The Magic School Bus Way of Teaching

by Doreen Blanding

One of my favorite PBS shows is "The Magic School Bus". I have learned so much from that show. Miss Frizzle is such a creative teacher and she has a bus that can do anything. Oh, I could learn a lot from being in her class and going on field trips inside the human body or to Pluto, but reality and physics say otherwise. Could I be like Miss Frizzle and help my kids learn without the Magic School Bus? Could the way she teaches me help me teach my own children? 

Miss Frizzle is a great teacher and I have learned a lot about teaching from her. She makes sure everyone is safe. "Seatbelts, everyone," is heard at least once every episode. She never lets the children sit out and not participate, even when they would rather not. Ralphie is often heard saying, "I knew I should have stayed home today!" but to no avail, he gets involved and learns. She also lets the kids explore and learn. My favorite saying of hers is, "Take chances, make mistakes and get messy." Learning is all about taking chances, making mistakes and truly getting messy.

Seatbelts Everyone!
When we teach our children we need to make sure they are safe. We put safety goggles on when we deal with chemicals. We put play chips under their swing set, and nets up on trampolines. We keep them away from dangerous situations. 

King Benjamin said, "I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them." (Mosiah 4:29). If 2200 years ago King Benjamin couldn't number the ways for the children of God to fall into sin, just think about the number of ways to commit sin there are today. Our prophets have warned us about the wickedness of the world; just listen to their General Conference talks. They tell us, just as King Benjamin did, how to stay safe from Satan's grasp but do we heed their warning and their call? 

Keeping my children home has saved them from physical harm, illnesses as well as spiritual harm. I want them to be physically safe from the evils of the world that could harm them. As much as I would love to wrap them in bubble wrap each day, I can't, but I can safeguard them from some of the physical ills that infect our nation's school. As I attend some function, I never fail to hear of some physical hardship my friends' children go through as they attend school. One kid won't use the restroom because of what goes on in there. Another won't ride the bus. Another teen has begged her mother to homeschool her because she is picked on for her beliefs and small stature. My children's personal safety is one reason I homeschool them.

My children have been safe from the vulgar language that permeates the halls of our local schools daily. They have been safe from the daily temptations to break the Word of Wisdom. They have been safe from the mocks and jeers that come from the "Large and Spacious Building". There is no vulgar language or temptation to commit sin in our school. Instead we learn in a welcoming, loving and productive environment. They are not sheltered; they just aren't tempted, mocked, or laughed at because they have different morals than those of their peers. 

I know that by keeping my children home I am keeping them away from some of the things our prophets warn us about. As my older children venture more and more into the world through work, college classes and social activities, I'm more and more thankful that I was able to keep them physically and spiritually safe through homeschooling during those most precious times in their life. I have chosen to homeschool my children so that I can monitor their safety and be the one who influences them for good. They have their seatbelts on.

No One Left Behind!
One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that we do it all together. No one is left out and for the most part we all learn together. One day while I was teaching my three older children about Leonardo Di Vinci I remember seeing my next youngest son, about four years old, standing on the edge listening with eager ears. I invited him to join us in our learning. He jumped into a chair. He joined us while we learned about the Renaissance. This same child would sit on the steps into the living room watching his older brothers have their piano lessons. After the lessons he would sit down and begin playing the piece just taught. Once again he didn't want to be left behind. I have enjoyed having the young and the old learn together. 

When we do projects we do them together as a family. We build forts together, paper mache volcanoes, decks, learn chemistry and go on field trips together. As my children grow up and go to college I can see how important it was for us to learn together so that we not only gain knowledge together but have built lasting memories together. 

I have noticed that my children don't want to leave anyone behind either. When a child is struggling with a concept, I notice that I'm not the only one who can answer the questions or clarify the misunderstanding. I've seen an older child help a younger child with an assignment. They truly want to make sure no one is left behind.

"Take Chances & Make Mistakes..."
In our schoolroom there is a poster that says, "Mistakes are an opportunity to learn." I wish I could remember the person who said that so I can credit him or her, but I can't. The longer I am a mom the more I can attest to that saying. It's true.

I love to take photographs and am so thankful that I can take pictures in digital as it has allowed me to play around with my camera at very little expense. Many of the photos I take get the delete button treatment, but I pause before I hit the button to see what I can learn from the photo. As my children are getting older and have a curiosity in the photography world, I do not hesitate to let them take the camera and take pictures. I know that when we get home and upload them, we will learn a lot from their pictures. We have learned about lighting, camera jiggle and camera angle. We also learned that we can take some darn good photos. I have learned to take a chance on my children's ability. 

In science, we have learned to read all the instructions before beginning experiments because of all the times we have ruined an experiment by not doing it right. We have learned that mistakes happen and can ruin things when we don't follow instructions. Chemicals only react when properly put together and ceilings can be ruined when directions are not followed. 

Our family has made wonderful memories as we have taken chances and made mistakes. We have made plenty of mistakes in learning history, science, spelling, geography, social studies and just plain life. 

".. Get Messy!"
Homeschooling is not easy. If it was more parents would be doing it. It can get messy in the day to day administration of study as well as get difficult as "life" enters into "classroom." Sometimes the mess is called for, like when we are making volcanoes erupt with baking soda and vinegar or making a piñata because we just studied Mexico. Sometimes schooling gets messy because we didn't plan well enough or something unforeseen gets thrown at us. 

Miss Frizzle was wonderful at letting her children get messy. The longer I am a mother the more I know that life is messy and there are many messes that we just can't stop from happening no matter how much we want to. Life is messy and we just have to deal with it. Sometimes our homeschooling day doesn't go the way we want it to. The baby spills his breakfast over the older child's math lessons. The phone won't stop ringing and the kids are uncooperative. Our visiting teachers come when it isn't convenient. Children (even mom) get sick and the list goes on. It is how we handle our lives and our homeschooling during these times that truly test us as homeschooling parents. 

It is how we deal with it that matters. Just like making mistakes is an opportunity to learn, when life gets messy we can learn from it as well. Often we don't see the learning until we have finished with the mess and look back over the road we have traveled. But we are always better for dealing with the mess with a humble and thankful heart. Let your children see the messes life gives you and grow together as a family. There is nothing like sitting back and taking a look together at a kitchen that 30 minutes ago had paper mache clinging to the counters and now sparkles. Even more rewarding is looking back over 17 years of homeschooling and seeing that you didn't do too bad. A little elbow grease, perseverance and togetherness can get you through any and all of life's messes.

Miss Frizzle has taught me a lot about learning and about teaching. Magical things happen when everyone is safe and secure in the school bus. We learn together, make mistake while taking chances and somehow we come through the messes life hands us with an appreciation for the lessons learned the knowledge gained and the memories that are priceless and will last into the eternities.