I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first…

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Amy Tudor. You can follow her homeschooling adventures on Instagram at amy.tudor and find her articles in Taproot magazine. We’re thrilled to have her share her homeschooling story.

Homeschooling never appealed to me. We live in a remote Vermont forest with very few other children nearby. My oldest spent her early years surrounded by grown-ups and I was looking forward to her having regular contact with other children.  But when we started her in preschool, her interest tapered off within the first few months. We repeated this the next year and the next for kindergarten.
As social creatures we humans often employ tactics, communications and power struggles in an attempt to have our needs met.  Unhealthy dynamics never, ever, escaped the notice of my oldest. Somewhere between three and five, she outlawed sarcasm, seeing the anger and cruelty it masks.  At eight, she cut the word weird from the family vocabulary, observing how people used it to isolate one person from a group. I can still picture her in the car, shrugging her shoulders to her friend in the backseat and offering a “well, everybody is different” reply after hearing a story about a ‘weird’ child.  Because of her sensitive nature, groups of people are very challenging for her to be part of.

Our homeschooling journey began with confusion and fear (on my part). There was so much to learn and even the process of registering in Vermont was overwhelmingly confusing. The home study office at the Department of Education confused me the most telling me to be much more thorough than I had to be. Experienced families offered nuggets of wisdom through various homeschooling Facebook groups. Because once you see the relief and joy on your child’s face, the struggles in your own heart quiet down.
The first technique we tried (that didn’t work) was school-at-home, that is, following the traditional school model of doing certain things at certain times, whether or not the children are interested in it.  I see new families quit at this point in the process because they can’t get their children to ‘do school.’ This frustration always makes me think of us grown-ups preparing our taxes. How many of us enjoy following such mind-numbing directions from the powerful Internal Revenue Service like “Add line 41 to 13.  If this number is less than $24,000 then skip to line 300“ and so on. Demanding that my child read chapter three and master skip counting on a set date feels like the same sort of external motivation that I don’t want to pass on to my children.

Many experienced homeschooling families will advise beginning with a few months (or more) of deschooling, especially if your child has been in traditional school for more than a few years.  Deschooling is the process of letting your children get back in touch with their own natural daily rhythms and rediscovering what sparks their own curiosity. If you didn’t have to be at school at a certain time, what time would your children naturally wake? When are they most hungry? When is their mind most active? What time of the day do they need to recharge?
Our night owl goes to bed at the same time every night, but can wake anywhere from 7 am to 9:30 am.   Teaching our children to place rest high on the priority list was lost in traditional school. When an idea sparks, she can work on self-directed projects on her own timeline. One day she spent seven hours setting-up and photographing the life stories of her doll families.  If one must break real life down into measurable learning, I observed art (photography, setting the scenes), social studies (adoption and family dynamics), storytelling (suspense, proper order of events), health (babies being born, arm injuries, physical activities), and science (tsunamis, blizzards, air temperatures) all rolled into one. In traditional kindergarten, the activities moved along so fast, it was common to hear her describe her school projects by saying “and I didn’t have time to finish that.”
Packaged curricula can be a good place to start for new families, because so many families are frightened that their children will miss some crucial benchmark and will never succeed.  Start there if you must but then try to remember that other people set those benchmarks (and then let them go, if you can). Children are individuals and learn different skills when they’re ready.  One of the things I now love most about homeschooling is the freedom.
Once your home environment is relaxed enough, you’ll know what to ‘teach’ your child because they will ask you questions about what they don’t understand.  In our house, if we parents don’t know, we write it on the chalkboard and our ‘schooling’ is usually researching it together at the library or by asking someone who knows.  Right now, we’re trying to figure out exactly how oysters filter water.

This year, our child-led model has resulted in knowing that cavemen ate nettles and other greens (because the children doubted that greens are really necessary in their diets). We studied how the Eiffel tower was built and what rare fish lived in the lakes of Tanzania. Our forestry studies have touched upon beech blight and the emerald ash borer.  And so much more. This learning-style is such a way-of-life for us that our youngest has picked up the habit. When big sister decided to make a lapbook on porcupines, our youngest was three. Without prompting, little sister decided to check out library books on bobcats for her first lapbook. Typical subjects like reading and writing are a by-product of their own curiosity.
I recently remembered that I had ordered the preschool books from Oak Meadow when my oldest was two years old.  The Heart of Learning remains one of the most influential parenting books I have ever read as it presents a way of guiding children that resonated very deeply.
I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first, but now that we’re over the beginning stages, it turns out my learning was just as important as theirs. And seeing their parents adapt to the unexpected teaches them to do the same. I am so glad we took the leap of faith and are pursuing an unconventional education for our children.
 

Planning for Success: Using a Weekly Planner to Find the Rhythm in Your Homeschooling Life

by DeeDee Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development at Oak Meadow

How many times have you planned your day in your head, only to forget half of what you wanted to do? Or maybe, like me, you make lists — leaving notes here and there all over the house — and then lose track of the lists. Or maybe you have your list but you lose track of the time. For whatever reason, you just simply can’t seem to get it all done. 

When you add homeschooling to the daily mix, the to-do list just grows longer while the pressure to do it all expands until it fills your little corner of the universe. As you juggle science experiments, spelling lists, math practice, research reports, art projects, and all the rest, the responsibility to get it all done can wear you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes even just opening up a curriculum book can feel daunting. If you like to have everything organized and planned in advance, it’s exciting to see all your upcoming lessons in one place. You might tell yourself, “It’s all right here. This is all we have to do!” On the other hand, the little voice in your head might panic at the thought of how much work lies ahead: “We have to do all of this??”  Or perhaps you prefer spontaneity and like to create your own learning path. If so, a curriculum book can feel like a big, scary reminder of all you might be forgetting to do while you are off on your spontaneous adventures.
At some point, most homeschoolers wonder, “How can I get it all done?”

Let the planner do the remembering

Oak Meadow Parent Planner PackageNo matter which end of the organized/spontaneous spectrum you identify with, you can find support and a sense of ease by using a weekly planner. Once you get in the habit of spending a bit of time each week planning and setting a schedule, the weight of all that responsibility is lightened. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important because you’ve already made a plan to include everything you want to get done.

Naturally, despite your best planning, life will intervene with its wonderfully chaotic beauty, and some things will fall by the wayside, but that’s okay. Here’s the real attraction in using a planner: anything you don’t get to in a particular week is simply moved to the top of the list for the following week. No need to feel a sense of failure or guilt or judgement — just turn over a fresh page and write it down again. Voilá!

Making the planner work for you

So what’s the best way to use a planner? That will vary with each person, but here are some tips for getting the most out of your planner.

  1. Begin by getting a sense of the week’s goals. Look over what you would like to accomplish in the coming week in each subject. If you are using a curriculum that is designed in a weekly lesson format, this is pretty easy (for instance, you want to do lesson 5 in each subject this week). If you aren’t working with a weekly format curriculum or you are using many sources, make a list of next steps for each subject.
  2. Prioritize the assignments, activities, and projects for the week. Write down the top priority tasks first, dividing them up according to subject and spacing them over the days of the week. By putting the high priority tasks at the top of the list, they are most likely to get done. Let’s say there’s a book report in English that must be done this week because your student will be beginning a new book next week. The book report will go at the top of the list for English and be scheduled early in the week. This gives some wiggle room if it takes longer than expected. 
  3. Use the planner to chunk up larger projects into smaller tasks. Maybe an animal research paper is on the science list this week. Day 1 can be for locating research materials; Day 2 can be for reading research and taking notes; Day 3 is for organizing the notes and creating a detailed outline with topic sentences for each main idea; Day 4 is for the rough draft; and Day 5 is for revising, editing, and proofing the final version of the report. Each of these tasks will take about the same amount of time, making a big, daunting project suddenly feel doable.
  4. Let your planner help you take an unscheduled day off or take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. If something comes up, or if you and your kids just really need a day without expectations, go for it! That’s one of the greatest joys and benefits of homeschooling. Your planner makes it easy for you to go off and enjoy yourselves, and then get back on track afterwards. Everything is still there. You haven’t “forgotten” anything; you just shift the tasks over one day. 
  5. If you are homeschooling more than one child, use colored pens to easily track each student’s study plan. This lets you see at a glance who will be doing what on a particular day. Seeing everyone’s schedule at once helps you coordinate weekly goals so that visits to the library, nature walks, or one-on-one time with your children all fit together.

More reasons to love your planner
Oak Meadow student doing assignment outside with leavesFeel free to enlist your children’s help in creating the weekly plan. In fact, it’s a good idea. Not only does it give them a sense of ownership and encourage autonomy, it teaches students time management skills. They learn to become aware of how much time is needed for certain activities. They can be involved in breaking tasks into smaller increments, prioritizing what needs doing, and (here’s the fun part) checking off items as each task is completed.

The planner can be a great tool for long range planning. Let’s say you are doing a project on decomposition, and your student has just buried a variety of items in the back yard which will decompose at different rates. In six weeks, your student is supposed to dig them up and observe what happened. Flip forward six weeks in your planner and jot down a note. Now it’s out of your head and you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to dig up the rotting mess (er…I mean, the partially decomposed items).

Finally, you can use the weekly planner to have a strategy session at the beginning of each week. Depending on the ages of your children, you can do this after you’ve already created the schedule for the week, or this strategy session can be when the schedule is created. Going over the schedule at the start of the week helps everyone involved know the game plan and start the week with purpose.

Using a planner doesn’t have to be another dreaded thing you have to find time to do. Once you get comfortable and find a pattern that works for you, the planner will help you prepare for success so you have more free time to enjoy your homeschooling life.

____________________________________________________

DeeDee Hughes is the Director of Curriculum Development for Oak Meadow, a distance learning school and publisher of homeschooling curriculum for grades K-12. Oak Meadow offers two planners: a planner for homeschooling parents and a student planner, both of which feature 40 double-page weekly schedules and are not date specific, so they can be started anytime. The Oak Meadow Homeschool Parent Planner includes teaching tips and inspiration from Oak Meadow teachers and learning targets by grades for K-4. The Oak Meadow Student Planner contains handy resources for students such as parts of speech, how to cite sources, and U.S./metric conversion charts, as well as learning targets by subject.
This article originally appeared as a guest post at Only Passionate Curiosity.

What I wish I’d known before our two decades of homeschooling

by June M. Schulte, former Oak Meadow parent

When we began homeschooling in 1982, our eldest was just over seven years old, the legal age for school in Vermont. Although we were doing a lot with our children – reading aloud, making crafts, singing, dancing and so on – we weren’t quite sure which things might count as education and what was needed that we didn’t even know about. The day we received word from the State that we were okay to homeschool, our five children were ages 7¼, 5¾, 4, 2, and 10 days old. John Holt spoke to homeschoolers nearby that week, and we were encouraged by his words about the natural way children learn by doing.

We had searched for a good curriculum to use, and felt the one which best matched our view was offered by Oak Meadow School. Based on exchanges with cofounders Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, our eldest was placed in second grade and our daughter in first. We also bought the kindergarten curriculum to guide the younger children and, in truth, to reassure us in case our eldest had missed something important. We felt ready and excited.

Execution of the curriculum was another story altogether. Our fifth child was a newborn and a robust 10lb-er; however, he also startled very easily and had rapid respirations for his first two weeks. In years to come, we would discover he had attention inconsistencies, but in those first months of homeschooling, it translated into needing to keep the household relatively quiet (in Winter) so the baby wasn’t over-stimulated. Also, as a nursing mother, I had a series of breast infections not easily quelled with antibiotics, as we eventually discovered there were two germs involved, not one. It was a challenge!

By the time we were sending our first quarter report and samples to Oak Meadow, I was quite concerned, as it seemed to me we had failed miserably. I felt that the most academic thing we had done all season was make a leaf mobile! We had also written a poem about the season, read aloud, sung songs (things that can be done with a babe in arms), and played a lot. But there were few lessons of any kind. At least I had kept a journal of what learning I noticed, and sent it along. I braced myself for the response from Oak Meadow.

What came was a beautifully encouraging letter from Bonnie Williams herself, highlighting the many learning opportunities she found evident in my journal. Being a mother of four, she had read between the lines. She noted that my older children had learned that babies come first, to make their own sandwiches, and to help one another. She assured me that there would yet be plenty of time to accomplish the paperwork in the curriculum and recommended we simply stay with it.

We did, and I am so grateful for that. Bonnie was right. By the end of the year, we had completed the lessons in the curriculum, and our State Certified Teacher (who later opened a Waldorf school) confirmed it, giving me the greatest sense of accomplishment and peace!

Our children are now ages 41½ , 40, 38, 36, and 34. They all made the Dean’s List their first semester of college, graduated, and have been gainfully employed since. They are not social misfits. In fact, our eldest is a company manager, 5th-degree black belt and international TaekwonDo referee, dad, and co-owner of a horse farm with his spouse. Our daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mathematics and is a partner in a worldwide firm, a mom, and owner of a large house in Maine. Our third child has a Ph.D. and is a wildlife biologist who headed up shorebird recovery in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil spill; he is a dad, town selectman, marathon runner, and 3rd-degree black belt who teaches TaekwonDo. Our fourth child has a degree in Computer Science, works in customer support, and founded a non-profit focused on sustainability that grows food for food shelves. Our youngest has a degree in Networking and Website Development and makes websites for a good living; he is a dad, records local bands to get their music out to the public, and owns a house with his spouse.

Moreover, they are happy. They care about the world, the nation, and their local communities. They play with their children and are good friends. The many fears we had in those early days (and along the way) have been allayed. Our six grandchildren, currently age 10 years to 10 months, are intelligent, funny, sweet people.

I wish I could have known at the outset how it would be now. But, really, we just had to take it one day (sometimes one hour!) at a time. I’d say keeping a journal was the most important work I contributed, because it not only recorded the moments for which there was no paperwork, but it helped me notice and appreciate their slow and wonderful flourishing. On the tough days (and there were many), it was sanity-producing to read back over the last month’s journal and know for sure that we were making progress. It was what I drew from to create our end of year reports.

Note to former self: If a child is loved deeply, is given good resources, great art materials, lots of trips to libraries, field trips when possible, hands-on exploration, and heaps of fun, they cannot help but thrive. The curriculum itself is secondary. There is no way we can give a child all the knowledge they will need in life. So we need to teach them, largely by example and conversation, to mull and articulate, to explore, discover, invent, and create; give them the tools for doing their own research, creating their own art, writing their stories, and living as caring citizens. Give your heart to it and don’t second-guess yourself too much. If something isn’t right, trust that you’ll recognize that. Turn a deaf ear to naysayers and listen to other homeschoolers who share your philosophy. Have a small group of homeschoolers you can get together with or at least some homeschooling pen pals (for you as well as the children). You are all going to be just fine.


June Schulte completed her college degree as an off-campus student while homeschooling her children. She applied for and was granted the maximum three semesters of Life Learning credits from Goddard College (known for its progressive approach), earning a B.A. in Home Education and Religious Studies. She then completed a three year Diocesan Study Program as well as some seminary studies. A lifelong contemplative, June also completed the two year Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program, and for 20 years has been meeting with people who are seeking spiritual guidance. Guidance seems to be most of what homeschooling was about for June, and she feels that her children taught her more than she taught them. June and her husband, Bill, have been married 42 years so far, and are the delighted Grammie and Grandad of four granddaughters and two grandsons. As the Irish saying goes, “Children are the Rainbow of Life; Grandchildren are the Pot of Gold!”

My Journey with Oak Meadow

by Lucy Enge, Oak Meadow high school student

Published in September 2016

My journey with Oak Meadow began in the fall when I was almost six. My parents had decided to homeschool me (for kindergarten) using Oak Meadow’s curriculum; they liked the Waldorf influence. And we continued our journey with OM homeschooling through the eighth grade! It has been ten years now, I am almost sixteen, and I am about to start my second year enrolled in Oak Meadow’s high school program as a tenth grader.

During my eighth grade year, when my parents and I were deciding about what to do for high school, we knew that I (and my mom, too) loved homeschooling. However, as my mom had worked in college admission for years, she thought it was important for me to look at and consider all of my options before deciding what to do for high school, in hopes that I would avoid second guessing my choice later.

So, we created a list of the possibilities: homeschooling (using OM independently), enrollment in OM’s distance learning school, two magnet schools, a parochial high school, and two nationally acclaimed private schools. My mom wanted me to see it all! Then, we explored each option/school further. We researched online, attended some open houses, took tours, and participated in shadow days.

Separately, my mom, my dad, and I created a list of pros and cons for each option/school. My parents did not share their lists with me as we looked so that my final decision was truly mine. But, they certainly did listen to all I said about each option as I sorted things out in my mind! Finally, after hours and hours of “work,” I narrowed it down to three: homeschooling, enrolling in OM, and the parochial high school. After another shadow day, I eliminated the parochial high school.

We discussed continuing to homeschool as we had since kindergarten, but, after a lot of talking together, we decided that enrolling in Oak Meadow would be the best for me and my high school journey. It would require me to be accountable to other teachers (outside of my mom), provide me with a rigorous curriculum and an accredited transcript, and also give me a flexible schedule and the freedom that homeschooling had allowed me in the past – the perfect bridge (for me) between homeschooling grade school and attending college.

And so I enrolled! Starting with our first conversation with Rachel, my education counselor, we were warmly welcomed to Oak Meadow and well guided in what courses to enroll in. For my ninth grade year, I took Algebra I, Environmental Science, French I, Introduction to Literature and Composition, and World Geography. Once I began my courses, I felt myself being positively challenged, enjoying everything (well, except, rewriting an essay, but from that, I know I became a better writer), and truly flourishing!

My teachers, Antony, Jacquelyn, Julia, Lydia, and Marnie (I love you all!), are amazing and are everything I (and my parents!) wished for and more. They have pushed, encouraged, and inspired me. Whenever I have a question, they are happy to answer and do so timely, and their comments on my lessons are constructive and helpful.

With their assistance, I have also created projects for myself that let me explore a particular topic that relates to the material that I am studying: I have written poetry; painted watercolors; read books; cooked meals from Peruvian cuisine, to a Jewish Shabbat dinner, to vegetarian sushi; made a Malaysian kite; studied children’s literature; and watched many documentaries. Truly, I could not have imagined a better first year of high school!

When I look back at myself a year ago (before ninth grade) and at my early ninth grade work, I see that I have come a long way. I am more confident and poised, I know myself (my values and my beliefs) more clearly, I am a much stronger writer, and I have gained a lot of new knowledge. Oak Meadow is not for everyone – it is hard, in a good way, and you have to want to learn and be an active part of your education! – but it certainly has been right for me. I love Oak Meadow and could not be happier with my high school choice! 

____________________________

Lucy Enge lives in a small Connecticut river town with her family. Her interests include (in no particular order) reading; classical music; baking/cooking; old television shows; poetry; walking/hiking/biking; sewing/knitting; watercolor painting; (almost) all things Peruvian, British, and French; and traveling. She also enjoys living simply; eating local, organic food; and going to charity shops and estate sales.

Choosing a New Path

by Sandra Hanson

It’s that time of year again (at least for us Northerners) – the leaves are turning, the mornings and evenings are crisp and cool, and the bounty that the earth has provided us with is being brought in. Fall is upon us, and with it, millions of children around the world will be returning to school this week.

Photo credit: The Bartlett family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Bartlett family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

We officially started our 2015-2016 homeschool year on Monday, September 7th. Now, I admit that we did actually try to start back the first week of August. I figured we would start early and then take a week off with my husband at the end of August. But…quite frankly, it just didn’t happen. The call to enjoy the lazy summer days was too strong – and not just for the children! I also made a last minute change to our curriculum plans, so I spent the time getting new resources in place.
We dabbled in Oak Meadow last year, but I admit – I gave up on it then. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the approach – the Waldorf philosophy of education (and lifestyle) truly appeals to my heart, with the focus on simplicity, the beauty of nature, the creative arts, and the spiritual elements all around us, and the belief that education is about so much more than the approach of teaching to the test and memorizing facts that mainstream education has become. That education is about the entire child, the whole being – a trinity, if you will – made up of first and foremost the heart, then the hands and head.
However, in the early years, Waldorf education does appear to “lag” behind mainstream, North American public schools. In typical Waldorf schools, true education does not start until grade 1, which is age 7 – a full year behind what is considered normal today. That’s right – that means that they do not teach children to read until age 7. (Quite shocking when most schools, and even homeschoolers, today are teaching children as young as 4 and 5 to read.) Grammar and spelling aren’t introduced until grade 3. In math, telling time, money, weights and measurements also are not introduced until grade 3; fractions not until grade 4. Instead, the early years are spent allowing the children to truly develop intimate knowledge of the four processes: +, -, x, and /, the very foundation of all the math they will do later in life.
 Photo credit: The Manning family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Manning family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Having just spent the previous three years pursuing a very traditional workbook-based, academic approach to education, Oak Meadow was a polar opposite to what we had been doing. All I could see was how it was “behind” the public schools. I was also still very much struggling with the idea that we had to keep up with our son’s publicly schooled peers. I felt like I had to “prove” that our counter-cultural choice was working. And so I gave up on Oak Meadow and went back to our traditional workbook approach, though I admit it just felt lacking to me.
So why the delay? A mantra common among Waldorf homeschoolers is: “Just because a child can do something, doesn’t mean they should.” Oak Meadow does not believe in filling children full of empty education. Any child can (and will) memorize rote math facts, the days and weeks, and memorize a clock. But memorization does not equal understanding, nor the ability to apply that knowledge to one’s own life in a truly meaningful way. Instead, they believe in waiting until a child has the mental and emotional capacity to make real connections with the material that they are learning, which is something that is rarely truly possible in the younger years.
Likewise, yes, many children can be taught to read at a young age. However, often they are merely memorizing words, without truly understanding the enormous process of what they’re doing. Also, when taught too young, it can make the process longer and harder than it would have been if the child had been allowed to wait until they were truly ready. It has been proven time and again, through numerous studies, that children who are exposed to academics earlier in life show absolutely no gain, and, in fact, are often farther behind, than students who do not start academics until later in life. One only has to look at the Finland education system to see the truth behind this.
Because Waldorf education waits until a child is truly emotionally and mentally ready for learning, children often learn faster. Therefore, by the later years (middle school) Waldorf education has “caught up” and typically surpassed mainstream education in the “big” areas of Language Arts and Mathematics. Also, one has to look at the richness of a Waldorf inspired education. Compared to mainstream schools where arts are being cut due to funding, and to allow more time on the three R’s so they can bring up ratings, Waldorf education puts great emphasis on the arts. Oak Meadow teaches children art & music appreciation and history, theory and application as they learn to do watercolor paintings,
 Photo credit: Cindie Young (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Cindie Young
(Oak Meadow archives.)

form drawing, crayon and pencil drawings, and more. Children start learning to play a recorder in grade 1. They study dramatic arts, cooking and handicrafts such as woodworking, clay modeling, knitting, crocheting, weaving, and much more.
Thankfully, this summer, I finally reached the place where I knew that I could truly step outside of the box once and for all. I knew what I wanted for my son’s education, and it wasn’t pushing academics and rote memorization. What I wanted was for my son to be a child – to explore his world, to see the connection between his heart and head, and to develop a love of learning – true learning. Not just repeating facts, but learning to discern on his own how something applies to his life. I wanted him surrounded by the arts – and not just busy work crafts, but true arts and handicrafts.
And so, I made the decision to put my son back into Oak Meadow – and what’s more, to put him in grade 2. After all, in the traditional Waldorf schools, an 8 year old child is actually supposed to be in grade 2. Could my son handle the academic workload of grade 3? Yes. But, why should I push him ahead and load him down with more, just because our culture wants to push academics earlier and earlier?
In keeping him at his emotionally appropriate level, I am allowing him time to be immersed in stories of nature and animals – things he loves. I am allowing him to develop an enjoyment of writing, without the pressure of trying to learn the mechanics of grammar and spelling. I am allowing him to fine-tune his skills of observation about the natural world, and to learn about themes such as interdependence, natural rhythms and classification – skills that will be essential in science down the road.
Photo credit: Melissa Lewis. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Melissa Lewis.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

For Social Studies, instead of getting buried in historical facts, he’ll learn fables and fairy tales from around the world and how they speak of universal issues that a child can understand. Later, we’ll expand on those fables and fairy tales to explore the cultures and learn about simple economic issues such as bartering, community resources, and learning about making choices with money. He’ll learn about the values of honesty and kindness through fables and tall tales, and stories of simple heroes. He’ll learn about things he can understand, relate to, and apply to his own life.
And so, my son may not be following the same path as his peers. He may not know that 1/2 + 1/4 = 3/4 this year, or be writing lengthy epistles. And I am finally, honestly, okay with that. Instead, I think he will be on a better path, one that is more suited to his  needs, that will allow him to develop true understanding as he is ready. He will not be in a race for facts and memorization; instead, he will embark on the journey of discovery.


Sandra Hanson is a newspaper columnist and freelance writer. You can follow her blog exploring “life, homesteading, motherhood, parenting, homeschooling, and special needs” at  www.mycrazyeclecticlife.wordpress.com.
This article originally appeared in longer form at https://mycrazyeclecticlife.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/choosing-a-new-path/. Reprinted with the author’s permission.

Learning and the Natural World

“Learning and the Natural World”
excerpted from The Heart of Learning by Lawrence Williams, EdD

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.  ~ John Lubbock

There is something very magical about being outside.
When I was young, a child’s connection to the natural world was not something that needed special attention. It was…well, natural. Kids played outside all the live-long day, as much as possible, in all kinds of weather. Then came the TV generation of the 1960s and 70s, and parents were often reminding kids to “Go outside and play!” Being outside was still an integral part of growing up for most children, however, even urban dwellers.
As a child, when you were outside, your curiosity ruled your actions. Your play was self-directed and engaged. Playing outside meant using all your senses. It probably meant meeting up with your friends and running around. It meant using your imagination and, hopefully, getting really dirty.
Nature’s Classroom
The lessons that nature has to teach us are never ending. Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life. It’s not surprising that children who play outside are healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically. Human beings have spent nearly the entirety of our existence outside. Our connection to the natural world is so profound that when we are deprived of it, it’s no surprise that we don’t fare so well.
Getting Back to Nature, Plain and Simple
If your child hasn’t spent much time outdoors, be prepared to start small. The crack in the sidewalk is always a good place to start. Collecting sticks and building a little teepee is another simple way to get a child who is timid outdoors to start getting his hands dirty. Collecting rocks, shells, nuts, or just about anything will appeal to most children, and it’s just a small step from there to building and decorating a tiny, magical fairy house or woodland dwelling.
Here are a few more tips for bringing the outdoors into your day:

  • Go outside early in the day.
  • Eat snacks or meals outside.
  • Devote a section of your yard to dirt or sand play.
  • Plant a bean teepee large enough to play inside.
  • Make a living fort by trimming the bottom branches from bushes enough to make a crawl space.
  • Make a row or circle of stumps (burying them in the ground partway makes them more stable).
  • Make a mud pit.
  • Create sculptures from natural materials.

Here’s a list of great materials to collect or make available:

  • rocks
  • dirt or sand pile
  • branches, sticks, and logs
  • seeds and seed pods
  • pinecones and nuts
  • leaves and bark
  • driftwood, shells, and seaweed
  • flowers and long stalks of grass
  • feathers

Child-Led Discovery
Sometimes it is tempting to become a bit too involved in a child’s outdoor play. There is something irresistibly appealing about a sand pile or a fairy house. However, just as it was important not to let our own creative process take precedence over our child’s, it is important to allow children the time and space to explore on their own. This self-directed, unstructured play often yields the richest rewards. Be mindful of your child’s process instead of trying to guide it in one direction of another. Let children make their own discoveries, and allow them to make their own mistakes. Just because they aren’t doing something in the most efficient manner doesn’t mean it’s not right. We all learn from experience, and faster is not always better.
The most encouraging thing you can do is express interest in your child’s play without intruding. Be available to show genuine awe or intrigue when a new discovery or creation is shared with you, but refrain from questioning, judging, critiquing, or praising. Even praise can change a child’s play — the focus may shift to doing things that will please you rather than letting the play evolve organically from the child’s creative impulse. Outdoor play has a naturally expansive element, and the use of praise to help maintain creative tension (as we talked about in the last chapter) is not necessary.
Be playful and curious, be interested and excited, but above all, respect the rich inner life of the child’s play. There is something very peaceful about creating a nature scene or just exploring the natural environment. Don’t force the conversation. Sometimes it isn’t possible or helpful to talk about a creative experience. Connecting with nature can be a very personal experience, and one that builds intricate and complex ways of understanding the world. By attuning to your child’s attitude, you will probably be able to easily feel when it is right to just let things be.
While educators (homeschooling parents and professionals alike) are perpetually open to the teachable moment, unstructured outdoor play is often a good time to let the teachable moment pass without comment. Trust that the learning process is in full sail without your guidance. There will be another time to give suggestions, instructions, information, and to ask leading questions. For now, just enjoy the beauty of nature’s classroom.

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