My parents were the kind of people that were always learning. My mother was very crafty and was always tackling a new sewing project and my father was always reading and always ready to take the time to teach us children things about nature or science. They modeled this for us and taught us to love learning as well. It was about discovery, and tackling new things, and about always seeing life as an adventure. Dad designed playground equipment and we children helped him build it, and mom taught us girls how to sew so that we could make clothes for our dolls. There were always new recipes to try and new games to play, and there always seemed to be time to sit around and look at the stars (and learn their names while we were at it!).
There was a white board on the wall in our kitchen, and family supper time inevitably turned into learning time. Dad would get up and outline scientific concepts or draw mathematical graphs. On our table there were maps and posters of the elements, and we were constantly quizzing and drilling each other, yelling out questions and answers across the table, eager to top each other. Supper time was also when dad asked us what we learned today, and when we asked dad in turn what he’d done today, and then listened with puzzlement, trying to understand the inner details of his career.
Because we were homeschooled, we went on all sorts of vacations at all sorts of times of the year. We all piled into the 15 passenger vans and watched while passers by tried to count how many of us there were (we often held up our fingers to aid in the counting, that is, until we ran out of fingers!). Once we reached the campsite or historical location, we children piled out and breathed deeply of the fresh air, eager to explore our new surroundings. We visited battlefields and national parks, museums and historical reenactments. Over the course of my childhood, we visited nearly every single state, our fifteen passenger van holding up even as its mileage numbers skyrocketed. During those long, long drives we sang, we argued, and we laughed.
And then there were family nights. My mom read to us during school hours, but it was in the evening that dad took his turn. He read us the Chronicles of Narnia and G. A. Henty books while we played with legos or knitted. Sometimes we would pop a big bowl of popcorn and watch a family movie together, laughing uproariously if it was a comedy. Other nights we broke out the board games and played Risk. Sometimes we ganged up on my dad, and sometimes someone would lose and leave crying, but we were always up for another go. Mom would make us snacks as the night got late, or stand at the counter rolling out cookies while we played.
The outdoors was our play place, and we spent a great deal of time with dirt between our toes. We ran in the cornfields and looked for field mice or crawdads. We got our feet in the mud and hung a fishing pole off the dock of the nearby pond. We chased the geese off the pond when they became obnoxious and we tried to trap rabbits with carrots and boxes and sticks. We built huts out of bricks and planted new trees and embarked on historical adventures. We searched for four leaf clovers and cooked food outside over fires and wished the pond would freeze over each winter so that we could go out sliding on it. I will always think fondly of growing up in a cornfield, the warm breeze in my hair and the sun on my back.
Because I could go at my own pace in my studies, I frequently got up early in an effort to finish my work before breakfast so that I could spend the rest of the day reading. I always finished by lunch at the latest, and I loved that I could choose what order to tackle my subjects. I sometimes did a week’s worth of math in one day so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week, and once I got so annoyed with my grammar book that I decided to just finish the whole thing in March so that it would be over and done with. Once my core subjects—science, math, languages, and grammar—were out of the way, I could turn to the things I wanted to be doing. I read scads of historical fiction and learned about edible plants and medicinal herbs. I sewed historical costumes and knitted scarves for all of my siblings. I sat outside and enjoyed the feel of the grass between my toes.
Of course, all of these wonderful memories exist in the shadow of all of the problematic influences homeschooling brought into my family’s life. Further, when I think about everything I loved about my homeschool experience, it’s hard to separate things out. How many of these things simply had to do with having parents who loved learning? How much of it was simply a product of growing up in the country, with land and fields and things to explore? Some of it obviously did flow directly from homeschooling—the flexibility that my homeschooling schedule offered, for instance—but how much of it would have been very little changed, if at all, had I gone to public school? I can’t answer that, and whatever the answer is it doesn’t change that there were some very beautiful things about my childhood, things I will always appreciate and things I will work to replicate them as I raise my own children, family nights, camping trips, adventures in the great out doors and all.