« So this is where you do your schoolwork? », our neighbor asked. Though it was more an ascertainment than a question.
We had invited our neighbor over for tea. She stood in our kitchen, looking at the table - or better yet, the pile of books and drawings and art projects on top of the table – and I can see why she immediately pictured us sitting at the table together, reading books, drawing, struggeling through workbooks. This seems to be the first image that comes to mind when talking about homeschooling.
For us, schooling doesn't happen at the kitchen table. In fact, let's just drop the term „schooling“. It reminds me of sitting still, of only speaking up after a teacher called your name out, of boring textbooks and of course, of staring at the clock on the wall, wishing you could will the hand of the clock to move faster. This is NOT what we do. This is NOT what I want for my children.
We could agree on the words „education“ or simply „learning“, though my children prefer different words: Exploring, investigating, growing and, most importantly, adventuring.
After all, this is what our life is, isn't it? One big adventure. The autism, the unschooling, the daily challenges and blessings: Adventure!
But back to our kitchen table. I told our neighbor that we rarely sit around the table. We have been laying on top of it a few times, reading about mountains. We have been hiding out underneath the table quite a few times, pretending to be in a cave or simply feeling safe while playing with rocks and marbles, which in our house often means practicing math.
Usually however learning for us happens in nature. We „jump math“ on the trampoline or on steps or we bounce around on a bouncy ball. My son prefers to have a metronome at hand while doing math. He counts and jumps to the click and the clack and the bing. We sing math songs, we throw rocks, we let pinecones float down the river. Sometimes we move rocks with a digger, which is also great for eye and hand coordination. (Besides diggers simply being cool and fun to play with.)
We also „jump words“ and „chop words“. Just for fun.
We cook and we garden. We put on plays. We dress up in silly costumes and dance. We wear knights helmets while talking about castles. We build bird houses and listen to bird songs on CD to learn how to identify them without even seeing them. We watch caterpillars, admire the stage of the chrysalis and giggle happily when the butterfly emerges. We visit ponds to watch nature perfom magic. Frogs lay eggs, which turn into tadpoles, which turn into frogs.
Our favorite classroom is the river at the State Park. We learn about pirates or about water displacement. We count the rocks that we throw into the water, we learn about the water cycle, about geography or about the quality of water and how we can test it. The sound of the rushing water is always a soothing background melody.
We also admire mud puddles. We like to leave secret messages in the mud. For my son, who has not been able to even touch a pencil until a year ago, sticks and mud have been a gamechanger. We started out with huge sticks. We used them to draw shapes into the mud, or to write our names. Gradually we were able to use smaller sticks until we were down to sticks the size of a pencil.
Learning for us happens on a hike in the mountains. There is so much to explore. In our backpacks we don't just carry snacks and water, but also a small thermometer, a cup with a magnifier, a book to identify insects and plants, a measuring tape, our nature journal to record our findings and of course some clothes to change into. (Because we know we will get dirty!)
So no, we don't sit around the kitchen table. We climb trees and mountains. We splash in rivers and puddles.
Learning for us happens in motion. Learning happens when we are connected with each other and this amazing world around us. Learning for us happens when we are having fun. What does learning look like for you?