A Day in the Life of a Library Homeschooler

  • by Maura Muller

    Pile of books for homeschooling

    Recently I woke up and took a look around our living room and realized that there is absolutely no way we could homeschool our son without The New York Public Library.There were books and DVDs stacked everywhere.  Piles on the end of the couch, books jutting from our “school” bookcase, many books spread out over the coffee table, DVDs by the television and a few books and movies stacked by the front door waiting to be returned.

    It seems that many of my favorite homeschooling blogs have been featuring “A Day in the Life” essays lately, and there have been a few nods to spending time at libraries, but no one mentions homeschooling exclusively using library materials.  So, I will, because we do!  We don’t spend money on expensive curriculum packages, we get almost everything we need from the library!

    Homeschooling our 14-year-old 10th grader starts at 4:45 am when I wake up, make coffee for me and tea for him and get all his supplies ready for our morning lesson.  I teach him French and Math before I leave for work at NYPL in the Volunteer Office and my husband takes over for the rest of the day.  On this day we start with reviewing a few pages and “brain ticklers” from Painless Geometry. This book is part of a great series that covers everything from Painless Fractions to Painless Public Speaking. Next, we move on to Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.  Even though these books are written for girls, my son prefers them to other math texts because the stories are funny and stick in your head, making tough concepts easier to remember.

    He’ll read his assignment after I leave for work while I’ll read a few pages ahead of him on my commute. Right now we have two copies checked out: the paperback for me (which is easier to commute with), and the hardcover for him. Later in the day he’ll read another chapter or two of The Math Instinct: Why You’re a Mathematical Genius (along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats & Dogs). This fascinating book shows how we humans are pretty adept at doing math naturally and the entertaining stories are a great confidence booster. If dogs can do calculus, surely we can tackle geometry, right?!

    I hop in the shower while he takes a 25 minute timed quiz from 500 PSAT Practice Questions. He’s been doing this since September using various test prep DVDs and books from the library and he already sees his scores increasing (and his confidence too.) 

    Out of the shower, I tape his French assignment to the kitchen cabinet. We use a free online program through the University of Texas, called Français Interactif, which a librarian told me about.  We also supplement with books and movies from the library including French in 10 Minutes a Day and 501 French Verbs.  He’s really enjoying  A Year in the Merde, which he thinks is hilarious. We add children’s picture books in French for fun and to help vocabulary stick. Arrête d'interrompre (Interrupting Chicken) was really funny. We also watch a French movie at least once a week. This week it will be La Moustache, but no time today, I’ve got to leave for work. It’s 6:10 am.

    My husband takes over. They are studying the 1970s in history right now so they’ll finish up the book The 1970s and watch Dick Cavett’s Watergate later while eating lunch. They are also studying the decade through the films and music of the 1970s and have borrowed movies such as All The President’s Men.

    Most of their day will be spent working on the citations and formatting of a research paper our son is finishing on combating Red Tide.  He'll be competing at a regional science fair in Syracuse next month. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers has been a constant aid during this process, especially when doing bibliographies. A lifesaver! The number of books he borrowed to get this month’s long project done are too numerous to list but cover everything from the children’s book Crayfish to the more scholarly Freshwater Aquaculture. He also accessed many scientific journals through our electronic databases.

    Later in the afternoon, they usually go for a hike. Then our son will be off to an evening art class at a local cultural center carrying Draw 50 Birds under his arm.  When he gets home he usually reads for 1-2 hours before bed. This week it’s War of the Whales, about a lawyer and marine biologist trying to expose the truth about mass whale strandings caused by the Navy.

    When I get on the train to head home from work, I usually have a few emails from him announcing how he did on a math quiz or a question about his French assignment and usually a request to review and edit any grammatical errors for any papers he’s writing. Once I’m finished, I settle in with my own book. Today it is 66 Square Feet: A Delicious Life.  I can daydream about summer fruits and vegetables, and anticipate my summer garden while the train carries me back to the snowy Catskills. Another day in the life of a library homeschooler draws to an end.