Simplifying School

This week, The Grove historic site had a class for homeschoolers called “Schoolhouse.” For two hours, the kids got to experience what it would have been like to attend a one-room schoolhouse back in the 1860s.

In addition to being a fun educational experience for the moppets, it was a great reminder for me of how simple school can be. As I’m clearing out our school room and trying to determine what educational supplies to take on our trip, simple sounds good. A reader, a copybook, slates and chalk, and a hickory stick. What else do we need, really? 🙂

The schoolhouse was an exact replica of the original building that used to be near the site, right down to the colors of paint on the exterior.

The kids lined up by age, boys first, and entered school when the schoolmarm, “Ms. Boyden,” rang the bell.

Inside the schoolhouse, the children sat at wooden desks, according to their ages. Each got a wooden nametag as well. (The Muse (12) was “Viola,” Dolittle (8) was “Vidella,” and BoyWonder (4) was “Joshua.”)

The classroom was exactly as it would have been in the olden days, right down to the dunce cap in the corner. (Oh yeah, forgot to add that to my list!)

The students were supposed to sit with their hands folded on the desk at all times. (The little blondie below is BoyWonder. Look how dutifully he sits!)

And there’s The Muse in the back there, the oldest in the class. She and Dolittle ate this up. They’ve read all of the Little House on the Prairie books and have been watching the old TV shows, so this was like stepping into history and literature at the same time.

BoyWonder lasted about 20 minutes in the actual class. When Ms. Boyden pulled out the hickory stick and demonstrated how she’d rap it on the corner of the desk to get their attention, he decided he’d rather sit in the back with Mom. 🙂

He still participated, though. Ms. Boyden would give them multiple choice questions, mostly having to do with trivia about the time period, such as “What is a milliner?” or “Who was president of the United States in 1862?” Then students would write A, B, or C for their answer on their slate with chalk.

BoyWonder got a kick out of guessing and writing the letter. Then Ms. Boyden would call on someone to stand up, hold up their slate, and answer aloud. They always had to stand to speak, say, “Yes, Ms. Boyden,” and either bow or curtsey before they sat back down.

I think I’m going to start implementing that expectation at home. Curtseying is a lost art, don’t you think?

Next Ms. Boyden handed out a copybook and a McGuffey Reader to each student.

They were each given a lesson to practice at their desks, according to their grade level. This got very loud, as they were all reading aloud different passages at the same time. She said that was the way the students actually would have done it. Must’ve been horribly difficult to concentrate.

Then each grade came to the front of the class to read their assignment out loud.

For math, Ms. Boyden read simple story problems out loud, and the students figured out equations to solve accordingly on their slates. For example, “Three men sat inside a carriage, and three stood outside of it. How many men were there in all?” 
Dolittle got to go to the board to demonstrate how she solved the problem. 
Dolittle also got to demonstrate what would happen if students got caught misbehaving or saying a bad word. The teacher put a small circle on the board in chalk, and offenders had to stand their with their noses to it. If they said a bad word, they got their mouths washed out with soap (she didn’t actually do it, of course). I, unfortunately, missed that part of class because BoyWonder had to go to the bathroom. But I heard all about it. 🙂
Fun class, and like I said, a nice example of how simple school can be.

Of all the rooms in the house, the school room is absolutely the most daunting for me to purge. This is the first house we’ve lived in where we’ve had an ideal school room space. It’s large, bright, conveniently located, and versatile. I used to dream of having such a space. It’s filled with books, curriculum, art supplies, craft supplies paper of all size, color, shape, and texture, etc. etc.

It’s been nice in a lot of ways. But what I’ve learned through having it is that it’s not necessary.

The truth is, my kids haven’t learned any more in that school room than they did when we had a dining/school room combo. Sure, they have more room for creative projects, but those (and the messes that accompany them) take up table space, and we end up doing schoolwork in the dining room or living room anyway.

Additionally (and this is really the kicker), having a “school room” puts me more in the mindset of traditional school than I would like to be. Balancing structured and unstructured learning, as well as focusing our kids’ education on exploring the world and following their curiosities has always been my goal as a homeschooler. Sometimes a school room helps with that, and sometimes (mentally) it hinders it. I don’t want the kids to see learning as something separate from life, or learning tools as something specific for “school” time. But we’ve sort of fallen into that mindset having the school room.

This big, beautiful school room has also made it possible for me to collect way more schooling materials than we’ll ever need. And as in my digestion analogy the other day, too much of anything is burdensome and constipating. Time to lighten the load.

My goal for this trip is to have two bins of educational materials, one for books and curriculum and the other for paper, notebooks, and art supplies. That’s it. Two bins. If I can make myself pare it down to one, even better. Books for pleasure reading I figure we’ll swap out at Goodwills or used bookstores along the way. I think we’re taking the printer, too. Of course, we’ll have the computer and the iPad, which could almost suffice for all of our educational needs. But America’s going to be our main classroom, so we’re trying to keep it down to the bare minimum.

Just as long as we make room for that dunce cap somewhere. 🙂

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

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