When I first climbed aboard the home-schooling wagon, I had lofty expectations of how it would be. I pictured us visiting historic attractions and nature centers on the regular and traipsing around deserted museums and parks while most kids were stuck at their desks. And when we got tired of what Richmond had to offer, we'd jump in the car for a day trip! Because we could!
But somewhere in my fantasy, I forgot to figure in cost, and working around The Boy's lessons and classes, to say nothing of my job. So while we have been to parks and battlefields, and we have taken a couple of educational trips, most days you'll find The Boy around the house, doing schoolwork in the living room. And because this only takes up a portion of the day, I worry that he is bored. Precious hours of his childhood are being wasted when he could be doing something stimulating and enriching.
Then I watch him online, playing games, researching robots and drawing fancy designs with art programs, and I worry that he is being completely over-stimulated, and that his constant access to technology and information is going to make him less able to think and imagine for himself. What's that you say? I'm contradicting myself? Well, parental guilt is an endless series of gut-wrenching contradictions.
Weighing my parenting sins and calculating their relative effects, I reflect on my own childhood. I remember the trips to Jamestown and Maymont and the Smithsonian, and all of the enriching activities that my parents provided for me, but the real molding and shaping — what I would call "personal development" if I were trying to be fancy — grew out of plain, old-fashioned boredom.
I was a fast worker in school. I usually finished my assignments ahead of the class. That left me plenty of time to free-write in my journal and to read. There weren't many books in my classrooms that I didn't read, and a lot of them I read more than once. All that unassigned writing and in-depth reading made me a better writer.
At home I followed the same pattern. I read all of my books, and my siblings', and once I finished those, I started on my parents' books. Many nights I took an encyclopedia to bed with me (A and S were the best ones, because they were the thickest). When I was in middle school, my mom went back to VCU and got her master's in social work. Her textbooks provided me with a new world of fascinating information. Nothing beats boredom like Abnormal Psych case studies.
Of course, The Boy isn't old enough to read encyclopedias just yet; his Dr. Seuss books are still a challenge. But sometimes I worry that the technology-heavy times in which we live will rob him of his chance to be bored, and the benefits that come from having to find entertainment in a book — or for that matter, a stick, or an unexplored corner of the house.
One of the most exciting days of my childhood was when I discovered, behind our clothes dryer, a little door that led under the stairs. I couldn't have been more thrilled if I'd discovered a portal to another world. But if I'd had access to 173 channels and umpty-million websites and games, all offering full-color CGI worlds at my fingertips, I never would have crawled behind the dryer and found that door.
Maybe I'm just an old grouch. One could argue that the Internet is more enriching than a dusty crawl space full of lead paint and rusty nails. I should be glad that The Boy has a world of information available to him at all times. And most of the time, I am. But then I remember the mythical worlds we invented in my grandparents' backyard, and the detailed maps and histories we wrote for them, and I realize what a challenge and a blessing it was to have to entertain myself. And I wonder if I need to bore my child a little more.