A few days ago, Ira found a giant night-crawler under a log. This inspired him to run down to the creek for a few casts. Fishing has incredible allure for Ira. Well, his first cast landed a very sizable small mouth bass. The tone at which he yelled “MAMA” indicated to me that he had quite a catch. Indeed. It was a fish sized just right for a family of five, and we ate that fish for lunch. The side dish of sauted spinach came from our garden, the butter from a neighbor, the green onions from a friend. My children know and understand where the components of our meals come from. Ira helped clean the fish he caught. The scraps went to feed his chickens, which will in turn give him more eggs and happy hens. He understands that, yes, something did die in this process. But many things were fed by that precious life. These are our lessons. This is our schooling.
Our farm serves as our school. There are lessons lurking in the bushes, under rocks, and in the way the wind blows. There are lessons hidden in the currents of the creek. Almost anywhere you look, there is a learning opportunity. And when an opportunity looks us in the face, we look back. We inspect the item closely or discuss the moment thoroughly. If necessary, we turn to the bookshelf for answers to questions that have us baffled. What we inspect or investigate changes drastically day by day (and each child gravitates to particular interests) but as long as we are open to the world around us, the possibilities are endless. There are lessons in physics as the weight in the garden cart shifts and it begins to tip over. There are lessons in astrology and astronomy as we gaze at the night sky, observing the phases of the moon and the rotation of the constellations. This time of year, there are many lessons in entomology… our world is filled to the brim with bugs of all makes and models! There are lessons in math as Opal counts and recounts the number of stitches on her knitting needles to make sure one didn’t slip away. There are lessons in art when Olivia finds clay and feathers, and happily combines mediums to sculpt her own creations. The most important factor, no matter what subject or topic we are discussing, is that the learning be woven into the fabric of our days and that the innate inquisitive nature of children be respected. For instance: Saturday was our first market day of the season. (A field trip of sorts, but a trip from the field NOT to one!) Ira had duck eggs to sell. On the way to Nashville, he was thinking about those eggs, and knowing that he needed money to buy more feed, he was also thinking about how much income he might have. In my observation, he was thinking about the number twelve. Twelve eggs makes a dozen. Before I knew it, he rattled off his twelve’s multiplication table, with no help from me. This is not something we sit down and practice necessarily. I am not a fan of rote memorization. But when the lesson comes from a real life situation, it sticks… it becomes knowledge. And as I see it, there is a vast difference between being educated and being knowledgable. While both have merit, I prefer the latter when I think about my children’s future. Knowledge is limitless.
Some folks call this style of teaching children “unschooling”, based on the work and studies of an amazing thinker and educator John Holt. While my style of homeschooling could certainly fall into the unschooling camp, I prefer to use the term “life schooling”. I feel it embodies a more positive, all-encompassing approach to learning. I find the term “unschooling” implies a certain air of neglect to those unfamiliar with the method. But, really, who cares what term is used to describe this process. The point is to let the passions and pursuits of children be honored as valuable and worthy of further investigation, and as the adults and teachers in our children’s lives, to be available to them and their questions; to give them confidence in themselves as independent thinkers and problem solvers; to fit the puzzle pieces of life together, often in more ways than one; and to see themselves as an important and inseparable part of this beautiful world in which we live.