Leave it to the garden to send us down paths we didn’t even know we needed to explore. To be fair, Mitch and I have been interested in homeschooling for a few years. It’s a scary time to send kids to school. And to be even fairer, some of the coolest people we know homeschool their kids. The beautiful lives these families have cultivated are inspiring and it’s hard to ignore their kids’ passions for learning.
Still, I’m convinced that we wouldn’t have jumped in and made the decision to homeschool without the garden. Working with Mother Nature to grow food has taught me so much, both about traditional academic subjects and about myself. More importantly, though, working in the garden and spending time outdoors has given me hands-on, real world experience with the unique way that my kids learn, explore, and process new information.
It’s been tempting for me as an adult to think that, as their parent, I must know the best way to teach my kids the things I want them to learn. Mealtime is a great example. We were very lucky with Lee when it came to nutrition. He was never a picky eater (at least until his sister came along). He ate everything that we ate. He enjoyed trying new things. Josie, on the other hand, was much more picky and she quickly taught Lee her ways. If it wasn’t dip or at least covered in dip, she was unlikely to eat it.
We tried to teach the kids to enjoy vegetables, but it never really worked until we started gardening. The garden taught the kids where food comes from. It taught them all of the work involved with bringing that food to the table. From planting to weeding to observing to harvesting to cooking, the kids participated in every step. I’ll always remember the first time Josie asked for seconds of Brussels Sprouts (a vegetable I personally avoided for 29 years). There are no words that I could have said to that strong-willed child that would have convinced her to eat them more effectively than the garden had.
While that’s one of my favorite examples, there are a multitude of reasons why we’re choosing nature-based homeschooling for our kids. Here’s my top five:
1) I want my kids to play…a lot.
My kids learn best when they are playing. Lee gets anxious when I pull out the flash cards. But show him the letter A and ask him to make it with sticks, rocks, or flowers that he found in the yard, and he’s all in — because he’s not being tested, he’s having fun.
Playing also gives them the opportunity to explore what they are interested in at their own pace. Right now, hiking is our family’s favorite way to play. The kids are particularly interested in understanding the water they see on the trail. Their uncle was here a few weeks ago and spontaneously showed them how to make a dam and explained what a dam is. Now, every time we see water on a trail the kids want to stop and build their own dams. It’s hard to stop and take time to play at every kid’s interest when their are several kids in a class, so we’re thankful to have the opportunity.
2) If I could do my job surrounded by nature, I would.
Let me tell you what my office space looks like in my daydreams: I’m sitting at the base of a huge oak tree, surrounded by nothing but green and listening only to the sounds of bugs in the trees and the occasional small critter. By some magic, the Wi-Fi is fabulous and the Primo Water dispenser doesn’t need electricity to give me at least one ice cold glass of water per hour.
If I would love to work surrounded by the beauty of nature, why would I assume my kids want anything less? We are blessed that Mitch is able to stay home with the kids, take them on hikes, explore greenways and playgrounds, and work in the shop while they explore their own backyard. As much as possible, we’ll make sure that the outdoors is their classroom.
3) I want to spend more quality time together outside.
When I get home from work, I want to eat dinner and head off to a playground or tend to the garden. I don’t want to do homework at the dining room table before bedtime. I just want to hang out, let loose, and have a fun time laughing and playing together as a family. I don’t want to have to go to bed before the fireflies get done dancing because the school day starts at 7:30 in the morning. I want to sit around a fire, getting sticky fingers from s’mores. It’s really that simple.
4) I want learning to be part of our everyday lives.
I am convinced that learning doesn’t have to be a formal, structured event. My kids are going to be way better at science than I ever was because gardening has already taught them the foundation. They understand the scientific method because every time we plant something (especially as the beginner gardeners we are), it’s one big experiment. Nature provides plenty of opportunities for math that is hands-on and engaging. Writing letters in the mud is always a fun time. Considering they know the definition of the word pollination, I’d bet their vocabularies are way better than mine ever was at their age, just from hanging out in the backyard.
When I first started planning for our homeschooling journey, I thought my husband was going to do most of the teaching since I work Monday through Friday and Mitch is a stay-at-home dad. But then I had an epiphany: why can’t learning happen on Saturdays and Sundays? There is absolutely no reason. The Kindergarten curriculum we’re using (Blossom and Root) only has about one to two hours of structured activities per day, and you better believe that some of those hours are happening on Saturday and Sunday in our house so that this working mom can participate.
5) I don’t know a better way to raise good stewards of the environment.
Climate change scares me. Seeing the beautiful landscapes polluted with garbage that people couldn’t be bothered to carry to the next garbage can scares me. How our culture treats pollinators and the environments they need to thrive scares me. But honestly, it didn’t scare me as much before I fell in love more deeply with our Earth after spending more time with her. I believe that the best way to teach our kids to take care of our planet is to make sure they have the opportunity to fall in love with Mother Nature. The rest will come.