As published in the Gilroy Dispatch, Friday January 26, 2001
by Cynthia Walker
On Friday January 19th, South Valley Homeschoolers Association held its first-ever World's Fair. We were all pretty nervous about it.
The 24 kids were nervous because each had to stand up and give a three-minute speech about the country he or she had been studying, for two different audiences. We mothers were nervous because when you homeschool, you can't blame the kid's performance on the teacher, or conversely, on uncaring parents. And I, in particular, was a basket-case, because I had arranged the Fair at a facility with which we had never worked, and right up until showtime, I suffered irrational fears that we would, at the last minute, be denied use of the room.
The Fair was a smashing success.
Normally, I would not have thought to arrange a World's Fair. The annual SVHA Spelling Bee, yes; World's Fair, no. But a couple of years ago, when the kids and I were deep into a study of American history, I heard of a geography curriculum with a promise so outrageous I knew I had to try it.
The curriculum is called "Mapping the World by Heart", and it was developed by a public school teacher, David Smith, for students in grades 5 through 12. The first activity of the year-long curriculum is to give each student an 11 by 17 sheet of paper and have them map everything they can remember of the world: usually a few blobby continents, executed in about 20 minutes of brain-wracking.
At the end of the year, over a span of four weeks, the students painstakingly draw artistic and cartographic marvels from memory. The results are amazing. Check out the website: www.mapping.com . I just knew I had to try it.
I also knew I couldn't do it alone. Math I can manage, and perhaps a few other subjects, but something this elaborate, no. It's like exercise: left to my own inclinations I would dissolve into jelly, but my walking partner keeps me accountable.
So I found a geography partner, to be precise: six geography partners. We and our combined eighteen students and five younger siblings have been meeting weekly all year in each other's living rooms. It's often chaotic, but, man, are we learning geography. Never mind the final project: we already know where Estonia, St. Kitts, and the Atlas Mountains are.
The World's Fair is the year's extra project. Each student chose a country upon which to become an expert. He researched the country, drew a physical features map, prepared a handout and visual displays, and prepared a speech distilling his knowledge. We opened the event to the greater SVHA community, and five more families signed up. Three of these families later dropped out; see what I mean about the value of co-ops for accountability?
Providentially, just as I was casting about for a location, Virginia relayed an invitation from Cheryl, who runs the Live Oak Adult Day Services at Wheeler Manor. Would the homeschoolers like to come in and entertain the adult clients some afternoon? I parried: would the adult clients find a World's Fair entertaining? They would! We would!
So the plan was hammered out, and last Friday, a wagon-train of vans disgorged, in front of Wheeler Manor, children, some gloriously arrayed in kilt or chuiddar or lederhosen, some burdened with matreshka or boomerang or African mask, many bearing food: everything from venison jerky to chips and salsa.
One by one, the students went into the large pleasant dayroom to make their presentations to the admiring circle of seniors. Some of the kids were nervous; one, who has asked to remain anonymous, went white to the lips and almost fainted. Others were in their hambone element. The adults were warmly appreciative, especially when Micara gave her Irish step-dance.
That evening we returned, this time to the Wheeler Manor dining hall, where the kids set up their booths around the periphery. Each in turn gave her speech to the mingled audience of Wheeler Manor residents, friends, and relations. Then we got to wander around, sample the food, and admire the maps and artifacts. And, oh! They did a great job! We were stunned at their poise, enthusiasm, and depth of knowledge.
Thank you, Live Oak Adult Day Services. Thank you, Wheeler Manor residents. Thank you, Nolvia. We had a lovely, lovely time.