A friend once told me that she wished she had more time to take her homeschoolers into to the woods. But by the time they finished their curriculum each day they were out of hours. And so week after week the woods had to wait.
And she asked me, “How do you manage to go to the woods each week and still have time for things like Shakespeare?”
The truth is, we don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, there is time for both. But then something else would have to go. And so we do our best to prioritize what matters most to our family and – for the moment – set the rest aside.
Life is triage and so is homeschooling. Our hours are finite and we each must choose how to spend them. The beauty (and the madness of this) is that there is no single right answer to the question, just our hearts to guide us.
I am fortunate enough to live in a state which with some of the best homeschooling laws in the country (thanks largely to WPA and the work they do with legislators to protect our homeschooling freedom). This means that as a parent I get to decide how best to educate my children.
And so while my friend’s heart leads her to classical literature and more structured days, my heart leads me here, again and again.
This is what I prioritize. This is where we learn.
In the woods, where my children search for crystals among the watercress in the spring.
Where they find fiddleheads and marvel at the fractals that nature creates.
Where they taste the spicy, still gritty root of wild ginger for the first time and where we stop – eyes closed with the sun on our faces – to listen to the birds and the wind in the trees.
The woods is our classroom.
Day after day; season after season.
And out there yesterday, watching my children learn and explore beneath the trees her question came back to me.
“How do you manage to go to the woods each week and still have time for things like Shakespeare?”
Her question brought with it a set of assumptions. Like the assumption that literature has more value than a day in the forest. Or that speaking a foreign language is more important than knowing a wild edible plant from a poisonous one.
Perhaps even that structure trumps freedom, or adult-led is more beneficial than child-led.
I say all of this without judgement because as parents these are the things we must decide. There is no right answer. We are all making this up as we go along and need to find what fits our family’s needs from a myriad of choices.
And so her assumptions serve her family while my assumptions serve mine.
Among my assumptions is a belief that childhood is more about discovering how to fall in love with learning and less about gaining a set of skills or a collection of knowledge. That’s an important distinction.
We’re not out here to pack facts. We’re out her to learn how to learn.
And so there will be not tests on whether garlic mustard grows from a basal rosette or if it grows from a vine; if its leaves are opposite or alternate. There will be no tests – ever. Just week after week of exploration and discovery as we fall in love with learning.
And this week it may be foraging but next week we might be in the blacksmithing forge or pulling out the chemistry set once more.
It doesn’t have to be linear. There doesn’t need to be a destination.
And if our goal becomes that of raising passionate learners we can do it as easily with Shakespeare as we can with an armload of cattails. It only depends on where our passions lie.
My kids are on fire about foraging right now.
They research in books and online and talk to knowledgeable neighbors and friends. They discuss species to look for, study habitat, and crawl around in the underbrush looking for clues. They come home with baskets brimming with wild edibles and set to work finding, then cooking, new recipes with their harvest.
And I have to wonder: is this not learning in it’s purest, most valuable form?
Because regardless of the subject they are learning how to learn, and falling deeply in love with the process.
And as a bonus, we get to hang out in the woods.
I think that’s a win for everyone.
It turns out – for my family – that Shakespeare can wait.