Friday, August 16, 2013

Homeschooling and the Bigger Picture: Learning through Life

We participated in the Denver Botanic Gardens homeschool day last week, themed "nature and art." The stations were fun, including playing with clay after comparing clay soil to sand, dying yarn and squishing plant matter to "paint" paper, looking for patterns in plants and fruits, building Andy Goldsworthy inspired sculptures, and planting seeds. But I think some of the biggest learning happened just by observing. There were so many bees, and the kids (ages 2-8) were fascinated with the different kinds we saw (we learned later that there are 946 documented bee species in Colorado). We noticed what flowers they were drawn to, and which ones didn't have any bees on them. We watched water skippers, saw huge cabbages that had been chomped by something, smelled roses, and wandered through the tropical green house.

One of the volunteers commented on how he wished he'd had activities like this when he was a kid, and implied that he wished more kids could do stuff like it. I reflected again on how schools can do some things like this - really cool schools - but that it requires small groups and curious kids. Our kids goofed around a lot and did their social thing, but they were ready to peer at plants with magnifying lenses and share their observations in a way that would be deemed nerdy in many circles. In our group there is never any feeling stupid for being curious or smart. And I don't have to avoid sculpture building with sticks in the way I would have to with a classroom of twenty or thirty kids. Also, when my almost four-year-old wants to fill his little notebook with drawings of ladybugs, I don't have to redirect him to the task at hand, which had nothing to do with ladybugs. I know that everything is learning and what is important to him is more valuable than whatever he was "supposed" to be doing. I don't have to document his specific task being completed ecause we focus on the bigger picture, so it doesn't matter if he completes it. I can delight in his new-found love of drawing.

The next day we went with the same group, plus two other families, to a creek. There were no learning objectives here, just playing. But just because we were there, hanging out, the kids learned about crawdad habitats, the difference between a dragonfly and a damsel fly, trusting their bodies as they crawl on rocks and climb trees, and the art of negotiation when an emotional issue came up between two of them. We had no agenda, so the involved moms could sit back, keep half an eye on the two kids, and let them work it out. Which they did.

Every time I fantasize about putting my kids in school, giving me a break and my nearly tweener daughter more face time with other kids, I reflect on how we would give up some key aspects of homeschooling: time, curiosity, the ability to follow a question to its conclusion and beyond, playing/learning with different ages of kids, freedom to go at our pace and where we want, and the closeness we share, with all its ups and downs. We would have to get up by an alarm clock (the kids have bedtimes but sleep till they are done sleeping). We'd have busy work and permission slips and bullies to contend with. Today I heard about a really cool school for grades 6-12, one that would have fit the bill perfectly when I was first looking for a school (we initially chose to homeschool because I couldn't find that school). I thought about getting her on a wait list for 6th grade (three years away), but then, no, I think this life we've stumbled upon is about as magical and power-filled as it gets. Even on the hard days, when I can't stand the kids and they just watch too many shows of Netflix, this is the right life for us.