Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another Great Aspect of Home School—Self-Taught Side Yard Science Class

My heart pounded and I hastened my pace to a frantic jog while searching the house at 7:00 am for my 9 year old son. “Did I forget to lock the doors last night?” I wondered as I mentally recounted my nightly house closing procedure. The irrational side of my brain repeated relentlessly, ‘he’s been kidnapped’, ‘he’s been kidnapped’. I pushed aside the thought of that possibility while continuing to search his favorite inside hiding spots to no avail.

And then, by remote chance, I glanced out the second story window to the yard below and witnessed a sight that will be forever engrained in my mind. There he was, (in stark contrast to my state of near hysteria), sitting cross legged and peaceful on a small bath towel, posture erect with his science notebook on his lap. He seemed to levitate in the glow of the early morning sun and he had managed to find inspiration in a place I seldom visit--the side yard of our home. I was overcome by a feeling of relief and gratitude as I watched, completely intrigued by the forces that were holding him captive.

He gazed repeatedly towards the rising sun and then down to his science notebook….up at the sun, and then down at his book, scribbling furiously each time. I left him there a few moments in his state of “divine inspiration” before daring to join him. I approached cautiously, attempting to mask my combined sense of panic and awe. “I do this sometimes, mom,” he casually responded to my inquiry. “I climb through my window with my towel and my notebook to think about chemistry and nature. It’s just so beautiful out here in the morning. I wake up looking at the sunlight coming through that tree and it’s like it’s inviting me outside,” he explained. “I think about the plants, and how we can keep the pollution from hurting our planet,” he shared.

My grandfather, an artist and great observer of human behavior, used to comment that my son seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. After witnessing this early morning attempt at “pollution resolution”, I couldn’t help but think how accurate his observations were. I also couldn’t help but recall fond memories of my grandfather’s very similar endeavors as he sketched intently in his sketch book. “It must be deeply engrained in the genetic code,” I thought.

My inquisition continued. Evidently, these sessions allow my son to study nature and theorize about the chemical structures and processes that exist in delicate balance in our world. He shared pages and pages of chemical theories and equations that he had been calculating, and theories he was developing that might lead to resolution of the problems as he understands them. Were his equations correct? Maybe, maybe not, but it didn’t matter, because the process of self-directed learning was ultimately more valuable than correct answers.

I was dumbfounded but not surprised. We have been reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and my son is learning first-hand through examples and stories of Franklin’s own telling, how he relentlessly pursued self-education throughout his entire life. From this, my son was able to connect the dots and realize that one doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom to learn. School is wherever you make it—even if it is a self-taught side yard science class.

He proceeded to show me a drawer he had cleared in his desk to hold “his required materials” and demonstrated his methods for escaping the confines of his room to embark on these early morning adventures. I was inspired beyond words at the mental capacity and gestalt learning children are capable of when given the chance to explore and develop their interests.

Of course, I am proud of what I am seeing, as all parents are when their children uncover a new talent or reach a major milestone. I share this story with great humility. The expanded moments of inspiration happening with both my children now that we are home schooling, are contributing to an emerging theory I have about self-directed learning which is that children need structure and repetition, but they also need freedom to pursue their own emerging interests and challenge their creative and problem solving abilities.

This, for me, is one of my favorite aspects of home schooling—fanning the flames of creativity and inspiration and watching them become an intense, raging fire!


  1. I think this is a really great post. What a wonderful story. I was so thrilled for you when I read it. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I believe that kids are God's way of helping adults keep things in perspective! Great post, Kim.