Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teaching without teaching

I brought home The Master Spy Handbook from the library the other day, which Little Guy read in its entirety this afternoon. He was a child obssessed: he made a hidden-camera-in-a-bag, created his own disguise kit, decoded secret messages, and made invisible ink.

This was after a morning spent making glow-in-the-dark paint using zinc sulfide mixed in egg yolk. (Little Guy painted a zombie, which he thoughtfully left next to his dad's night stand, so that it absorbed the light and glowed when Andrew went to bed.) If I told you about the discussion we had while making the paint you'd think I knew something about bioluminescence and phosphorescence, but the truth is that I'm just very, very good at reading a few paragraphs ahead and acting as if I know what I'm talking about.

People sometimes ask how I manage to teach all my kids all the subjects they need. I don't. I mean really, I don't. I'm big on independent learning. The kids have lists (when I remember to write them up), and they plug their way through the basics of second or fourth or seventh grade.

I don't think of my job as a teacher, but as a learning facilitator: I gather quality materials, stockpile mountains of books, find great teachers or classes for the areas where my kids' passions don't map well to mine, and keep an eye on where we need to fill gaps or bump up a skill set.

I'm much better as a teacher on the go. The other night Little Guy and I split a hamburger in the local diner before Dancer's show. He wanted to bring along his Chemistry book (his choice, not my mandate), and between bites he very happily used a napkin and pen to calculate how many neutrons were in different atoms on the periodic table.

Important spy photo
We fell into a discussion of atomic bonds, because that's what one does with a 7-year old in a diner, no? Little Guy wanted to remember the different types, but was having a hard time remembering them. So I got him to figure out what other word he knew that sounded like covalent. He came up with cooperate, and that made sense because covalent bonds share electrons. And ionic sounded like I-I-I-I, which is the selfish way to be, and in ionic bonds one atom grabs the electrons to itself.

And that's the way I teach best. In diners. By discussion. With mnemonics. Asking questions. And by finding old handbags for my kids to cut holes in for secret spy cameras, so they can add surveillance to their vocabulary.


  1. And then you put surveillance on the spelling test?

  2. Hmmm. Spelling test. That's a concept...

  3. I wonder if your children have any idea how rich their life is? Probably not. But, I bet they figure it out someday.

  4. You have NO idea how comforting and reassuring this post is for this mother of five in her first year of homeschooling. THANK YOU!!!