Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #8

Hi and thank you to everyone who signed up over the holidays! As always, one of the newbies gets an autographed copy of THE YEAR OF LEARNING DANGEROUSLY. AMY W., write back and give me your address! This morning, I am the proud parent of a cough, probably the logical outcome of dry California air, a fire nearby and some painting and sanding which has gone on in the house this past week. It’s not attractive, my cough, but it makes up for it by being very loud and making toddlers cry. I say this not to inspire sympathy or offers of popsicles (although, having written that, I would not turn down a Popsicle or twelve) but to wrestle with a question people have asked me: How do you homeschool your kids when you’re sick? Or, how do you homeschool when you have to go to the DMV, or take care of your elderly parents, or stop the regular schedule and handle something the way all of us do nearly every month of our lives? If life is complicated, should you rethink homeschooling? Well, first of all, I never advocate homeschooling. I’m still not even sure it’s the right thing for our family, let alone yours; it’s entirely too soon to tell. But I think deciding not to do it because things happen and schedules get upended isn’t a good reason. If, say, I felt like just lying in bed today coughing and staring dully at the wall, I could arrange for Alice to do the homework I know is essential for today and then agree that she can watch a movie she likes, but that she must watch it in French, an option on most DVDs. If you have younger children studying American History, I strongly suggest checking out “Liberty’s Kids,” an animated series about the American Revolution. Indifferent 80s animation notwithstanding, it’s factual and I’ve yet to meet a child who didn’t like it, if only because they were getting away with watching television. If they’re younger and you need some quiet to heal or take care of something, I also cannot recommend “Brainpop” strongly enough. They cover all sorts of subjects suitable from K-8 and for one annual fee your kids can study specific topics or just cavort around looking at what interests them. Heads up: for the older kids (over 3rd grade), there are some topics which you might want to cover with them ahead of time or declare off-limits. I found what Brainpop did with difficult topics to be sensitive and smart, but it’s your house. The older children in your house can be sent to Khan Academy to watch videos; Alice just found and loves Crash Course, a program within Khan. Is watching videos the same thing as buckling down and learning Algebra? No. On the other hand, an afternoon spent getting a little smarter about things which interest them rarely hurts anybody and let’s be honest, schools have slack-off days as well; I think I saw the same video about California poppies in Science class three times in 5th grade. Something else to consider; I think what we learn from a page, or a workbook, holds one degree of importance and relevance and what we learn from living our lives comes in at an entirely different level. A woman I know had to care for her elderly uncle, who lived across the United States, so she pulled her kids from school and started homeschooling while also learning about eldercare and, fairly quickly, hospice care. The children learned the basics of what they needed to finish the school year, but they also learned about caring for someone, and the rigors of insurance paperwork, and grieving and what their mother was like under pressure. Will any of this be on the ACT? No. But I can’t help but think it will make them more compassionate and interesting adults, people for whom a lot of what may come off as boring policy debates will have actual meaning. Now, off to entertain the masses with my impression of Peppermint Patty.

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