The Teacher
Boredom was an unknown ailment in our house, thanks to Mom. With the energy of 10 monkeys on NoDoze pills, she started one project after another and completed at least half of them. Her curiosity is insatiable.
I remember her standing over a boiling cauldron of black walnut hulls, hands and bare feet stained dark brown. She was making dye. Not because she needed it, but because she wanted to know how dye was made. Library books stood in shifting stacks on the kitchen table, ranging in subjects from herbal concoctions used in China, to crochet stitches known only by people over 95. She taught us to question, to wonder why and how about everything. How does a caterpillar change into a butterfly? Put it in a lunch box with leaves, and watch! How does a potter’s wheel work? Get a book, and follow the directions. What does oatmeal do to your face? Put it on and let it dry, and you’ll find out. Mom wasn’t afraid of trying anything.
I was born with dyslexia. I saw everything as though I were looking in a mirror. School had not been an easy thing for Mom either. She is deaf in one ear, and partially deaf in the other. But she was undaunted at the prospect of teaching me how to read. She brought home all the research she could get her hands on, and set out to experiment on me. We drew in the sand with our fingers; we did finger painting and shaped letters with play-dough. We made our own play-dough with peanut butter, powdered milk, and honey, and ate it when lessons were over. We read Matt the Rat over and over and over until I had it memorized. I was only four years old at the time. I had lots of fun and had no idea I was “in school.” By the time I was six years old, Mom had “retrained” my brain. I have very little manifestation of dyslexia left. I read and write voraciously, thanks to Mom’s creativity. I’m so glad she didn’t just shrug in hopeless sorrow and send me off in the short, yellow bus to special education classes in public school! I might still be there.
The Curriculum
I never knew mom to spend much money on curriculum. She always looked for old school books at second-hand stores and garage sales. It’s amazing what up-to-date curriculum you can find in those places. However, to tell the truth, we did very little bookwork. Less than you would believe! Instead, we counted out the change in our five-gallon penny-bank, and had spelling contests, drawing contests, and wrestling contests regularly. Dad told us historical stories at the dinner table and quizzed us on previous “lessons.” In the woodshop we learned to read a tape measure and figure angles and planes. In the kitchen we learned measurements and a bit of chemistry. In the garden we learned the difference between a bushel, a peck, and a five-gallon bucket. And last, but not least, in the creek we learned the reward of faithful labor!
Learning was a way of life for us. Occasionally, in the dead of winter, during a cold spell, we would have two or three weeks of intense bookwork and lessons. Every one of us would progress a grade during that time. Not because we learned that fast, but because the rest of year was filled with the practical aspects that the bookwork only talked about. Each one of us had weaknesses and strengths. I loved to read. Gabriel loved math. Nathan loved science. Shalom loved medicine. Shoshanna loved art and music. Mom allowed us to pursue and excel in whatever area we were good at. Whenever I got bogged down in math, Dad would sit down at the table with us and teach a math lesson to us. Whenever the boys got frustrated with reading, Mom would read halfway through a Louis Lamour book aloud and let them finish it.
I think in many ways, homeschooling was easier for Mom than it is for many of you out there, simply because Mom started back in 1977 when there was “no way to homeschool.” Even Abeka books wouldn’t sell curriculum to homeschoolers back then, so Mom had to be creative. There was no homeschool group in our town to compare ourselves by. We were it. There were no homeschool magazines or books and no support groups. Now that I’m grown and homeschooling my own children, I’m glad my Mom had to be creative. Her slapstick way of doing things has given me freedom as a mother to use what I need of “traditional” homeschooling, and let the rest go. My children’s love for learning is my first concern, and learning will last a lifetime if creativity is at the heart of it.