Stealing Time For Fun: The Magic of the Homeschool Day
It’s a little maudlin at my house these days. Through a combination of natural attrition and a distressingly adventurous Youngest, our nest is prematurely (if temporarily) empty. I’ve been wandering through bedrooms and sighing a lot, remembering the times I said “I AM SO TIRED OF THIS” instead of “Sweetie, come here. Tell me.” It’s going to be a long-ass haul to December.
In one room, left bittersweetly messy, I am dwelling on all the times I got it wrong when my eye falls on a coupon. It’s taped high on the wall, safe from the chaos below:
One of the tragedies of working full time was that my evenings were all about tasks. Weekends, of course, were errands-and-sports. Eventually I realized that, to get several hours in a row that were PURE FUN, I was going to have to steal them.
Everyone knows that stolen time is sprinkled with pixie dust, all activities more magical when you’re supposed to be doing something else. Tom Sawyer had more fun playing hooky than he ever did on a Saturday afternoon.
But casting myself as both Tom and Aunt Sally would be tricky; it’s a far more gifted parent than I who can manage the message: “Cutting school with me is special fun, but try this with your little friends and INCUR MY WRATH. School matters!”
But I wanted to playyyyyyy.
And so homeschool day was born. Each kid got a single coupon a year.
I didn’t always know what precipitated the triumphant cashing in of a coupon – time for a break? a good weather forecast? – and I didn’t pry. I just took the coupon and started planning. And because our kids have been blessed with many of the best schoolteachers on the planet—thank you, thank you, thank you—we always had cheerful school-side partners in crime. (Ditching work was harder, but, you know, whatever.)
Now, if I were actually homeschooling, I’d have needed things like a long-term plan and possibly some training. But really, how much damage could I do? Tomorrow, my darling would be back safe with the professionals. (NB to actual homeschooling parents: Wow. Go you.) Having absolutely no responsibility to anything made my prep work giant fun.
I made Highly Official trappings. A printed schedule, with class periods and color coding. Very legit. Such hullaballoo is hardly necessary, but I found it upped the fun AND kept me feeling good about the messaging—this was different school, not skipping school.
And because I am hip to all the big-league educational trends, my homeschool always sported an INTEGRATED CURRICULUM. When Eldest, third grade, slapped down her coupon one dreary November evening, my subsequent lesson plan was as Thanksgiving as a smiling, bulletin-board turkey.
Four days later at 8:30 sharp, first period, we headed to the kitchen for Mathematics (she loved when I called it “Mathematics”). Our task was to quadruple all the recipes for Thanksgiving dinner BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY, LEFTOVERS ARE THE WHOLE POINT. We got out actual ingredients when necessary, and the lightbulb that went on when Eldest measured 3/4 cup butter four times—”Hey! That’s three cups!”—was barely dimmed by the surrounding white haze. (Flour is not the best choice for teaching fractions. Well, now I know.)
For Literature & History (double period, 1-2:40), I read aloud from The Witch of Blackbird Pond, because it is vaguely Pilgrim-y. Plus, it has that chapter where the Tory governor cancels Thanksgiving, even though long-suffering Mercy has already made the pies.
And so on.
In Homeschool Day, we found that sweet spot where what my child likes anyway (school in pajamas!) hit what I really wanted to share with them (books from my childhood!).
One year, we revolved Middlest’s day around his favorite part of regular school: P.E. We jogged a mile to our favorite park, then talked about why exercise makes us sweat. Flopped on the grass that was today our classroom, we read Jackie and Me, a fictionalized look at the man who broke baseball’s color barrier, and then we calculated batting averages.
The quasi-formality I drummed up each Homeschool Day resulted in a kind of role play, Student and Teacher. This broke some of the unpleasant habits we fell into as Parent/Offspring. I’m sorry to admit that I was reliably more patient as Math Teacher than when I was monitoring math homework.
The kids stepped up their game, too. When Mom chirps on a weekend morning, “Guys! Let’s go to the museum!” it’s just a groan. But when your homeschool schedule reads:
1 pm: Field trip, The Frye
Well, that’s a whole other thing.
And when we went to the Frye Art Museum (a free collection of manageable size, and close to home), I had Eldest pick her favorite picture (ART CLASS!), then create backstory for it in the form of a poem or a fairy tale (WRITING!). While she scribbled in her notebook beneath a painting twice her size, I wandered the museum and created a kind of scavenger hunt:
Identify art that. . .
…makes you feel scared
…makes you feel hopeful
…makes you feel sleepy
Afterward, we tried to pin down what the artist had done to elicit those feelings. Bonus: Her “scary” picture had a battle scene on it, so we went ahead and learned what the fighting had been about. (HISTORY!)
We got a lot of mileage out of the museum. Then we went to its café and ate a lot of cake. (LUNCH!)
My kids are too old to want homeschool days, now. (Not to mention NOT EVEN PRESENT. So unacceptable.) But a relic on the wall above a crash scene of rejected clothing brings back those stolen moments: in the museum, at the park, in a cloud of flour. I wasn’t only drudgey. There were times I got it right.