Homeschoolers’ Rap

thin_iceAsk certain curators, naturalists, librarians or docents who have worked with home educators and they will tell you to Beware. The kids are feral and the mothers expect us to run a program that works for the 3, 8 and 14 year olds while they’re off nursing their infants. Gee, sound familiar?

I’m helping a local nature center organize their first Homeschoolers’ Open House in the Spring. At our next Board Meeting, I need to present some specific classes and programs to finalize funding for the event. I’ve given them my opinion, but I posted to several local yahoo groups to learn the type of programs other homeschoolers want. Not just in terms of the Open House, but what specific science opportunities are lacking in our area.

I know the staff is approaching this event with trust in my word and trepidation from their experience. As it turns out the naturalist with whom I’m working is the same woman who was our guide for a hike at another center several years ago. It was miserably hot. Some of the little girls wore their flip-flops. There was much whining from and carrying of the younger children. A relaxing ramble morphed into a trail of tears.

And I remember the group finally arriving at the stream for our geology lesson where Kriste announced that some of the rocks were slightly magnetic. She knelt down to find a few samples, but by the time she stood up, the kids had scattered to the wind—all picking up and pocketing their own stones. Let’s hope there’s no Minebank Run curse.

So here I am, on the homeschool/real world cusp. I certainly feel the frustration of their no-shows, lethargy and general flakiness. But as one who still uses our pilfered magnetic memento to hold open textbooks, even my tight-ass needs some leeway.

Shards of Homeschoolers

glass shardsOkay, riddle me this: If your family were going to an art glass studio to make a glass marble or a glass flower, what would be the operative word in that sentence? Maybe, ah, glass? And if you were bringing your 4-year-old, 2-year-old AND 1-year-old to the activity, what would be your major concern? Maybe, ah, glass? No, apparently not.

Because soon after I posted to the homeschool group thanking the organizer and warning tomorrow’s class to watch their little kiddos because the artist has finished pieces spread out in his adjoining office and that it would be unfortunate if someone wound up having to pay for making glass shards, another mother posted that, moments after my family left, her daughter (the 2-year-old) had indeed broken a glass orb in his office. Punctuated with: LOL.

Come on, is it me? (Well, yeah, it is…) But first of all, would you even TAKE three children that wobbly into a warehouse with an open furnace, a huge hot oven and hundreds of glass objects? Well, if you’re a preschool-homeschool hipster with your baby in sling you sure would. And that this post-teen could characterize her irresponsibility, her daughter’s accident and the destruction of somebody else’s shit a laughing-out-loud moment, it frightens me. Seriously.

The real LOL irony is, when I posted my original caveat, it was based on watching that very cutie wander more than once in and out of the office on her own accord. Parents oblivious to her travels. Only once did I witness that “Shit, where is my kid?” realization/panic flash across the face of her father, who then prompted his wife, who went off looking—outside. (I’ll give her that: a squashed kid is worse than a broken vase.) Mom eventually scooped her up. But I guess nothing was learned by that second kick of the mule.

It’s a thin line between unschooled and unsupervised.

Homeschooler Line Up

My pumpkinsHomeschooled kids think different. Granted, in some regards, kids are kids everywhere. But I can recall several field trips where their collective out-of-the-school-box mindsets have spontaneously combusted to the bewilderment of docents.

In Maryland, October is the month for corn mazes and pumkin’ chunkin’. Local agri-tourism farms make their field trip nut in the Fall to last all year. A group of us, about 30 moms & kiddos, were getting the 10-cent tour, ending with pumpkin demolition.

The farmer was explaining how the slingshot device worked. We encircled her at the wide-open barn doors to watch. She had two Moms hold the side handles and she loaded up a softball-sized gourd, well past its prime, pulled back the glorified rubber band and let it fly. The pumpkin smashed into the square hay barrels stacked 50 feet away. Bull’s-eye. Obviously, she’d done this before.

Then she announced, “Okay, line up and everybody can have a turn.”

Without hesitation or discussion the 20-some kids each found a place along the knee-high hay barrel wall at the barn doors where the slingshot had been demoed. You could see the confusion on the face of our farmer. Obviously she meant a long column, snaking back well into the middle of the dark barn, with just one child at its head. You know, the way school kids line up by the classroom door to go to assembly. No butting!

But how could anybody near the back of that kind of line see what was going on with the pumkin’ chuckin’? By forming a row across the straw wall, everybody could catch the action, cheer on their friends and have a turn without there being a linear “first.” The docent shook off her momentary befuddlement and went on with her scripted routine.

Perception is everything.

Like Herding Cats

100_6837I swear, trying to organize a group of home educators is like herding cats. Just when you think you’ve got’em going in the same direction, they dart off to do their own thing. But I suppose it’s that independent spirit that contributed to our homeschooling choice. Unfortunately, when everyone is doing their own Thing, rarely does that coincide with anybody else’s Thing. Can you dig it?

In public school, a classroom of 30 seventh graders are studying the same subject, let’s say The War of 1812. So when the permission slip for a field trip to Fort McHenry goes home, it’s not really up for debate. The tour location, theme, date and time have already been determined, thank you very much. Everybody comes to school, piles on a bus with their packed lunch, rides to Fort McHenry, takes the tour, eats their lunch and gets back to school in time to catch the bus home. Take it or leave it. Your kid can always spend his day in study hall.

By contrast, in a homeschool group of 30, you’ll have kids from toddlers to teens. Plus parents. Odds are only you, the trip organizer, is currently studying The War of 1812. But everybody else figures they’ll get to it sooner or later, so they sign up on your database. (We don’t need no stinkin’ permission slips!) If given a choice of time, that generally comes up for a debate and eventual vote. Can you find a tour that’s gonna be of interest to a six-year-old and a sixth grader? Probably not, but you’ve gotta ask.

As coordinator, you also have to provide driving directions, rainout protocol, secure a lunching location, calculate and collect the tour fees. Then you have to hope everybody shows up to qualify for the group discount you negotiated. But don’t bank on it.

So you see, to get a group of homeschoolers to agree upon, sign up and show up for what is traditionally a one-step field trip, you gotta have patience, stick-to-it-tive-ness and a pretty smelly tin of sardines.