So, much to my surprise, my wife’s idea of home schooling our kids was positively brilliant. Once we got our footing, we never even considered switching to traditional public schooling. There are lots of great reasons for this, but the dry topics of how children learn best is left for someone with more patience than me. I work much better in the limited attention span crowd – like my kids.
My wife and I have an often used saying how, “It’s the dad’s job to make sure the kids don’t die of boredom and it’s the mom’s job to make they don’t die.” This axiomatic statement of truth was often pulled to justify who was doing what to the kids, and I, for my part have to own up to my side of it.
By far, the best thing about home schooling is that it quickly becomes a life style. Almost everything we did as a family became a learning or teaching opportunity, so we poured ourselves into our kids and they just got used to it and thrived in the process.
When we lived in Colorado Springs in the late 1990s, it was me, the Dad, who waited for the day when the Mom was off and about somewhere so I could take the kids up to where ground was being broken for a new housing development. At that time and place, the area was mostly packed sand and grading the area for new houses created these great 2-3 story tall sand dunes,
The area was left wide open and deserted on this Saturday afternoon and I wanted to get the kids moving before we went out for lunch at some fun place – you know for good healthy exercise. I pulled the minivan up near the base of a 2-3 story high sand cliff, stopped and called out, “All ashore!” The two older kids squirmed out while I released the youngest from his car seat and we gathered at the base looking up to the top.
I had not told the kids what I had in mind, so they looked at me with the unspoken question in their eyes, ‘Okay. What’s next Dad?’ I knelt down and tested the density of the sand to make sure my idea was going to work. The sand grains were bigger than the California beaches I was used to, but they easily broke apart from crumbly clods to fully granulated sand – perfect.
“We climb guys. Climb to the top as quick as you can.” We hit the cliff and scrambled like mad to climb higher. Because it was sand they slid back one step for every 3-5 that they progressed higher. Our youngest, in particular needed help against the disability of being stuck with short four-year old legs, but we made it to the top with everyone breathing hard. Did I forget to remind you that Colorado Springs is higher than even mile-high Denver, so getting enough oxygen is much more work there than on any of those California beaches I was raised on.
But we made it and stood near the crumbly sandy edge of the cliff enjoying the view and catching our breath. “Great job guys !”
“What now Dad?” one of them finally asked.
“We take the fun way back down of course!” I took a couple of steps back to take a run and jumped as far out into open air as far as I could. The kids watched in shock thinking their dad was committing suicide, but it was a sand dune cliff. No matter how far out I jumped, I landed on soft sand which gently slowed my fall and splashed sand everywhere. It was so cool!
As soon as they saw that I didn’t die and instead turned to call them to follow me, they all saw that this really worked and was going to be great fun. In seconds the sky above me was full of my offspring taking their first unaided flight, screaming like maniacs as they flew through the air, eyes wide with fear until they landed in the soft sand which gently slowed them and left them laughing and screaming what fun that was and “can we do it again Dad?”
We only spent about 45 minute climbing and leaping, but man – was this fun. Too bad the kids were so young that only the two older kids sorta remember it now. At the time they were so wound up, they couldn’t wait to tell Mom, which was unfortunate and resulted in one of those, “You did what?” conversations with my wife about almost killing our children. She’s a good mom, but has since learned to work with me on some things like this.
“It was a home school thing Hon! We learned about gravity, safe landings, and the density of sand. They also had to have learned something about their personal aerodynamics and. . .”
“Stop while you’re still alive – okay?”
So I did my part of trying crazy things from time to time and gradually got better about concealing it from The Mom — okay, I’m just joking — mostly.
Many years later after we’d moved to Sonoma County, there was another great home school moment one day when we ordered one of those frozen meat samplers by mail and what showed up was this cool box with a Styrofoam coolers packed with our order of meats and a bunchy of dry ice and another great home school experiment came to mind.
First I warned the kids not to touch the dry ice. “It’s not like ice from the freezer guys. That ice is only 25-30 degrees cold. Dry ice is over 100 degrees below zero. Our temperature gauges don’t even show that cold and if you touch it with bare skin, it kills the cells that it touches and is like the reverse of a fire burn.” That got their attention.
“But there are fun things you can do with it. Get me a pan, half full of water.” They did and I used a wooden hammer to break off a piece of dry ice, which I dropped into the water. Of course the dry ice immediately began to boil and sublimate into thick water vapor fog that sunk to the counter top and spread across the counter and dropped to the floor where it could.
“Is it poison?”
“Nope. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide which can displace oxygen, but in the open like our kitchen, is not thick enough to be dangerous and the fog itself is just water vapor.”
They were waving their hands through the thick mist and blowing it around, generally having a fun time. “But contained in a certain way, dry ice can be dangerous.
“Well let’s see if we can do an experiment to find out.”
We pulled a thin walled water bottle from the recycling bin and filled it about a quarter way with warm water. I broke off some small pieces of dry ice and put them in paper cups. We moved out to the back yard and I held the bottle while they used plastic spoons to quickly drop in their fragments of dry ice into the bottle. In the warm water, the fog formed immediately. We guessed at how much dry ice was needed but when it was all in the bottle. I pressed on the lid and tightened it as snug as I could and threw the bottle out into the center of the lawn and moved the kids back.
“Let’s see if the fog reaches a high enough pressure to explode the bottle.”
“Like a bomb!?”
“Just like a bomb.”
They huddled behind the yard table and watched.
. . . and watched. . .
. . . and watched. . .
I was starting to think we didn’t put in enough dry ice or the pressure just wasn’t going to get high enough, but we kept watching . . .
Seconds passed and their tension built.
My oldest finally said, “I don’t think it’s going to work.”
“Maybe not,” I answered. “Maybe the bottle is too strong for the -”
The bottle blew itself fully apart.
The sound echoed through the neighborhood.
Someone’s car alarm went off and all the local dogs started howling.
The shock wave caused flocks of birds to explode from nearby trees.
Mom yelled from the house – “What Are You Doing Out There?!?!”
“Don’t answer – her question is rhetorical.”
“Wow! That was sooo cool Dad! ! !”
The daughter asked, “What does ‘rhetorical’ mean?”
The boys ran out to the lawn to recover the fragments of the water bottle.
The back door flew open and The Mom burst out to see if we were all still alive.
We were. Dad was on the job.
After verifying that her children were well, despite being thrilled. She let me know that I’d be talking to the police if they show up at the door. It really was much louder that anything I expected.
“That’s fine Hon. I’ll just tell them it was a dry ice home school experiment.