I’m not a teacher…

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Third Grade: After Hours

…but I play one in real life

This week, I made the decision to fully homeschool my kids. I legally signed them out of school and took on all the responsibility for their education myself. I have to keep a portfolio of all the work I (they) do. I have to turn our portfolio in at the end of the year to a state certified teacher and she has to say that, indeed, an education has occurred. It’s everything I’ve had to do as a delivery system for the curriculum they were working through in Virtual Academy, but I get to have full control over what my kids learn.

Mostly.

The state of Pennsylvania says I have to teach them English, Math, Social Studies – to include civics, geography, and history of the state and/or the nation – Science, Music, Art, Health, Physical Education, and something about fire safety.

Y’all. I’m so jazzed to tell you that I have this covered.

For English, we’re going to read a novel a month, and each month we’re going to write a summary of the book we read, then we’re going to make up our own two page-short story imitating the author’s style. This month, we’re reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” We’re taking the words we struggle to read (which we do two chapters a night, aloud, in my bed) and turning them into a spelling list. At the end of every week, we take a spelling test on those words. I know Huckleberry Finn intimidates teachers. I know that it’s way beyond my girls’ “lexile level,” but also know that we’re six chapters deep and my kids already love Huck the way Twain intended, because he flipped a spider off his shoulder and it landed in the candle and died, and that was the funniest thing they’d ever read in the pages of a book in their whole lives. We’re also not reading for major literary epiphanies. They were counseled at the beginning that a lot of people didn’t want them to read this book, which was why it was very important to read the crap out of this book. They were also told that there are words we don’t say, and that we can love someone even when their behavior is atrocious, because that’s what Mark Twain wanted us to get from reading it. We’re reading for enjoyment this year, and so far they’re enjoying the heck out of it. Other titles on our list include “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Animal Farm.”

Ooh, and illustrating their own short stories based on each author’s style covers us for semester one of Art.

For Science we’re writing a sentence about the weather a day, along with an illustration of our observations in the “field” which is actually our front yard, easily viewed year-round from our living room window. At the beginning of each week we’re going to go back through our observations and predict the weather for the coming week. At the end of every month, we’re going to go back through our daily observations and weekly predictions to see how we did, and to come up with five questions about the current seasonal observations we make. Why do the leaves die in the fall? Great question. Why do all the Amish folks of Lander put metal cans on their trees each February? Let’s explore.

Again, illustrating our observations counts for art.

For math, the girls are going to sit with me while I do a budget each month from now through Christmas. They’re going to take into account how much money we make, and how much all our utilities cost, and decide which should be priorities and which should be…less…priorities. We’ll also be spending the fall filling out an application for the Warren County Farmer’s Market this coming spring. They’ll need to take into account how many hens we have, how many eggs we’ll get per day, and the cost of the application to determine how many eggs they’ll need to sell to save up enough for the application fee before the due date. Then we’ll go to the credit union to open savings accounts for that reason, and have the president teach us how money management works.

I should probably take notes during that particular field trip.

In the spring, we’ll manage our egg business through weekly Farmer’s Market sales for Math, and for Science we’ll hatch…wait for it…new chickens.

For health, the girls are going to take on the task of meal and activity planning for two weeks out of every month.

For physical education we’re going to just keep going to horseback riding lessons as usual and document it.

For fire safety we’re going to visit local VFDs to hear firefighting stories and learn how to not burn our house down. We’re also going to learn, from rural-as-heck mom, how to start a safe fire both outside and in the fireplace.

I’m really excited about Social Studies, though. Probably the most. Since it involves so many elements – civics, geography, government, culture, and history – it’s going to cover a lot of different areas but overlap most with Music. Our first unit, which we’ve already started, involved watching Lake of Betrayal and learning about Seneca culture. This Thursday, we’re taking a field trip to both the Kinzua Dam and the Seneca Museum in Salamanca, where we’ll have a guide to ourselves to answer questions about history, traditions, beliefs, and current issues. We’ll finish up Thursday talking to a member of the Corps of Engineers at the Kinzua Dam to hear their side of the issue, and learn what we can about our local landmark. We’re also going to learn about the Leni Lenape from mom’s podcast friend from Philly, who was also a park ranger and educator, and has been teaching kiddos about Pennsylvania History for years.

Our second unit is going to be all about Hamilton. We’re going to watch the film (again), and listen to all the songs in the soundtrack in the car (the girls already know every word to Aaron Burr, Sir and I’m reliable on the lyrics of the first act in their totality). We’ll use that to begin exploring government and civics. Our Social Studies field trip will be, of course, to the polls with mom. We’ll examine the racial issues Hamilton asks us to consider in relation to our country’s history and the history of its government. And we’ll start noticing what stands out to us in that soundtrack versus the following movement in our music curriculum: politically-motivated artists from 1960’s and 70’s rock, country, and folk music. We’re going to learn the word “manifesto,” and write our own manifesto, or maybe create our own form of government for our own fictional rendering of an ideal world. I haven’t decided yet.

From that point we’ll end our journey through history outward by taking a look at the major world religions, and we’ll write reaction essays of a page each to every religion we investigate so that, at the end, mom can collect our philosophical narratives into a bound book, along with our collection of imitation stories from Language Arts, to remember third grade by.

This took me all of an hour to come up with. Releasing my family from the constriction of a pre-fabricated curriculum was terrifying. Not something I’d considered even attempting a week ago. But I’ve discovered, as I transition into an entirely unexpected parental role along with the majority of the parenting world, that rather than leaving me feeling adrift the act of cutting myself loose from the district and accepting full responsibility for my daughters’ education this year has left me feeling liberated and excited about educating them. It’s a ton of work, and it’s not always intuitive, but allowing them to help me educate them with their input and involvement has made the prospect of meeting state standards feel a lot more achievable than it ever did with someone else’s curriculum on our agenda.

As one of a very small number of truly secular (and unintentional) homeschoolers, I’m excited to see what comes out of this absolute horror show of a year. I’m excited to hear my kids’ analysis of Animal Farm. I look forward to hearing more bursts of uncontrollable laughter at the inanity of Huck on his adventures. I’m excited because for the first time I’m enjoying teaching them things, and they’re enjoying learning them.

I am not a teacher, by any means. A part of me wishes I could just send them off on the bus like we used to do, and go merrily on my way. But 2020 has changed everything. It has changed me. It has changed them. And, the longer it goes on, the more it has changed my outlook on a lot of things. I used to find a challenge in an opportunity by default, and I’d have chosen anything other than taking full responsibility for such a major part of my child’s development. Now, though, searching YouTube for a documentary on John Lennon to watch with my kids, I’m finding myself naturally inclined to see an opportunity in a challenge.

And I kinda like it.