A few weeks ago…

A few weeks ago two things happened to me that helped set the course for my upcoming year.  I encountered a stranger, who was either lacking in command of semantics or was a master, and I also took my children to the Omaha zoo. It is hard to imagine how these two events could come together to form some kind of palpable teaching moment but I am amazingly adept and connecting seemingly unrelated things.

One: The Stranger

The weather has been unseasonably warm in Nebraska this last month which prompted a family bike ride one Thursday morning. While we were stopped for a water and trail mix break (where my kids pick out all the M&M’s so I am left with only the healthy raisins and peanuts to eat) a woman comes by walking her dogs. We make some small talk about the weather and other “safe” subjects when she asks me if we are on spring break. I told her that we home school so, no, we aren’t on break. Her reply, “Oh, so school is always out for you.” I must admit this comment kind of got under my skin mostly because my philosophy on education is that, especially for us, school is always in. I try to never let a learning opportunity pass by without involving my boys in some critical thinking so it kind of irks me that someone would assume that our day involves mostly field trips to zoos and theme parks and, when not doing that, we are just watching TV (educational, of course!). Not even close.

Fast forward to our trip to the zoo (I know how it looks!)

Two: Henry Doorly Zoo

If you have never been the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE, is really quite amazing. We bought a membership this year so on a Friday we loaded up to head to Omaha to see what we could see. I, by nature, am a shameless eavesdropper. I can’t help it! I have supersonic mom hearing and part of listening in is how I keep constantly aware of my surroundings (this is what I tell myself anyway but I digress). Besides, I am completely convinced that the zoo is one of the top places where the ignorance of the American public is very blatant. Case in point, we are standing at the fence of a lovely African animal, namely the Okapi. An animal that most people are not aware of if not for an American zoo, in fact. With a brown upper body and zebra stripes down the back haunches its a striking and interesting creation. We are standing next to a mom with young children, not so different from myself, who is questioning out loud what kind of animal they are looking at. “I have never seen one of those before. I am not sure what it is. It must be some sort of hybrid animal…it looks like maybe a deer mixed with a zebra. It definitely has to be part zebra, look at its stripes.” This mostly one sided dialog with her child went on for quite some time, too long, in fact. It seems to me that it takes more of an effort to fabricate a story about the origins of an unidentified animal than to back up 15ft and read the very information sign that the zoo provides at every animal exhibit. But maybe she wasn’t headed in the way of the sign. Too bad, it is a treasure trove of knowledge.

Then, a little later in our zoo outing, we come to an exhibit that contains reptiles from the swamp in the American south: alligators, gar, a variety of turtles, etc. In one corner of the tank, up against the viewing glass, two alligators are biting at a turtle…barely. A woman in the crowd is in hysterics, looking up the zoo telephone number to report it and trying to usher her children out of the building so they won’t witness anything “horrific”. She did stick around for a few minutes, though, commenting to anyone who would listen that, “They are eating him!” (To which my five year old is countering, “No, the aren’t! It would be way more exciting if they were”) and “I can’t believe they would put animals together that could eat each other” (To which I am countering, “Why not? Nature does all the time”) By the time she got out of there we had quite an audience listening to our inadvertent comedy routine!

So there is a point, right? Barely.

After the barbed comment on home school and zoo experiences I really started thinking about education. Although I am a proponent for home school and really love how it works for our family, I don’t view it as superior to educating your child outside the home. What I really think is critical is how parents are involved in their childrens education. Do they actively “teach” when opportunities arise? Or do they completely delegate that responsiblity to an outside institution? More than memorization of facts are we teaching our children how to think critically and how to find information they don’t know? The mother at the okapi exhibit doesn’t have me convinced. Are we nurturing curiousity so that learning something new about our world is fun and exciting or are we shielding them from anything we can’t, or won’t, explain? The mother who had obviously never seen an episode of Wild Explorer doesn’t give me much confidence.

For me, raising critical thinkers who try to seek out logical progressions and new information when they want to know about something is more important than being able to answer ten questions on a multiple choice standardized test correctly. In that week, the zoo and a stranger confirmed for me that I want to take on homeschooling for another year because I really don’t think that someone else could do it better than me at this point. This is true for ALL parents, no one is more effective at teaching your child than you! Don’t let the formative years pass by while you wait for them to be “school age”. There are always opportunities to learn something new and if you don’t take them you will end up in someone’s blog or as a facebook status. Just saying.

Stepping off soap box now…..

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One response to this post.

  1. AMEN! 🙂 And your boys are so blessed to have you as their mom!

    Reply

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