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On-the-Job Unschooling: Young Children at a Concrete Pour

Joy was homeschooled K-12 in the days before it was popular, and has homeschooled her 2 children since their infancy. She has no regrets.

"Floating" the New Concrete Slab

Crew foreman Les uses a large float to smooth this newly-poured section of   cement.

Crew foreman Les uses a large float to smooth this newly-poured section of cement.

Construction Related Field Trips Are a Regular Part of Our Homeschooling Lifestyle

Do What Works

My husband and I have worked in sheet metal construction together for seven years. This means that our children have been raised in an atmosphere of hard work, and also that a combination of homeschooling and unschooling works very well for us.

For those of you who may be contemplating such a move, I thought a peek into our lives would be helpful in making the right decision for your family.

It is therefore I took some snapshots of the kids at a concrete pour in 2009, and this "field trip" is what I'm sharing here.

Our Education Goals

Our goal as parents is to form in our children a sense of confidence and a can-do attitude, so that no matter what they face in life, or what field in which they may work, they'll have an excellent chance of success. Hard work won't solve everything, but knowing how to do many kinds of jobs can mean the difference between a ho-hum life, and one full of aspirations, goals, and various successes.

I know you want this same confidence for your children, and we would love to hear your success stories.

We know there are many good ways of supplying children with an excellent education. A flexible approach, mixed with consistent--and more formal--periods of intellectual learning, is what fits our lifestyle best.

Ground Preparation Tools

A machine to smooth the leveled underlayment for the concrete pad sits off to the side, on a section which has already been done.

A machine to smooth the leveled underlayment for the concrete pad sits off to the side, on a section which has already been done.

This machine helps compact and settle the dirt, so air pockets don't cause problems during or after the pouring of the concrete.

This machine helps compact and settle the dirt, so air pockets don't cause problems during or after the pouring of the concrete.

Earlier Ground Prep

The kids know that other tools than these were used in ground prep. The building site was leveled, and a sand-gravel mixture was trucked in to provide a good underlayment for the concrete. They know the work is exacting, and no shirkers are wanted during any stage of a concrete pour.

Pouring the Concrete

For starters, the kids were instructed to stay on the sidelines, and observe. That is a power cement trowel next to them. The building had been partially floored on a previous day.

For starters, the kids were instructed to stay on the sidelines, and observe. That is a power cement trowel next to them. The building had been partially floored on a previous day.

They see how the chute sections are put in place, and how the truck is backed toward the far interior of the building. They know that a good truck driver is worth a lot, and have seen the messy results of some poor ones.

They see how the chute sections are put in place, and how the truck is backed toward the far interior of the building. They know that a good truck driver is worth a lot, and have seen the messy results of some poor ones.

The concrete pour is started in the back of the building. My husband helps direct the flow of the concrete, keeping it well within the appropriate section.

The concrete pour is started in the back of the building. My husband helps direct the flow of the concrete, keeping it well within the appropriate section.

We had covered the window nearest the chute with a piece of sheet metal, in case of accidents in handling the chute or other equipment. That is a power screed lying across the section.

We had covered the window nearest the chute with a piece of sheet metal, in case of accidents in handling the chute or other equipment. That is a power screed lying across the section.

My husband and his co-worker use drags to help apportion and smooth the concrete

My husband and his co-worker use drags to help apportion and smooth the concrete

Using the Power Screed

The men don't have to use a lot of muscle with this screed, as it is a power screed, and shakes the concrete into place. But they do need to be watchful and consistent, or the concrete may wind up slightly humpy.

The men don't have to use a lot of muscle with this screed, as it is a power screed, and shakes the concrete into place. But they do need to be watchful and consistent, or the concrete may wind up slightly humpy.

They go over the slab several times, giving more attention to some places than others. Holes or dips are filled in with shovelfuls of concrete, or a drag is used to move concrete from high spots into low ones.

They go over the slab several times, giving more attention to some places than others. Holes or dips are filled in with shovelfuls of concrete, or a drag is used to move concrete from high spots into low ones.

Further Finishing Tasks

The concrete will be worked with a power trowel, then finished by hand to provide a good, strong, appropriate surface on which to park heavy equipment. A glass-smooth finish is not wanted in this situation.

Cleaning the Equipment on the Cement Truck

Billy enjoys watching how everything on the truck is hosed clean . . .

Billy enjoys watching how everything on the truck is hosed clean . . .

. . . then each of the chute sections is put in its appropriate place on the sides of the truck.

. . . then each of the chute sections is put in its appropriate place on the sides of the truck.

Attention to detail is very important, and this truck driver is thorough in his  methods.

Attention to detail is very important, and this truck driver is thorough in his methods.

His truck is now ready to return to company headquarters.

His truck is now ready to return to company headquarters.

Our Driver Is Finished With This Job . . . for Now.

After the cement truck driver has done his part in delivering the mix, and has taken a few minutes to makes sure the job is going well and his muscle is not wanted, he cleans his truck and drives away. (Not all drivers are considerate enough to stay the extra few minutes which this one devotes to most jobs. He is our favorite driver.)

Now it is up to a crew of two to finish the cement through an hours-long process of smoothing, smoothing again, and edging.

Another day, Dennis the driver will be back to deliver more concrete to pour another section of this big slab.

What to Do With Extra Concrete

A bit of extra concrete was left after today's section of the pad was poured. This was the case on the other sections which had been completed, as well. Anticipating this, the foreman had built a form next to the outside of the building, into which the extra bits were scraped.

This narrow pad will catch runoff and prevent it from digging a ditch.

Finishing the Pad Outside the Building

Holes are drilled for extra stabilization of the ground next to the building, as runoff is heavy here.

Holes are drilled for extra stabilization of the ground next to the building, as runoff is heavy here.

My husband uses a hand-held float to smooth the concrete along the outside wall of the building.

My husband uses a hand-held float to smooth the concrete along the outside wall of the building.

Hands-On Work Builds Confidence, Which Spreads to Other Jobs and Opportunities

The children did not learn everything there is to know about pouring concrete, nor did they have an opportunity to get their hands dirty on this job. But they did learn a fair amount by watching the process.

Billy still talks about this pour, and the good time he had watching the cement truck and learning about the different parts. Dennis, the driver, was willing to answer his questions and show him how things worked.

My daughter enjoyed running the length of the building, jumping the forms and shrieking . . . after this section of the pour was completed and dry. She will most likely have other opportunities to "help" with cement, and at that time will probably want to do all she can. In fact, she has helped her daddy do a couple small pours around the home, and is very proud of her skills.

On a day after this, Billy got to try his hand at troweling cement, and learned how careful he must be while washing the tools. He had some filing to do on a couple of them, after he refused to follow instructions while the cement was still wet.

Even if neither of the kids gets into the field of construction as adults, they will have the confidence that they can learn, and do things well . . . whatever they choose to do.

About the Featured Jobsite

This was a fairly typical spring day for the kids. That is, my husband and I had been working on a job site on an old farmstead for a few weeks. A retired couple had bought the farm with plans to run it hand-in-hand with their new son-in-law, who made his living raising Black Angus cattle, bees, and alfalfa hay. The place had been empty for some years and, while the fields for growing crops were fine, the yards and windbreak were a mess. The first thing the couple did was to clear away all the dead brush and the fallen-down outbuildings, and construct a lovely new brick house. Then they planned the shop, and corrals.

The shop/storage building is the one featured in this article. We built it from the ground up using post-frame construction, and were on the tail-end of the job when I took these photos.

The kids have been accustomed from infancy to heavy machinery and heavy jobs, and have been taught to exercise self-control whenever the circumstances demand it. They know how to mind, and how to either keep out of the way, or help on a job site, according to their skill sets and the danger level of the job at hand.

They did very well on this site, sometimes helping in their limited way, and--equally important--staying back out of the way when prudent.

Please Add Your Experiences About Hands-On Schooling (Comments Section Below is Always Open)

Extra-Curricular LEGO Truck Activity

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Joilene Rasmussen

Comments

Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on February 01, 2011:

This is a great way to teach. My husband used to take our Jason, who was old enough to work along with him, to our condos to learn to lay floors, do minor repairs, etc. We were homeschooling him, and he was in the midst of a project where he was drawing what he observed at the construction sites near us, and would have then written the explanations, had he lived long enough. He used to visit one site about three blocks away almost every morning around 6 so he could talk to the workers as they gathered for coffee before they started their work day. Some even let him hammer a few nails with them before the foreman found out and put a stop to it. He was 14 when he took a jet ski ride to heaven, but that's another story I've told elsewhere.

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on January 30, 2011:

CUTE/loved the photos!

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from United States on January 27, 2011:

De Greek,

Thanks for reading! You are one of my favorite HP people.

Contrary to your compliment, I often feel like a cruddy parent, but all things taken together, I wouldn't trade parenting for the world.

De Greek from UK on January 27, 2011:

I wrote such a long comment on this and then it disappeared for some reason - anyway, I loved this :-))

De Greek from UK on January 27, 2011:

I loved every stage and every photo! Wonderful stuff and you are obviously such good parents to teach in such a practical and enjoyable manner :-)

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from United States on January 26, 2011:

WildIris,

We do not let the kids leave handprints and dates in customers' concrete. However, they have left their marks in several other, less "professional" pours around our area. The leftover concrete (of which there wasn't much) went for other little projects around the farmstead in the article.

I think it's neat that you taught your boys how to work. We, too, have done several projects "the hard way", with buckets, wheelbarrow, etc. Memories get made either way.

WildIris on January 26, 2011:

Aw...no hand prints in the concrete? My kids loved concrete day. With the left-over mud from a pour we made stepping stones with hand prints, names and dates. 20 years later it is kinda cool to look down at one of these stones. When my sons got older we taught them how to mix stucco by hand in a concrete boat, then haul buckets up scaffolding.

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