By Barbara Frank , homeschool author
When people find out I teach my children at home, it seems they always want to know if we have a schoolroom. Maybe they think having a schoolroom is necessary for learning, or perhaps they picture their own school years spent in a room with rows of desks and a utilitarian clock on the front wall. They often assume I’ve recreated that room somewhere in our house.
In reality, homeschooling has taken place in almost every part of our house. We began at our kitchen table. At that time my daughter was five and my son was four. We’d work at the kitchen table until lunchtime, then put our books and supplies away in a plastic box and set the table for lunch. For a few years, it really was that simple.
Then we had more children. During my pregnancies, I would often be so nauseated or exhausted that it was all I could do to make it to the sofa, so that’s where we had school. By the time child #3 arrived, the kitchen table wasn’t working for us anymore. The kids tired of cleaning up their homeschooling messes in order to eat lunch. Sometimes they had a project they couldn’t move, or a craft that had to lay flat until it dried. So we graduated to a table set up in our rarely-used living room. Once Baby became mobile, we put a playpen next to the table so she could play contentedly while we worked.
Her contentment did not last long. We moved to the dining room table, and put up a gate to keep her away from tempting items like markers and glue sticks. By now, the big kids were working at a level where they needed to concentrate, so it was better to keep their little sister away from their work area. At this point, we had also accumulated quite a few books, so we bought a wall’s worth of bookshelves and put them in the dining room, too.
Child # 4 arrived, along with an apnea monitor to which he would remain tethered every day for over a year. This required a lot of my attention (it seemed like his heart rate would slow down and set off the alarms whenever I was in the middle of explaining an algebra problem), so the big kids often did their work alone in the dining room. Being kids, at some point they would begin annoying each other. This eventually got bad enough that Dad brought home an enormous piece of cardboard, which we used as a divider so our children couldn’t distract each other because they couldn’t see each other. I tried to ignore the wads of paper that were sometimes shot over the barrier. (I can laugh at this now.)
As the younger two got older and noisier, the big kids began asking to do their schoolwork in their bedrooms. This seemed like a good idea, and sometimes it even worked out. But most of the time, they’d become distracted by their possessions and would not get their work done. So I usually made them work in the dining room, while I restricted the younger two to the family room, where I plied them with special toys (reserved for school time) and Barney videotapes.
Back at the kitchen table, I began working with #3 on her preschool workbooks. (She had requested her own school work because she wanted to be like the big kids.) As for #4, much of his time was spent on the family room floor, where we practiced his physical therapy. On the days he had therapy appointments, our school was held in the therapy center’s waiting room. All three older kids worked on their schoolwork there, while I watched our little guy and his therapist.
Eventually, we had big kids reading in their bedrooms, doing math in the dining room, making craft projects in the basement and learning to cook in the kitchen. We had little people playing with clay on the patio, reading with me on a blanket under a backyard tree, and listening to math-fact tapes in the car. For our little guy, bath time was often spent teaching him how to pour water from cup to cup or practicing his speech sounds.
For many years, almost every room in our house was a schoolroom, proving that learning is not restricted to a single room with a row of desks and a clock on the front wall. Kids learn everywhere, and that’s why homeschooling occurs all over the house. It also occurs beyond the house: in the car en route to activities or on vacation when we visit historic sites or museums. Far beyond our neck of the woods, there are families who homeschool on farms and ranches, or while traveling in foreign countries, or even in boats as they sail around the world. Ultimately, the question should not be “Where’s the schoolroom?” but “Who needs a schoolroom?”
Barbara Frank is the mother of four homeschooled-from-birth children ages 12-22, a freelance writer/editor, and the author of “Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers”. To visit her Web site, “The Imperfect Homeschooler”, go to www.cardamompublishers.com.