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Beyond Pudding: How Expectations Make the Education

by Lisa Tiffin

Recently, I returned from my mailbox with duplicate letters from our school district. Inside each one was a letter welcoming me as a parent of a soon-to-be kindergartner (in my case, two soon to be kindergartners), and inviting me to begin the schooling process by engaging my children in pre-kindergarten activities outlined by an enclosed calendar. Knowing that I intend to homeschool my twins, Andy and Matt, but wanting to keep an open mind to resources wherever I might find them, I took a look at the calendar. I was very disappointed to say the least. Instead of finding great counting games or new literature ideas, I found items such as: find three red things in your house; count the number of windows in your house; and my personal favorite, trace your name in pudding.

There is nothing inherently wrong about counting your windows or even tracing your name in pudding, it’s just that the activities were so easy. One of the reasons we chose to homeschool is that we feel schools today are not challenging the minds of the young people entrusted to their care. It seems to me that expectations have been lowered to such a point that, while inclusive of every possible learner, have nevertheless lowered both the level of learning and the self-esteem of the learner. We learned over the summer that the more we expected from and the more we challenged our boys, the more they learned. In fact, I was immediately reminded of how our family spent the summer simultaneously discovering the world of bees and the world of learning.

One afternoon, as we were headed out to do some errands, the boys’ attention was captured by hundreds of buzzing honeybees gathering nectar in the cat mint bushes that line the front of our house. The boys began questioning me about the bees, and for every answer I gave, they came up with two or three more questions. From that initial day of never-ending bee questions, we embarked on a six week journey into the mysterious world of the honeybee and what would turn out to be an introductory lesson in just about every school subject any traditional school might offer.

Our first stop was the local library where Andy and Matt learned the rudiments of research. Both boys watched in wonder as I plugged “honeybees” into the computer and it spat out lists of books for us to find. I explained that every book had a number, and after showing them the aisles, soon had two boys searching for specific numbers on the spines of library books. We soon found four excellent books that became ours for three weeks, spurring a discussion during the ride home about sharing and social responsibility.

In the weeks we had the library books, we spent many hours reading very detailed information about honeybees, always with the boys glued to our sides asking questions and soaking up answers like thirsty sponges. Together we learned every imaginable fact about honeybees, including how the bees gathered the honey with their proboscises, what a honey basket is, and how a honeybee has a specific job for each stage of its life. As the boys’ scientific knowledge increased, I noticed their questions about the world around them became more relevant.

One of those questions led to an in depth conversation regarding the life span of the average honeybee. We learned that although a honeybee has many jobs over its lifetime, it carries out these jobs over a two-week period. This led to an interest in the calendar and learning the days of the week. We also learned that a honeybee’s life can be shortened. In one of our books, we learned that if a bee stings another insect, it stays alive, but if it stings a mammal, it will die. This caused great concern in our household and provided a platform for discussing the value of life.

From the honeybee, our boys also learned about communication as we studied the dances that honeybees perform to direct fellow bees to nectar, and math as we counted the number of bees it takes to make a teaspoon of honey. They studied language as we read book after book about the bees, and we watched their vocabulary grow as we discussed words associated with the metamorphosis the bees go through from larva to adult.

The twins were also introduced to basic commerce through the honeybee. After our reading, we dug out a video that showed professional beekeepers harvesting honey and preparing it for the market. We then purchased several varieties of honey from our own farmer’s market so the boys could taste the honey for themselves. After learning so much about the bees, the boys were much more willing to try new flavors, including the chunky comb honey and the rich, bittersweet buckwheat honey.

Our final destination on our honeybee journey was a visit to a local museum that features a glass beehive. The boys enjoyed watching the bees up close and observing the queen bee (marked by the museum) and all her attendants. We were able to watch the cleaner bees preparing the cells for honey and the worker bees that were fanning the nectar to dry it into honey. The museum trip was a perfect way to cement the knowledge the boys had gained on our journey into the world of honeybees, and it served as a boost to our confidence as parents who choose to educate our children.

The boys surprised us this summer with their ability to understand the intricacies of honeybee life and honey production and with their ability to process all the different learning resources we discovered with them. Beyond that, we were delighted to find that our children actually enjoyed the learning process and even today, several months later, have retained much of what they learned over the summer. As parents learning alongside our children, we learned that the more we expected of our children, the more they learned, and the more their confidence in themselves grew. In fact, the quality of their summer education is far superior to what it might have been had we been content to simply have them, say, count a few bees or perhaps trace the word bee in pudding.

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