Natureschool (and learning how to learn)

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?”

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

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.

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

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.

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

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.

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

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.

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Homeschooling: learning how to learn : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

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.






24 thoughts on “Natureschool (and learning how to learn)

  1. Michelle says:

    I know I have been one of those people who have been asking similar questions of you for years now. This post, however has been your best explanation yet. I get it now. At last. And even though I get it, and I LOVE it, we will be doing shakespeare and lating and reading classic literature because as much as I wish I was like you in that way, I am definitely not, but like you said, we follow our own passions. Grace for everyone and every style, and every way. <3

  2. Renee Tougas says:

    Exactly. this is exactly it. And I love how you got to the assumption behind the question because that is really where the question comes from. So well said.

  3. Carol says:

    Beautiful! I particularly loved this because the other day I made the statement that Shakespeare isn’t a necessary part of our homeschool and another mother acted shocked. My boys are likely to be engineers or other science types. So while we make sure to take them to community theatre productions, a couple of orchestra productions each year, and other events I’m not concerned about making sure they act in a Shakespeare play.

  4. Rachel Wolf says:

    We have had this conversation before! Glad it makes more sense now. 🙂 Each of us bring different skills and different goals to the table. And that’s part of the beauty of being able to choose our own paths!

  5. Cristin says:

    This post has been the best from you I’ve seen – such a wonderful message about how we teach our children. Thank you for sharing how you fill your days, and how you decide what to keep and what to discard. This is exactly what I want for my own children, even if we follow a different path. Thanks again for inspiration, and I’ll think of you the next time we head to the woods!

  6. KC says:

    We live on the edge of town not quite in the city but not quiet in the country. I make a priority to get out every single Thursday as our hiking/nature day rain or shine. Like you said, it’s a matter of priority.

  7. Cassidy says:

    You can do both!! We’re following a Charlotte Mason Style of homeschool. It is classically based and there is a heavy emphasis on nature. It is what works for this literature obsessed, nature loving, farm owning mama. Some things do have to go – but for us sacrificing the TV and Internet time being carefully monitored (mostly – I fail at this too often. It’s so easy to waste precious time online!)

    Please understand I am not judging or telling everyone to do what I do. I’m just offering another option for those who seek it 😄 the world needs more parents content in their decisions. We are picked apart constantly. We need more support.

  8. Holly Dean says:

    I think you can only do both if that’s what your kids want to do. When we go outside, it turns into all day, sometimes all week, because it gets fun and interesting, and the Shakespeare just never comes up. And sometimes I think, those types of studies are best for later in childhood (for us).

    I live in NY State, and unfortunately, we have no freedom here. I have been thinking about this a LOT lately. My kids want to do what your family is doing, but we can’t. I also have a parenting style with Naomi Aldort’s book in mind (we are really similar it seems, LOL). So I have the state on one side telling me what we need to do, and my kids on the other wanting to do something else. And then there’s the fact that I’m a ‘peaceful parent’… so there’s a lot of conflict because I respect my kids and don’t force. It has put me in a position of telling the state what they want to hear, and stuffing in a few of the things they insist upon. Yesterday we spent the day looking at ‘weeds’ out in the yard, and did some foraging. It was so fun! But afterwards, there’s no quiz or papers, my kids just know the things. I don’t have a pile of papers that prove we’ve done things, but if you just talk to my kids, the proof would be there. Is there a parenting group somewhere for peaceful unschoolers? I have zero support beyond reading blogs. My kids are 9 and 6 and somehow I still haven’t found a group for mama support. P.S. I love your blog dearly.

  9. Holly Dean says:

    At the end of the day it’s about finding a passion for living..for the world around us… what more could we ask for? xx

  10. Beth says:

    Thank you so much, Rachel! This is so well said. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “We’re not out here to pack facts. We’re out here to learn how to learn.” How can I possibly know what career my child will pursue? But I can see how she is passionate about learning now and watch w/awe her new skills in researching, etc that are coming with age. 🙂 I also love that I have the WI homeschooling law and WPA to allow my family more freedom to homeschool in the way that works for us than most states.

  11. Rachel Wolf says:

    I have heard that NY in particular is a challenging state for homeschooling. Sorry you are struggling with this! I’ve found there are an abundance of homeschooling and unschooling communities on Facebook if such a thing is of interest. Good luck to you Holly! Thanks so much for your note.

  12. Maureen says:

    I homeschooled three. The oldest are both over 30, my baby is 24. They know so much about so much and use it daily in wonderful ways. They have so much to give, and give they do. They drank in knowledge, each on their own terms, in their own way and they continue to because they love to learn. I think that was my gift to them, trusting them to learn and they repaid that trust. I’m waxing poetic here but reading your post brought me to tears with a precious memory that had been hidden away. We were in the woods, my kids were quoting Shakespeare as we explored and one of them said,”I think I like Shakespeare best in the woods, Mom.”

  13. Qalballah says:

    Oh this. All THIS. I rediscovered this myself this week (and touched on it my blog post Swarm!) when some bees paid us a visit and we learned more in half an hour than we have all week. With my eldest reaching school exam age Im tetchy for the structure he “needs” as he learns how to jump through society’s hoops to get to press the right lever for the food to fall into his in-tray like a dependent lab rat, but do I want to raise wage slaves? I never did when they were younger, I guess I’m more brainwashed by the system than I thought. So with a bit of a reminder from the bees (and this post) I’m shifting the balance a little. It’s true they will get structure but I’m dropping the things that they do not need nor love and getting back out there!

  14. Max says:

    I live in constant mourning for my life. Your posts always give me some small hope for my children’s future, but it is enormously complicated. I wanted to be a forest ranger when I was a kid, loved everything to do with being in the woods, but my parents were pretty hardcore conservatives who went on and on about stupid tree hugging hippies and other garbage like that. By the time I hit puberty, those poisonous words were internalized and I completely lost my sense of self, giving way to harsh social messages about the way the world works. Having kids gave me the strength to find myself again, but those harsh messages manifested in me many different things, including a broken body that can’t make it into the woods, and a mind that can barely cope with the stress of existing let alone raising children. I don’t stop trying, but my hope for the future can’t come without a side order of despair. Every time I read about this life I’ll never have, there are many tears mixed with the hope you inspire.

  15. Dawn says:

    Now I have even more eloquent ways to answer the questions of “concerned” family members. Thank you for this, Rachel!

  16. Tina G says:

    Have you considered natural journaling? It would fill the need for something to show- proof. Plus kids can play to their strengths draw, write, photography, or even do videos. : ) Best wishes, Tina

  17. Tami Vandevert says:

    Hi! A friend posted this blog on Facebook and I shared it. Wondered if you had a reference you love on edible wild plants. I’m slightly addicted to books and nature 🙂 Just wanted to learn more about the plants and get the kids in on it with me! Thanks! Tami

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