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What Happened When I Took My Homeschool Outside…

Around here, everybody calls me Mama and I have been blessed with two earth angels, ages five and four. We are smack in the middle of our maiden homeschooling voyage here in the mountains of southern Oregon where kindergarten is the bees knees and proving to be a powerfully transformational experience for our children, our home, and this here teaching mama alike. I guess you might call me an eclectic educator. If you ask me, I’m just beginning to figure this whole thing out. But I am a creator by nature and I have a strong feeling that my teaching style will be born endlessly from our own experiences as we go along.

I often see myself in my own mind as sewing a quilt for my family: bits & pieces of everything that works, jives, and flows are the patches of cloth. Every little bit of wisdom gets sewn into the whole and I am feeling immensely in love with this process already.  It all works towards my ultimate goal to marry how my children love to learn with how I thrive at educating. I hereby refer to this union as ‘our style’.

The wild and curious nature of childhood

One thing we all agree on and know for certain about ‘our style’ is that there is a LOT to be learned outside of four walls, a desk, and a chair. At the initiation of kindergarten this past fall, we experienced a fast and furious crash course of trial & error with our educational plans only to very clearly be reminded that one of our greatest goals for this precious part of our life is to protect the innately wild and curious nature of our daughters’ childhood while we’re right here in it. That said, I made it my business to bend down low and take some cues from my children: they’re simple creatures really… they want lots of sunshine, mud, water, trees to climb and plenty of room to explore.

And so we opt to spend a very great deal of our days out & about on our 1 acre property, where I have been training myself to be a bit of a homeschooling ninja by tapping into a multitude of naturally occuring outdoor educational opportunities. Figuring out how to bring their lessons into a playful, outdoor atmosphere has been the key for our family and feels to me to be the most genuine manner for them to learn about themselves and their world at this time.

Early childhood is so rich in imagination and magic… it’s really an irreplaceable, temporary time in our lives and I feel a great need to ensure that they can be present with that for however long it lasts. With an ever quickening busy pace of society building up (public school programs not excluded), I feel a great sensation of relief and confidence in holding space for my children to simply: BE.  In fact, it feels quite like a sacred space for them to grow at their own pace… I feel responsible to secure that for them.

The canvas of mud and dirt

Don’t get me wrong: we love our comfy home and spend plenty of time indoors curled up on the couch next to our beloved bookcases, playing in the playroom and/or figuring out workbook pages together at the kitchen table. As a family, we take care of my father (who struggles with dementia) here at home and I also have a cleaning & cooking rhythm that I adhere to in order to maintain our household. Our girls take shining pride in helping me with all of this and we absolutely feel these living skills to be perhaps vital factors in their education during this time. So we have lots of rooted reasons to do our learning inside, as well. But ‘our style’ beckons us to get outside, where we find endless beneficial influences, inspirations and opportunities to build on all the things we are learning with papers, pencils and books. This is a happy place for our children where I am met readily and eagerly… this place is pure gold.

let them be outside
I am learning how to close up our books and take our lessons outdoors with us to fortify our curriculum work. I am elated to discover that we end up learning throughout much of our days in doing so. We create letters & numbers with sticks and talk avidly about how to spell the wild things (better known here as ‘treasures’) that they readily observe and collect in their baskets. There is something about being outside that really truly puts a gleam in their eyes and gets them communicating in a very open way.  And I’m still amazed at how they gravitate towards rocks, nuts, pine cones & leaves well over the store bought toys that come to sit largely ignored… there seems to be an energetic connection there that we choose to honor.

Practicing patterning with their found treasures is another favorite. We study shapes and sizes by building sand structures. We launch impromptu science lessons (that sometimes will go on for weeks) based on our observations of the wildlife and world around us. I have built them a mud kitchen, which is an absolute favorite. Here we spend lots of time talking about fractions while measuring ‘ingredients’ for their mud delicacies. Some days we will bring out a large container of flour or cornstarch and have fun learning about color blending with some paints (makes the very best icing for muddy goods, after all). Once I began looking at our land with this perspective, I have found the opportunities to be quite endless and our girls are eager to be a part of all of it.

Foraging and identification

Eating outside is another important part of our day. This can mean enjoying a prepared picnic on a blanket while reading a few favorite books (home-baked-by-very-small-hands bread shaped into an alphabetical letter, anyone?). Or it can mean foraging for wild edibles throughout the day. I am an herbalist and so we spend a lot of time learning how to identify both edible & medicinal herbs/plants/fruits in their various stages of growth (with very strong, clear and understood boundaries in place about checking with me before tasting).

Let them be outside

Because of the bond they so naturally share with the earth at this age, their interest in these things comes very easy for them… and our botanical illustrations are pretty out of this world, if I do say so myself. Their father is a hunter and so we look for, identify and discuss animal tracks on the property. Setting them up to be able to feed themselves without relying on anyone else to provide that for them is a very important part of the education we want for our children.  We also model the building & safety of fires and how to cook on them as often as we can, which initiates golden opportunities to manifest some basic history and social studies talks.

Life is our classroom

Do you guys remember the saying: “Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life”? We’re all about it here… and the girls are at an age where working by our side appears to be everything. I strongly reckon this will change in a few years as they age, but for now we’re riding this wave for all it’s worth with hopes of instilling some strong values and ethics along the way. Chores, responsibility, and pride/care for home are all disguised as play and our girls can not get enough of it. They help to tend the chickens and gather eggs. We also allow them to take a very active role in our gardens, which is something that visibly generates a great sense of pride and purpose for them.

Let them be outside

I will never forget the first time they ate a carrot they grew themselves. We practice counting seeds as we plant them, eggs as we gently place them into baskets, and blackberries as we harvest them off the bush with a great emphasis on understanding the value of each number and not so much simply memorizing them on paper. The girls’ dad is a gifted woodworker and enjoys teaching them how to safely use tools like a hammer and a tape measure… you will see a photo of this taking place and I am happy to report that I have since discovered amazing little safety glasses for them to wear while doing this kind of work/play, which is a good feeling.

Creating our own “style”

‘Our style’ has a mix of strong respect and dedication for age appropriate curriculum work mixed with an emphasis on the life skills that we really want to send our children into the world as young adults knowing all about. This requires a daily rhythm that I am all too happy to integrate into our homeschooling. Growing up, I loved to read and the Little House on the Prairie book series was (and still is) an absolute favorite. I will often revert to the childhoods of Mary and Laura when I am dreaming of the kind of childhood I want to create for my children. The values, hard work and love of Ma & Pa have stayed with me.

Let them be outside

Progress and technology are real, and ‘our style’ does not exclude these factors. I have found programs like Reading Eggs to be another fun yet meaningful method of reaching our girls at the place they love to learn, and I’m quite thrilled with how much they are taking from it. We also allow our girls to earn time with their Kindle. The world is moving at a somewhat alarming rate towards a technology dependent existence and we do not intend to keep our girls out of the loop with that entirely.

Acknowledging that today, technology and education go hand in hand is not lost in ‘our style’ but we are making great efforts to balance that reality out with factors that we hope will weave the importance of the old ways into their lifestyles, as we feel that modern society is struggling for lack of much of it. Learning and exploring outdoors is playing a major role in our ability to homeschool our girls in the well rounded manner that we envision.

Finding my balance

As mentioned, we did experience some trial and error at the beginning of our journey last fall. We briefly but gently navigated a very expensive Waldorf kindergarten program (that entailed a sizable commute to and from) and a public school from home option (online based education), but our path became powerfully clear pretty quickly. And even though my confidence and faith have grown in heaps ever since, there still exists a very real urge within me as an educator to ‘keep up with what the public schools are doing.’  I continue to examine the origin of this urge within myself, as I personally feel that kindergarteners today are being exposed to work, expectations and stresses that they are not developmentally prepared to take on.

Let them be outside

I initially experienced a great surge of fear when I made the decision to not send my eldest to public school kindergarten, but that has been fading as the weeks go by and I am coming to realize how capable I am in presenting the work in a way that my children resonate with best. I  immediately purchased two styles of kindergarten curriculum and feel stronger every day in simply stripping away the common core influence, the testing and the pressures of what appears to be a ‘kindergarten is the the new first grade’ sensation taking over out there. I have found a settling satisfaction with creating a developmentally appropriate goal list for my own family that ticks most of the boxes of the public school curriculum in a basic, fundamental manner and we’re doing it at our own pace.

Moving forward

This is only my first year as a homeschooler and I am humble enough to admit readily that I don’t always know what I’m doing. But I do know what I want and it keeps me going. I am not afraid to try anything once and will continue to navigate my way through this beautiful journey as a liberated educator until I find the meshing of styles & methods that join my teaching style with the way my children love to learn.

I have already accepted that there will most likely not be a single way/style to go about this and so I’ve been busy like a bee, floating from flower to flower, gathering the nectar from any learning opportunity that comes my way. I am dedicated to maintaining these efforts for the duration of early childhood and am open to what the future might look like as my children mature and their learning styles begin to shift into a more independent way. For now, this is what works for my family and at the end of every blessed day: that’s all I’m advocating for.

Let them be outside!

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What happened when I took my homeschool outside: sometimes you just have to get outside. Whether it's forest school or unschooling, there are HUGE benefits to learning out of doors! Come check out my story!

Comments

  1. We love spending outside with the gang here, both in nature, and exploring San Francisco. I’m reading Colin Ward’s classic “Streetwork”, (woohoo interlibrary loan!), that advocates turning shools outside of their buildings to explore and interact with their cities. I love it!

  2. Hi Jenny, I love the way you write…it seems so simplicit. With all the outside being such a tool of education..I do NOT agree w the Common Core Math that the public school or WHOEVER just decided to chang..How can you change the way you COUNT, ADD, SIBTRACT. and more importantly WHY THE CHANGE…seems more stressful and out of the way..Anyway, I think the Old Time Little House on the Prairie serenity IS a Wonderful and Meaning way to start your beautiful girls education.Good Luck in your educational process…

  3. Thank you for this!! I love the way you think and write! We are in our 4th year of homeschooling, and I still don’t know what I’m doing! Ha! This was a great reminder to let kids explore & just learn from what already exists outside!
    Thank you!

  4. I am very impressed with the way you have written this. You and your children have what I imagine an ideal childhood. V live in a city in an apartment with a small part nearby filled with children whose parents throw a fit when their child so much as bends down towards the mud. And I get advised for letting my son walk barefoot, collect leaves, mud, sticks and flowers. I am clear that I want my son to learn with and from nature. That is hands down the best approach to learning.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I have been working with kids with learning disabilities and troubled home lives. I have learned that getting the kids outside to learn has numerous benefits. We recently figured out our daughter has dyslexia. She was getting behind in school and it was a real struggle for her. We pulled her from school and began a very hands-on/outdoor type of learning and she is doing really well now, even though it has only been a few weeks! The effectiveness of outdoor learning can’t be stressed enough!

    Great article!

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