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As a little girl I was enamored with teachers. I thought that they really did have the best job in the world and I knew with certainty that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. Probably in a habit. If I was really virtuous, maybe even a teaching principal like Sister Mary Ann… she was the sweet kindergarten teacher who was also the building principal and she was the most impressive person I had ever met.
When I came home from school every day, I would race up to our playroom to set up my classroom. My mom had rescued old wood and iron desks from the local public middle school renovation. I pretended that I was Laura Ingalls or Anne Shirley or Jo March. (I was a little fuzzy on the details that Miss March never did teach in a classroom – but that is ok because she was my hero and her story planted seeds for a future love of Leadership Education in my tender heart.)
Christmases would bring Cabbage Patch Kids, American Girl dolls, dolly tea party supplies and every other dolly thing you can imagine. My sister would treat those dolls with such love and affection. Tirelessly changing their clothes, brushing their hair, feeding them and taking them for stroller walks. They only mattered to me if I could sit them in desks and teach them their math facts.
My mom was a big fan of Fischer Price Little Peoples (the old fashioned kind that are now banned as a swallowing hazard). We had several doll houses that were devoid of pretty dolls and were filled with 2 woman Little Peoples and a dozen children… all in neat rows, sitting in chairs with little tables that looked like desks. Shall I confess that when I was stressed and anxious in 9th grade I would sneak back upstairs and re-create my Little People boarding schools? I even harvested our Lincoln Logs to build prairie schools and teaching orphanages. Playing school was as natural to me as playing cowboys or army was to my brother and as much of a passion as being a little mother was to my sister.
It was no small wonder that when my real Little People came along, I was dying to play school. Learning about Thomas Jefferson Education just about killed me! I was not to “do school” until Love of Learning!? Are you kidding me?! I have been waiting 20 years to do this and now I have to wait even longer?!
Obviously I wasn’t totally clear on the details yet. Do conveyor belt school: no. Banish school entirely: no… not at all. Redefine it. Rethink it. Banish the conveyor belt. Embrace my instincts. Celebrate my calling. I could do school with my Core kids… but it had to be “playing school”. Playing school is fun. Playing school is exciting. Playing school is not about homework or to do lists or curriculum or strict lesson plans. Playing school is when I get to teach my kids the things that excite and inspire me. Kidschool, or the art of playing school every day, is about drawing my children close to me, whispering enthusiasm into their hearts and taking them on the adventure of learning something truly lovely and truly inspiring. No curriculum can do that – only a parent with a heart for their child and a passion for learning can do that. That is you. And me. This is what it means to teach “what’s mine.”
“These were the boys and they lived together as happy as twelve lads could, studying and playing, working and squabbling, fighting faults and cultivating virtues in the good old-fashioned way. Boys at other schools probably learned more from books, but less of that better wisdom which makes good men. Latin, Greek, and mathematics were all very well, but in Professor Bhaer’s opinion, self knowledge, self-help, and self-control were more important, and he tried to teach them carefully. People shook their heads sometimes at his ideas, even while they owned that the boys improved wonderfully in manners and morals. But then, as Mrs. Jo said to Nat, ‘it was an odd school.'” Little Men, Louisa May Alcott
I don’t know about you, but I am on this adventure because I more concerned about creating a culture of learning and virtue and faith and family than I am about cultivating Rhodes Scholars. And, I have a sneaking suspicion that the DeMille’s are right when they say that the hard work of play, family work and learning to listen to good books are the best foundation for developing the necessary stamina and discipline to do the hard work of scholarship down the road.
But I still want to play school and I fundamentally believe that “school” can be exciting, wholesome, engaging and fun. And, if you read Rachel carefully in LE:TPOL, you will see that they do too.
Kidschool is a block of time (usually in the mornings) in which the homeschooling parent calls the flock together to read from the family book, recite the family creed or mission or vision, and spend some time learning something exciting and wholesome and fun. This is a time of bonding, shared learning and shared culture. It is not about checklists or progress reports or red attendance books. This is about parenting the child in front of us with authenticity and passion.
In our home, Kidschool looks somethinglike this: Prayer, Family Creed, Pledge, Reading from our Family Book and then we go to the “school box”. I know that veterans disagree on one point: are little Core kids required to attend? You decide what is right for your family. For mine, I want that time with my chicks. I want to pray with them, snuggle on the couch together and spend some focused time every day reading and talking and laughing. If they want to bring their blankies and crayons, I am so totally fine with that.
The “school box” is a bit magical in our home. The box is just an old file box with hanging folders that are stuffed with pinterest ideas, coloring sheets, meeting notes, fun things for future kidschools, etc. The kids know that that box is a treasure trove of fun that we are going to have together! It is not loaded with twaddle and groan inducing worksheets – it is a loosely organized brain full of exciting new ideas and new projects.
Our “school box” has a companion basket. The basket has changed shape and size over the last 18 months but it is a fun little goodie basket with everything that we are currently reading – family read aloud, kid school read aloud, Chemistry, saint books, etc. It is a very organic holding place that is constantly changing to reflect our evolving interests and plans. The basket does not judge our progress but rather reminds us of our promise to read these great books when the time is right.
There was a time, much of history in fact, when books were treasures. When children understood that having a book meant that you were wealthy because you could learn something new and love learning it. In our home, I think that my kids have that view of books. Books are not meant to be taskmasters or manuals designed to reveal how stupid the reader is. Books here are adventure guides… oh heck, we are Whovians and our book basket is our Tardis.
I have been tempted, so many times, to slip back into a conveyor belt mentality about Kidschool. It can happen almost without thought. The hangover is so profound that I often find myself frustrated that we aren’t moving through books faster or more efficiently. It is in those moments that I cancel Kidschool for a few days while I consciously decide to play with the kids instead. After my head is cleared and my heart is back on track, we resume our Kidschool routine – because we love it.
This past week, we had no Kidschool. We had some attitude challenges in our home and we decided that we were going to take a kidschool fast while we tackled some fall cleaning projects. Every single day my three year old would look up from some task or game and exclaim, “Mom! We didn’t have Kidschool today! We have to do that!”. Each time, my heart would warm and my face would glow. “I know little Jackman. No kidschool this week, remember? Won’t it be fun to do it again next week?” And it will be.
A word about the format of this post. I took a dozen photos of our kidschool things to share with you. I decided, however, not to post them. If you have read any of my other posts, you know that I love sharing pictures – they speak better than I can. In this case, however, I thought that they neither captured the beauty of what we do here nor will they help you fall in love with your kidschool. So, in quest to be off of the conveyor belt, (Edited: I cannot leave this without photos. I like things to look pretty and this was too blank. I am so weak.) I am going to encourage you to go dream up your own Kidschool – and try it on for size. And, when it chafes – because it will – change it up. Keep the kids always wondering what fun you have planned for tomorrow!
If you have Core kids and don’t know where to start, how about finding some old Little Golden Books? For me, “Doctor Dan,” “Little Mommy,” “Baby Listens” and “Seven Little Postmen” have become the foundation of my Kidschool culture. As Shiloah says in her post about “Books That Love Children,” fill your Kidschool with books that you love and that love your children and I bet that you and your kids will love Kidschool.