Like many homeschoolers, I am a curriculum junkie. I love math curriculum, language curriculum, and book lists. One thing that that made it into our curriculum basket this year (and I mean this basket literally, because on our days out I can fit all our school supplies into it) was kittens.
It turns out, kittens are educational. So if you're feeling that you'd rather just sit and pet your cat than make your kids fill out worksheets, here's why:
Animals teach us about life. They teach us about life cycles, sex education, instinct, and behavior. Just try explaining neutering to your six year old, and he'll learn all kinds of things.
This summer we were lucky enough to foster this mama and her five kittens until they were old enough to be adopted, which meant we got them young at 11 days old.
We were able to watch her protect them, feed them, communicate with them, and groom them. She even brought in mice to train them, which added some problem-solving to our biology lessons.
Animals teach us social skills, especially when your sibling is holding your kitten. We've had a lot of discussions on sharing, on being gentle, not grabbing, and saying please.
Animals teach children time management. They feel bad if they forget to feed the pets breakfast, and they try harder to fulfill their responsibilities.
We hoped that getting pets would help teach self-regulation, but somehow we ended up with really tolerant, curious, gentle pets instead. Oh, well. I guess we'll just have to keep working on that one.
In our homeschool, the kittens have been inspiration for art. My daughter has experimented more with photography, has written poetry about them, and is working on Meme #31, cataloging their every expression.
Then there are the literacy benefits of kittens. When I started the year, I wanted my kids to work on their fine-motor skills to develop their handwriting. So during storytime (1 hour, taking turns reading aloud), I encourage them to do "handwork." The idea is, if they're knitting, quilting, or building a puzzle, it keeps their fingers busy and their mouths quiet[er]. Want to know what the most popular form of handwork is? Petting kittens.
Here's my youngest reading his reading lesson to his kitten. He has struggled with reading, and on this day he couldn't quite face up to a lesson with me. But he could read to his patient, non-judgmental ball of purring fur.
Since the kittens all needed names, we used the opportunity to add in some history and biography. You can't name a kitten Hypatia without getting to know her namesake a little better.
Sometimes I like to think they might actually be interested in what we're reading.
Kittens make good wrestling buddies.
They teach emotional resilience when, you're 11 years old, and your mom "never listens" and even though you're trying to be mature, right now, you just, can't.
Kittens play hide and seek. They evade predators (owls, hawks, coyotes, brothers) time and time again. And each time you find them, after you thought this time they were mincemeat for sure, you discover just how capable you are of love.
Young children are so interested in animals because they are figuring out who they are. To understand what is human, you must understand what isn't. You must parse out what makes you the same, and why, and what makes you different. I could either add a study of metaphysics to our curriculum basket, or, we could just pet a kitten.
But what about math? Yes, kittens even teach math. The kids were in charge of weighing them and calculating how much to feed them, and how much their expenses might cost.
And, now we can all count to five.
We adopted two of the kittens and had to say goodbye to the other cats, who hopefully found quieter homes. Someday, maybe our two remaining kittens will also teach us something about loss, but I hope, not yet.
Guess what-- we don't need a course to teach computer skills. We own a computer and if left to themselves this is what my kids would do ALL DAY LONG:
Now you know that we're really a bunch of zombies. Or at least normal.
We type up reports in a word processor (together) and research topics as needed. When they are fluent in their handwriting, I'll allow them to learn to type. But they're still not getting the password. Because this is what they would do ALL DAY LONG:
I don't think we would thrive as unschoolers, as much as I'd like to. We just don't have the self-discipline.
They get too much screen-time as it is. Hand my two-year-old an iPad, even though we don't own one, and I'll bet he could figure it out and change your password before you know it. Technology has it's own incentive to be user-friendly; I don't imagine we'll be that far behind if we exercise restraint during our early years when our brains are still adjusting to the physical world. I think I'd be furious if my kids went to public school and came home with free Chromebooks and a mandate to do all their homework on them.
My high horse doesn't mean I'm against computer literacy. They ought to know how to navigate (and compete) in the modern world. We'll likely take computer-based courses at some point. Maybe their interests will lead them deeper into technology, and I will humbly assist. They'll learn how to use a search engine, I promise. Once they've learned moderation and self-control. Technology is awesome, and useful, and educational, and entertaining, but my generation is a very poor model for how to balance technology with human life. We're addicted. The next generation will be smarter. They'll know when to unplug.