Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Cooking up an Education
by Heather Woodward

One of my goals upon embarking on the journey of homeschooling has been that my children would have the time to follow whatever their individual interests were. So often, learning can be fractured between subjects, which blurs its relevance in the scope of the child’s life. I grew up very smart but lacked a focus. I still do not know what “I want to be when I grow up.” For my children, I wanted something different. I wanted to give them the time to explore their interests and to become really good at whatever their passion is – not just mediocre at a dozen disciplines. I wanted them to find that ‘education’ is not a separate entity from ‘real life.’ Sometimes it is the ordinary things in life that are most inspirational. Children are wonderful at recognizing this. This is often one of the benefits of homeschooling – children teach adults to find inspiration in daily tasks and to recognize their educational value.

My daughter Brianna loves to cook. She has always been interested in cooking and for as long as I can remember has been my most dedicated ‘helper.’ This daily activity that I regarded as a means to an end has evolved into an educational masterpiece. Reading cookbooks, especially different ethnic cookbooks, was a way of making an everyday occurrence a bit more interesting. Often we find ourselves involved in not only the recipe at hand, but also in looking at our globe or our atlas to see where the country from which these lovely recipes come is located. This inevitably leads to other books regarding the land and people of the area. We have found some great resources in old National Geographic Magazines and travel books we have collected from yard sales.

Some of our cooking adventure involves us in the history of the area as well as the food itself. While reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, we were drawn to read the Little House cookbook as well. So much of the early history of our country can be found in the types of food they ate and how they prepared it. We made apple butter and Johnnycakes, as well as several other recipes. Our greatest learning experience from this, as we tried to make butter by hand, was how thankful we were for our blender! The making of maple syrup was an important source of sweetener at a time when white sugar was an expensive and scarce commodity. This led us to a field trip of a local maple syrup farm, where we were able to witness the long process involved in creating the product that we buy at the store. This connection with the process of where our food comes from and with those who produce it may not have come about but for a simple interest derived from making the everyday something more extraordinary.

Most recently, our cooking journey has led us to a British cook, Jamie Oliver, who is by far the most entertaining chef we have seen yet. Brianna has begun to ‘speak’ British. Her brother and sister want to know where London is. How far away is it? Hence, we get out our globe again and take a look. Reading his website, we found that he has established a restaurant managed by problem young adults whom he teaches to cook. This has led to a whole discussion regarding career choices for young adults and how a simple thing such as cooking can provide young people with another alternative to getting into trouble. We have made several interesting recipes and have hunted local farmers markets for some of the more unusual fresh ingredients he describes in his book and videos. On this adventure, we met a fellow who uses hydroponic growing devices. What an “educational” experience this provided! While most children are sitting in a desk at school, mine were able to talk with the grower and look at his whole hydroponic set-up. He even had goldfish in his reservoir. He mentioned to the children that they use hydroponic growing systems on space stations to provide fresh vegetables for the astronauts. This piqued the interest of my son Chase, so onto the Internet we went to find out more about this. We came across a hydroponic system you can create at home with a jar and an aquarium pump, and various ’media’ you add for nutrients. This is to become our next homeschool co-op activity.

Brianna has been on a quest to find out what “wild rocket” is, a salad green that is used by the British chef. We have read arugula, but she is not convinced. “It doesn’t look the same – it doesn’t taste peppery.” So I imagine we will be getting involved in the botanical names of plants and where to find them. She can’t wait to search around our yard and find some of the ‘wild’ foods that were mentioned in the video. She has made a list: horseradish, fennel, dandelion greens, and whatever this ‘wild rocket’ is. I am digging out my gardening and plant books for her to peruse. We have more ideas of things we want to grow ourselves also, and so this will lead itself into some great spring and summer fun projects.

What is most wonderful out of all of this is that this ordinary daily activity that for most people is done in a rush after work and school just to provide bodily nourishment, has for us, as homeschoolers, opened a whole new world to investigate. We are not bogged down with the schedule of the day, but can explore and see where our passions lead. Brianna has acquired not only a useful skill that she will use her entire life, but has inspired the rest of us with her interest to delve into all kinds of subjects that we may not have stumbled across and seen as relevant to our education. They are not fragments of an education separated into subjects –
science, math, chemistry, geography, history, reading, library research, Internet research and home economics – but an interesting, educational life!

Heather Woodward lives, learns and cooks in York, PA along with her three children, Brianna (9), Chase (6) and Alexa (5) and husband John. In addition to enjoying watching her children learn, Heather assists with the teaching of on-line college courses and is pursuing a graduate degree from the University of Maryland. One of her favorite pastimes is watching children’s imaginations at work.




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