When homeschooling, it is very easy to get caught up in the traditional ideas we have about school and what school means based on our own education growing up.
School is a place you go where you “do” learning. When you are not at school, you are no longer “doing” learning. But homeschooling can free you and your child from this sort of compartmentalized thinking. Learning is no longer a thing you go and do at a specific place; rather it becomes a whole-life philosophy.
Charlotte Mason, the renowned pioneer of homeschool education wrote: “By the saying, EDUCATION IS AN ATMOSPHERE, it is not meant that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment,’…but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere…and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies [impedes, hinders, thwarts] a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level” (Mason 1923: preface).*
In other words, rather than creating a false environment that caters to the child, we bring the child into the world in order for he or she to learn from it and how to be a part of it.
For instance, we live near the beach. I do not consider a day at the beach a lost school day, but a day for my child to experience and learn in a new and real world place. We see horseshoe crabs, sea turtles and seabirds of all sorts in front of our eyes behaving as they do in the wild because they are in the wild. We are simply joining them where they live. Imagine swimming in the warm Atlantic currents and watching a seabird swoop down and snatch a fish right from the sea. It is one thing to read about the habits of horseshoe crabs or seabirds, and an entirely other thing to observe them firsthand. Isn’t there a certain joy and excitement that bubbles up anytime one catches sight of an animal in its habitat? One that cannot quite be captured in a book or, even though I love them, in a zoo?
A complete education can and should include time in nature as noted by Ms. Mason. She wrote, “…the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes- moor and meadow, park, common, or shore- where he may find new things to examine, and so observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis for scientific knowledge.”* While at the beach or out in nature, the child can pick up, see and touch what is in nature.
Another place we love to take field trips is to museums. While museums are not always the actual historical sight, they contain fossils and artifacts that bring a historical world into the present and allow the child to travel internally to the past where the fossil or artifact would have actually existed.
Take for example, dinosaur bones. It is difficult to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the dinosaurs strictly from a book. At the Natural History Museum, the skeletal remains of the Seismosaurus will impart a sense of awe for these giant creatures. The same is true of man made artifacts. It is fascinating to see firsthand objects made and used by our human ancestors. It brings the observer a feeling of connection to the person or persons who may have used the object.
None of this is to say that academics are not important. Indeed, a plaque at a museum can only give the reader a small amount of information about any given object, whereas as a book can delve deeply into the whys and wherefores.
The educational life of a child should include both formal learning ( sitting down and doing math problems, diagramming sentences, and reading texts and living history books) as well as time out in the world (either in nature, historical sites or museums). I would even argue that a day given completely to having fun is of great benefit. A field trip to the amusement park yields many moments filled with the sheer joy of being alive. Every well-rounded life needs that too. It’s okay to just have fun!
*Infed; “Charlotte Mason: Education, Atmosphere, Habit and Living Ideas” http://infed.org/mobi/charlotte-mason-education-atmosphere-habit-and-living-ideas/