Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Spring Breezes

May is a beautiful month. Flowers are blooming. Trees, bushes and plants are green and growing. Warm rain is cleansing the earth of the winter residue. The birds are singing and the air smells fresh. What a wonderful month!

I remember sitting in classrooms when I was a youngster, gazing longingly out the window at the wonderful spring day. I really had no idea what the teacher was talking about, because in my mind, I was out there, running and playing.

My brother, who is the principal of an elementary school in North Carolina, tells me that at this time of year, they just try to keep the doors on the building. The children are tired of being "cooped up" inside, and their restlessness often leads to wild behavior.

Often, I talk to homeschooling parents who are having the same difficulties. They want their children to work on their lessons, or write a paper, or prepare for a test or for their portfolio assessment, and suddenly, these normally bright and attentive children are distracted, irritable and unwilling to cooperate.

Many parents feel stressed, because it is nearing the end of the school year, and they wonder if their children have learned "what they should." Will they pass the test? Are they at the level, "where they should be?"

In the years our family has been homeschooling, I have met many parents who have homeschooled their children successfully. By successfully, I mean that their children are now on their own and doing well. Many of the young people have college degrees. Others have completed internships or apprenticeships and are doing work they love. Still others have unschooled their way into a fulfilling and prosperous career.

When I ask these parents what they would tell other parents who are just beginning or still finding their way on this homeschooling adventure, many of them tell me that families should spend less time stressing about lessons and homework and more time enjoying life together. They realized that trying to push information into their children's brains when sunny spring weather is beckoning can be a futile effort. According to these parents, if you do manage to cram the info in, it will soon be forgotten when the warm spring breeze blows through.

When my mother was in her 80's, she broke her hip. During her recovery, my daughters and I lived at her house in the country so that we could take care of her and help her with her therapy. While we were living there, a large walnut tree was blown down, during a storm, in a field behind my mother's house. Kylia, my oldest, who was 6 at the time, woke up early every morning and dashed outside to climb all over that walnut tree. She and the neighbor's children made "houses" in the branches. With the tree in that horizontal position, they could "climb" from the roots to the top of that formerly tall tree. They filled "plates" with leaves and pretended to have delicious salad. They were pirates, cowboys, fairies, jungle explorers and hundreds of other characters.

Kari was only 1 year old, and she loved riding in a little red wagon while Kylia pulled it all around the yard. She crawled in the grass, and laughed as it tickled her knees. It was an idyllic time, that was a gift to my mother and to my daughters. Both girls learned so much from this time of outdoor adventure.

When my mother was in her 90's, my daughters and I would travel the 2 hours to her retirement home each week, where we would camp-out on the floor in her room for a night, or sometimes two. 

We would take my mom for walks through the beautiful gardens and we would watch all the birds that nested in the bushes and trees and hopped through the grass. My daughters played with Snickers, the Golden Retriever therapy dog, who was always happy to spend time with anyone who beckoned him. They threaded needles for the elderly quilters. They read books under the trees. 

Those visits were a gift that my daughters will never forget. They learned so much from their grandmother and her friends, and from the animals and the great outdoors.

The things my daughters learned during these times will probably never bring them an "A" on a test, but to me, they are far more valuable lessons. Children learn more from play than adults may realize.

The George Lucas Educational Foundation publishes a magazine called "Edutopia." It is designed for educators in schools, but I often find interesting information in it. The goal of "Edutopia" is to inspire educators to work with parents and students, and to empower them to make changes in the educational system, so that it functions in a way that will encourage students to become lifelong learners. One of the recent newsletters I received from "Edutopia" focused on the need children have to play, and the writers spoke of the terrible lack of playtime in school, even for chldren in kindergarten. They bemoaned the focus on worksheets and tests, stating that children are being pushed to concentrate on academics more and more hours per day. Statistics show that this constant academic focus does not lead to higher scores. I was glad to see this issue discussed, because I think it is an important one.

If you find this spring weather is too much competition some days. Give in. Take time to enjoy the day with your family. You will never regret spending time with your children. They will be grown and on their own before you know it. Make some good memories. They'll probably do better on their tests or portfolio assessments, if they have some time to relax and have fun.

Take some field trips to fun and interesting spots. They do not need to be expensive. Maybe you always wanted to see how a house is constructed. Find one being built and ask the construction crew if there is a safe place, where you can observe. Or check with your local chapter of Habitat for Humanity and find out if your family can help build a house.

If you are still worried about things that you feel need to be done academically, choose a rainy day, or early morning, or late evening for lesson time. Spend 15 or 20 minutes on math, then go play.

Your children will not suffer, if you decide to have a picnic, or build a treehouse instead of studying. Visit Grandma and Grandpa. Take them flowers, or better yet, invite them to your picnic or to accompany you on a field trip.

If you have relatives who are critical of your decision to homeschool, one way to win them over is to get them involved. Maybe they would like to help build a treehouse...

No matter what your homeschooling situation is, it will be better with a healthy dose of fresh air. Those breezes can blow the cobwebs out of your mind, and a cobweb-free mind works a lot better! It also leads to a lot less stress.

Enjoying those breezes,



"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
~George Bernard Shaw

"Men, for the sake of getting a living, forget to live." ~Margaret Fuller

"Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop." ~Ovid

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