Party On, Cowboy!
(Johannah 4, Jacob 15 mos., Noah 6, 1993)
Co-ops? Forget ’em.
Neat lesson planners? Not!
Workbooks and textbooks? No way.
When we hit a wall where life becomes ho hum and kids want to do something, we throw parties. Real parties. Not the diluted kind that are veiled attempts to coerce learning, but the kind that feature snack foods with sugar and red dye #2, mud and loud music. Oh, and every one of our parties has some version of “pin the tail on the donkey.” (When we threw a party about India, we played “pin the bathing woman on the Ganges River.” :))
Noah got interested in the Gold Rush (California history) at age ten. We put sand in a sand box, buried fool’s gold, rigged a hose to reach the makeshift rockers, and provided pie plates to invited guests to pan for gold. We built a stand where you could exchange gold for pennies and buy root beer or licorice. We fired up a camp stove and served pork ‘n beans. Guests brought bed rolls. We sang “O Susanna” and whittled wood. Noah posted a drawing of Sutter’s Creek on a map of California and guests had to “pin the gold nugget” where gold was first discovered after being blind-folded.
Party guests came dressed in their western clothes and were given notecards with descriptions of who they were for the day. Noah had researched various famous people as well as a few made-up, yet likely, characters of the period.
What a party! I’ll never forget how the boys began hammering boards together to make some kind of elaborate sifting mechanism (tools and wood provided) while the girls, instead, went straight to the sandbox to dig for gold. After about fifteen minutes, a six-year-old girl screamed, “GOLD!” and just like 150 years before, everyone dropped their hammers and shovels and plunged their hands directly into the muddy sand.
Those who struck it rich, flaunted two cups of root beer to show-off their new wealth.
To plan that party took us six weeks… every day. We didn’t do anything else (besides the usual changing diapers, scrounging for food, and an occasional wipe-down of toilets). No math (except the calculating that went with building, sewing, measuring, and scales), no reading (except for historical fiction and library books about the Gold Rush), and no writing (except for the notecards that described 12 characters for the party, invitations, and instructions for how to play the games).
We’ve traded “school” for parties many times since with the following themes: a solar system tea party (at night of course), a Japanese dinner, a Farmer Boy breakfast, an Indian festival, a Medieval feast, an American Girl day, a re-enactment of the pony express (on bikes), a Moroccan wedding and more.
Why study when you can party with all the benefits (and good food)?