Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Apple Farm School And Restoring A Garden

A thoughtful Lord Firestar in the garden

Without me deliberately intending to get back in full-groove homeschooling (it is after all, only mid-August!), the rhythm of Apple Farm School (how we are registered in California) is well underway.

Constant to our daily life (homeschooling or not) is hours spent outside with our chickens and plants. Here in the suburbs that means our backyard. We're blessed to have a mature garden, with diverse shrubs, trees, and herbs in this small space, which attracts some lively wildlife: the shy gray-brown towhees scrabbling in the leaf-litter, hummingbirds, squirrels, the bold and brash raccoons, a little woodpecker whose name I have yet to learn, jays, crows. This morning I even heard the raspy sounds of Raven somewhere in the neighborhood. It's not total asphalt and buildings around here!

In our backyard, I read aloud each day. Gradually this summer, our reading time has been preceded by work on penmanship. We work with the Italic Manuscript Series, a system that offers a graceful, clear printing style that morphs gently into its cursive version. We don't have to learn a whole new style when learning cursive. We all work on our own books: my younger daughter with the first in the series, my older daughter and me on the last of the series (suitable for adults).

Our outdoor reading is currently the children's classic, The Secret Garden by Frances H. Burnett. We all love it -- delighting in the impassioned characters (the tantrums are a big hit), the magic of the garden as it transforms and as it transforms the children ... there is so much to enjoy in this book. As a nature mentor, I appreciate the book all the more for its beautiful depiction of the how immersion in one's senses and in the natural world, and connecting with the natural world has everything to do with connecting with oneself and bringing us into a joyful, fullness of being that literally transforms the lives of those around us.

The magic within The Secret Garden led us to look at our own garden with renewed eyes. First we dug up the seeds we'd collected from our farm last year before we moved (way more than I'd remembered collecting!). We stuffed seeds into the spare corners of three large pots I already have going with stinging nettle, kale, calendula, lemon balm, rosemary, raspberry, spearmint, chives. To all these, we've add bantam corn (!), sunflowers (!), California and Shirley poppies, and who knows what all. The girls love to plant seeds. It was at this point we determined it was time to restore some of the garden so that we could actually dig the soil and plant there -- theoretically a better location for a number of the seeds we'd shoved into those pots.

Well, the ground is solid hardpan clay. No topsoil. I don't know how the plants that are here actually thrive, because the soil is awful. So we've been banging away at a patch of ground with a hoe and shovel, spraying the dusty earth with water (and then spraying ourselves and have a general great time with water), and adding some compost. In two days, the patch (about 5' x 5') looks a lot more inviting, but not yet yummy enough or deeply enriched enough in which to plant. I need to feel as if I was gazing at and plunging my hands into a pan of the most delicious chocolate cake batter!

Okay, so that's the beginning of our garden. Our homeschooling, to me, is grounded first and foremost in a healthy lively family rhythm, complete with working with and tending to the things that nourish us. That includes shared household tasks, planning nourishing meals, growing our own food and herbs when we can, or at least using well good veggies and herbs that we find. In the food realm, I'm finally back in stride with this, having the girls help me plan meals for the week (and prepare them, of course). This week, we've been using Molly Katzen's Honest Pretzels for inspiration.

Smoothie Digresssion: Yesterday I concocted my favorite smoothie to date. First, I made a decoction of burdock root, dried elder berries, a little allspice, cloves, and orange peel. Then we blended strawberries, blueberries, whole milk vanilla yogurt, banana, and cinnamon. We added the decoction as the liquid. Yummy! Healthful too.

Back to homeschooling:

Our homeschooling has been different each year. In past years when the girls attended a lovely children's program two or three days a week, our style was mostly unschooling. In the past few years -- especially as we've been in transition -- we've shifted to a relaxed homeschooling approach. I find that having a more overt homeschooling lends our lives a beneficial rhythm and a purposeful nature, especially since we don't have a farm right now, or other regularly scheduled activities (classes, group activities, etc.). Unschooling-to-relaxed homeschooling worked very well for us on Vashon Island, when we were in the midst of a very active community and farm life. In our transitional state (the months preceding our move off the island, our ten months in Oregon, our temporary home here in California) working more overtly on subjects (rather than "coyote mentoring" with them as they come up naturally in our work and play in our days/weeks) helps stitch our days together in a pleasant way.

Having ordered the Second Grade Curriculum from Christopherus (Waldorf-inspired homeschooling resources) for my younger daughter, I've dug out our First Grade Curriculum, and have launched into the final lessons blocks of the book. Last spring, Andy had taken on up homeschooling the girls, using resources that appeal to his style and nature: The McGuffey's Eclectic Readers, and some Mathematics and Grammar books, also from that era (19th century). That certainly works great for him and the girls. I have a different style -- and the imaginative, artistic, holistic perspective of Waldorf (especially via Christopherus) works very well for me when I work with Gwynne.

My older daughter, being 15, is in a different sphere. Here what she and I do is discussion and reading at the center, and moving out from there. She directs a lot of her own learning. Anyone who has doubts about unschooling can have those doubts assuaged by seeing teen unschooling in action! My daughter has fully-developed passions and interests which have led her to all kinds of in-depth learning in an array of areas: biology, animal husbandry, writing, math, electronics, .... What Andy and I do with our daughter is support her passions (and offer our own skills/knowledge in relationship to those interests) and offer "unit studies" (we don't call them that -- but other homeschoolers would) on different topics we think she might do well to have in her knowledge-and-experience tool-kit, or that we just think are fun and cool :-). As a former English major I find literature to be cool and fun, so from The Secret Garden, we'll move into reading Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (I'm intrigued by similar motifs in all three of these books!). From there, we might move on to a unit study of Comedy & Tragedy ... Or perhaps Jane Eyre will inspire an excursion into a different realm ....

I've had a number of parents of young children talk to me recently about homeschooling, and what I can say here is that homeschooling can be very idiosyncratic! It can look and feel quite different from family to family, reflecting the values, passions, and style of each family. I call what we do "homeschooling", but honestly, love of learning, self-directed learning, and sharing our learning is so much a part of who we are as a family that I almost don't regard "homeschooling" as a separate subject in our lives (i.e., what we do instead of school). If anything, I use the term "homeschooling" as a marker: designating particular sorts of foci in particular points in a day, just like we have meal-times, or chicken time or clean up or chore time (or time on the computer!). Learning, of course, takes place anytime (okay, I couldn't resist writing something so corny & cheesy :-)!!!).


Dubious said...

What a beautifully full life you lead, Jane, and how heartening to read about how your family is growing. Thanks.

Tracy Carlton said...

ahhhh, how is it I JUST came across THIS blog? fabulous! so glad to be here! thank you Jane.