No Book Learning

October 21, 2012

We spent the last two weeks visiting in Western New York state where my family has a 100+ acre farm. We celebrated three birthdays. We visited one uncle, two aunts, multiple cousins, my mother and my grandmother. We worked hard taking care of some things around the farm. We even got a puppy, but we did very little school work.

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Ducky tasting her birthday cake.

We had good intentions. We brought our phonics, math, writing, catechism, and a new election curriculum with us. We thought we would get at least halfway through the four week election curriculum. We nearly completed one week of it and one week of our catechism study, but very little of all of the other stuff. It just seemed like there were so many more important things to do.

My mother and father both grew up in a little town with one stop light and no fast food. I am probably related to one third of that town through my mom or dad and another third are related to my cousins' father. My cousins T and D are more like a brother and sister to me than just cousins. T has twin boys that fall between Dinosaur and Apple Blossom in age, and D has a son just a few months older than Ducky. At times there were nine children playing together. There are also aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, great aunts and a host of other people who are related in some fashion. I have a hard time keeping them all straight. In any case, visiting is a high priority when we are up there.

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The cousins (on one side), minus one. We'll get them all next time!

Then there is the farm. One person cannot maintain a farm on her own, especially if the farm house is more than 100 years old and not in great condition. My mom lives there and needs help making repairs. So, while visiting, we hung shelves, unclogged a sink, fiddled with a water heater, washed a lot of dishes by hand, shopped for paint and painting supplies, completed a general yard clean up, and felled and chopped a huge pine tree. We also sanded, patched and painted the downstairs hallway. That was quite an undertaking and there was so much more we left undone.

My children helped with every job. On the day the tree was taken down, Polar Bear alternated between using a bow saw to take small limbs off the tree (after it was felled) and standing by, ready to call 911, while hubby used the chain saw to cut up the trunk. Polar Bear also started learning how to drive a tractor and used a riding mower to haul large sections of tree to the firewood pile. Cookie Monster, Strawberry and Dinosaur helped by dragging limbs to the pile. Even Apple Blossom did her part, hauling smaller limbs. Ducky and I went to my aunt's house to wash laundry because the well at the farm has a tendency to run dry.

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My cousin T teaching Polar Bear to drive a tractor.

We had the delightful distraction of bringing home a puppy. This was unplanned, and it was a bit of a risk. I will talk more about our puppy acquisition in a later blog entry. Suffice it to say, the unplanned risk seems to be paying great dividends.

That was all great fun, but about midway through our visit I spied our curriculum languishing in the corner of my mother's living room. Oh, yeah, school. Crud! Well, this was supposed to be a two-week break anyway. Then again, school had been more off than on for weeks before and we thought maybe we could "catch up" while we were in New York. Ugh, homeschool mothering guilt struck with full force! Thankfully, my very wise Aunt Pat was there to hear me lamenting my failure. She said, "Look out there at all of them. They are having a blast doing things they can't do at home! That's important, too." She's right. We don't often fell trees at our house. We don't own any riding lawnmowers or tractors and every one of the children and my husband were thoroughly enjoying working with their hands.

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Wagon rides are one of the best parts of visiting the farm.

Hubby and I decided long ago that we wanted our children to know the value of hard physical labor. We want them to understand the efforts required to have the things they might otherwise take for granted. My children were working and enjoying it, and this longed-for lesson was being taught on the land and in the house my grandparents worked so hard to bring into the family. I wonder if they ever dreamed of having their great-grandchildren working there too.

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Polar Bear helping Ducky open her presents.

I realized that this is one of the many reasons we choose to homeschool. We can go to my family home for an extended visit in cool weather and teach our children things you can't learn in a book. The best way to get to know your roots is by spending time with your extended family, especially that second cousin once removed who looks so much like you. Loving patience is taught when a cousin stands on the back of the tractor and shows you how to drive it, just like his father taught your mother. The value of hard work can only be learned by working hard, and relationships are often strengthened when many hands come together to complete a task. You can only learn how and when to take a risk if you sometimes step outside of the plans you have made and let yourself take a little detour. We may not have completed a lot of book work, but I think these lessons will stick with my children for a long time to come. Of course, when we returned from our little detour, those book lessons were waiting for us to pick up right where we left off.

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Ducky eventually ate the top layer of her cake like a hamburger. She was so covered in frosting she had to have a bath. You know that was a real trial for my water-loving Ducky!

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