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Practical Homeschooling® :

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Fairgrounds

By Mary Biever
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #67, 2005.

What one mom learned from 4-H.
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Mary Biever

If an award is given for the homeschool mom who shows the least imagination in her children's school, I'll win. We do basics first - reading, writing, and math. If we get in basics, it's a good school week.

After basics, we fit in science, history, AWANA, piano, and swimming. If those fit, it's a great week. The kids' education is individualized in that I nag them one at a time to finish checklists. We use the same books (different grades) for most subjects because I don't have time or energy for more. My rule is avoid doing an activity for one kid if it will also do for two. That sounds tough but saves my sanity.

For five years, I ignored suggestions to add 4-H to our schedules.

When moms said, "You should try 4-H," I restrained myself. I didn't clasp my hands over my ears and shield my children's eyes while I wailed, "Noooo! Not one more thing. Not another club. Not a project. I just can't handle it."

Instead, I would smile and say, "Thanks, but our plate is full."

Then, this spring, I discovered how much my kids love science. I don't. I asked God to show me how to fill my science gap.

Again, a mom mentioned 4-H. This time, I bit the bait (science exposure) on her hook. What a relief when I saw the projects list - electricity, weather, computers, and wildlife.

More Than Projects

I don't have a good record for kids' organizations; I was a Brownie dropout at the age of seven. We never did 4-H. This is a new ballgame for me. What scared me the most were the projects. How could an overscheduled mom manage them?

A mom whose kids are active in 4-H reassured me. She told me her family didn't have time or money for long vacations and used 4-H instead for summer fun. Their projects gave them adventures together to fill a summer. Adventures can happen as easily in one's kitchen or backyard as they can in distant places. Her school years, like mine, were full of basic academics. The 4-H books gave them a chance to build life skills and have fun in the process.

Then we got the kids' project books. These books could work with a unit-study-challenged mom like me. I got a little help from my husband and mother-in-law.

My daughter chose sewing because she sews every week with Grandma. God knew what He was doing when He gave me a mother-in-law who is a seamstress. I sew with a glue gun and stapler. Their weekly sewing lesson has turned into more than an exercise in hems, zippers, and buttons. It's become a chance for Grandma to tell the family stories and the two of them to grow closer. We may do genealogy this year for the same reason - so the kids can learn more about our families from their grandmothers.

On one of our adventures, my husband helped my son put up a weather station in our backyard. In time terms, it took an afternoon to choose the best place for wind and rain measurements. In memory terms, it was priceless. I watched out our kitchen window while our son proudly went around the yard with his dad, looking for just the right spot.

The kids got to make plenty of choices with their projects: which pictures to display, how to lay them out, which recipe to pick, and more. They could feel a sense of pride when they were finished, because they had taken a simple subject and made it into a poster or other exhibit.

What surprised me is that we had fun together. When my biggest role with the kids is checking their math problems, correcting their grammar, and counting their piano solos, we have a problem. Instead of Mom, I can become Military Mom who pushes too hard. With their projects, we could explore together, experiment, and enjoy each other. Two things I learned during their projects were which kind of apples taste best in baked products and how not to make flat runny cookies like those that I have made for the past 25 years.

We had fun, and we practiced real problem solving skills. That's as important for them to know as academic basics.

A Photo Finish... Or Beginning

When I showed the project list to the kids, I pointed out the great science choices. My son shrugged. Instead, he said, "I want photography."

Photography? That's not why I made this leap. We were going to use this for real science, real learning, and things that can help him want to study fields that make lots of money when he gets older.

Not to take pictures with a camera!

Who would think that a son born to a writer and an artist would want to try something creative?

We have friends who are photographers, and I know their schedules. I want him to have a more stable and predictable life with his family.

The problem is those are my plans - not my son's and probably not God's.

Then I flashed to a conversation with a friend, some twenty years ago. My friend went to the most challenging schools England could offer, from grade school through graduate school. He told me the class he enjoyed most in high school was... photography.

I stared at my friend and asked why he didn't take an advanced placement composition or science class instead. He had a chance at better schools than I could dream of attending, and he blew his electives on photography?

Answer? Photography was more fun. He enjoyed it.

So, now, my own son wants to take photos instead of make an electrical circuit board. What will I do?

End of story: my son took photography. He takes better pictures than I. Next year, I hope we'll do photography and electricity.

Our venture into 4-H will give me a chance to add more science and the kids a chance to explore their interests. Who knows what we will discover together - not only about the world but also about ourselves?

Some might call that the photo finish.

It's really the beginning of the big picture where I learn to listen to my kids so they can be who they are - and who God intended them to be.

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