I attended public
school until the eighth grade and then was homeschooled for my high school
years. I’ve homeschooled my four kids “all the way up” (we’ve graduated two of
them and are homeschooling the 15-year-old and a 12-year-old this year).
As a student, the comforts of home were a vast improvement over a desk in a classroom. As a parent, I like the way we can intertwine living and educating. If nothing else, it’s more efficient—we get the work done so much faster if there’s no travel time, no transition time, and a hungry kid can eat a snack while doing math.
But that’s just my opinion. Several years ago, I wondered: what does “school” look like from my kids’ perspective?
Of course, I couldn’t just sit down next to a kid and say, “Tell me what you think about school.” All I’d get for that was a wrinkled nose and a grumble. So I reframed the question to be more interesting. I asked, “Using each of the five senses, what makes you think about school?”
The answers weren’t exactly what I expected.
“So thinking about school,” I began, “what do you see?”
All four kids, in separate interviews, replied, “Schoolbooks.”
Just schoolbooks. Not the dining table where Ranger did most of his work. Not “the school cart” where Darren left the kids’ weekly assignments. The couch where Bookgirl did most of her school, the computer where Gamerboy worked . . . they didn’t “see” any of these things. I even prodded Sparkler a little more. “I can see your sketchbook that you draw in while you’re listening to your history videos.”
“My sketchbook isn’t school,” she replied.
Next I asked what they heard during the school day. These answers could include everything from the dishwasher going, to birds singing outside, to Cosmic the bunny chewing on something . . . hey, is that a library book?!
All four kids answered readily:
“Dad talking to me about math.”
“Mom talking about school.”
“Computer keys clacking, pencils scratching.”
“Somebody saying, ‘STOP MAKING NOISES; I'M DOING SCHOOL’ with fifteen exclamation points.”
When I brought up birds or kitchen appliances, they all said the same thing: “But that’s not school.”
I moved on to smells, which stumped them for a moment. After a bit of thought, they came up with some answers: books, pencils, paper. I suggested popcorn, a scent that at that very moment filled the house.
Bookgirl said, “Oh, I thought you wanted school-related stuff.”
As for the sense of taste, though, she had the perfect answer. “Sugar water! From a biology experiment I did to isolate strawberry DNA!” The others, however, couldn’t think of anything they’d ever tasted during their entire homeschooled existence. I finally prompted them, “What do you enjoy eating when you’re doing school?” It turns out that pretzels go well with math, and the two boys eat a significant amount of Saltine crackers. But they were just humoring me; their real opinion was obvious:
“That’s not really school.”
The last category, touch, had some real potential. My students accomplish most of their school in the ultimate comfort of home. Fuzzy blankets, a comfy pillow, the bunny’s silky fur. Their answer?
When I encouraged Sparkler to name something less obvious, she eventually came up with “couch.” As she said this, she was snuggled up against me, skin to skin, a normal way we do our together-lessons. But I’d caught on by this time: snuggling isn’t school. It’s just life.
It’s fascinating how I see our school as intertwined with life, but my kids don’t. In their minds, “school” is a distinct experience from how they play and live. It’s obviously important for them to make this distinction, so I’m happy to go along with them.
I’ll just let them realize, years later, how much of their education happened in the everyday comforts of life.