My mum’s birthday was yesterday. I had the inspired idea of celebrating with afternoon tea, which Mum enjoys but doesn’t have very often. None of us is especially eager to go into a restaurant, though, so I decided to order some scones and other tea-type foods for pickup and then set up for tea at my parents’ house.
Then I hit a minor snag. Both of the scone/tea places I was considering are closed on Mondays; so we rescheduled Mum’s birthday celebration to this afternoon.
Here’s one of the things I love about our homeschooling schedule: if something comes up, like a traditional teatime with Savta (“Grandmother” in Hebrew — it’s what my kids call my mum), we can do that, no problem. Instead of read-aloud and group learning time, the kids helped me set up for tea, including arranging the food on platters and tiered servers. It turns out that K has a particular flair for making food look pretty.
It might be a bit of a stretch, but tea was educational for the kids. They marvelled at the swirling clouds the milk made when they added it to hot tea, and my parents explained density. Then a comment about the china we were using (it was my grandmother’s, and it’s now mine except I’m happy to store it at my parents’) being bone china led to the kids learning a little bit about what that meant (it’s the strongest type of china, it does indeed contain bone, and you can identify it by its slight translucency.)
N (my pickiest eater by far) was wondering out loud whether it was possible to make chocolate macarons, and began list off the ways in which he wanted to make macarons more palatable (to him.) I encouraged him to learn how to make them and then experiment with his own ideas to see if he could make it work. “That would make a great project!” I enthused. “Actually, anything you wanted to learn about or experiment with could make a great project.”
“Okay,” He said facetiously, “How about dying?”
“Dyeing, as in colouring things? Or dying as in death?” My dad tried to clarify.
“Death,” said Nathan, clearly expecting us to tell him that he was just being obnoxious (I’m pretty sure he was trying to be.)
“That would be a great thing to learn about,” I said, “especially if you looked at how different cultures deal with death. That would be fascinating!” And my parents and I starting talking about the coolest death rituals we could think of. For the record, mine was a Viking funeral (the one with a floating funeral pyre lit with a flaming arrow, although I just googled it and it seems the only funeral where that happened was a mythical one.)
And on it went. This is how it often is in our family: we hop from one subject to another, however our thoughts and each other’s words lead us. I don’t know if that happens for other people too. It’s like the opposite of doing a chapter of a history book. Everything in the world is connected somehow, all the time.
I used to teach tweens and teens at my synagogue. Once someone wanted to interview me for a column in the Canadian Jewish News about teachers in the community. As I explained to her, my philosophy of learning content (as opposed to skills) is that it’s a bit like stargazing. You learn a bit of something over here — that’s one star — and then a different thing over there — that’s another — and maybe you read a book that helps you connect the two. Sometimes the job of a teacher is just to teach about individual stars. The more stars a student knows, the more constellations they can see; eventually they see a constellation that’s mostly complete, and they know what pieces they need to fill in if they want to.
It might have been a way of justifying the fact that our lessons went wherever my students’ questions took us, but the more I watch our kids discovering the world and everything in it, the more convinced I am that it’s true. It’s okay to learn bits and pieces at a time, which is exactly what happened during teatime today.
The most important thing, of course, is that Mum loved the afternoon tea, and we all got to spend time together. The rest is just me trying to rationalize skipping “school” for a tea party with the grandparents — which is obviously the more important of the two.