Unexpected Lessons

One of my favorite things about homeschooling, especially in the city, is how many times we go out and happen upon learning experiences.  We are a pretty active family who likes to explore and always be on the go.  Even the most routine adventure can be turned into a lesson, which appeals to this worksheet hating mama.

My son’s bike needed minor repairs and had been out of commission all summer.  We were so busy city pool hopping though that it wasn’t really an issue.  Now that the weather has returned to sanity (goodbye 90° and up!) I figured it was time to take care of the bike.  Every parent with highly active children know the value– for the kids and any person around them– in making sure they are well exercised.

The bike was a gifted to my son, Xavier, from our friend Rocky, who volunteers in a beloved community bike shop.  The shop owner made a habit over the years of reconditioning bikes to give to less fortunate kids and families who may not be able to afford purchasing one themselves.  We happened to be one of those families at the time and I can’t express the amount of joy Xavier had receiving it.  Since I know nothing about servicing bikes, I messaged the man who built it.   Xave is really into fixing so I asked Rocky if he could be a part of servicing the bike, it was no problem.

We got to Kraynick’s Bike Shop in the Garfield community of Pittsburgh, unloaded the bikes (we brought the whole family’s) and went in to set up.


I wasn’t aware of it before, but the shop is actually set up as a workspace for the community.  Locals can come in and tune their own bikes, or have Mr. Kraynick or a volunteer fix it for them. Either way, people are encouraged (though not made) to take part in the process.   This was perfect!

Rocky mounted the bikes on the rack, one after the other, and proceeded to show Xavier the basics of how to oil the chains, test and adjust the gears on the adult bikes, fill the tires, and fix a slipped chain.  Xavier mentioned that he would like a hand brake, so Rocky went above and beyond and showed him how to install one as they worked on it together.  He even threw in a headlight for the night riding Xave so desperately wants to do (‘fraid not yet, my young son).

This morning Xavier is schooling me on how the brake works, how to put it on, and where the rear hand brake will go when he has mastered the front one.  There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing my children learn practical life lessons.  We love book learning, that certainly has a place in our homeschool days, but seeing them learn how to actually take care of things themselves is priceless.  The added bonus yesterday was Xavier seeing community in action.  These two things combined– practical learning and community involvement– made a wonderful day of unexpected lessons.  And it was amazing.   ~Audrey


Treasure Hunt

The homepage for this blog states that “Neighborhood Homeschool was born from a desire among parents to see the day-to-day stories of families homeschooling in urban settings.  Homeschooling changes a family’s relationship to its community and environment.  After all, every nook of our surroundings becomes a classroom.”  An experience in our homeschool this week embodies that description better than anything else I have written for the blog so far and I would love to share it with you.

We did a unit on maps and map reading this week.  As a capstone activity, I set up a treasure hunt of sorts for him in our neighborhood. We are lucky to live a block away from one of the longer business districts in the city.  We have three blocks full of independently owned businesses working together to make our community a fantastic place to live.  My husband and I are huge proponents of the shop local movement and make every effort we can to shop on “the boulevard” for everything we can. As a result, most of the owners of those small businesses know us and our son and were willing to be my accomplices in the treasure hunt.  It pays to know people!

There were a number of challenges including the fact that I had to get away from my son to set it up and my son can’t read yet.  My husband helped out with the first problem by distraction the little guy for a while so I could go plant the clues.  The second challenge was a bit trickier.  I decided to make the map largely with online clipart images which he could recognize as representing a business he is familiar with or the name of a street he knows.  In the image below, the stack of money is the bank and the coffee mug is the coffee shop. I was feeling particularly clever about the images for Castlegate Avenue!


He followed clues which led him up and down the business district until he ended up with his treasure of chocolate ice cream.  Each business owner along the way engaged him in a conversation about homeschool, about maps, about treasure hunts, or about puzzles before they gave him the envelope with his next clue and a puzzle piece.   Each clue had a short verse to indicate where we were going next and the image of the next location on the map on it.   He glued the puzzle pieces onto a piece of cardboard to reveal the final clue – an ice cream cone.


We both had a great time and so did everyone we talked to along the way. I was absolutely thrilled at how involved all of our friends in the neighborhood got.  It’s a good day when a five year old boy on a treasure hunt stops by and you can be part of the adventure.

So many things I love about urban homeschooling happened in this treasure hunt.  Not only did we get to use a map in a hands-on activity which got us out of the house, but we got to collaborate with our friends and neighbors and support our community in the process.  As stated in our blog description, our community became our classroom. What a treasure that is!  ~P.L.H.