My kids told our neighbor all about it when they took a bowl full of donut holes over to say thanks for the cup of milk we had borrowed to make them. When Doug told his wife, Betty, of our sumptuous supper, she refused to believe it. It just didn't sound like something I would do. Well, I do now!
If you know me well, you know that I have the skill of tangents. No, not the math ones, but the start-and-stop story-telling that is a bit like my mother's "Refrigerator Soup", a little of this, a little of that, all somehow coming together to make a nice, if not somewhat perplexing, final product. Some folks hate it. "Get to the POINT!" they scream in their heads. What can I say? It's the way my brain works.
So buckle up. Here comes one.
The homeschool model we follow (Thomas Jefferson Leadership Education or TJ Ed), is sometimes confusing if not down right frightening to a lot of folks. There are a few simple concepts. Kids are hardwired to learn. It is what has kept us all from still being in diapers and sucking our thumbs as adults (well, most of us). If we get out of the way and stop being academic bullies, kids will gravitate towards things that they want to learn, and in the process they will learn a bunch of other cool stuff. If you push 'em, they push back (I think that's a science concept, isn't it? For every lame parental action, there is an equal and opposite resistant kid reaction...), if you force, they stop learning the groovy thing you are trying to teach them and start learning how to hate learning. Also, like that whole "If you build it, they will come" notion from Field of Dreams, if you inspire them, they will want to learn.
In traditional schools, topics are separated. Though there might be some amazing math concepts in the building of the pyramids, we are told to stick with the history on that one. Math is for another hour. With TJ Ed, we are encouraged to allow kids to go with the learning flow, to open up an idea and see where it takes us. Tangential learning. This is very hard from the conveyor-belt educational standpoint in which most of us were raised. What happens if we never get back to the first topic we started with? What happens if we jump around too much? We can't just go all willy-nilly, exploring history and literature and other such compartmentalized topics without a map! What if we get lost and DON'T LEARN ANYTHING?!?!?
Yah, that's gonna happen.
So I have begun to embrace the tangent. It started out small. Tessa saw the word "albatross" in a book and asked what it was. We looked up a picture, and compared wing spans with other birds. Then I remembered my amazing 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Clerkin, from Scotland, who had us stand each day and recite stanzas from "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner". I still have them memorized. So I found a reading of it on YouTube set to old illustrations, and we listened to it, all 27 minutes of it! Then we listened to certain parts over again. The girls were blown away by the dead crew becoming reanimated by a legion of angels as they piloted the ship back to land. "Zombies!" they laughed. It was full of hard words and thrilling twists, and a moral that was not missed by the girls.
A few days later I mentioned on facebook my "Albatross Painting" that is long, long overdue and needs to get done so I can be relieved of the burden of it. Ethan asked about why I had called it that, and Ellie told him about the story of the Ancient Mariner who killed the albatross and was forced to wear it around his neck as a reminder of his folly. It was pretty darn cool to have her tell him what my reference had meant.
Then last week I was wanting to teach the kids about French Impressionism. I began with the early influences of Japanese prints and, well, before I knew what was happening, the kids were all wearing kimonos and we were watching ancient Kabuki theater revival and practicing Kabuki Mie poses, and coloring the traditional face paint of the villans (blue), good guys (red) and spirits (brown) on prints of 200 year old images. We spent 3 hours watching dance battles, and even Jonah didn't seem to notice that, um, we don't speak Japanese. We never got back to impressionism, which bothered me at first, but as the kids chattered away at Guy at the end of the day about our amazing school time, I was able to let it go. Who cares what I thought they should learn? They LEARNED!
Then yesterday I really GOT IT. I didn't resist; I jumped into the River Tangent and let it carry us. We were reading a great book called Little Britches by Ralph Moody. We read it a few years ago, but a classic can be a source of learning over and over as our lives change and we take on new challenges. In the book, the boy talks about being picked up by a pack of cowboys and ridden home amongst their thundering horses, their revolvers flashing in their holsters, and how he was sure that was what it must have felt like in "The Charge of the Light Brigade", a poem his mother often quoted from memory.
You know what came next.
We read the poem, watched a little dramatization of it, and saw pictures of the few survivors of that fateful band of brave young men. I never knew anything about that battle until that moment. I guess I missed that one back in school.
Then, back in our book, a neighbor feeds the boy homemade donuts. Do you see where I'm going with this?
We measured, doubling fractions and then reducing them. We did chemistry as we mixed milk and vinegar and watched the fats curdle. We experimented with the heat of the oil and learned at what temperature the baking soda released the maximum amount of gas for the fluffiest donuts.
And then we had them for dinner.
When I was a kids my mother would make donuts about once a year and then let us have them for dinner.
But that's another tangent.