Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Back in the home school classroom: First day of school

Today is the first day of school for those who had not already started back to classes. It's also the first day of school for many home school students ... and that's where my mind wandered this morning as I remembered sixteen years of "first day of school" classes with my children. We had no bus to catch, no lunch to pack, no specially-requested school supplies to buy.

Teaching with the Calvert curriculum in grades K-8, all supplies were included so no trips to the store were necessary for specially-requested items. Calvert has it down to a science because they supply curricula for families around the world ... students living on sailboats with their parents, missionaries in remote areas of the globe, and even those of us who were simply teaching our children here in the United States.

For a child, there's something special about a new pad of writing paper, box of crayons, drawing paper, freshly sharpened pencils, books, work books, and even a new ruler. I would add extras ... glue sticks, glitter, craft supplies, additional reading books, and personalized items for each of my children to make it a special, never-to-be-forgotten day to kick off a special, never-to-be-forgotten year.

I also decorated the school room and made it a new, exciting place for the school year ... new posters, maps, visuals ... and items that were added throughout the year with each season. I'd add a three-foot tall tree on the wall for fall and the kids would cut out and color leaves to add to it as I read story books out loud. Thanksgiving would have hand-crafted turkeys followed by Christmas, winter, Valentine's Day, and the other special times of the year.

Six things remained the same year after year. Our classroom always had a Bible, the American flag, and posters on the wall with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Ten Commandments. Maps of the United States and Virginia were part of our geography.

When my son was in the early elementary years and my daughter was a pre-schooler, she had her own "work station" complete with drawing paper, crayons, cut-out alphabet letters, Play-Doh, coloring books, manipulatives, and toys. It made her feel included in the school day.

Mid- to late-August was spent each year working on lesson plans. While the kids swam in the small pool in our back yard, I would sit at the picnic table under a nearby tree and set up our schedule. Calvert provided a laid-out lesson plan but I always deviated from it, adding and rearranging and working in extra activities to fit our family. That was the beauty of home education.

For the first day of school, I would wait until the kids went to bed the night before and then set up the school room for our first day. It added to the surprise and allure of a new year and, the next morning, they would pop out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, and then we'd head for the school room. It was almost like Christmas with big eyes and oohs and ahhs as they admired the new school accessories, picking up and examining a tablet or book or glitter.

And so our school year began. Since it was September and the days were beautiful leading to autumn, we would often move outdoors onto a blanket in the shade to read out loud, or hike down to the farm pond to look for critters in the science book. Searching for specific tree leaves was a favorite as they gathered a variety of species in our own nature scavenger hunt.

Some days we would pack a lunch and the school books and head for the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway where we would do school activities around a picnic table or search for creek critters for biology. After moving to Virginia, we would do the same and head for the Skyline Drive, eating lunch at a picnic area and then becoming Junior Park Rangers for the afternoon, looking for animal tracks and wildflowers and insects.

But the first day of school would kick it off each year ... those adventures in teaching, in learning, in exploring and expanding our horizons. I learned as much as the kids, and I believe we are all better for it. It was the right choice for my family, and I was willing and, thankfully able, with the backing of a supportive husband, to give 24/7 to my children who are now 20-something adults.

Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son, now 27, graduated from James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter, now 23, is a senior at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton majoring in Sustainable Business.

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