Friday, August 31, 2007

Urban homeschooling

I used to think that city-living would be sort of an obvious ideal for homeschooling families. That was before I had any kids. Now that I have two kids (neither of them school age) and am oh-so-much-wiser, I still think that city-living is a fantastic way to homeschool.

Now that Joseph has his wheelchair and Margaret is getting to the "I must climb without ceasing" stage, I also see why moms like yards and playgrounds. Kids need to burn off steam. In the city, with young kids, this means that I have to take them somewhere. If I had a yard I could just let them play while I washed dishes at the kitchen sink, or something. But, I don't have a yard. Not that I'm complaining--I hate yardwork and yards are not very wheelchair-friendly.

Getting the kids out of the apartment could be seen as a burden on me, but I've slowly realized that I need to get out, too. We live, basically, in one room all day. That's too close, especially when one child is in wheeled devices. I need a change of scenery. I'm a better mom when I have stimulation and diversion and the kids aren't dependent on me for ninety percent of their entertainment.

Fortunately, I live in a great city. Washington has its problems, certainly, but one of the greatest benefits is its small size. Anyone who lives in the city is close to the action. We get to Mass each morning, but many days I consider whether to go on an "outing". These are some of my options on a typical day, for an almost three-year-old boy (Margaret usually snoozes on these adventures):

the grocery store
a park with a fountain
a coffee shop near a construction site
the library
the bookstore (like the library, but with coffee!)
Chinatown to see the noodle man
the Postal Museum
the Natural History Museum
the reflecting pool to see the ducks
Union Station to watch the trains
any destination involving a Metro ride
a walk through the neighborhood to do odd errands

And this doesn't include seasonal activities, special events, and things that are only appreciated by older children. It would be crazy not to take advantage of all this on a regular basis, especially when the museums here are all free. These places are packed with school kids on the weekend!

My kids are young, now, so there is no worry about fitting in lessons or the "scope and sequence" requirements of a curriculum. But, what about five years from now when I might have four or five kids and three of them would be real school age? We hope to still live in a city with many of these same opportunities. Do we leave it all alone in order to stay in and do lessons? I've heard veteran moms say that too many outings can be deadly to the pace of schooling. And the little ones need naps.

Perhaps I'm veering into unschooling territory, here, but I think my approach will be about what it is now. I'm prepared to reevaluate as our family grows and I get a better sense of things, but this is, really, one of the main reasons I so want my children to be raised in a city. They are hit in the face with education as soon as they walk out the door. As interests and individual projects develop there are museums and opportunities within minutes of our home. Mobility is one of the great benefits of urban life and I hope that our children are independently mobile long before they are old enough to drive a car. How could I give my daughter an art textbook when the National Gallery is a short bus ride away?

We don't, actually, have all that much choice about where we will live long-term (academia seems to have a lot in common with the military, sometimes). Perhaps I will one day have a yard and a learning room. For now, I'm going to give myself permission to take a lot more "field trips" with my kids.

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