A Full Education

by Jeannie :: Friday, April 30th, 2010 at 8:45 am

Africa and France?

Why those together?

A lot of people wondered what made us pair these two areas. To be honest, this itinerary came about for almost purely logistic reasons. Most routes to Africa have you stopping off in Europe on the trip to and from, so we sort of let American Airliines dictate our syllabus.

However, now that we’re finished with the trip, I realize that Africa and France go together in a way I hadn’t predicted. They make for a well-rounded, complete curriculum.

Africa was mostly about -ology side of education: biology, ecology, zoology, anthropology, sociology. With one –aphy added in: geography. Africa was the ultimate science field trip: seeing animals, learning about their environments, learning about man’s impact on these environments, learning about the natural history of humans (we visited the Leakey’s research center, which talked about the discovery of early humanoids), learning about the way our ancestors lived through the Hadza tribesmen in Tanzania, seeing the ecological issues that people in Africa face today (mainly lack of access to clean water).

What made it all the better was that in both Kenya and Tanzania we had excellent guides who could talk about what we were seeing and answer any questions. They were like our own private tutors.

France was the liberal arts part of the trip. We studied art, history and French. Oh yes, food too! As you know, the boys had organized French classes and their wonderful teacher, Irina, arranged for them to get more exposure to French. As far as art and history, the boys wrote about artists or certain historical events, which I think (hope) helped them distill the important facts.

Also, every few days in France, I would write up a few paragraphs about an artist, or a historical figure. I would have grammatical and spelling errors in the report and the boys would have to find and correct them. I would underline several words and they would have to tell me the part of speech each word was. I would write a different report for each one, adjusted for his level. This worked out well, I think, because it made sure they kept up on their English grammar and spelling but at the same time, they were learning about something we were about to see or had just seen.

We’ve been home for two weeks now and we’ve started back on some more organized homeschooling classes here. (Math classes twice a week with a tutor; Robb helping with math the other three days; English classes with me; French with a lovely French woman who used to live with us years ago).

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this past year and what we’ve been able to do with the boys. I feel more certain than ever that experiential learning is the way to go, whenever possible. Even if we’re not traveling far afield, I’m going to work on ways to give the boys more first-hand experiences.

The boys have become interested in how a trial works (after watching a movie I highly recommend: Twelve Angry Men), so next week we’re heading into watch a jury trial in Austin. For six weeks (now till early June), we’ll be studying Civil Rights (I have lots of books, documentaries and movies—such as Birth of a Nation, To Kill A Mockingbird and Mississippi Burning).

This summer on our way to and from our family beach vacation in South Carolina, we’ll stop off in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee, to see important Civil Rights sites and museums. Expect some new posts then. (Also, expect some new posts in mid-May. The boys have been invited to speak about their experiences to students at Blanco Elementary–and to do the same program in Spanish to some middle school ESL classes. We’re working on a Powerpoint presentation.)

I think we’re pretty clear that we’re going to keep homeschooling for at least another year. It’s so rewarding. Now, we just have to figure out where we want to go, what we want to study.

After all, the world is our classroom!

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