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The Work of a Child

by Kathryn Graunke

It was just another spring cleaning event, except this time I was going to finally tackle the toys in the closet. You may not know how funny this is: my kids are mostly adults now. Obviously, I’ve been putting it off for years. I might have needed these things, right? Lincoln Logs and LEGOs are such a hot item for high school projects. I had to ask myself, “Why is this such an emotional event? Kids grow up. All kids outgrow their toys.”

The answer was really about the last 20+ years of homeschooling. These weren’t just toys. They were the memories of our school. You see, we played school. It wasn’t “playing school” in the sense of a kid standing at a chalkboard while another child sits at a desk. It was playing whatever we were learning. It was serious kid play.

Westward Expansion: There was that Daniel Boone cap and wooden knife. Ancient Egypt: A Pharaoh’s headdress. Ancient Rome: They played the game Conquest of the Empire and learned about building cities, geography, and even inflation. I found a Robin Hood hat, a Playmobile Viking ship, castles and knights, math games, and my personal favorite: Civil War costumes made by the boys. One was Grant, and the other was Lee.

My husband likes to say that they had a charmed childhood. Learning, playing, being creative, and having fun was all wrapped up in one!

Homeschooling has greatly expanded and changed in the last twenty years. I see posts online all the time from the moms who are just beginning this journey with their little ones. “What curriculum should I buy? How do I keep grades? Should we do an online, accredited school?” These are all valid questions, especially considering the number of options that are out there. I didn’t have those options.

I started homeschooling before there was this thing called internet in our home.  We checked out books from the library on every imaginable subject. We delved deeply into new history and science unit study topics every year. We spent weeks with the Wright brothers and an entire semester with Lewis and Clark. We built a model car and spent a month learning about combustion and gears. And I think we renewed that DK book on World War II planes and weapons more times than we were allowed! School was fun.

Eventually, the play-based school gave way to high school textbooks and serious study. Biology, Chemistry, Algebra, SAT prep, choosing a college major. Organized sports, competitive academics, and dual enrollment kept us busy all the time. It was a very natural progression. They had developed a genuine love of learning.

Looking back, I guess I never had time to clean that closet. That’s ok. It was a beautiful reminder of a profound idea: the work of a child is play.

With over 20 years of homeschooling experience, Kathryn has launched three of her four children into college and beyond. Experienced with various homeschooling methods, project-based competitions, gifted education, academic scholarships, and dual enrollment, Kathryn enjoys mentoring both parents and students in homeschooling through high school. She has a bachelor’s degree in math education and is a passionate STEM education advocate. She has coordinated and taught various STEM classes, including state and national award-winning teams. With her youngest in high school, Kathryn’s current job titles are veteran homeschool mom, dedicated robotics mom, enthusiastic swim mom, and proud grandma.