2009 Selected Content
- Helen Hegener
recently took a week-long road trip with my 80-year-old father, visiting my
sister near Spokane, Washington for her youngest son's high school graduation,
and then dropping south to Boise, Idaho, to visit my mom's only sister. My
youngest sister went along and the three of us had a marvelous time seeing our
relatives and enjoying the sights of the northwestern part of the country.
Along the way we stopped at dozens of historical signs explaining what had
happened at various locations. Early settlements, mission remains, travel
routes, battle sites, local lore... Each sign told a short story about a part of
history which had taken place at or near that site.
I was surprised by how much Dad knew about some of these sites, and he often
explained more of the related history as we continued our travels. After one
such expansion on the history of a western railroad I commented that travelling
with Dad was a good way to get an education, to which he beamed proudly but
simply reminded me that the best education happens when you can directly relate
to whatever it is you're learning.
I knew he was right: A visit to a place where history happened puts the details
into context, and adds a perspective you can't get from a book or even a
documentary. Having been there now, I can see in my mind's eye how the Snake
River really does make a large turn at the place called Farewell Bend, where the
Oregon Trail emigrants left the river they'd followed for over 300 miles and
turned west toward the Columbia River, an arduous journey over the endless
lion-hide hills and the snowcapped Blue Mountains.
I think homeschoolers know the truth of the concept of learning by experiencing
and apply it in many different ways, from hands-on learning with simple science
experiments or arts and crafts; to field trips to museums, zoos, aquariums,
observatories and more. Whether we term it hands-on learning, learning in the
real world, learning by doing, or simply, as my Dad does, learning, it is
probably the oldest and purest form of education.
Dad delighted in telling stories to my sister and I as we drove. Passing an old
car would remind him of something that happened once when he was driving one of
that make or model, and he'd share a bit of family history we might never have
heard before. A small red billboard launched him on a recitation of old
Burma-Shave jingles, those multi-part messages which appeared along the highways
and always brought a smile when we were kids. Dad had travelled most of the
roads we followed and there were dozens of "when your mother and I were here one
time..." tales. My head and my heart are full of information, memories, family
history, perspective, and a newfound love for a part of the world I'd only been
vaguely aware of before our trip.
Somewhere along the trail I found myself realizing that what was happening was a
form of homeschooling, even though Dad's an octagenarian and I'm pushing sixty
pretty hard. It was a moment which made me smile to myself.
© 2009, Helen Hegener