Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Homeschooling - Fostering Nature Through Interest-Led Learning
by Kristianna Baird

Would it surprise you to know that children are the greatest activists and stewards our country has to offer? A child is a natural activist. As they age, they instinctively know what is fair or right. Most children care deeply about the world in which they live and the creatures with whom they coexist. Many children, such as my daughter, are showing more and more interest in the environment and its inhabitants. With some learning difficulties in the traditional classroom setting and a genuine lack of interest in the 3 R’s, we decided it was time for a change to help foster her interests in science and the environment.

I would like to say that we are just now completing our first year of home schooling, but the truth is that none of us have stopped learning yet. My daughter, who just recently celebrated her tenth birthday, has a genuine interest in learning. She has a drive that keeps her going back for more. However, it’s something that she cannot find in a classroom with desks and a blackboard; it can only be found in something as raw as nature. Sometimes she can find it by lying on the grass, watching the cumulus clouds float by, naming the layers, and making cloud animals. Some days she’ll find her interest as she bounds across rock fields, identifying mica, feldspar, and quartz crystals in the boulders. Even the pond in the backyard, with its rocks and plants uprooted from visiting raccoons, becomes an enthralling adventure. At the nature center, we view estuary water and watch the cellular creatures swim under the strong power of the microscope. The beach is a special learning place to find abundant sea life to observe. It’s also a great place to study erosion and the changing tides. We learn a lot on our beach days, including how much water a dog can hold in its fur. I’d have to admit that the dog has benefited greatly from our new schooling methods. Our pets offer, not only a wonderful lesson on responsibility, but also a happy and unconditional reprieve from stressful days.

Our car is adorned with winter snow-park stickers and Northwest Forest Service passes. I load up the bikes, snowshoes, kayaks, or our hiking boots, and we head off to wherever we feel like learning that day. This year we splurged on a National Park pass. The money saved on purchasing multiple passes was worth the purchase (about a tenth of the cost of a year’s worth of public school uniforms for our district). We’ve gotten our money back within the first few weeks’ worth of entrance fees to some of our favorite learning spots. We attend talks with forest rangers to learn about conservation, stewardship, biology, ecology, geology and more. This year we drove to Yellowstone and the Teton Mountain area. It cost us about one-third of the price that it would have for a family of three to go to Disneyland and spin our minds in circles on the rides. Our daughter hiked the trails with vigor. We used binoculars to spot more mammals than could be seen behind bars or the glass of a cage in a zoo. As a ranger counted tadpoles on the edge of the Snake River in the Tetons, we learned that the population of toads hasn’t been at its normal returning levels. The striking scars of fires left in the forests of Yellowstone were a reminder of the fragility of our environment. The fires taught a lesson about the raw force of nature and the carelessness of humans. Our last night in the Rocky Mountains treated us all to a phenomenal lightening storm. We linked the fire lessons to the large strikes of lightening bolts stretching to the earth. A few days later, my daughter found a science project in her book that explained about the electrical currents and weather patterns required to create that very same storm.

What about math, reading, writing, and art? We multiply the numbers of mosquitoes times their squishy larvae near the edges of ponds and dig out the bug spray in fear of the shear numbers the answer has revealed. Writing about fairies in the woods and an idealistic, vegetarian orca are her most recent endeavors to release some creative energy. On our extended trip, our daughter managed to complete the third Harry Potter book (again) and whipped through a two hundred page book on a Shoshoni Indian girl in a matter of three days. We have a ready supply of watercolors and colored pencils for art. The most widely used art tools, though, are probably a few sticks and rocks with an endless canvas of beach sand.

When we started this endeavor last fall, none of us thought we would learn so much. At first, I envisioned textbooks of math, grammar, and science. The first few months, we worked our way through thick books and charted daily temperatures and weather patterns. We structured school during the morning hours and were careful to touch on every subject each day. Soon we were going for walks to check out the weather first hand, writing about what ever came to mind, and borrowing books by the dozens from the library.

With minimal assistance, our ten-year-old daughter is just completing a thirteen-foot wooden kayak in our garage – just another tool she can use to explore new learning possibilities. As parents, we’ll encourage her and take her to wherever she finds an interest in learning. We’ll continue to study up on those rocks and minerals together, because when she’s elated to find quartz-flecked rock on the trail, I want to know what that means. So, together our family will continue to learn something new about learning. If it’s interesting, it must be worth learning about.

Kristianna Baird is a freelance photographer/photojournalist living in Tacoma, Washington. Her work has been published in the progressive Seattle newspaper, Washington Free Press. Kristianna’s photography has appeared in local businesses and art shows, and as a charity auction donation to enviromental organizations. Her work often depicts her deep affection for nature and the enviroment. Homeschooling is a recent addition to the Baird household, although she reiterates that their classroom is generally outdoors, as opposed to ‘in the house.’





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