Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wheels on the (Homeschool) Bus

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are homeschooling two daughters adopted from China.

My daughters have been enamored with buses since they could point and say “Buh!” Spotting them on the street became a toddler game of Slugbug without the arm punch at every sighting. They knew all the words to “Wheels on the Bus” and sang them often. Too often. Even now, Mei-Mei and Jie-Jie like to watch kids disappear into school buses at a stop visible from our breakfast table.

My own fascination with school buses ended abruptly in first grade, after a few weeks of riding more than an hour a day. I remember pulled pigtails, boys’ belching contests and painful boredom. But while one of the best aspects of homeschooling is the freedom to think outside the box, I couldn’t seem to think outside the bus when it came to the girls’ first day of school.

That’s how we ended up standing at a city bus stop, chatting with strangers and soaking up a burst of September sunshine. We took the long way to a small Korean restaurant, passing parks and shopping centers and neighborhoods we don’t often see. It was high adventure for two kids who live nowhere near a city bus route.

It’s not your typical rite of passage, but their first day of school was commemorated with good kimchee, ginger candy, and a post-lunch visit to an Asian market, where we browsed and bought a bag of salty dried plums. I failed to take my camera, but the girls have 2-hour bus passes for their keepsake box.

Afterward, we were lured home by a stack of tantalizing new books and art supplies. For a book junkie like me, this part of homeschooling is a slice of heaven. First Language Lessons! Artistic Pursuits! Writing with Ease! The Case of the Fiddle-Playing Fox! (Oops, wrong stack.) Chalk pastels, watercolor crayons, whiteboard, 3-ring binders! Did I mention my fondness for office supplies?

I started our week with subjects we’ve been doing all along at a more relaxed pace, like reading, math and writing. As the days passed, we added new subjects to the routine one by one. I thought of jugglers who start their act with three bowling pins and add the rest one at a time, taking a moment to get their rhythm with each addition. I’ll write more about how our lessons are going a little later.

We’ve scheduled two weekly classes away from home—fiddle lessons and beginning gymnastics. Jie-Jie and Mei-Mei have been fiddling for several months, but gymnastics class fills a new time slot for us. Is it too much? Just enough? We’ll soon find out. Every friend I’ve quizzed has a different take on how much road time is too much. I’d love to hear your ideas about that.

We ended our week of homeschooling with a belated Moon Festival celebration at our friends’ house, eating Chinese take-out and walking around the block with colorful paper lanterns lit up by tea candles. Four giggling girls led the way, circling back only when a candle needed to be lit again. Cloudy skies made it easy to forget the moon was nowhere near full. In a weird blend of cultures, Mei-Mei and Jie-Jie played The Chicken Dance on their fiddles while my friend playfully tried to follow on her erhu, shipped here from Shanghai.

Something tells me we’ll manage to think outside the box after all.

Read-Aloud of the Week:
The Three Princes: A Tale from the Middle East, by Eric A. Kimmel

Quotes of the Week:
“I can spell a-e-i-o-u!” –Mei-Mei, 5

“It looks like a dot-to-dot W.” – Jie-Jie, 7, spotting Cassiopeia while stargazing