Are You What you Wanted To Be?

20160402_180445The very puzzling thing that happens when you are a child is that adults often ask what you want to be when you grow up. It’s a question that carries a certain weight except that when you’re little you peep out an answer that is both cute and easily forgotten.

Not so when you hit say grade 6 or so. The answer ties you to a commitment towards making it happen. Or, at the very least, make you accountable for how you shape your studying towards making it happen one day. As you get older the question carries more and more weight. And the weight rests on your young and primed-for-flying-unencumbered shoulders.

I remember saying for a while that I wanted to be a veterinarian (I did have a penchant for taking care of every hurt animal and bird I could find and I still do whenever the situation arises). I was told by my Dad that being a vet was often less glamorous than it seemed at first sight. He was right and while he was not trying to deter me, he also held an accurate image so I can see and decide.

I then leaned towards wanting to become a chemist (I was told pure science is not as practical as food chemistry for example which carried little attraction to me at that point). I moved to musing about wanting to become a writer at which point I was told that I will starve to death. Hardly something to aim for.

In the end, I chose biochemistry and later writing found me anyway or I found it so I guess the path took me to a place I was trying to picture as a child but did not quite managed to put my finger on it.

To be fair, my parents never pushed towards any of the things I chose to study, nor did they advise against my free will to study this or that. They let me be, they listened when I shared my learning pursuits and for that I am forever grateful.

Nowadays I am often witness to hearing the ‘what you want to be’ question directed at my boys. The older they get the more reluctant they are to give away details. I can understand that. When I get asked about the paths I envision my boys would follow in their professional lives (it sounds a bit dry doesn’t it?) I shrug and say that is not for me to decide or push onto them in any way.

img_20160429_192008All I ask of them is to grow up to be good people. Respectful and carrying compassion for fellow humans, animals and the environment, curious enough to keep on learning and most of all joyous. Whatever path they choose, they should be able to wake up with joy and excitement. That is what comes from adding layers of learning as you go. And most of all that is what happens when the world inside is one that has relevance to who you are. So, you listen and courageously follow the path you feel attracted towards. Profession? Who knows. Things evolve as we do. We grow and open our eyes and then we close them just so we can see lights flickering in the distance. We get inspired by reading, by connecting to people we meet along the way and by seeing places.

There is no telling, that’s how much I know. There are no categories of careers we should attempt to push or influence our kids towards. We can have an open, non-judgmental dialogue, a listening ear sharp enough to catch whispers but coupled to a mind that can let go instead of holding the child accountable. We can answer questions, guide, suggest and …listen some more.

One of the most wondrous things we can witness as our children grow is seeing them full of zest for learning more of whatever drives their curiosity and having them explode with enthusiasm as they talk about it. There are ideas sprouting out of that kind of rich environment; there are projects and dreams and maybe something that can become a job or even a lifelong career.

20160401_163306The point is… what matters is that they keep curious and willing to learn and they do so while being good people. Kind and open-minded and able to think for themselves, willing to accept failure and ready to keep on going even when hills become mountains and the top gets lost in thick fog.

It’s what learning does to kids when they can follow it using minds and hearts combined. Things fall into place I dare say.

This Is How We Think Of Learning

img_8721It’s been a while since we made the decision to learn at home. Those were the times when my answer to people’s question about which school my boys go to was a somewhat unsure ‘They are homeschooled’. It’s been more than two years now and I am still learning about what homeschooling means, yet my reply comes firm and sure of itself: My sons are homeschooled.

Just like that. Now I hold open the gate that allows you to peak in, if you wish so, and I invite you to walk right in and get a good feel for what our days are like and our learning is about.

Full disclosure: The extra heartbeat and the occasional cloud of worries stationed right above my head on certain days are still in place. Yes, very much so. But that is also part of our curriculum you see. We bring up feelings too and allow what makes us human to shine through, successes and failures included, while also learning that no one is defined by deeds but by the determination to keep on trying. There is a lot of stuff to keep our eyes wide open, plus minds and hearts too.

img_9068Which takes me to the very concept: learning. It’s as complex as the world itself because that is what learning is. Can you pinpoint where it starts? Not a chance. But somewhere in there are those first long walks with a wee toddler whose curiosity defies any sense of time. Leaves on a windy day fluttering, drops of water falling from the sky. Why? How? A snail pulls its body inside its shell when you as much as get your finger close to its dot-like eyes. Why? How?

Why does your stomach gurgle and where do dreams come from? What are colours? Can you invent more? How do molecules become the yummy smell you feel when you make apple sauce? Why do flowers wilt? How can big trucks drive over bridges without collapsing them?

Curiosity does not ebb and flow, I dare say. It grows. It should. The more we learn, the more questions poke their heads out and the more makes sense. You realize how much more there is to learn.

Children learning about the world helps them understand where and how life fits in. I got to see many people roll their eyes and twitch their faces when I mention my science background. It sounds nerdy and scary, and science is kind of boring most say. Note to self: help the boys see past that misconception in our learning.

img_9462Biology, geography, math, physics, chemistry, history, and everything branching into specialized subtopics, which then branch some more and become even more specialized… that is the world around us. Each subject adds clarity to the big mystery that is life in all its shapes and forms. We know that bees make complex mathematical deductions to remember trajectories, and communicate to each other in ways humans have yet to understand. A bee is not just a bee. Children have the right to learn that. We owe it to them and to their curious minds.

That a topic is complex should never be discouraging but a powerful incentive to inspire us to look closer into the complexity that enables life as we know it. Learning, the way I see it and intend to make it a reality in our school, is the tapestry that keeps it all together with enough loose ends that will permit more learning to be added as we go. More weaving… That’s how the tapestry grows. That’s how the big picture gets revealed and finally, that is how the understanding that everything is connected to everything else and each strand holds the other in place, is becoming a reality.

20150722_153553Learning makes sense when subjects are not cut into separate slices or ripped apart like petals of a flower. It’s the whole picture with all the subjects included and connected that makes learning fun and exciting and long-lasting. It’s not about memorizing, but understanding. Memorizing happens without effort when things make sense. That invites humbleness in. Joy too. There is so much to know, those who learn constantly will say. Children do. If only we let them and provide them with free thinking space that encourage learning.

I like it when the boys’ eyes sparkle as they learn. It’s when self-consciousness cannot reach a child that he or she has the courage to learn by wondering, creating hypotheses, coming up with possible answers and not for one second becoming afraid of making mistakes. It’s when learning becomes ingrained.

A friend of mine made the poignant observation about homeschooling: she said that learning does not end at 3pm when children are dismissed from school. On any day and for no curriculum-fulfilling purpose learning unfolds with complete disregard for the time of day. It should not just apply to homeschooled children either.

Just turn off the TV and allow for playing, talking, reading and roaming in the great outdoors. Learning is bound to happen. For parents, too. Which is I guess one of the greatest, most humbling lessons homeschooling has provided: you learn side by side with your children. It never stops. That sense of wonder… Life unfolding. If you make time to see, to inquire and to turn yet another page.

Food Lessons On A Bright October Morning

Over the last few months the boys have been privy to the following:

  • Gardening Lilliputian style (I will explain below)
  • Saturday trips to the farmer’s market which include wild excitement over the first of the seasons, the goodness of fall bounty and everything in between
  • Foraging for berries in or near Kamloops (Saskatoon berries, raspberries and chokecherries)

They saw pots full of fruit that became many jars of jam and jelly.

They got to taste a modest crop of potatoes from our garden, as well as zucchini, chard, kale and strawberries.They sliced apples for drying, tasted the results and packaged the dried goodies for storage.

It makes sense that after all of that and after reading and discussing how people lived in Canada back in the day, before and after the Europeans came, we would dedicate some time to learning about food preservation.

YummyThe reasons why they would learn and understand the multi-faceted process that is food preservation go beyond the rather simplistic ‘because it’s cool to have a homemade jar of jam or…(fill in the blanks)’. In our little school, we are shooting for the big picture. The bird’s eye view if you will.

So our lesson went from brainstorming about all the ways one could employ to preserve food (canning, freezing, drying, smoking/curing (for meats), sand storage (root vegetables), with variations of each, to discussing about what happens in each of them, why, how and where does it leave food in terms of taste, quality, appearance and usefulness.

Relating the gist of it may sound dry, yet our conversation was anything but. Among others, there had to be an answer for the question: Why store food when you could buy fresh produce and other foods year-round without turning our house into canning central?

Care to guess? Here’s our side of it:

  • because we preserve food we grow or forage for ourselves (meaning it is picked at the peak of its goodness),
  • because the farmer’s market is a seasonal festival of exquisite tastes (everything tastes better when picked at the peak of its ripeness)
  • because of the incomparable quality of a meal you can cook using your own pantry or freezer. It ties a family together and it gives a different meaning to home cooked.
  • Plus, think of the stories that sprout from a steaming bowl of soup or a stack of pancakes carrying the purple veil of chokecherry jelly.

We discussed the meaning and necessity of local food versus food grown conventionally, most times in mono-cultures, and we tied it in with the health element.

20160509_090325What goes into growing food? Hard work, enriching the soil using natural methods (compost and manure), more hard work and plenty of fresh water, plus a community to sell it to or people to share it with. Conventionally grown food often comes with chemicals many of which can have effects on the brain, endocrine system and they can also increase the risk of allergies and chemical sensitivities. It also comes with a variable-size carbon footprint, depending where it is shipped from. Possibly some low-paid workers in there too. Another level of unaffordability you could say.

That was part of today’s lessons. From understanding why fruit becomes mushy when frozen and then thawed, to why meat and fish can be cured by using salt, we crossed into chemistry and back into biology, agriculture and spent a good chunk of time on ethics too.

It’s the big picture that counts indeed. Fragmented learning can be done by memorizing facts and phrases if needed, but learning that helps them make sense of the world we’re in only happens when facts are tied in with thinking and asking questions.

No self-consciousness, no fear of ‘stupid questions’; it’s all about thinking, wondering, bringing stories together, historical facts too, adding scientific explanations and leaving it all a bit open-ended so the conversation can continue at a next meal, at the next apple slicing or tasting of the apricot jam that invites itself to a cup of hot tea on a cold fall afternoon… To be continued.

Gardening in a clay-rich soil like the one we have at the moment where we live is a mighty challenging deed. Growth is stunted which makes produce small. Plus, deer traffic through the back yard… well, you know. They help themselves. If they don’t get to it, wild rabbits do. It’s both amusing and frustrating, with an element of awe which comes from realizing that we share the living space with wild creatures. A lesson for another day…

The First Steps of Every New Adventure

To see is to learnHere we are. A new page of the new blog that will follow our homeschooling adventure. The start day was supposed to be last month as the new school year debuted. Well, it’s this month instead.

But school starts with learning plans to be put together, with spending to be figured out, with summer days to say goodbye to and a quiet giddiness that learning has us together instead of the boys being dropped off at school in early morning.

To avoid rudeness, some introductions are in order: Mom (Daniela) is the happy owner of this blog. I am learning guide and grateful parent to two wild boys: Tony, 14 and Sasha, 10, grade 9 and 5. We learn, read, chat, laugh, cry, and discover paths unknown together.

Our learning adventures would not be complete and adventurous enough without the presence and inspiration provided by Max, husband and stepdad. Max is in charge of applied skills, lots of adventure planning and also supplies the much needed listening ears a busy homeschooling mom needs.

Oh, and the dog. Name is Poppy, she is in charge of teaching loyalty, reminding of unconditional love from a dog’s perspective and of course, adding sweetness to any day. Being a dog who loves walks and hikes, she is an enthusiastic participant to our expeditions wherever they may take place.

We live in British Columbia and feel blessed for it. It really is a beautiful place to be.