last momma in the woods
Disclaimer: I do not pretend to know everything about raising a family and educating at home. I will never say that our way is better than your way. I will only ever write about what is working for us, hoping it will inspire just one person out there who is reading.
Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.
We played in our woods last night. They’ve been there since we moved here nine years ago (and long before that!), and occasionally the boys go into them. It’s time we get to know them a bit more intimately. And not just now, when it’s still warm and full of sun. Even on the grey, rainy days. Even on the cold, blustery days. Especially when the snow is falling.
This post has been tumbling around in my head for quite some time. It’s a “here’s our 2015-2016 curricula” post, but if I were to include all that we’re using, this post would go on forever.
I’ve been a lover and follower of classical education since reading The Well-Trained Mind back when Rowan was a toddler. I’ve also gravitated towards Charlotte Mason’s theory since the beginning as well. I was a literature major in college, so an education based around living books sounds like the perfect way to learn.
For the past four years, we’ve been involved in a classical homeschooling co-op, but this year we are on our own. One of the first questions I get about our homeschooling is “do you belong to a homeschool group?” which is a variation of the “socialization question” that all homeschoolers get. Modern education has burned into our brains that learning only happens in age-appropriate groups for several hours a day so this is a natural question of those who do not homeschool. I admit that I felt equipped with my retort these past 4 years with, “Yes, we do,” but only because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was sheltering my kids and not letting them be an active part of society. But now, my answer of “no, we do not” is so much more freeing! I can explain how much we are learning together as a family and with friends at a few outside classes and clubs, sports teams, and church groups. We don’t have one specific co-op, but many different avenues of learning. That one specific co-op we belonged to was sucking the joy from our learning. It felt like being at school. So we made some big changes. And it has made all the difference.
Last spring, I listened to a piece on NPR called “Out of the Classroom and Into the Woods.” I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it before. We have a beautiful, natural setting of pasture and forest in our backyard, and I rarely tap into it for learning purposes. This year, it’s one of the focuses of our learning. We spend as much time outside of the house as inside. We take our time, we observe, we relish, learn, follow rabbit trails. We aren’t beholden to a schedule, or memorization of facts. There is room only for organic learning.What we have noticed, after nearly five weeks of “schooling” this way, is that we are witnessing more around us. In our nature journals, we make a note of the time of the sunset and sunrise…the visibility percentage of the moon and its stage (waxing gibbous or crescent?). So away from our “structured” learning, we notice the change in what we hear when we’re outside (the crickets have gone from symphony to solo), and what we see, hear, and feel around us. Not that we haven’t noticed them before, but the meaning (to us) behind them is deeper. It’s knowledge accompanied with wisdom, and not just knowledge. It’s the joy that I see in the boys’ eyes when they understand why the moon changes, or how and why the leaves change color.
This is our focus. But it’s not to say that we reject curriculum. We have specific books and curricula for different subjects. I make them learn grammar and writing. I make them do math and spelling and vocabulary. And I can tell you firsthand, they do not delight in those subjects. But those aren’t the focus of their learning. And those subjects are brought into a lot of our nature and living book learning.
Grammar lessons take place, but are reviewed throughout writing and science and nature journaling. There is constant review of math concepts in astronomy and geography. It has become very organic to integrate all the “subjects” while focusing on another.
Last spring, I knew we needed to make a change in our homeschooling. At the same time it became obvious that our co-op wasn’t a good fit anymore, I was introduced to some podcasts that helped to inspire me to truly teach from a state of rest. I had heard that phrase before but could barely understand how I could possibly do it with a mile-long to-do list. But Sarah Mackenzie, of Amongst Lovely Things and her podcast “The Read Aloud Revival” and Tsh Oxenreiter of The Art of Simple and her podcast “The Simple Show” inspired and encouraged our new-found love of learning in a way that best meets all of our needs. That’s a state of rest: not teaching from bed, or the couch, but resting in the knowledge and wisdom that our education and our everyday living are synonymous. And that God has designed us to learn this way.
I do still side with classical educators. All of our book curricula are from classical educating companies, and I still see each boy in their grammar or dialectic stages and relate to them knowing where they are in their learning capacities. The only difference is that the co-op doesn’t govern our school days. And our classroom morphs as we chase those rabbit trails. Our first classroom of this year was on the beach. It has since moved from inside our home, to our backyard, to the library, to an art studio, to a friend’s house. The world has become our classroom.
We are all the happier for it.
Other books that have inspired me lately…
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World by Rosalind Wiseman
Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
~ Why we study Geography more than Math, and the Lure of Living Books
~ A conversation about Memorization and the Classical Student