This post is a continuation of the entry posted a couple of weeks ago. I know it’s a long one, but bear with me. If you want to scroll down to your favorite subject, the topics on this page are: Civics/History, Technology/Engineering, Movement, Artisanal Crafts, and Domestic Skills
Oh me, oh my! History! I’ve expounded on the virtues of Crash Course history playlists, and I’ve certainly mentioned books like Cultural Literacy and Lies My Teacher Told Me, but there’s so much more to it than that. In our home, we use the book baskets method for exploration of non-fiction topics including specific points in history, but we also start with a broader approach to history itself. With Daughter (as we will with Son), we began with the known development of life on the planet, from strong hypotheses about the origins of life through complex lifeforms like dinosaurs, terror birds, and primates, with brief overviews using age-appropriate books, videos, maps, and trips to museums to explore evolutionary developments over the last several million years. (My archaeology and bio-anth books from university helped as part of this exploration.)
Once we established an understanding of Earth history, which is as much science as history*, we explored the beginnings of recorded human history. No, we didn’t start with the Classics from Greco-Roman philosophers and societies. We started with oral tradition and traditional stories, myths and how they apply to culture, and some human groups who chose to settle and why. We talked about Gobekli Tepe and the archaeological discussion as to whether some groups of humans settled because of agriculture and then began establishing religion, or if religious beliefs were the driving force to settle and develop agriculture. It was at this point, I started a binder for articles and short essays about history, offered in chronological order of known cultures.
Truth be told, I haven’t added much to it, because we’ve been all over the place on history lately. But it has a timeline in it several pages long, onto which each learned bit of information can be added as we go. Also, we start talking about how civilizations were formed, societal structures both in the past and present, ways that they’ve worked and failed. We’ve always tried to follow a mostly chronological path, so we can examine contemporary civilizations and how they affected one another. My daughter has studied about ancient Kemet, Sumer, Babylon, Rome, Grecian city-states, Picts, Mongols, early Chin, Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, etc. before moving on to later points in human history where written accounts became more prolific, at least from one side of the story.
History, as we’ve discovered, isn’t just written by the victors. Just look at the creation myth from Fertile Crescent religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) about “Cain and Abel.” As pointed out in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn; if we read it carefully, one would suspect Cain is an allegory for agricultural civilizations and Abel is its hunter-gatherer allegory as seen by the hunter-gatherers (or at least nomadic herders). More reliable recorded accounts beyond books of myth show here and there the views of the oppressed, the enslaved, and the rebels willing to sneak in their stories as well.
In the process of learning about history, we study civics as well. How civilizations come to be run by governments, different types of governing, and the rules by which modern nations live and operate.
*History is so intertwined in everything we do, it can be difficult to separate it from science, art, technology, culture, mythology, etc. History is the interwoven stories of the humans that came before us leading to the present moment. We might not always remember the dates of battles or the reigns of kings, but we are always learning more about humans and how different and similar we are, regardless of our self-imposed boundaries. More importantly, as our children grow, they’re learning how to recognize patterns from the past and make choices that will affect the outcome of our collective future.
I’d like to say we do a lot in this area, because I keep saying I ought to have been an engineer (I’m the handy one in the house), but mostly this topic involves using the computer well, knowing shortcuts and how to search for information on the internet. We talk about web safety and basic mechanics. My partner is a software architect and has spent time teaching my daughter a bit of code (actually, my daughter’s father and godfather also have given her lessons in this).
I wish we constructed more things together, and maybe we will as my son grows. For a short while, my daughter was obsessed robots and Da Vinci machines and Tesla. And then she wasn’t. So we have lots of kits and books in the garage that her little brother may want, and I sometimes sneak up to my room late at night and play with.
When it comes to engineering, I think everyone should at least read through The Way Things Work for a basic understanding of objects in our world. As part of his winter solstice gifts this year, I’m working on a busy board and a play kitchen for my son. The busy board will have hinges, locks, chains, springs, and more drilled into a piece of wood for him to explore. (I’ll post pictures when they’re done.) Soon, we’ll be teaching the young woman of our house to change a tire, check her oil, and other basic car maintenance, but she still has some significant work to do on bicycle repair.
We don’t call it exercise because we’re not always organized in a routine. We don’t call it exercise because there are dreary connotations to the word. We call it movement. At home, we practice yoga, have regular dance parties in the living room, plank, and do our (just the adults here) physical therapy. At least three times a week, we go for walks around the neighborhood, and we go to parks, on field trips, head to the local pool for open or family swims. My daughter takes Aikido and ballroom lessons, and my son has toddler gymnastics (ballet/gym starts when he’s 3).
The important part is we find time to move every day. Physical activity isn’t just good for our bodies, it’s amazing for our brains. It improves blood flow, oxygen levels to the brain, and helps with both focus and regulating sleep. I also find for the restless child, having them run laps around the living room or yard helps them come back to focus for studying later. My friend’s son with attention issues responds very well to the “run laps” or “practice kata” requests, and is able to sit and study well afterward.
Oh, and though it embarrasses the teenager, I’m a huge fan of dance walking in public places:
From baking bread to carpentry to crocheting, we’ll try just about anything in this house.
Though it’s embarrassing to admit, I’m terrified of power tools courtesy of too many films with mutilated shop class teachers, so I’m a fan of hand saws, sandpaper, hammers, and other manual tools. I do have a cordless electric drill, but frankly there’s too much to do that can’t be done easily without one. We haven’t built much as a family, but what we have (garden boxes, birdhouse, fixed chairs, etc.) makes me proud.
Our arts and crafts armoire is full to the gills with supplies for almost any craft imaginable. I manage to keep a strict policy about yarn: once the bin is crammed full, we have to start knitting or crocheting or doll crafting before we can buy more.
While cooking is also adomestic skill, cooking well is an art and with practice, even the simplest recipe can be turned into a divine meal. We have a bookcase dedicated to cookbooks, and I love to read them — not just the recipes, but the stories and quips between them. Though daughter isn’t a fan of cooking, son is turning into a decent sous chef.
Everyone has chores, and I believe learning how to manage one’s home is just as important to developing into a functioning adult as learning to read, write, and do complex calculations.
In our current economy, it’s often necessary for young people to live with roommates for extended periods of time. Getting along means more than being polite; huge upsets can erupt about not washing dishes well or leaving laundry in the dryer for more than a day.
So, as the kids grow, I give them chores appropriate to their ages and abilities. I’ve also insisted my daughter practice at the other parts of adult lifeless think to teach: balancing a checkbook or budget sheet, making doctor’s appointments, creating meal plans, finding a balance for one’s time, etc. Soon, we’ll be looking at job applications, talking about how to write a résumé and handle oneself in an interview, and filling out college applications.
In addition to cooking and cleaning, I believe it vital to include gardening in domestic skills. I may not be a great gardener, but every year I keep trying, and little by little I’m getting better, and in the process, I share my mistakes and successes with my children. Being able to grow our own produce (and hopefully soon, raise ducks for eggs) is a part of a richer, more sustainable way of life. Now, I just need to learn to can the foods I’m trying to grow!
Domestic skills aren’t gendered in our house, nor do I think they should be. As I’ve posted before, I believe everyone should have a broad range of skills, as the following quotation says:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein