Lines Drawn

ocean, beach, summer, growth, changeDrawing lines in the sand is futile.
The waves move up and wash away the ease of your gesture,
so soft,
the image of what seemed there, gone.
Imperceptible.

And even if your feet get wet, even if the world feels like it has stopped
spinning,
it hasn’t. It won’t. And the waves won’t stop, either.
They could take you away with them.

Because,

we are so light.

They just might sweep us all out to sea.
If our lines are not finally drawn.

 

Like the lichen

teachers

forest floor

gummy fungus

lichen

Yesterday, as is my favorite way to do, we spent the morning out in the woods with a sweet group of kids we share some cooperative homeschooling time with.  The children did a small bit of collecting and identifying, but we also just let them be free in the woods without a lot of heavy handed instruction, because that is pretty important too.  They ran and explored and enjoyed themselves so much.  That kind of joy doesn’t always translate to a fascination with the what and why of lichens or the function of fungus in the forest, but that is okay.  I always try not to push that part of it anyways, I really believe (and constantly experience) that children learn an awful lot by osmosis.

But that doesn’t mean that I personally wasn’t enthralled with just that as we walked yesterday.  Depending on the time of year and the mood of the person, there is always something to learn out there in the wild.  Everywhere I looked yesterday there were so many different kinds of mushroom–from the standard fare to the most teeny tiny things to blobs of orange goo–and so many beautiful and intriguing lichens.  I was caught up with thoughts of all those mushroom so quietly regenerating that space we roamed.  And all that lichen, mysterious works of art each with a story to tell about how fresh the air was that I was breathing or about the medicine I could make from them if instead I was having trouble breathing.  Amazing.

And the whole thing got me thinking about something I was already thinking a lot about–the process of breaking down the old and dead parts of ourselves, the process of personal regeneration.  My forest looks a lot like those winter woods right now.  A lot of what is growing is helping me decompose my own broken branches, providing fodder for new growth.  It feels silly, in many ways, to talk about; but god, it feels good.

Who knew (even though we should know) that we keep going through this process our whole lives?

It only makes sense, looking closely.  In all things, aren’t we mirrors of it all?  Mirrors of nature, mirrors of each other.  Mimesis, that great Greek word, has been argued by some to make for a lesser version of things, a lesser authenticity, but I see it as the parallel expression, over and over again, of all that is in this world, inside of us.

In our art, in our lives as they unfold, in the small ecosystem transpiring on the forest floor, in the large world of our heart.

There is something breath-y about the way lichen hang from trees.  Did you know that each lichen is both fungus and algae?  I didn’t until yesterday, my own exploration of the field guide answered that question.   Two organisms living as one.

We are much the same.  When our lives are balanced just so, we grow.  We re-present, like the lichen in nature, that all is well in this world.

Learning free

Note:  I read this post earlier this week and left it feeling so very sad.  And so, I redoubled my efforts over here and wanted to share my thoughts.

Every year for so many years now, I am faced with this same question:  how do we do this homeschooling thing the right way?  There are so many ways to approach it, and although we tend to fall somewhere in the middle, trying to balance the freedom to be yourself with the reality of responsibilities and the status quo, there are always some struggles.  And with each struggle I ask myself, why?  Why do we have to study this particular thing or that particular thing?  And I am amazed at the layers of conditioning that keep falling away each year  as it becomes clear to me that we don’t have to always, and that we shouldn’t have to, always.

Because the realization I always come back to is this, there is a general lack of freedom for children to be the designers of their own lives.

No, I’m not talking about turning in the parenting card here.  Things like helping out in the home, or learning how to behave with kindness and compassion to the rest of the human race, these are important. But these are the things that kind of come naturally.  When those boundaries are pushed, these are things we do need to reinforce.

But what about in education? What does an education really need to be?  What should it be? Do we use what comes naturally to each child as our guide in this case?

I see adults the world wide, historically and through the present, attempting to make children over in their image.  But why?  If we look around us, we see that the world is  made up of a myriad of different people, all with different loves and passions, capabilities and crafts.  If we can acknowledge that other adults can be happy doing any number of things, why do we fret so about what our children might want to do.  How can we expect them to be just like us?

Before I had children, I imagined them all needing to read the same books I did, the ones that opened my eyes, honed my thinking skills, gave me such insight into life.  Shakespeare, Plato, Camus.  It was going to be brilliant.  They were going to be brilliant–by my definition of brilliant.

Then enters the farmer.  The love of my life.

He doesn’t ever really read books, he never really did.  And yet, his critical thinking skills are great, his understanding of the human condition well developed, his love of the good and need to do good, superb.  Clearly, he can read. He is particularly fond of dystopian works, and a few of those classic dystopian novels from his younger years were powerful enough to remain his steadfast friends to this day.   There is no denying the fact that well written literature and philosophy are great sources for an education.  Luckily, no matter how much or how little you get in, they tend to stick.  Such wonderful teachers.

But in the end, my education full of them and his with but a few,  netted the same result.   We are equally happy, equally fulfilled, equally liberated–skills that we didn’t learn from our elementary through high school instruction anyways.  Like Albert Einstein has said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”.   Meaning, there is so much more to learn about being alive and being human and being truly happy than we could ever learn in a traditional school setting.

So, why wouldn’t I want my children to develop freely?  Even though we are not tempted to convince them that they need a well paying job to be happy, it is just as hard for us (me) to not think they should adopt my line of thinking about the world.  How often do tiny remarks slip out of my mouth that devalue the moment of their thought because I respond like I know more than they do.

Of course, I have learned more than they have by sheer volume of years on this planet.  But that doesn’t mean I can blanket them with the weight of my findings.  They were hard earned.  That is the beauty of this life, the learning.  And when I look around me to the adults I spend time with, it is clear that we didn’t all get a chance to learn a lot about ourselves in our younger years.  Between school and our parents, trying to balance a happy childhood with so many expectations around us, it is hard to feel free to be yourself, to remain true to those thoughts of yours, to feel adequate with so many people to please.

And so, in our home, expectations are low.

I know this sounds so counter intuitive, but what I mean to say is that although our expectations of kindness and respect and communication are high, and that if the value of personal hygiene and purposeful work and taking care of yours and others belongins aren’t operating at an optimal level, we will definitely set some expectations, what we don’t do our kids to be anything other than their wonderful, unique selves.

In short, I try not to lay it on thick, my ideas.  What, you don’t love poetry, bah?!  No!  I try to control myself,  because you know, my husband doesn’t even like poetry and I think he is pretty great.

We don’t expect them to be laid back artists and farmers like we are, nor rocket scientists or lawyers or whatever else.  We even try to remain calm at the thought of them in a suit and tie.  Because,  it never feels good to feel unloved because of who you are, and don’t children feel that a little when we don’t encourage them to follow their own lead and keep encouraging them to take ours?

However, in our home we do chug away at math everyday.  That is easy since I can point out to them all the times in our days that these skills really do come in handy.  We do learn to read, that is a given, but we practice together.  When they get there, I really try not to make judgements about the books they want to read on their own or comment if they are not reading any books in their own time. Instead, I just read to them, incessantly.

In the reading I do, I try to get in all the books that I find meaning in, the ones I think will touch and tend their growing souls.  I try to give them the story of history in a way that interests them so that they can one day develop perspective.  I try, when they are interested in something I have never learned well, to learn alongside them. 

But I also try to bite my tongue when it seems like it is going to sound like a bull siren singing the praise of one way to live, one way to think, a certain writer they must like, or a classic song they must love, that math is so perfect, beautiful and reassuring and they should love it, or that a certain period of history if over the top fascinating and they should find it all just so too.

Because they can or they can’t, they are all wildly different small people.  It isn’t ever a should or they shouldn’t.

I want them to grow up knowing, above all, that they are worthy and perfect just as they are, with the inner light they came here with to guide them.  I don’t want to be a shadow on that light.  What I want, instead, is to let that beam shine and lead them where they were meant to go.  A place that I can’t know for them.

And this is a gift we can all give our children, home schooled or not.  The gift to be free.  Impenetrably, free.

**************

“All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” – John Holt

Making light out of lemons

Yesterday, we hosted a group of homeschool friends at our home.  The aim was to learn a little bit about electricity because alongside things like (1) the lost continent of Atlantis and (2) the connection between the Mayan and Aztec civilizations and beings from another planet, my oldest son  placed learning about electricity on his long list of subjects to study this year.

I am pretty happy with homeschooling for our family and haven’t had too many bumps along the eleven year road we’ve been on.  It is a great fit for our family.  However, this straight A student received one C in high school–which I still shudder to think about–and that was in chemistry.   Now I realize electricity doesn’t fall strictly into the scientific category of chemistry, but beyond the earth sciences, my mind tends to go blank when we start to talk science.  So, I have always been a little worried about helping my kids “learn” in this one area.

And that was how I felt about electricity at first.  It honestly didn’t make that much sense to me.  I knew it was here, in my house, powering many, many things.  But what was it, exactly?  It seemed so vague and mysterious.  How do things like the sun and wind and burning coal and fossil fuels become the energy that turns on my light.  It baffled me, a bit.

But for the project, I got down to the basics and figured it out in a way that made sense to  me, and now you can ask me anything (or maybe just a little) about atoms and electrons and harnessing them, and unstable metals and currents, and I might be able to help you (just a little).  Oh, the beauty of teaching my children!

But the best part of the day, and the part that really struck me and brought this homeschool activity to this page in the first place, was the experiment.  I thought about looking for a book of electricity experiments for kids from the library to find something to do as an activity, but decided instead that I could probably find something on the Internet.  And I did–all over e-how, multiple explanations of how to light up a little LED bulb using lemons and potatoes.  Fun!

The only thing was, as we tried to do this ourselves before having all the kids over, we found that we could not get it to work.  I was cursing the over simplified banality of these stock tutorials on the Internet.  Not helpful!

But we forged ahead with our plan, and after a little talk about the what’s of electricity, as a group we all tried again to get the experiment to work.  It wasn’t happening at first.  To be honest, I hadn’t expected it to.  But one father had thought to test the amps with some contraption from our shop and we found out that although the bulbs weren’t lighting up, there was some electricity being produced.  Then one clever little boy suggested we should just try using a bunch of lemons to light it up, and hooray, that worked!   Five lemons making a loop of circuit lit the bulb; we then found we could take away one and two and so on and we saw the light dim each time.  It was the same with the potatoes, we just needed more.   I’m really not sure why this wasn’t mentioned on any of those tutorials, but let this stand as more detailed information for anyone else trying this at home.

As frustrated as I was along the way in preparing for this activity, I realized afterwards that it worked out so perfectly.  That it didn’t work at first and that the problem was solved while we were doing it was just right.  We didn’t exactly make lemonade yesterday, but we did make light, out of lemons.  More than really learning the specifics of electricity, especially for the younger set, I think the kids learned a good life lesson and the basic formula for scientific study, a win-win.

For me, aside from gaining a grasp–in the simplest sense,–of what exactly electricity is and how it is that it is all around us (and finally seeing how it could be that Mr. Tesla was going to harness it from the sky), and besides really having a concrete visual of how much “energy” it takes to light one, tiny energy efficient LED Christmas light bulb and translating that to the massive amount of energy we use (woah!)–besides all that, I was left thinking about some of the other ways we are trying to make light out of the inevitable lemons of our farming year.

All through the season, as we deal with the weather or the pests, the crop failures and successes, we continually revise the system for the next farming year in our minds.  We go through a number of new ideas in theory, sometimes with plans that are wildly different from each other and/or wildly different from what we are currently doing.  The dust usually settles though, and in the fall, when the harvest is so abundant and everything on the farm is  kind of static for a moment, we have to finalize our plans for next year for real and in this moment, we don’t always believe the same story we lived through earlier in the season.

I suppose that is for the best, farming–and gardening, too–are perennially an act of hope and faith, a positive stand to make, no matter the realities they also entail.  But this year, even though right now we are looking forward to another great season and feel like we have a good plan, we also aren’t forgetting some of the aha! light bulb lighting moments we had.   Life is nothing if not for learning, and sometimes it is for simply remembering and being ready.

We both realized/remembered that farming wasn’t the only thing we had to offer the world, and that maybe our farm was just perfect the way it was, not growing past our own land and not growing in terms of monetary income.  Maybe, putting all of our eggs in this one basket wasn’t the way for our family, especially when the basket is farming and we are, literally, always going to have to contend with the elements.  This was an exciting revelation.

I need to write more about all of that later and get out the details of our next farming season soon; but to be clear, our farm as it is will continue offering our own small-ish contribution to the local food scene through CSA offerings and market offerings.  And really, this is only small by a matter of degrees, since there are both smaller operations and bigger operations in the hood.

Really, it is not small at all.  We are just letting go of the need to get bigger.  We are just going to shine our light in other areas of the market place now, as well.  The farmer with his woodworking.  Me, maybe with my words.  Exciting!

The lemons, this year, shined new light into our life paths.  We are grateful for the lesson.

When the sun is shining (and when it’s not), we are outside learning.

I love homeschooling for many reasons, but this one is definitely at the top of the list.  I love that on a gorgeous fall day, we have the freedom to spend it all outside.  Everyone agrees, children (and adults alike) need to spend more time in nature.  Books have been written about it (like this one), and curriculums have been built around helping children experience the natural world.  In some ways, I worry how effective these arbitrary nature activities help the cause, but applaud the effort nonetheless.  For our part, I feel extremely lucky to live on this farm and to do work that naturally brings us outside, the whole family.  Without trying too hard, the children learn all kinds of amazing things, and this knowledge settles in not only their minds, but in their bodies as well, while they play out of doors.

And still, because it is what comes naturally to me and because it is hard not to feel the need to “show” this knowledge they are internalizing, I try to turn some of this outside time into school time.  Depending on the child, this works fine.  My daughter loves to play school, so anything I call school is quite alright by her…even though she is still just four and we are not big believers in early academics and in reality, she still just wants to play more than work at learning that big stuff.  The middle boy can really take to a project if his hands are involved, so there are ways that this works for him and ways that it doesn’t.  He was find building letters out of wood scraps and fallen oak leaves for a little while, but it wasn’t long before he really wanted to get back to what he was making in every spare minute he has had for the last few days, his willow basket.

But my oldest, so bright and so keen, can take real issue with something he feels is not connected.  Yesterday, one of the sentences in his nature journal, imposed by the mama, was “Squirrels are NOT cute!”.  This makes him sound like a curmudgeon, but really, he was more than a little upset that we had gone to the park to “study” squirrels.  I had my reasons.  It is autumn, the squirrels are busy.  There are very few mammals that we can observe in nature (it’s mostly birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects, right?).  And the act of observing and recording was what I was after, not the act of learning about squirrels.  Because like he said to me, we already know what squirrels looks like, how they are characterized based on their actions, what they spend their time doing, where they live.  This is all information they have gathered from simply reading books with squirrel characters in them and from seeing them while playing at the park.  We have stopped and watched them on the wires while getting in and out of the car in front of the Kung-Fu studio.

Still, this is hard to explain to a nine year old who doesn’t naturally feel a draw to studying things scientifically.  He really tried to put his foot down and claimed he would only draw in his nature journal…because that is how he studies the world.  He has always learned about things by creating with them through drawing or story-telling and imaginary playing, sometimes very elaborately.  So when he was told to write about the squirrels we had spent time “observing”, he expressed in that sentence what power he had at the moment to tell me just what he thought about the work we were doing.

And I understood, and laughed with him about it.  Because he really does have a soft spot for furry creatures, and he really does know how to take a closer look at the world.  And there is a lifetime ahead of him to study the natural world scientifically, if that is how he wants to understand it.  As he gets older, he might just find himself spending hours watching a squirrel in nature, just so he can produce a drawing that is just right.  And because this would have meaning to him, he wouldn’t even think about it as “studying”.  For now, he is quite content to spend hours in the tops of a tree.  And as strange as it may sound, this is the best kind of school time we can spend.