Blog Post #4
In the old days, those long-ago days when I home schooled our five children—back, back, during the 1Jurassic Period of home schooling, before home schooling was integrated into the educational world and accepted as a viable option as it is today—our house was bustling with creative energy and vibrant learning! (…Our kids had great creative energy, too.)
We studied all the disciplines….yup!…integrating them into a year-long theme. History, literature, math, music, science, geography, art, and more, all blended naturally via year-long themes, such as “Adventure Down the Mississippi,” “Raiders of the Renaissance Minds,” and “The Voyage of the Frugal Frigate,” to name just a few.
Scientific inquiry was something that came naturally to our kids, making it an easy task to identify principles and laws associated with daily activities. At any given time, our children (five to be exact—three girls, two boys) were busily engaged in dynamic and scientific learning associated with movement, gravity, heat, and potential forms of energy.
Example #1—Kinetic Energy
Teaching five siblings of varying ages and temperaments can be like trying to spoon-feed soup to a troop of monkeys while riding a roller coaster. The kids were ever in motion—kinetic energy in abundance.
The proper tools and materials funnel that energy into useful occupation. Those tools were always plentiful and readily available to our children. Naturally, my best (and only) steak knives were needed to saw a refrigerator box into pieces in order to build a 2pirogue for use at the local marshy area near our house. (They wore, rather than rode, the boat; stepping into its bottomless hull, and holding it up by hand around their waists. Their free hands were needed to juggle clipboards and pencils for recording sightings of flora and fauna, to hold the orienteering compasses, and to push and shove each other and their cousins, who were also wedged into the pirogue, to insure they were all “rowing” in the right direction. Fortunately, our children were each born with an additional set of hands, or so it often seemed.)
Access to premium workspace was a must for such a large-scale, and energy-funneling project as carving out and building a pirogue, which is why said sawing took place in the most spacious room in the house—the living room. The back-and-forth motion of the knife sawing, of course, was a splendid example of reciprocating motion. The din issuing from knife on cardboard was equal to the roar of a helicopter overhead, creating the useful educational illusion of simulating real chainsaws when only using steak knives.
This activity was followed-up with an equally scientific display of pressure differential: that of suction. I ably demonstrated this necessary scientific principle by running the vacuum cleaner as quickly as possible after the completed study in reciprocating motion, restoring my front room to its former state of disarray by sucking up every particle of the cardboard shavings created by my very productive children. (All of whom had scattered at the sight of the vacuum, allowing me a few precious moments of not-so-quiet time to myself.) An impromptu and energetic lecture by our school principal (my husband) was later given to an innocent looking, but guilty group of spectators on the avoidance of clogged vacuums.
Examples of kinetic energy representing the physical prowess of our sons was particularly evident, and remains recorded for posterity on the multitude of videos they created illustrating ninja techniques, and back-flips off the block wall in the backyard. Extremely effective was the dubbing-in of sound effects to staged fight scenes in which they clearly missed striking their opponents by a good arm’s length, yet the THUD and BANG sounds appeared right on cue—about two seconds out of sync with the action.
Example #2—Gravitational Energy
b. an act or process caused by this force.
2. a sinking or falling.
3.a movement or tendency toward something or someone: the gravitation of people toward the suburbs.
Not to be outdone by Galileo’s experiments on gravity at the Tower of Pisa, our boys were great experimenters in illustrating this principle of physics, dropping everything from small toys to themselves from the second floor landing. Their enthusiasm for learning was so great, they were often found conducting experiments after school hours.
On one such occasion, I had strategically maneuvered myself into the kitchen, where I was performing my own experiments in chemistry as it pertains to cooking, when I heard an enormously loud KERTHUNK! near the bottom of the stairs. I turned to see one of the boys lying prostrate on the floor—arms sprawled out to the sides. I cried out and ran to the motionless body, heart in my mouth, only to hear laughter above me.
The boys were apparently performing two experiments at once: one on the effects of gravitation on a large, homemade, stuffed doll (dressed in their clothes), and the other following definition number 2a as listed above: “a sinking or falling.” The sinking and falling had more to do with the condition of my heart and stomach than with Newton’s apple. Definition #3a was exceptionally illustrated as my “tendency to move toward something or someone” standing at the top of the stairs defied all principles of gravitation and speed. In spite of all the “fallings and sinkings” I’ve experienced, I’m lucky to be alive today—and so are my boys!
If dropping dolls didn’t satisfy their gravitational objectives, dangling from the top of the stairs themselves was a good alternative. However, they did this when I wasn’t looking. (Probably one of those rare moments when I retreated into my room for a few minutes of quiet time—called “using the restroom.”)
Principles of gravitation and momentum continued as the kids were often seen zooming down an inclined plane (our street) on a “Cool Runnings” type of sail-bedecked and wheeled bobsled of their own making. A separate scientific experiment on the effect of friction was conducted simultaneously, as they did their best to see how quickly they could completely wear out the soles of every single pair of shoes they owned in stopping the contraption. (Their feet proved to be excellent substitutes for failed brakes. I’m happy to report that an alternate lesson about heat and friction was not lost on their feet.)
Example #3—Potential Energy
Our children were expert in their demonstrations of potential energy, especially when sitting at the dining table working together on collaborative learning projects. As one child used his or her power of expression to stress the importance of certain learning options (AKA bossing the other kids), the others were building up a good store of potential energy. This stored energy was later released in the form of a combination of kinetic energy, definition #3a of gravitational energy, and an arm (or fist) perfectly poised to demonstrate potential energy.
Example #4 – Heat Energy
Our next-door neighbor approached me when we were both tending our front yards one day, and with an abundance of good nature said, “We never know what is going to explode from your back yard!” I smiled sheepishly, and waited for her to explain. She continued, “ Sometimes rockets on strings come blasting through the gate, and sometimes it’s kids on skateboards and other contraptions…[such as the sail- and wheel-bedecked bobsled before mentioned]….We never know what to expect!” She was very kind and even particularly cheerful when telling me this. At first, I took it with a small sip of pride in my children’s inventiveness and accomplishments. Later, as I pondered her words, I gulped down gallons of humility as I wondered if she were really issuing a gentle warning: “I may appear to approve of the goings on at your house, but inside I am as frightened and poised for action as a coiling snake just waiting for disaster to strike my home!” Being so close in proximity to the unpredictable activities bursting forth from the other side of her fence, I’m almost certain the latter was the more correct message she intended to send. I’m sure she also heard the cacophony of noise that accompanied all our activities—especially since my sister’s six kids sometimes spent their days at our house, as we participated together in school activities. The decibel level of eleven rambunctious children was sure to have rung inside her house like a clanging bell, and probably created a ruckus all the way up the street. I was so used to tuning out incessant racket I didn’t even notice it.
Many years have passed since the Jurassic Period of home schooling. Our kids—all of whom are grown—now tell stories about that time period that make my hair stand on end. Where was I?! Right there, at home, wearing a plethora of hats, (mother, cook, spiritual advisor, chauffeur, guardian, teacher, seamstress, piano instructor, nurse, nurturer, counselor, and on and on), and always savoring with relish their creativity and the time I spent engaged in learning adventures with our wonderful children. Although I hide the gray hairs accumulated during those twenty years, I am not about to hide the fact that I would do it all over again! It was worth every white hair, and every second.
2pirogue: A small boat used in the bayous.
My sister Karen has developed her own Home School model, loosely based on our experiences with ITI, called *EPIC ADVENTURES, which can be found at her Courageous Beings web site.
+ We home schooled so long ago, those from whom we gleaned so much inspiration have also retired. Such is the case with Susan Kovalik. It appears she has passed on her mission to The Center for the Future of Public Education (of which we were never affiliated). We were involved with her ITI model in the late 1980s and 1990s. It was wonderful–inspiring innovations of our own.
*One of the innovations prompted by ITI was Karen’s EPIC ADVENTURES–which was, essentially, what we produced from year to year during our home school days. Karen tweaked it to fit her own personal agenda, created a web site, and continued our former enterprise of putting on workshops for home schoolers for many years afterward. My dear sister, Karen, passed away in November of 2015. Her web site is no longer active, so I have removed the link.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.