Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Teacher

I hesitate while filling in the website form. Me, a teacher? I was looking for a free download, not a psychological cross-examination.

I'm browsing a resources website while Pippin naps. By entering simple information like my email address and a little about myself, I get access to free downloads like coloring pages and preschool 'printables'.  It only takes a few seconds to fill in my info, down to the last question or two. A few simple clicks will get me to the downloads page I'm looking for. The part that's making me pause is the dropdown box with, "I teach___ " and then a drop-down menu. The choices range from pre-K to homeschool to adult education. There's also a simple "I don't teach" option. 

I doubt anyone keeps close track of the answers from the hundreds of website visitors, but I take longer than necessary to think about the question. Can I really say that what I do is teaching? Coloring pages instead of lesson plans, letter stamps from Hema, nature walks, dozens of library books. And a lot of just trying to keep my busy toddler occupied with something I like too, instead of endless playing with trains or chasing each other in circles around the table. I'm also all-too-aware of my ADHD limitations (and attention span). I doubt I would survive in the 'real' teaching world, where I'd have to focus myself and students on lessons, give failing marks, administer standardized tests. And I've seen all the hours and energy that the (multiple) teachers in my family put into answering questions and preparing lessons.

But a school is not the only road to learning. There's distance learning, and online education. There are also homeschooling families all over the world, doing online testing in Poland and listening to the radio in Australia and dissecting frogs in Alabama. My family was one of thoem, with a broad range of countries and materials (and children), but a special passion for the Sonlight, book-based method. 

The last time we went to the USA, I brought back nearly the full preschool 'curriculum', which is essentially a glorious pile of reading books. And not just storybooks, but extras with (simple) biology and community life explanations. According to my Sonlight catalogue (which still has stains from sunscreen and pool water), preschool should be a time of learning naturally about the world through beautiful illustrations and quality stories. No pressure, no score expectations. In the later grades, there is math and calculus, literature and foreign languages, biology and geography... but preschool? Preschool should be a relaxed start.

"It's not like I'm paying for brand-new, not-educational books," I explained to D as I ordered discounted copies of books. "I don't know when we'll next be in the USA, and you can't find these for cheap in Holland," I excused myself, as I added some books from the kindergarten curriculum. (And then 1st grade. And then 2nd grade.) "I'd still want Pippin to have these books if he want to Dutch school," I pointed out, as I carefully packed them in Walmart bags from my mom's kitchen, and then into a footlocker. 

"I know he's only two and a half, but we need some sort of structure," I griped this winter, surrounded by renovation and rain and boundless toddler energy. Then I unpacked the first 'year' of books, and Pippin fell in love with books like Green Eggs and Ham and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. His illustrated Bible has pictures of lions and fish and bearded men that he is convinced are his bearded grandfathers. When I read What Do People Do All Day?, Pippin gave the right sound effects for tractors and carpenters. When I read The Flip-Flap Body Book he turned the special pages and listened carefully when I explained how food helps us grow big and strong. D often reads aloud as well, or points out the letters and numbers when we go on family walks. 

While looking at book lists, or finding amazing craft or science activities on Pinterest, I try to remind myself that I don't even have a guarantee of being able to homeschool Pippin. Education laws in the Netherlands are fairly strict, and who knows what will happen in the next few years? I do know that, whether he studies at home or goes to a school, our house will be a place where he learns. And while I get nervous at the thought of teaching him to read in two different languages, or dealing with eventual math-induced tantrums, I'm trying to take it one step at a time. The current step? Lots of toddler-friendly activities and good stories to teach him about the world he lives in.

Pippin now knows the letters A, M (Mama), P (Papa), and O (Oma + Opa), and some of the first letters of family names. He can count to five, and knows almost all the colors. He helps me measure out flour while baking muffins, and can destroy a piece of paper with scissors. When we open our learning binder in the morning, he can look out the window and tell me what kind of weather it is ("Nee sneeuw!" No snow!) And besides all that... my sanity has greatly improved. There's less grumbling in our house, less boredom. We 'study' things he likes, that are fun for his age. He loves learning, and I love helping him learn. 

I finally click my answer on the website. 

I teach. Which makes me a teacher.

Specifically, I teach homeschool, and preschool. I don't have a license or a diploma; my sphere is not the classroom or a conference hall. I teach in the kitchen, in the garden, at the library, at the dining room table. 

But the point is, I teach.


  1. Loved this. As you've always done, you inspire me and remind me of the joys of showing little people the world. -jenjen