Are you suddenly homeschooling? Maybe you’ve made the choice to do it long-term. We’re here to make sure it’s a joyful and fun experience—it doesn’t have to be daunting and overwhelming. We’ve created a four-part series of low-stress schooling-at-home tips and inspiration for anyone starting out (and for veterans too!). These tips are from Entropy Academy, a homeschooling parent’s memoir full of guidance and inspiration for anyone educating their kids outside of the institution of public education, temporarily or otherwise. In this memoir, Alison Bernhoft recounts how she discovered that she could train her messy home to do half her teaching, while much of the other half unfolded “entropy style”—in the natural process of everyday life.
Turning our bathroom into an Automatic Learning Center was as easy as—well, turning on a faucet. I capitalized on the fact that I had, as it were, a captive audience (show me the person who doesn’t spend any time in the loo and I’ll say you have a freak of nature). Up on the walls went my favorite calendars: one invited the children to tackle a daily math problem, with a small financial incentive to be the first with the correct answer, while in a different bathroom, guests were regaled with natural disasters—hurricanes, tornadoes, and lightning storms. It became quite a talking point.
The pile of books that lay within striking range of the seating area included random books of jokes, puns and oddities, crosswords, anagrams, the always inspirational Book of Heroic Failures: The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain (currently available, I am thankful to say, through Amazon), and Brush Up Your Shakespeare! by Michael Macrone. The latter offers “an infectious tour through the most famous and quotable words and phrases from the Bard.” Through its pages we became familiar with several plays, as well as phrases that are in (semi-) popular use today, from the well-known “If music be the food of love, play on” (Twelfth Night) to the ever-handy, “Hoist with his own petard” (Hamlet).
But it was in the bathtub itself that things became truly exciting. A set of graduated stacking beakers encouraged the children to discover that a smaller receptacle could never hold as much as a bigger one, no matter how often they tried. Plastic measuring cups informed them that a half-cup measure would always hold two quarter cups. We held air under water using a clear plastic disposable cup, tilted the cup slightly, and laughed at the noise of the bubbles surfacing. Which is heavier, water or air? That’s right, water. Is it always? Yes. What would happen if it weren’t? Where would the ocean go? The rivers? What would happen when we turned on the tap and put a glass underneath to catch the water?
Bath time was a good time to introduce the children to the three states of water: they’re sitting in the liquid form, they can see the steam (gas), and the freezer usually had some (solid) ice cubes handy. We’d guess which would melt more quickly, an ice cube in the tub or one in a pitcher of cold water. How about if we have another ice cube in a second jug and stir the water? Does the ice cube melt any quicker, or do we just get cold fingers? We noticed that ice always floats, and thought about how disastrous it would be to aquatic life if it sank instead.
Clear plastic tubing was a great discovery, and considerably increased our arsenal of bubble-blowing techniques. We inverted a plastic cup underwater, so it was full of water, then used the plastic tubing to blow the water out, replacing it with air. Now we have air under water; does that mean it has stopped being lighter than water? What happens if we tip the glass just a tiny bit? A tiny bubble comes out! What happens if we tip a glass a big bit? A big bubble comes out!
A sieve in the bathtub steadfastly refused to hold water. What happens if we line it with a dry washcloth and slowly add 1/4 cup of water? Where does the water go? Into the washcloth! How much water can one washcloth absorb? Let’s find out. Suppose we line the sieve with a plastic bag: how much water goes through? None! It is all still in the sieve; plastic is impermeable to water. Even the tiny water molecules cannot penetrate the plastic.
Possibilities for educating in the tub are numerous, and as enjoyable as they are manifold. Books with titles like Science in the Tub gave me a much fuller idea of the scientific potential of the evening bath, and these days, Googling “science in the bathtub” reveals a wealth of tricks to try. It’s a softcore way of teaching some hardcore science.
Excerpted from Entropy Academy by Alison Bernhoft, full of easy and comforting homeschooling guidance. Paperback available from Chelsea Green and e-book via Amazon! Looking for more tips? See “Visual Materials,” “Science in the Kitchen,” and “Reading Aloud!”