Parents as Early Educators


Social isolation has given us a new perspective on things. My grandchildren now think they would enjoy schooling at the hands of their mother instead of trekking to a classroom each day.

In considering this, my sisters and I have decided our parents were early educators and we didn’t even know it. At the direction of our mom and dad we learned high-level math, culinary skills, track and field training and chemistry, all in the course of everyday living.

We learned high-level math while playing baseball with our mother. She was a powerful left-handed hitter. We children knew we had to keep our eyes on the ball and calculate the velocity and trajectory of our only baseball before it disappeared over the barn or in the cornfield next to our yard. If the ball landed behind the barn, it dropped onto a cow patty or the concrete pad and was relatively easy to locate. If it disappeared into the maze of corn higher than our heads, that ended the game until we trekked through the jungle of cornstalks and located the missing ball. It was simple logic: no ball, no game.

We think the early game of “Where’s Waldo” may have been launched by someone who watched our family play baseball.

Pop (what we called our dad; no lack of respect intended) had a knack for imparting math wisdom while getting a little work out of the five of us. He started with having us shovel corn into an empty farm wagon so he could haul it to the grain elevator to sell. We’re not talking about shelled corn; we had to shovel hard cobs with the kernels still on them.

In his quest to instill algebra into our brains, Pop gave his excited little volunteers over-sized shovels and told us to fill the wagon. Our job was to eyeball the mound of corn higher than our heads and calculate how many shovels full of corn times necessary minutes were needed to complete the task. Alas, the nuance of the project dawned on us after hours of shoveling. We discovered our algebraic calculations were off a tad. Sore muscles reminded us our dad had the upper hand on algebra.

We did use some algebraic expertise while climbing trees. We had to consider body weight verses volume, divided by circumference while inching out to the end of a limb. The question was how far we could inch before the limb bent or broke.

My favorite display of this was when my older brother wanted to show off one morning as the school bus pulled up in front of our house. His math skills were off a bit. In this case he multiplied body weight time circumference. As he hung upside down from the rope, it broke and he landed on his head.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with him today; algebra never was his strong point.

Track and field training occurred when we were old enough to trek to the woods behind our house, retrieve milk cows and herd them to the barn. This training proved valuable when our mean bull appeared, seeing which child he could cause to shriek, dash to the nearest farm fence and scale it. Had our school coach been watching, he would have recruited us for sprints and high-jump events.

It didn't occur to us that we had our parents to thank for this priceless bit of education.

Mother was the teacher of culinary arts. She would produce a one-pound package of meat to kitchen helpers with instructions to make it feed seven people. Our challenge was to disguise it so those who didn’t like that kind of meat were left guessing its origin. We took two quarts of corn and one of green beans from the freezer, hoping no one would notice the miniscule amount of meat. Usually we combined the protein with gravy.

I wonder if the inventors of Hamburger Helper visited our farm and learned our secret before we could market it to the public.

We learned chemistry during our Sunday night snack time. That's when our parents allowed us four older children (the fifth child was a baby) to split one 16-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola four ways to accompany our popcorn popped in bacon grease. We would huddle around the person pouring Coke to ensure he wasn’t cheating. Each glass had to be equal. If we weren’t watching, our brother occasionally would try to get away with extra sips on a glass “to make sure they were equal.” His expertise in chemistry caused him to sneak sips before the foam settled—or at least that’s what he tried telling us younger ones.

Yes, our wise parents imparted valuable early education to five children before anyone ever heard of homeschooling. Maybe social isolation isn’t so bad after all. With a little imagination, today’s parents might pull off some of their own.

What about you? Any thoughts on schooling while in social isolation?