You Mean We Were Learning Something?
By Lori Deese
The title of this article was inspired by my 9-year-old daughter, Adana. That is what she said to me when she read the first draft of this article.
In a previous article I wrote about scheduling. (See Scheduling and the Homeschool Family) I gave a few ideas for how we as homeschoolers can fit a variety of activities into our days. In this article, I’d like to talk about ways to include outside events and activities as part of our homeschool day. I’m talking about things that might not usually be thought of as “school”, but that can make up a very important part of a child’s education.
The things that come to my mind first are the many routine activities that are a part of family life. Things like grocery shopping, cooking, running errands, redecorating a home – all of these activities can be used to enhance a child’s education. Every Thursday morning, my daughters and I do our weekly grocery shopping. I could leave them at home and shop alone, but I see many benefits to taking them with me and including them in the shopping trip. As they help me find the items we need, we sometimes talk about what ingredients we need for a particular recipe. We talk about budgeting, comparison shopping, and name brands versus store brands. My girls learn a lot of life skills through these shopping trips, just by participating and helping me as we go. I don’t necessarily “teach” specific skills, but I know they have “caught” quite a few concepts that will help them in other areas.
My girls have recently taken an interest in cooking. From the time they were little, I have always wanted to take the time to teach them to cook. I’ve wanted to bake cookies with them, involve them in dinner preparations each night, and teach them important skills at a young age. Notice I said I have wanted to do that, not that I have done that! The idea of baking cookies with a 3-year-old sounds wonderful to me, but when I actually tried it with my own 3-year-old, it was not fun! I learned very quickly that, although that is a wonderful activity to share with a child, it wasn’t right for us. I did not enjoy it, and so my child probably didn’t enjoy it much either. But, now that they are older, they are eager to learn these skills. And since they are older, they are much more capable of doing what needs to be done with limited assistance from me. Now I thoroughly enjoy working in the kitchen with my girls. What once was a very stressful experience has now become a fun time together. Just this morning, Ana, age 11, and Adana, age 9, got up early because they wanted to cook breakfast for everyone. Once I got over the shock of seeing them out of bed so early in the day, I was very willing to turn the kitchen over to them. They made eggs, pancakes, and a huge mess – but they had a lot of fun, and learned some things along the way. (This is where Adana said, “You mean we were learning something? You didn’t tell us that!”) They learned about measuring, fractions, serving sizes, and many other things, and we built some wonderful memories together at the same time.
What about those frenzied trips around town, running all of those never-ending errands? Can that possibly be considered an educational activity? Of course it can! My children accompany me on errands quite a bit. At the credit union they’ve learned about deposits and withdrawals, they’ve learned what a money order is and why we use them, and they’ve learned some important lessons about waiting our turn, being patient, and being kind and considerate even when we feel tired and grumpy. At the post office they’ve learned a little about how our postal system works, how long it takes and how much it costs to mail a package from Florida to California. We’ve estimated how much a package weighs, then compared our estimate to the actual amount. And again, we’ve learned and practiced those all so important lessons about patience and kindness, and being a witness to those around us, even when they haven’t been very nice to us.
What about activities that are not so routine? The trip to Grandma’s house, the weekend we planned to spend camping, the family outing to Sea World, or the annual garage sale that we thought would never end. Can these kinds of things be educational as well? I think they can, and are, even when we don’t realize it. Going to and from our relatives’ houses, which are 2 and 3 hours away, we have listened to tons of audio cassettes and CD’s. Music of all kinds, books on tape, skip count tapes, and story tapes. These not only help to pass the time, but we have enjoyed them and learned from them at the same time. When my older children were elementary age, they loved listening to Adventures in Odyssey and Jungle Jam tapes on our long trips across the state. I didn’t realize how much we enjoyed them, until we bought a new van with a CD player, and we could no longer listen to our cassettes as we traveled. We immediately started looking for good deals on Odyssey CD’s so we could again enjoy them when we went to visit Grandma. We have learned about states and capitals, learned to skip count and say multiplication facts, learned the words to hundreds of songs, and developed a bit of a taste for classical music, all while riding in the van, either across the state or just across town.
Several weeks ago my family planned a weekend camping trip. We eagerly arrived at the campsite on Friday afternoon, planning to stay until Sunday afternoon. We set up the tents, put away our gear, and then headed to the lake. All was well! We came back to the campsite, played some games together, and started thinking about dinner. That’s when the problems began. The sky got dark, the rain started to fall, and things went from bad to worse. It rained, and rained, and rained. We had our dinner ready, so we all sat in the screen house eating dinner and watching the rain. Two hours later, we moved to the tent, hoping for a little more protection from the rain. But instead of a dry place for us to rest, we found a small swamp! The rain had leaked in the tent, soaking our bedding and some of our clothes. No problem, we thought. We had another tent, so we’d just all move over there. But there was a problem – that tent was even wetter than the first. I think there was more water inside than outside! That’s when we made our decision – we bailed out! We packed up and headed home. We were already wet, so it really didn’t matter that we got even wetter loading everything back in the van. We were all disappointed, but it wasn’t a total loss. We had all learned a lot from that experience. We learned to be flexible. We learned that things don’t always go the way we plan. We learned that raccoons are not the least bit shy, but they are rather scary when they sneak up behind you!
Recently my husband had a couple of days off from work. He spent most of his time painting the outside of our house. Our son, A.J., worked right along with him. They cleaned the walls and trim, they painted, they moved patio bricks. And while they worked, they talked. I don’t know what they talked about, but I know it was a good experience for both of them. A.J. learned some valuable skills, but he also got to know his dad a little better. They shared stories, gave and received advice, and just enjoyed being together. That may not sound much like school, but I believe A.J. learned some valuable lessons during their time together. He learned the value of work. He learned to work together with another person, even doing something he really didn’t enjoy. He learned the satisfaction of a job well done. He learned to put other’s needs and interests ahead of his own. Some lessons can’t be learned from a textbook, but are often more important than those that can.
Just about any activity your family participates in can be turned into an educational experience, not only for the children, but for the parents as well. Learn to look at everyday activities in a different way. Instead of thinking about running errands, think about what can be learned at the bank, the post office, and the grocery store. You may even find that things you once saw as routine and boring take on a whole new light when you view them as an educational experience for your child.
Lori Deese and her husband, Ricky, homeschool their four children in Rockledge, Florida.