Tuesday, September 8, 2009

(Not the) First Day of School

For kids all around the country who attend school outside the home, this is the first week of classes. I remember well the thrill of packing up the school bag for that first day of class, the allure of brand-new school supplies and new back-to-school clothes, the anxiety-tinged excitement that accompanied stepping into a new classroom and meeting a new teacher.

Homeschooling means my kids will miss out on that.

In fact, it's pretty difficult to pinpoint what is, was, or will be our first day of school.

Is the first day of school today? We're visiting my mother in Richmond this week; we went to the Virginia Historical Society this morning, where the kids got to see a dugout canoe, a range of Powhatan Indian relics, and exhibits about early colonial Virginia. Desmond read me One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish when we got back, and Nini read me half a dozen little sight word readers. Later, we'll perhaps be finishing the book we've been reading about Jamestown, painting with watercolors, and playing Sight Word Soup.

Or was their first day of school yesterday, which officially was Labor Day? They helped my mom plant some flowers (science!), drew some pictures (art!), practiced writing some letters (handwriting!), read some books to us and had many books read to them (language arts!), and played for a long time in the pool (PE!).

Especially at this age -- 5 1/2 -- learning is interwoven all throughout our days, and is often indistinguishable from play. For us, school is a way of life, not a block of time. That's undoubtedly true for lots of families whose kids did start formal classes this week, who use the time they spend together at the beginnings and ends of the days and the end of the week for experiential and loosely structured learning, but it's especially true for homeschoolers.

But what about those shiny new pencils, and that first-day-of-school thrill? Even though my kids won't share in the experience of an official first day in a classroom outside of the home, I'm hoping to give them at least a taste of what it feels like to embark on an exciting new chapter in life.

We've been telling them for some time that they'll be starting kindergarten this fall, and I'm planning to mark it as a special occasion. My mom got them schoolbags and some fresh new school supplies; I'll make a "Welcome to Kindergarten!" sign for the wall and get out my grandmother's old school bell. We'll ring the bell and mark a new beginning ... one of these days.

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