Big Papa’s Basement School


School is in! Even though this column is being published on April Fools Day, it’s not a joke. It’s oh so real.

For the last two weeks, I’ve downloaded lesson plans, math sheets, sight words, and writing exercises. Since their school was closed, Camp Big Papa has expanded their offerings and held school each day for our two granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline.

In our makeshift basement classroom, Big Papa’s Basement School, the ratio is one teacher per two students.

First, an apology is in order. I’m sorry. I just didn’t know. To be a teacher facing not two, but thirty-plus kids everyday in a classroom is an impossibly hard job. But I’ve come up with a few tricks that may help teachers when they finally do go back to school.

To paraphrase author Dan Wiwchar, “Your brain can only absorb what your derriere can endure.” As I remember, the daily routine in Old Mrs. Crabtree’s third-grade classroom was indeed a pain in the backside. Sitting for hours in hard wooden chairs and not being allowed to get up and stretch, by the end of each day my behind really hurt.

That was over fifty-five years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. So, in Big Papa’s Basement School, we placed memory foam pads in all students’ and teacher’s chairs. I’m happy to report, after two weeks there have been no sore behinds.

When kids do go back to school, I recommend memory foam for all students’ chairs. And there’s a bonus — memory foam pads make for the safest pillow fighting ever. Not that pillow fighting is allowed in real school. But it sure is in Big Papa’s Basement School. Just wish my brothers and I had some of those back on Flamingo Street.

Study breaks are important. The only breaks in Old Mrs. Crabtree’s classroom were to go to the bathroom — limited to two breaks per student per day. In our basement classroom, breaks abound.

First, there are unlimited bathroom breaks. Second, snack breaks are every two hours. Third, there are big breaks for big balls. Every twenty minutes, the girls ring the school bell on my phone then scamper over to the twin exercise balls I bought just for Big Papa’s Basement School.

As they giggle and bounce, I call out words for them to spell, giving me time to set up the next lesson. If giant bouncy balls were in all of my classrooms, I would’ve done better in school. When the girls finally do go back, in their backpacks will be surprises for their classrooms. Just add air for endless bouncing and giggles.

Lastly, on these warm spring days, Big Papa’s Basement School moves outside! Gathered around a picnic table under the grand old oak tree, baby leaves provide shade as the girls work through their studies.

Even without their giant bouncy ball breaks and pausing only a few times to play with “guests” crawling across the table, the girls make it to lunchtime without a single argument. Sack lunches that include PB&J’s, baby carrots, the fruit of the day, and leftover chocolate Easter eggs are quickly devoured and washed down with apple juice.

The rest of the afternoon, we study earth sciences, and by school’s dismissal for the day, the girls have made some important discoveries. They know the number of giant bubbles that can be eaten without getting sick is ten. A smaller pinecone floats faster downstream than a larger, heavier one.

Seeking the warmth under rocks and logs, cold-blooded snakes and lizards stay hidden during cool mornings, but come out by noon to sun and warm themselves. Also, a sandbox stimulates kids’ imaginations, providing hours of creative fun.

But be warned, just like at the beach, sand weighs more when water is dumped on it, preventing your ability to move. Especially when you’re buried up to your neck.

Special note to all those parents who have now instantly become teachers – you are probably realizing, just like I am, that teaching is hard … really hard. It’s an impossible job, and perhaps the most important one. And now, we are all living the life of a teacher. But just for a moment.

Soon kids will be going back to school, and things will be getting back to normal around our house. I won’t forget this time. It certainly has given me a whole new perspective about what our teachers go through, and not just for a couple of hours each day for a few weeks. They are teachers for the entire school year.

During the school closure, every teacher I’ve talked to say the same thing — they really miss their students. I will remember all of this the next time I sit across the table for that first parent/teacher conference.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog:]