As a homeschooling parent, I have always found that a child’s interest is the best way to fuel the desire to learn. Now, before you think we don’t have a curriculum, don’t lose your minds thinking I’m depriving him of typical curriculum, textbooks, theme papers, grammar, spelling and traditional tests, quizzes and a LOT of busywork. I’ll be honest here, we skip busywork as soon as the concept is solid, but that’s another topic. Because we homeschool using an Oregon public school online option called “Oregon Connections Academy”, he gets all the traditional textbooks plus enhanced curriculum in literature. All of that is fine and good and he has learned so much by following a traditional “grade level” curriculum and even has the opportunity to be in a TAG section based on test scores, so his work is tailored to his level. We like it and are motivated to finish up the daily scheduled lessons and assignments so we can go crazy and follow HIS interests for learning, like his Hobbit model he built last spring.
I come back to the topic of tea. Let me explain how we have come to tea. We have been reading stories that are British like “The Secret Garden” and the tales from Beatrix Potter. Peter Rabbit’s mama rabbit gives him two teaspoons of chamomile tea as medicine. Mary and Dicken stop playing to have tea. Tea is prominent in these stories and tea is interesting to him. It began with wanting to try tea. We have dug into our garden dirt and after visiting the garden stores, he has discovered that one can grow and harvest tea from Chamomile and peppermint. So, we prepare and amend soil, and plant seeds. He designs wooden screens to dry tea leaves and chopped flowers. He leads, I follow. His interest towards a goal fires his desire to learn and plan how to accomplish a goal. His intense interest fuels his love of reading more of the stories we are reading. He is bringing to life elements from the stories. He is engaging with the characters and inviting a little of their world into his. He becomes captivated and this is how learning is a beautiful experience, fueling love of learning. This is “The good stuff”, the fire in the belly that I can only hope he’ll be able to apply to a passion for study in college and into adulthood.
Should I tell him that growing tea and drinking tea is not for boys? I do believe that is what our popular American culture would tell him. He certainly knows that it is not true because a lot of men drink tea, garden and enjoy growing things. Should sexism become a judgmental cloud over what he truly wants to learn? I don’t force hobbies on my boys and Brady comes to gardening naturally. He has a peaceful nature, an “old soul”, patience beyond measure and has a lovely way of tending to things long term. He has a talent for art, piano, and writing. These are all qualities I admire in him. These are all “factory installed” qualities. My older son is quite opposite, taking no interest in gardening or birds or bunnies. He LOVES camping, hiking and being very outdoorsy in other ways. Both boys are growing into their natural selves. We have chosen fertile soil for planting seeds of interest. Let me explain.
I homeschool because I enjoy seeing my kids grow organically into the person they already were when they came into this world. As a trained teacher I found one dynamic about traditional school that seemed prominent is the hammer and nail tendency of group learning. If you are holding a hammer and you see a nail sticking up a bit, your tendency is to want to hammer down the one nail that sticks up. I think people who are allowed to grow into their genuine self without being hammered down are happier adults.
I know a lot of adults who have spent a lot of their adult life trying to accept their true and genuine self. They often share stories of judgement and rejection by peers and adults at school and home. Those judgements can often become heavily engrained and damaging to self esteem. For us, we have found a certain freedom in being able to watch our boys follow their true passions and desires without judgmental peer pressure of what is and what is not “cool”. We just “go with it”, follow where there is motivation for learning and take that where it leads.
Brady has learned hands on science about plants, soil composition, fertilizer, worms, helpful and harmful insects, weather, growing tea, cooking, herbs, landscape design, and long term responsibility. And because we chose to do school differently, we have time to learn this way, follow passions for topics to learn about and follow those pathways to deeper learning as far as they will go. Please don’t get me wrong. I understand that so many people cannot afford to pursue this option and I am extremely grateful it is an option for us. I also know that not all schooling options work for all kids or all parents. For us, it’s beautiful and has been lovely for certain seasons of both our boys lives.
Parker and I studied an entire year from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. When it came to diving into Shakespeare, I saw the spark. We spent 5 days in Ashland seeing some of the plays we had studied, particularly Julius Ceasar. We saw the single most fantastic performance of Julius Ceasar I have ever seen, where the Roman ruler was portrayed as a woman and set in a mixed time period, even a bit of Seattle grunge costuming. I saw his interest grow and intensify. This spring, his high school english class is reading Romeo and Juliet and again, I see him enjoying another masterpiece in literature. I feel so thankful I had the time and opportunity to plant the seeds for a love of Shakespeare, during a time when there were not peers telling him differently. I was able to sow seeds in healthy, organic soil. I see the growth of those seeds that we planted so carefully together.
Looking forward to some home grown tea this summer. Looking forward to a beautiful harvest some day. This quote seems beautifully appropriate today. Plant seeds, instill confidence and let those passions lead wherever they may lead. Remind your children that you love them just as they are. Then, remind them again. And again. That’s the best fertilizer ever.