“Let’s play stuffed animal math!” My eager grandchildren clamber up the stairs to my room and line up on the bed while I take my place in the rocking chair with the bin full of stuffed animals at my side. I ask them arithmetic questions, and at each answer I toss another animal over. It’s a little rowdy, and they have to be reminded a few times to stay on task, but it’s fun and helps with their mental math skills.
Then downstairs we go to pick out some books to read from my ample collection. I am also well supplied with jigsaw puzzles, maps of states and continents, blocks and building sets of various shapes.
The 6-year-old likes to diligently color in her workbooks. In contrast, her 8-year-old brother would rather go around with his tape measure, making a map to scale on graph paper of each room of the house.
On my refrigerator is a large set of magnet letters, so our early reader can practice forming simple words, or we can spell out a message for the day.
Also on the lesson plan for any given day might be making applesauce, cheese, butter or oatmeal cookies, reading the recipe and counting by threes and fours as we fill the cookie sheets.
When the weather is nice and the front yard invites us out of the house, we write sentences or math problems on the picnic table with chalk. Somehow that’s more appealing than doing the problems on paper.
When their father comes in from field work, he may offer some real-life story problems about how many bushels of corn fit in a truck and how many truckloads of crop are in the bins. He is also a wealth of agronomy knowledge, so the kids can identify not only field and forage crops but also most weeds as well, and they can tell you the habits and best ways of conquering different kinds of weeds.
And lambing season—well, that’s a lesson in multiplication as well as the science of reproduction and lactation. The children work and play in the barn, absorbing knowledge and skills naturally as their parents tend to the flock.
Their mother does her part at home, drilling them on math facts and finding a variety of computer learning lessons and games. She also helps them write letters to their cousins and great-grandparents so they feel a reason for writing. And she lets them paint. For that, she is braver than I.
We try to use the unexpected and teachable moments, incorporating academic skills into everyday life. Curiosity is a great driver for learning, so when they ask a question about something, we’ll look it up in the encyclopedia. Then we’ll see other interesting pictures and entries in the volume, which leads to more questions and explorations.
All this spontaneous activity keeps me on my toes. Well, to be honest, sometimes my head spins, and I don’t know what to do next. But I’m rolling with it. It is so worth it.
I am very thankful for the freedom and flexibility we have to teach our children at home at the pace that is best for them.
WINIFRED HOFFMAN, of Earlville, is a farmer, breeder of dual-purpose cattle and a student of life. She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.