A Day in the Life
Having grown up on a farm in rural New Hampshire I was accustomed to having to travel at least forty minutes to a fully-stocked grocery store or a movie theater. So, when I moved to northern New York and settled in another very rural area, my expectations for services were low. Here in the Adirondack State Park, living not far from the well-known, albeit small, town of Lake Placid, my husband and I are raising our two children -- a daughter eight and a son, three. Even though I had grown up in a similar environment, I wasn’t responsible for the education and welfare of two young children as I now found myself these many years later.
When my husband and I first looked into homeschooling, our daughter was barely walking. We had more questions than answers, but one-by-one we crossed them off our list and when she turned five and her little brother was born, we began homeschooling officially -- as “official” as you can be in Kindergarten. I remember thinking, “Okay, we believe this is the right path for our family to take. But what about resources and what about friends for our children?” That first year we had to really be creative to find other children for our daughter to be with and for materials to teach with. We had joined the local homeschooling support group of about twenty-five families who lived within a fifty-mile radius. None of those families that lived nearby had children within two or three years of ours. We worried a little about that, but mostly we determined to make the most of it. At five, our daughter was eligible to join the youngest of Girl Scouts, the Daisies, but there were no leaders for the newly-formed troop of twelve. Rather than lose the opportunity for creating new friendships and being part of a group, I took on the role of leader and enlisted a friend to help out. We are now going into our fourth year of scouting together and it has proven to be a great opportunity for all of the girls to learn from each other. Within our small troop we have two homeschoolers, a few who attend a parochial school, and the balance are from two different public schools.I remember once talking to a homeschooling friend who lived three states away near a large city. It seemed there were more opportunities than she could possibly have time for in a week – museums, fully-equipped libraries, resource-filled bookstores and a sizable, networking homeschooling group. After wallowing in despair about what we didn’t have available here, I took stock and began thinking creatively. Even though it meant driving an hour-and-a-half, we tagged along with our homeschool group on a farm tour. At times I had to rely on another mom to keep my daughter on the “people side” of the animal pens while I nursed my son, but it was worth every minute. The two-step tour began with free time for the children to explore all the facets of agriculture in rooms that were set up to look like a roadside stand, a grocery store, a bank, a feed store, a veterinary’s office, and an ice cream shop. This area was also a nursery of sorts with a few bantam chicks peeping under the warmth of an incubator and a tank of fingerling trout. Two kids of the goat variety were free to roam about causing much giggling by our kids, as they climbed to places they shouldn’t be and kicked about. Part two of the tour took us through the stalls and pens of the facilities, exposing the children to the enormous variety of animal life on a farm. Multi-colored chickens scratched about; a fat hog eyed us with little interest; a doe-eyed Jersey cow chewed her cud; horses twitched away an occasional fly; but the highlight was the crop of lambs in a large pen with their mothers. One lamb on bent knees suckling its mother, and a stub of a tail twitching is sweet -- multiplied by dozens is all the more so.
This visit got me thinking. Granted this farm we visited was maintained as a “school” group destination but why not look for this opportunity closer to home? And for that matter, why limit ourselves to the few towns in our area? I soon discovered that there were many opportunities and a number were close by. A lumber mill was more than happy to offer tours of its facilities, providing another connection to real life and uncovering -- for some at least -- the source of the support in the walls in our homes. As we explored the post office, library and newspaper offices, we realized we were not only learning about how our mail gets from our town to Uncle John and Aunt Mary in Colorado or how we can find a book on Space or how the comics get from the computer onto the paper, but we were also learning about the people behind the letters, books and comic strips.We then began to look even closer to home by tapping into the parents in our group who were less involved in the day-to-day homeschooling. Bringing them into the fold accomplished two objectives: The kids were exposed to new possibilities for career dreams and those less-involved parents got a chance to see their children learning among their homeschooling peers. One dad, an internist specializing in cardiology, led the full group of homeschoolers throughout the remodeled emergency center of the local hospital, giving everyone a chance to swing her legs from a gurney or feel her arm tighten as she had her blood pressure checked. From there, the doctor took the oldest of our group (ten and up) to his office where, among other cardiology equipment, the discussions might go deeper. From a more down-to-earth outlook and certainly a more unique profession, our group found themselves digging test pits using a screw auger under the direction of a soils scientist among us, my husband. They learned what a soils scientist studies in school, yes, soil types, but also chemistry, physics and biology. They learned to match the soil colors to a waterproof hand-held flipchart to identify the soils and to rub the soil between their fingers to determine the amount of sand, silt and clay. They discovered that, armed with this knowledge, the soils scientist can determine if a particular site will support a septic system and therefore be a viable building site.
Over time, our concerns involving friends for our children evaporated as more and more of our friends decided that homeschooling might work for their families too. My daughter and son gained homeschooling peers and our support group gained parents with new talents and energy to share.We still don’t have immediate access to year-round museums but as our children have gotten a little older and more travel savvy we’re a little less reluctant to drive farther afield. Traveling with other children makes the drive more appealing to my kids, especially when we go in the fifteen-passenger van that one homeschooling mom uses for her canoe-guiding business. Although it doesn’t replicate the routine that some public schooled friends are privy to, it seems to satisfy our children’s questions as to what riding a school bus is like. Long, wide seats are shared, lunches are consumed and silly songs are sung over and over again. Not a bad way to travel and not a bad way to learn. – J.G.
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