Lesson of the Day: Everything is Connected

How do you go from planting French tarragon, tomatoes, and zucchini to the lymphatic system, with some stroke information and type II diabetes facts and implications along the way? Oh, and the perils of climate change when it comes to plants and crops in general.

There is no recipe really, other than keeping the mind open and making connections. Eyes wide open, two boys jumping in with ‘I know the answer, can I say?’ and taking turns becomes a game I moderate and delight in doing so.

How do you then? You spend some time in the garden, tiny as it is, weeding and helping the little seedlings thrive with less competition. You talk about weeds as you do so: why do they grow so well, how do they grow no matter how rainy or dry the season? Resilience comes from?…

Then you talk about soil and thoughts trail back to when we did that first time, looking at pill bugs and earthworms and many other critters we had to imagine as we could not see. Kids do that willingly, which is why they learn so heartfully. They are open to imagining and building on from there.

The next day you talk seeds, fruit that bears them, the mysteries that make them germinate. Both boys are now well aware of the beautiful process that transforms a dormant seed into a plant. They steal each other’s words: you start dicotyledons, move through explaining hypocotyl, the role of the starches and fats the seed stores until the leaves appear (why only till then? What happens as leaves appear and bathe their wee faces in the sunshine? Oh yes, I gave it away… Photosynthesis).

The dance includes now chlorophyll, which is so interestingly similar to hemoglobin. And what do they each do? How? What makes our hemoglobin able to uptake oxygen? Where does that upload take place and where do the red blood cells take that oxygen? And then? Arteries, veins, movement that promotes health, breathing the right way. This is how is done… The boys breathe in and out and we wonder more about how magical the oxygenation process. Muscles that need oxygen, movement again, we need to move more and it less.

Why do strokes happen? Do they have to do with blood? Circulatory issues… Type II diabetes, a terrible and increasing menace. What exactly is that? We talk insulin, pancreas, lifestyle, movement again too, food… we’re back to the garden. Eating what we are best designed to eat. Plants… seeds and seedlings, growing into plants that produce more seeds and the big cycle continues.

‘Mom, I love it how they are all connected! It makes so much sense!’

‘Mom, is this a subject or two?’ It’s many. It’s the way they are connected. Everything is connected.

I take a deep breath. This is homeschooling. I think I’m starting to understand its beauty.

Any day’s lesson: beyond math and science, there’s a lot of you

What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you think school? Joy. Ha! I am being cheeky, I know. It’s likely a math thought. Or science. Shudder. Not me; I am of the geek tribe that finds such subjects attractive. A language of sorts that helps in translating the world around into yet another comprehensible way. Or not, say many disillusioned former schoolers.

The first few days of having Tony at home two years ago when we started homeschooling came with a few serious confidence jolts. Do I have what it takes to do it? What about potholes? Because I knew there will be some. (There have been.) It felt like this: there’s a gate you open, you make your way through and then look for the path. There is none. You have to make one; with every step you take, a path appears. then you get lost. Repeat.

‘Do you like learning at home?’ I’d ask them both occasionally. Yes. Are they just being polite? Nope, we learn to be honest here. So no. Still, the path we make… Me, the guide. Them boys following.

I step unsurely at times because ‘what if?…’ – and most often, the what if is followed by a dark cloud. Gulp. The negative alternatives. Some days become so intense you’ll be thinking you’re heading for disaster. We cover subjects of all kinds, and then we make it our own with subjects we NEED to cover. Say, for example… emotions.

For all the stormy days we’ve had along the way, we need a manual on being. Emotions as they happen. Learning what takes us straight into the brambles where the spikes are and then there needs to be some learning on how to make our way out. Boys and emotions. There’s a book I cherish that is cradled among other parenting books: it’s called Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys (Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.) A peek inside a boy’s heart. The mysterious realm of storms and wonderful adventures.

So we made it a subject in our school. Ditto for learning to communicate respectfully, aiming for non-violence but feeling our way towards where one can stand tall, humble and vulnerable at the same time.

We talk about anger and joy, about letting others know how their actions make you feel, about the courage to look at yourself in the mirror that someone holds for you to see… We talk about being humble enough to accept that sometimes you’ll be the one leaving marks that do not show though they do exist among people’s feelings. Shreds of pain here and there, which you cause without meaning to do so.

On any given day, emotions filling us like a cup fills with tea. You pour until you reach below the brim. Physics dictate that if you continue the cup will overflow. Then you have to deal with the mess. We accept that as a fact because we see it happen. No witnesses needed, no explanations from the cup as to why everything went past the edge. Because you overdid it, that’s why. When it comes to pouring too much onto people and seeing their emotions overflow… there’s a lot to learn.

Kindness, we talk about that too. Perspective changing when you’re wearing each other’s shoes. Emotions exist and they are part of a person. You feel and your feelings matter. We more than touch on that. We look into each other’s eyes after a storm and that takes courage. It makes it possible to stay close to each other, to reach out when a curved ball reaches your soft sides, to laugh with all your heart, to cry when all becomes too much to bear. To listen when one says it hurts. To forgive and to learn why asking for forgiveness is such a gargantuan task . . .  And yet, it’s vital. It makes hearts softer and minds more understanding of other people’s plight.

So onwards we go through days of learning. We tell stories, the boys open up and bravely speak up when the other’s actions are hurting, and we try to understand, repair trust and reinforce the connections. I am but a guide for it all, yet learning as much as they do from each of the subjects, emotions included (mine too, yes.)

For this is learning. Of ourselves most of all. With humbleness, with gratefulness, with courage to bare it all, emotion-wise. Hugs at bedtime are a must. Tomorrow we trek on farther than today. We follow a path we make with our own footsteps…

Witness To Snowfall and Children Learning

There is something beautifully gentle about being privy to the first snowflakes falling. Like the flutter of a newborn’s eyelids as she’s nestled in a sling by your heart. I remember that too well, though the boys are way past the age. I remembered that the other day when the morning walk with the pup brought the beginning flutters of a snowfall to rest on my cheeks…

The snowflakes the other day had an interesting effect though. First of all, they reminded me of time passing. Of this corner of goodness where I am but the homeschooling mama of my two boys. Of the corner I have been missing from for too long. Time passes. There is no counteracting, but there is being present. My forever reminder to myself.

Back to snowflakes. The second thing  they brought with them was an unmistakable similarity to my witnessing of the boys’ discovering the world they learn about. It’s that sensible a process you see, hence my witnessing of it a gift i do not take in jest. Their eyes light up as they talk about the things they find ever so intriguing and I keep silent and listening because I could not bear the thought of missing it. Then I ask about this or that. What do you know of this or that? what does that word mean? The concept of?…

Sasha learned about electricity and built circuits for days. Rephrase: Sasha built circuits for days; he had fun, eyes twinkling with the surprise of it all. Joy followed along like a puppy. The result was learning about electricity. Then it dwindled. For now it will sit somewhere on a brain shelf until the day comes for it to resurface. We visited Makers’ Space here in Kamloops recently; perhaps future visits hold the key to more learning about electricity. It’ll come. That’s what learning is about. A cascade of facts that link this fact to that and create a bridge of knowledge that you can walk on from here to there, inferring, developing common sense and …well, thinking. What a grand adventure!

Tony delves into geography, becoming so accustomed to a place (right now it is the UK and Ireland) that he can name destinations within it, attach historical facts to it and put today’s happening into perspective. He dives into a complex textbook (say, chemistry) without questioning whether the level would be too high for grade 9. Learning calls for curiosity and discussions. His eyes and mind grow at the same rate; seeing beyond the often narrow path a curriculum imposes.

Stop where facts start getting confusing and information overwhelming, I tell them. They do. I take over where they stop, I read, and then meet them in the realm of where they left it. I am a mere guide, teaching them most of all, and hopefully so, to have the humbleness to admit where their own knowledge of a subject lacks so they pursue more learning. Truly, when we know more, we realize how much more there is that we have yet to learn. It brings awareness of the necessity of life-long learning and the imperative quality we need to pursue that: developing and maintaining an open mind.

Should that be one of the purposes of our learning at home? It better be. The dance continues, much like the delicate dance of snowflakes. I am there to see it. Aware of the immense privilege, I end my days just like I start them: with gratefulness.