponentially increases violence, but Samaya has so much hair that cleaning up a few tufts from the living room floor each evening won't cost her much we figure. We hope. 

I do have hopes of homeschooling and have had them for a while, but if we're going to be truthful most of the schooling that takes place around here is in the form of Violet walking around the house naked except for a backpack full of books. The script goes something like this:

Violet: 'Bye! 'Cool, k?'
Me: 'Ok! Have a great day. Are you taking the bus today?
Violet: 'Yeah. Keys? (holding out a hand. She's also the bus driver.)
Me: 'Here you go. Drive safely.'
Violet: 'K.' (Sits in chair making (bus?) noises and rolling her hands around. Jumps down.) 'Ready!'
(Then she disappears to the bedroom for a good 20 minutes, spreads all her books out on the bed, pulls up the covers, and reads each one.)
Violet: (running into the room) 'Back! Home!'
Me: 'Welcome home! How was your day?
Violet: 'Gook.' (I'm pretty sure she doesn't mean anything derogatory here.)
Me: 'What did you learn?'
Violet: 'AB.'

And then she usually goes to nurse her baby. Which, as it turns out, is so much easier to do when you're naked. And hey, at least somebody got their after-school snack.

It's funny how even the very young absorb this traditional version of school even when their own learning environment bares no resemblance. And if it's not called homeschooling quite yet, we surely do have a learning environment. Last night Samaya told me I don't go to school anymore. I am too old. I promptly told her that 'school' is just a place where we learn, and I learn everywhere I go. Therefore, I am always at school.

We learn on our weekly trip to the grocery store: budgeting, healthy food choices, courtesy and friendliness toward the cashiers, and how to distinguish Ethiopian coffee from Guatemalan coffee (What? Your kids don't sample the freshly brewed complimentary coffee at Trader Joes? That's because your kids are probably not 'eTOEpian,' Samaya will inform you.)

We learn at the library: ummm...what can you NOT learn at the library. Plus the look of pride on Violet's face when she puts her orange leaf on the felt board and runs back to Mommy is priceless.

We learn at our weekly Music Together class. You know, about rhythm and math and stuff. I'm sure someone could explain how music is great for brain development, but that someone ain't gonna be me. I just know it's pretty much the highlight of our week and for an hour every Friday morning I can guarantee I will be completely present and engaged with my children.

We learn outside: about our bodies in relation to the world around us, about ecosystems and their intersections, about seasons (and most recently the orbital patterns of the earth), and about the power of nature to calm. center. hold us accountable. make us present. (It's also the perfect opportunity to discuss where we go when we die and why 'knife' starts with 'k.')

And we learn in the kitchen.  Measuring, pouring, cutting, mixing, taking turns, the process from garden to table, LOTS of conversations about health, and the essential but grossly under-taught skill of putting good food on the table. Do you like your eggs on the crunchy side? I might be willing to loan Violet out for a small fee.

And heaven forbid we forget the School of Youtube. I often ask Samaya over breakfast what her plans are for the day and what she wants to learn. Last week we spent the morning watching videos of chickens laying eggs (thank you Jane Goodall) and spiders spinning webs because that was what she happened to be wondering about. 

THIS. This right here is what I believe to be the secret of education: Pay attention to what they wonder about. Do your best to answer their questions. If you don't know, find out together and let them be part of the process of discovering something new. Observe their play. Then jump through those windows of opportunity before they are replaced by new ones. 

I still believe in planning. I strongly believe in a weekly and daily rhythm. It's just that my "students" always come first. If the elaborate art project I finally got around to organizing isn't flying or Violet decides to have a colossal meltdown when it's time to leave for music or I think Samaya is ready to work on ending consonants and she's not, then I remind myself to graciously accept the lesson in detachment, pay closer attention to them, and try again. 

Or stop trying for a bit and take a field trip. Which is how the map was born. In September we finally got around to going to the Children's Museum after weeks of begging, only to find they were closed for their annual cleaning. So we went to the toy store across the street and bought a giant world map instead. I hung it in our tiny little kitchen because there was nowhere else to put it, not realizing what an utterly genius and obviously well-thought-out move this was. Not only did I choose the perfect location (Mama is always here), but my timing was impeccable. No, we weren't just about to start a unit on geography. We weren't about to travel abroad. But we do live at Green Acre Baha'i School where people from all over the world come to serve and attend programs. Samaya is old enough now to form attachments to all these people, and when they return home we find their countries on the map. She isn't randomly memorizing meaningless facts. She genuinely cares that Anisa was born in Japan but lives in the Czech Republic now. She knows her Aunt Julia lived in Argentina for a year and Duarte just returned to his home in Cape Verde. And of course that her Daddy is from Ethiopia. That she, herself, is Ethiopian. The world has become personal to her. 

So we're taking this opportunity. This precious and  critical opportunity to nurture her identity as a world citizen. In the words of Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." We want her to feel that. Know that. Breathe that. And act on that. 

So yes, Samaya can tell where Estonia is. But it's not because of a worksheet or a puzzle or even a book. It's because a sweet little friend in our library story time is from there. And we thought to ask. And then run home and find it on our map.