Monday, August 13, 2012

Reflections on Homeschooling

Ok, don't get too excited: I don't have time for deep reflections right now.  I'm not even sure I can arrange what I'm thinking into a nice, tidy, cohesive format.  But here goes...

Today is one of those rare, pleasant, languid, lazy August days.  The air is dry and relatively cool, the sun is shining and none of us has much to do.  It's the perfect day to sit outside and soak up some nature.  This almost never happens in South Jersey in August.

Today, we were all excited to see what looked like a monarch butterfly flitting around the hydrangea bush just outside the kitchen door and windows.  It seems we have inadvertently created quite a playground for butterflies.  The hydrangeas that just won't quit are always loaded with insects of every kind, particularly butterflies, bees and ants.  And their position near the room we use most provides us with ample opportunity to at least casually observe their visitors' behavior.  Over the years we've watched praying mantises, stick bugs, cicadas, and spiders, in addition to the bees and butterflies.

This is another plant that butterflies and bees seems to love.  We have no idea what it is.  Several years ago, The Viking sprinkled a packet of mixed wildflower seeds in a bare patch near the powder room window and promptly forgot about them.  A year later, this sprang up.  And continues to spring up each year.  We don't really know if it's from the wildflower packet or the work of a helpful bird, but it's like butterflynip--they go bananas over it!  And, it seems, that while they're in the neighborhood, they usually swing on by the hydrangeas in the front.

Redheaded Snippet took these.  She liked this one because of the big bee.  Which is kind of leading me to my point.  We have always encouraged our kids to find beauty and delight wherever it may be found.  If we stumble across something interesting while on a walk or drive, or even during our every day tasks (like the GIANT spider we found while trying to retrieve the mail), we stop what we're doing and make the kids come and look at it.  We tell them what we know or ask questions about what we don't.  We've always encouraged them to look up the answers or to try to arrive at the answers themselves by observing for a while.

Another shot of the unknown plant.  I asked Redheaded Snippet to be sure to get lots of photos of its flowers, leaves and any buds, seeds or pods present to try to determine what it is.  We don't know yet--distractions still happen, after all--but we'll get there.  Anyway, it wasn't until last year, when I was doing some research in preparation for our second year of homeschooling that I discovered that this way of living, learning and teaching is actually an established method of homeschooling.  And it was then that I stopped trying to arrange my approach to teaching my son around whatever method or curriculum was most popular and allowed myself to just do what I knew and what came most naturally.

I refer, of course, to the Charlotte Mason approach or philosophy.  Unbeknownst to me, my sisters and I had all been brought up this way.  Sure, we all went through public schools from kindergarten to college, but at home, we were taught the Charlotte Mason way and simply never knew it.  Mom didn't even know it.  To her, it was just common sense and the way all kids used to be taught.  But she did a wonderful thing for us, something I have been able to pass on to my kids and something I've been able to embrace in teaching Calvin.

And while my kids and I have always been encouraged to observe and inquire, it is because of homeschooling that Calvin took one look at this butterfly and said, "I think that's a monarch!"  We studied insects this year and did a lesson on the differences between the monarch butterfly and it's clever mimic, the viceroy.  Most people are actually looking at a viceroy when they think they've spotted a monarch.  But Calvin was able to remember what he had learned and pointed out to me the distinct round spots on the wings and the absence of an additional black line along the back wings.

And while he ran upstairs to dig out his good ole Handbook of Nature Study, Redheaded Snippet made her way out to the porch with the camera.  All of these shots are hers, didn't she do a nice job?  She has a funny way with butterflies and moths, too.  Ever since she was old enough to focus on them, she's always seemed to attract them.  Everywhere she goes, they fly to her and are happy to sit right in her hands or on an outstretched finger.  We call her the Moth Whisperer.  And this beautiful female monarch, for we were able to determine it is so, was perfectly content to let Redheaded Snippet get nice and close and snap away.  And while she declined to climb aboard, she did put her front legs on Snippet's finger and lapped inquisitively at it with her long, coiled tongue.

You may say it's just a butterfly and the desperation of a few bored kids with nothing else to do on a late summer's day.  But if you'd seen how engrossed they were in the markings, behavior and flight patterns of this pretty little lady, and then in the choice of the best photos of her afterward, I think you'd think differently.  When was the last time you saw a 17-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother more interested in a butterfly on a summer's day than in texting, video games or tv shows?  And maybe I'm just eager to read more into it than there is, but I really do believe I owe a lot of it to the environment that homeschooling creates.

Whatever it is, it made my day, my week, and quite possibly, my summer.

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