March-April 2000 - Articles
A King's Curriculum
Lest you think I suffer from delusions of grandeur, let me tell you at the outset that King's is our local drugstore. A five-and-dime in the classic tradition, King's stocks a little bit of everything. Whether I plan to garden, knit, or can, if I need winter gloves, a wading pool, or a last-minute birthday present, I never leave disappointed.
Two years ago, when my six-year-old daughter Mira didn't start first grade and I could still stuff baby Max into a Snuggli, we would wander through King's happily choosing our unschool supplies. While we piled our cart with puzzles, games, and watercolors, I used to cast pitying glances at the unenlightened moms hovering around the book rack. As I watched them flip through the pages of math and grammar workbooks that boasted insipid motivational stickers, I wondered how they could justify inflicting such inanity on their children.
I would no more teach math and grammar from a workbook, I vowed, than I would bake with imitation vanilla. My two children would learn everything they needed to know from hands-on, experiential life lessons.
I can pinpoint the exact hour my standards began their painful decline. Mira and I were playing "Shoe Store." "Shoe Store" provided a crash course in addition and subtraction, with the added bonus of finding lots of missing shoes in the process. I had just discovered Mira's other slipper wedged between the bunk bed and the wall, when baby Max crawled over to me.
"Hello, sweetie," I cooed.
He gave me a wide, toothless grin that ended in a yawn. A dime glistened upon his tongue.
"Mira!" I shrieked, almost as loudly as I had the day I found out about mandatory standardized testing. "Max swallowed a dime!"
My un-second grader trotted over to observe this phenomenon, as she had been trained to do.
"If he swallowed it, how come we can still see it?" she asked me. Reaching inside his mouth, she plucked out the dime and handed it to me.
"Thanks," I muttered. I rinsed off the dime, picked up the baby, and rummaged through the untidy kitchen drawers until I found a piece of paper and two pencils.
"From now on," I announced, "We play store on paper. We can pretend I have an account, and you just keep adding up the total until I can pay you."
"Oh." My daughter chewed her lip. "You mean like the time you gave me an I.O.U. for my allowance because you spent all your money on library fines?"
"Exactly," I said, sweeping the assortment of nickels, dimes, quarters, and two limp dollar bills into my palm.
"You never did pay me," she murmured.
"Here." I thrust the cash into her hand."Just count it in your room, OK?" I didn't have to ask twice.
At first Max was content with gleaning whatever he could find on the floor. But once he learned to haul himself up to table level, none of our hands-on stuff was safe from his determined forays. Soon our base-ten blocks, U.S. bingo, pushpins, and glue sticks were locked up more carefully than most household poisons. In a few weeks, we were down to pencils (without erasers), a deck of laminated playing cards, and a large, soft ball.
I was worried about the alarming gaps that were beginning to appear in Mira's education. I even considered sending her to school. True, they would give her workbooks, but at least she would get her eraser back.
When homeschool friends at our monthly Park Day exclaimed over new curriculum, I no longer cared how effectively each unit presented its designated subject. My only question was whether or not it had little chokable pieces.
In desperation, I ended up pouring out my troubles to an experienced homeschool mother of five.
"I remember this stage," my friend said gaily, gently extricating the top of her pen from Max's mouth. "It won't last forever."
"How did you get through it?" I asked, eager to be enlightened.
"Workbooks," she said cheerfully, playing peek-a-boo with Max. She picked him up, ran her finger along each of his chubby cheeks, (extra-chubby today, I noticed) to remove the Uniplex cubes he was pouching, then handed him to me.
"Workbooks?" My eagerness vanished. I stood up and grabbed my coat.
"King's has them!" she called after us.
At dinnertime, I voiced my concerns to my husband, whose support meant a good deal to me.
My husband reached over and pushed the carrot sticks out of Max's reach, then absent-mindedly handed him one when he began to wail.
"Have you seen the workbook section at King's?" he offered. "I think they've covered every subject."
"What are workbooks?" Mira asked him.
"They're fun little books that teach all sorts of things," he told her, before I could reply. "Some of them even have stickers."
"Stickers?" Mira looked at me, eyes pleading.
"All right," I snapped. I knew when I was beaten.
The next day, I left the children with my husband and slunk over to King's alone. I spent some time walking up and down the aisles, cheered by the profusion of fun and useful items. But I just couldn't bring myself to approach the workbooks.
As I wandered down the baby aisle for the fifth time, a long-forgotten memory surfaced. As a new mother, I was determined that no child of mine would ever drink from a bottle. But after so much juice had spilled in my car that the upholstery molded, I succumbed.
A trip down the toy aisle brought back another memory. "No Barbies!" I remembered telling Mira firmly. I was still pregnant with her at the time. A quick look at our playroom could tell how long that resolution lasted.
From synthetic yarns to soda pop, each aisle reminded me of some long-lost conviction. When I reached the workbooks, I realized that they represented merely one more step in the continual compromises of parenting.
That afternoon, my daughter stared at the two new books near her plate.
"Workbooks?" She looked at me.
I nodded. "This one's math, and this one's grammar."
She flipped through the pages. Her eyes widened when she caught sight of the stickers. "Are these for me?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
She looked as happy as the time I had ignored the salmonella warnings and had offered her the brownie bowl to lick.
"Can I do some now?" she asked.
"Of course," I said.
Max and I sat down on the floor and started rolling the large, soft ball back and forth, and every time it rolled into Max's stomach he would giggle. Some time later, my daughter closed her workbooks and sat down beside us.
"That was fun," she announced. "Can I do those every day?"
"We'll see," I said. I watched her roll the ball to her brother, scoring a direct hit, which made them both laugh. "There's a lot of stuff at King's we haven't tried yet."
© 2000, Michele Winkler
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