Schoolhouses are made wrong. If they must be, they should be built in a woods pasture beside a stream, where you could wade, swim, and be comfortable in summer, and slide and skate in winter. The windows should be cut to the floor, and stand wide open, so the birds and butterflies could pass through. You ought to learn your geography by climbing a hill, walking through a valley, wading creeks, making islands in them, and promontories, capes and peninsulas along the bank. You should do your arithmetic sitting under trees adding hickory-nuts, subtracting walnuts, multiplying butternuts, and dividing hazelnuts. You could use apples for fractions, and tin cups for liquid measure...
~Laddie, A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter
This is one of the most inspiring books I've read recently. It speaks of a young girl's love of nature, natural love of learning and exemplifies beautiful ways of mentoring children within a family. I'll be thinking about this book for a long time and coming back to it often for inspiration.
This book and many others are assigned books in a certification for Leadership Education also called a Thomas Jefferson Education. I'm working on this certification with a friend and it's been so much fun! We are reading all the texts, listening to audios and discussing it each step of the way, matching each others progress and what a gift it has been! We are both inspired in many of the same ways in regards to home education. We both love literature, nature and allowing our children's inspiration to guide us.
A big part of Leadership education is mentoring, not teaching. I found so much inspiration in Laddie, here is one example of the father in Laddie, mentoring his children.
He is always watching, observing, studying: the earth, the stars, growing things: he never comes to a meal but he has seen something that he has or will study out for all of us. There never has been one day in our home which he did not read a new interesting article from book or paper; work out a big problem, or discuss some phase of politics, religion, or war. Sometimes there has been a little of all of it in one day, always reading, spelling, and memory exercises at night.
In this way, learning at home becomes less about Mom or Dad coming up with lessons for their children, (although that happens in Leadership Education too). But it's more of providing an environment that is in itself educational. It means that the parents are committed to their own education and work to understand the world around them and having that process be very visible to the children. This is the part of Leadership Education that is most exciting to me right now. It gives me the permission to continue my education at home. Those of us that have been through public school and/or college often get the idea that education is for school and when school is done "real life" begins and education is over. In this method, the parents continuing to learn and grow is paramount. Finally I can give myself permission, and not feel it's a luxury, to read all the classics I've always wanted to read, sharing my interests and excitement along the way and in this way being an important example to my kids.
So, in our schooling we have been reading many classic books to the boys. My friend and I started a classic book club for homeschooling parents and children. We read classics and then discuss them at home and then with the group at the park. The kids, ages 4-9, discuss the books with us, then run off and play. Sometimes we notice aspects of the book come out in their play. We don't require them to discuss the book. We try to inspire them by asking what their favorite or least favorite character is, favorite part of the story, etc. Often the parents have in depth discussion while the kids are off playing & that is ok with us. The valuable part is in reading, enjoying and discussing it at home as a family. My son Michael exclaimed, "Mom, Alina knows ALL the books we know!" It's definitely a very special thing for him.
One of the books we recently read was, "Little Britches", in it there is a major tragedy within the family. Originally I thought, no way will I read that part to my son. Michael is so sensitive, I knew it would be hard for him to hear it and hard for me to read it to him. After much thought I did read it to him. I cried through most of it and so did he. That book changed us. We found such empathy for "Little Britches" and his family. Michael insisted we buy the next book right away. I could tell he wanted to make sure the boy would be alright. At the beginning of the book the little boy is 8 years old and helps take care of his family. This had such an effect on Michael. He began to feel more capable of tasks around the house he previously had not felt capable of doing. So, Classic books have become our teachers. They teach us morality, compassion and so much more.
We've also been letting the boys lead learning with their interests. They both love to learn about insects. We've gotten books from the library on butterflies, dragonflies, leaches, spiders, ants and more. Owen is very interested in cacti and so we've studied them and bought him one to take care of and watch grow.
I often joke about our outdoor classroom for backyard Science. We are always finding things to observe and study and research in our yard. One day we had a box turtle come to our front door to visit us. We learned all about her that day.
Another day we noticed a hummingbird who was building her nest about 8 feet above in our pine tree. We have watched her build her nest, lay eggs, hatch them & now are watching her babies grow. This is Lovely, the Mama, and her babies Lucy & Ruckus.
What a fantastic learning experience it has been. Shortly after the eggs hatched we found a hummingbird book at a going out of business sale, 45% off. We were able to identify her as a Black-chinned hummingbird. She has a beautiful greenish back in the sunlight. The males have a black chin that appears violet in the sunlight. We are hoping one of the babies is a male, so we can see their bright colors. Then we found a book at the library all about hummingbird stories & legends.
It seems that life can and will take over teaching our kids if we let it. It just takes an open & willing heart. Our "Science class" is not from a textbook. It doesn't follow a logical, by the book order. It follows the pattern of life in our own backyard, of seasons, our own questions and circumstance. It's real life unit study and we love it!
Until next time...