Confessions of a Former Box Checker: How We Moved Our Homeschooling

off the Page and Into the World

The box at the edge of the page was missing the satisfying checkmark of completion, and the emptiness was taunting me. As a stalwart box-checker, I take great satisfaction in seeing all the boxes filled, but this box was particularly troublesome because I had planned a field trip to coincide with the completion of the book.  The field trip was scheduled to begin in a little less than two hours and we hadn’t even cracked the pages of the book yet. I fretted over the lost educational opportunity as I packed lunches and readied the car for the trip. If only I hadn’t procrastinated, the kids would be completely prepared for the field trip with all the knowledge from the book, I chastised myself.

Still hoping to salvage the experience, I started furiously reading The Story of the Erie Canal as soon as everyone was buckled into the car (don’t worry, my husband was driving.) As I read the story, the words on the page told about the history of the feat of engineering, including descriptions of the size and mechanisms of the canal. I read as quickly as I could, and the kids listened half-heartedly, but the drive wasn’t nearly long enough to complete the book before we arrived at the dock. I placed a bookmark at the stopping point, and just to ease my guilt about not finishing, I promised that I would finish the book after the tour.

Once aboard the modern boat, we were transported back in time to the 1840’s with a tour of the Lockport Locks.  Seeing water spill over the original “Flight of Five” locks was exciting, but the biggest thrill was passing through the only double set of locks on the Erie Canal. First, we pulled into the lock and waited as the colossal doors swung almost silently shut behind us. The silence was broken with the roar of water pouring into the lock and effortless lifting the boat. Once again, the mossy green doors parted and we passed through onto to the higher side of the river. It was if every page in the book had burst to life in front of us and we were characters inside the story. The learning was rich and varied and real and everything you dream of when you sign up to homeschool.

Back in the car, my eye caught the cover of the book that had caused me so much worry throughout the morning. This time it was the bookmark shoved in the half way point of the book that was teasing me.  With my myopic focus on completing all the parts of my carefully chosen curriculum, I had forgotten that education doesn’t just happen by following scheduled list of books and activities. In fact, the best education happens when we step away from the books altogether and experience the world in its entire three dimensional wonder.

I laughed at my rookie mistake, even after eight years of homeschooling, and tossed the book in the floorboard to turn my attention to the excited voices that were recapping the adventures of the day.  My homeschool mom’s heart soared as I realized all the information they had absorbed during that one hour tour.  Not only had they learned, but they really owned the knowledge in a way that wouldn’t be quickly forgotten.

As one son gushed about the how quickly the boat rose as the water spilled into the lock, I knew that he understood the workings of the fascinating system.  As another son marveled at the effortless opening of the massive lock doors, I knew that he had experienced the engineering masterpiece first hand.  We talked about the dirt path along the side of the river that had been worn by the mules that pulled boats in the 1840’s. Then we discussed the scraped markings on the sides of the canal that showed how each section of the ditch had been dug by hand. Neither of those facts had been a part of our reading, and I realized that we would have been all the poorer in knowledge if we had only depended on the book to do the teaching.

All the “unfinished book” guilt was gone when I realized that, although I hadn’t been exactly as I planned, I had done my job as a homeschooling teacher. My lesson plan called for us to learn about the Erie Canal, and while the words in the book were adequate, they were nothing compared to the opportunity to see the power of the water and feel the movement of the boat. I made a mental note to not ever fall into the trap of only reading about a lesson when we could actually get out and experience it.  Back at home, I put big, satisfying checkmark on my curriculum. Sure, we hadn’t finished the book, but we had learned about the Erie Canal.

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Jessica Bowers and her homeschooling family of four boys can be described in one word-average.  They are a middle class family living in Middle America right smack in the middle of the suburbs with 3 bedroom 2 1/2 baths and a minivan. Together, they leave ordinary behind to set off on extraordinary adventures around the world.  Stories of their travels can be found in Family Fun, Dallas Child, and at the family’s travel blog Suitcases and Sippy Cups.



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