I am not a teacher, but an awakener.
I had prepared a homeschooling block for my children during the month we were gone. As we continue on our homeschooling journey, I keep the above Robert Frost quote in mind. For almost five years, I have been their “teacher” at home. But to be quite honest, the kids have really been the ones to teach me a few things about how learning happens. My job has been to present a feast for their senses and awaken an excitement for whatever subject or topic that is in front of them.
Sometimes I am able to really get their juices going like the time one of my kids was obsessed with medicinal plants for six months. But sometimes it’s a flop like that Old Testament block with one child. I learned my own lesson and adjusted that block for the next child which turned into a success.
Because they were going to be exposed to a new land, a new culture, and a temporary new home, I wanted the learning to flow naturally. I didn’t want to just teach, but to awaken their wonder and their imagination.
It was a lot easier than I expected.
I expected a lot of pushback from the kids (and my own self) about following through with lessons. I expected the independent work to be the first to be eliminated after a few days. I expected the kids to roll their eyes every time I called them for lessons on a sunny day at the beach. I expected to be uninspired by the lessons I had prepped in a very different climate and environment.
I was very wrong. I was dead-on with my theme for the month: present the blocks through story and imagination.
We had a homeschooling schedule for almost 3 weeks while we were in Costa Rica. We started our new rhythm a few days after adjusting to our new surroundings. The kids asked for their lessons – yes, asked! – they were jazzed about their upcoming blocks. (Despite the lack of enthusiasm in the above picture, they loved their stories.)
#1 read about the history of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast and was also reading about the early life of Michelangelo. We spent time chatting about her readings and discussing anything of interest. She spent a lot of time learning Spanish and practicing with our friend Jesica too.
Astronomy was a perfect choice for #2. We ventured to the beach on a clear night to star gaze and we spotted a few familiar – and some new – constellations. I kept the lessons lively introducing different constellations by telling the myth or legend associated with them. We looked and mapped what the sky looked like in Costa Rica hoping to compare it with the winter sky at home. I even used a coconut as a teaching tool to explain the concept of circumpolar constellations. We talked about how early peoples must have looked up at the same sky. There was more drawing, dreaming, and wondering and less writing and memorizing.
#3 had a Norse Myths block. She enjoyed getting lost in the myths of the trickster Loki and the mighty gods and goddesses. She wrote poems about them on the beach and even spent time drawing the cast of characters. We talked about her favourites and why she was drawn to certain stories than others.
#4 had a different South American legend or folk tale every few days. I had forgotten the Jataka tales at home but brought these tales as bedtime stories. She loved recognizing some of the Spanish words sprinkled through the stories. We also practiced her reading with some books she had brought.
It was all about the Amazon and jungle animal stories for #5. He is obsessed with animal identification and loved hearing about the different animals in the stories. He was even more thrilled when he spotted them during our trip! You would find him drawing animals or flipping through a Costa Rican animal guide. He even learned some of the animal names in Spanish thanks to the groundskeeper.
When it was raining, we held morning lessons in the gazebo on the rental property:
#3 is doing some blogging on our private family travel blog:
Some of #1’s resources and reading material:
The kids also kept personal journals where they wrote about their days and sketched out what was in front of them. (#1 even tried her hand at poetry.) At one point, all seven children were obsessed with drawing mandalas in their journals (5 of my kids and 2 of my friends’ kids).
The formula for our lesson time was very simple:
1. Lessons were always in the morning after breakfast either on the beach, the back deck, or on the gazebo.
2. The 3 older children had math, grammar, and journalling for their independent work.
3. Lessons would be mostly storytelling and drawing with a sprinkling of writing.
Here is #5 acting like a bird from one of the stories, flying from cloud to cloud…
Lessons came in all forms. We learned about animals at the Jaguar Rescue Centre and the Sloth Sanctuary. We had impromptu local plant and animal lessons from the groundskeeper. The kids learned to surf. They learned about the culture just by going to the grocery store or listening to us talk to people who lived there. The kids picked up some Spanish and learned to convert the currency – the Colones. They learned about geography and climate as we travelled through parts of the country. #2 is inspired to learn about The True History of Chocolate after visiting many local chocolate farm vendors. The kids even learned a thing or two about travel in general – customs, security, what to do when your flight is cancelled and all the local hotels are booked.
The month away also awakened their view of the world. As soon as we got home, they went to our family vision board and started scanning the map on it. They wanted to know where our new South American friends had travelled. They looked at all the other countries we were going to head to this year. They started talking about their own travel plans and where they wanted to go. They wanted to hear about my own travel stories.
Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.
Back at home, we haven’t settled back into our normal rhythm. The children have been busy with their own little projects – creating their own board game, practicing ukulele and recorder, writing thank you cards to everyone who helped take care of our home while we were away, painting, poetry, and sketching. I plan to start new blocks next week and see what interests them.
It’s always a surprise to me what they grab hold and want more of and I always tell them that this isn’t for me – it’s up to you what you want to do with what is given to you. If it doesn’t interest you, what part does? What if we looked at it at this angle? What if you did poetry verses instead of writing a summary this week? What if we did a comparison instead of focusing on just this one historical period that is starting to bore you? What if I framed it in this context?
Now, what do you see?
The pause. The look. The spark.