Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff!

By Dena Wood

In recent months an acquaintance has been asking me a good many questions about homeschooling and just exactly how to go about it. Since I don’t believe there’s any single “right” way, I’m finding it difficult to provide this woman with the information she desires. You see, while she wants to teach “like you (I) do,” she also wants to be sure she’s covering the same ground as the public school and staying on the same timeline.

Unfortunately, those two desires conflict. However, there was once a time when I, too, was driven by the same concerns, so I do understand her fears. Still, I struggle with how to help her overcome them. I think there are some things that must be learned largely by experience. This may be one.

My friend’s desire to use the same approach and resources I do stems from the fact that my children routinely score in the ninetieth percentile on their annual tests. Yet, when I explain that although we do a fair amount of bookwork the majority of our learning is “loose,” I’m not sure she’s convinced. And when I say that I don’t worry too much about keeping on track with the school other than to glance at a basic Scope and Sequence a couple of times a year, her confusion is obvious.

So how do I go about explaining that what curriculum or workbooks or methodology you choose is simply not that critical? In fact, it’s the everyday occurrences that offer the greatest opportunity for education. Frankly, learning is such a normal and enjoyable part of our lives that we generally don’t view it as “school.”

For example, a few days ago my 7-year-old son asked me what rank came after Sergeant. He and his 6-year-old brother were playing with their army men and wanted to know how to properly categorize them. I told him I wasn’t sure but that I would check it out. At some point during my morning’s work, I did a web search for “military rank chart,” found a wonderful chart, and printed it off. I promptly forgot all about it until lunchtime, when I said, “Oh! I have something for you!”

Skylar grinned with obvious pleasure as I showed him the two-page chart listing the corresponding ranks in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. After a brief explanation about how to read the chart, I sent him happily on his way. Would you believe he spent no less than six hours studying that chart?! I kid you not. In the course of his study and play, he would return, chart in hand, to either ask a question or note an observation. We discussed the different roles of the various branches, how the corresponding rank names differed between branches, what the Chief of Staff did, and more. In fact, at one point, the entire family was enlisted in an intense search because “I can’t find my favorite guy and I know he’s the Chief of Staff!”

The important item to note here is that there was much more going on than simply a child playing with Army men. We had “lessons” in social studies, deciphering tables and charts, reading, vocabulary, current events, drama, and more. And it wasn’t even a school day! Not only that, what was learned will “stick” because it was practically applied. Yes, play is a practical application. The next time we read a biography that mentions a “General” or “Admiral,” my son will know just where that rank falls. In fact, he’ll likely have a better idea than I do!

Similarly, I have a very creative homeschooling friend who is always in the midst of some project or other, making a point to involve her children. Most recently, they were wrapped up (pun intended) in making all manner of duct tape creations. They fashioned visors, bracelets, book covers, and tote bags out of colored duct tape! What, you may ask, is to be learned by making a duct tape sun visor? Well, for starters . . . critical thinking, garment construction, measuring practice and, if a pattern is used, following instructions.

The “problem” with this method of learning is that it’s so enjoyable and painless (and even unplanned at times), that we sometimes fail to see it for what it is. This is true education: self-motivated learning with a purpose. If you can inspire curiosity in your children and perhaps point them in the right direction or make available the appropriate tools, you’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished.

Chart reading wasn’t on my list of math topics to cover last week, and a lesson in garment construction was not on my friend’s to-do list. However, by making relatively small efforts to assist our children, they were able to learn new skills and practice old ones. And, as I glance through the Scope and Sequence for my son’s grade level, I will note, “Oh, yes, he knows how to do that” and check it off. No lesson plan, no curriculum, but it’s covered and covered well.

Dena Wood is wife of John, mother of five, co-owner of www.TriggerMemorySystem.com, and Director of Operations for The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC. She works from her home in eastern Washington State, where she enjoys homeschooling and spending time with her three youngest children, who are still in the nest. Email Dena at wood7@charter.net.

Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Summer 2009.

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