Saying “Yes” to Unschooling

Plunging into the Unexpected

This past week I did something I did not expect to do until June.  I sent a letter to our local school superintendent with my intent to home-school my child – in the middle of the school year!  We had been home-schooling together from grades 1 through 6, but I enrolled her in middle-school in September of 2017.  The guidance counselor decided that it was best for her to start from the ground up, so she entered school as a sixth grader.

From that time until the present, I heard earfuls of grief about how miserable she was at school.  Some children have made the transition from home-schooling to public school learning with relative ease, but my child was not one of those.  She had supportive teachers, but that was not enough to keep her going.  On top of that, last month she fell and has since been recovering from a concussion.  That caused her to miss an extra week of school and to fall behind in her schoolwork.  I wasn’t sure if she would ever recover.  I was also done with the constant worry about her emotional well-being.  I missed home-schooling as much as she did and was ready to return.

Socialization

It wasn’t the schoolwork that she found hard, except for math.  Math has been her most challenging subject, but that can change with time.  She was doing well in all of her other subjects.  It was the social scene she didn’t like or trust.  She couldn’t figure out who was a potential friend because everybody was mean to everybody else and put each other down constantly, with few exceptions. They were also fickle.  They changed their allegiances at the drop of a pencil.  She was so bothered by the culture on the school bus that she asked me to drive her home every day instead of making her take the bus.

The one argument most people make in favor of formal schooling has been around socialization.  But, are our children learning things we may not want them to?  Are they emotionally and physically safe there?  Is the predominant culture all that healthy?  Unless there is an extreme case of bullying, I don’t think teachers or administrators notice if a child is feeling unsafe.  This type of thing builds up quietly until it is too late.  There is tremendous peer pressure to go along with the norm of what classmates think is funny, cool, etc., or be harmed by rumors, teasing, practical jokes, or worse.  If my daughter did not want to learn in the environment that she encountered at school every day, she wasn’t going to.  If a child is under tremendous stress, her receptivity to learning new things is diminished significantly by that stress.  A sense of safety is important to learning new things.  My daughter will learn more with her fellow home-schooling friends, travel, and random gatherings with other youth than if she kept attending public school.

The environment of most public schools is not one conducive to inspiring all children to become lifelong learners.  Sitting at desks does not engage their imaginations.  Their curiosity and wonder are crushed by long days with limited movement.  Perhaps not all children experience this because they somehow thrive in the academic environment and succeed, but that experience does not serve all students.  We have read many stories about what happens to the students who cannot fit in.

 

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The bottom 3 sets of ivy around the right side our doorway was painted by my daughter.

Curiosity, Wonder and Unschooling

My philosophy about life is that we only have the chance to live ours once.  We need to do it right.  Why not make it the happiest life there is, and generate the fondest of memories to warm us on cold, dark, wintry nights?  I wanted to give my daughter back her happiness and to lighten her spirit.  I wanted her to love both life and learning again.

During our former years of home-schooling, I sat beside my daughter and worked with her to develop skills in observation, experimentation, and recording what she saw.  She learned how to draw what she observed, think about how two substances interacted together and wrote down questions she wanted to find answers to.  This time around, I know that she is old enough to take responsibility for her own education.  She will start by reading some books in each of the subjects that we already have at home, and then supplement those resources with library books, field trips and other fun activities.  She will use our local library’s web site as a free portal into the world of learning new languages, such as Spanish.  I will need to work while she reads, writes and explores, but will make time to listen to her share what she has learned.  She will also be responsible for keeping up-to-date records of her learning experiences – just enough information for me to write the progress report in June.

My daughter’s spirit and energy are returning to her, more quickly than she expected.  She has expressed curiosity about the content she is reading  and wonder about what she notices happening in the world around her.  That is because she is given the room to demonstrate agency when choosing her own curriculum at the highest level she is capable of learning.  She knows herself best.  She takes lots of initiative in beginning and completing projects, such as painting ivy around our back doorway (above).  She is also given time to exercise her body, because physical activity also feeds the brain.  I am excited to see how she works through the learning activities she sets up for herself, and  look forward to working with her on projects such as painting wall murals now and then.

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The Transformative Power of Letting Go

 

Samantha the Christmas Star
Samantha Merry, our Christmas Star

Happy New Year!

Welcome back to the Gardener Dragon’s blog.  I hope that 2018 has been good to you.  It’s off to a roaring start here in New England with the biggest snowstorm of the season upon us.  I am grateful that I have the warmth of company from my husband, my hamster, my daughter and her friends in my home as I write.  At 6:45 we’ll gather with our neighbors at my co-housing community’s common house for a delicious meal of black-eyed pea stew, collard greens and corn bread.  I will be heading off for some gaming before that.

With a grateful heart I welcome this new year with wide open arms, and I resolve to write 12 fresh blogs this year ~ one per month!  I give myself that goal because in addition to this blog, I write for SheWrites and Hub Pages.  I am also working on two novels.

Letting Go

When seeking inspiration for my writing, I often look to nature.  When the weather is mild, i.e. a range from warm summer sunshine to light snow flurries, I walk the wooded labyrinth at the south end of my community daily.  I witness the wonders of life in the activities of the flora and fauna that live there.  Birdsong, chirping crickets and the calls of peeper frogs are some of my favorite forms of music.  I also enjoy the shower of rain sprinkling over me through the tree canopy above the labyrinth.  In autumn, the vibrant colors in the leaves embrace me in a warm and cozy aura of love.  After a light dusting of snow, sunlight is reflected in rainbows on the soft carpet blanketing the path.

One day in October, I walked around the woods by the labyrinth until I captured an image of a leaf falling from a tree.  The leaf floated gracefully to the ground in the breezes ruffling the canopy of branches.  The grace of the leaf’s descent came from the grace with which the leaf let go of the life it knew as part of the tree branch it sprouted and grew from.  I imagine that the elder leaf bid her leaf siblings and nearby oak and maple friends a fond farewell as she let go of her hold on the branch and let herself descend to the ground.

Falling Leaf
A golden autumn leaf falling from a tree branch

Transformation

The elder leaf was ready to let go of the life she knew in order to become part of the earthy humus that feeds the tree she fell from.  She gave herself back to the earth as a gift.  She was ready to become food for the tree that gave her life, or a gift found by a wanderer and pressed in a favorite book.   She was ready to let go and give herself over to becoming part of a new reality without forethought of what that new reality would be. She was open to whatever she was called to be next.

Lying on the ground, she was the same leaf she had always been, but also more than what she once was.  Her earthy fragrance became like a balm that lifts the heart of the pilgrim who picks her up and breathes her in.  Her life became connected more closely than ever to the other leaves that had already fallen to the ground. Together, their lives ended.  They were ready to rest under the frost and snow that covered them throughout the winter.  They were at peace because they knew that that they would eventually become warm and glisten in the vernal sunlight as the wheel of the earth turned to the next place in her cycle of life.

I strive to be like the gracefully falling leaves of autumn.  I want to let die within the parts of me that don’t fit anymore in order to rise to a new me in the spring.  Winter gives us a transformational gestation time to reflect, renew our homes and ourselves, and emerge in the spring more fully the people we are meant to become.  But that is not the end.  Our lives are the journey, ever transformed by the moments we live among our fellow travelers of every species.  Let us be transformed by the darkest, coldest months, to rise to the warmth of spring.  Let each of us be a new life ready to blossom.

Frosted Fallen Leaves
Frosted fallen leaves waiting for the peaceful sleep of winter

The Magic of the Elemental Touch

Out on the Open Sea

Under Sail on August 23rd

Last week my friend Richard brought my daughter and I out into the harbor for an afternoon on his brother’s boat.  Despite dire weather predictions, the day planned for our sail was perfect.  We were thus inspired to stay out longer than we had originally planned, tacking back and forth, sailing close to the wind.  The sun, wind, clouds and water gave us a magical day.

One thing I learned about myself is that I am due for a serious refresher course in the basics of sailing.  Since my two main totem elements are earth and water, I’m okay navigating through them easily.  When you add the wind, I’m not so sure I can play well with its unpredictability.   I’m okay when the wind is behind me, but if I am faced with the prospect of sailing a boat close to the wind across the bow, my sense of balance flees from me.  My sense of adventure is checked by my desire to make sure the boat stays in one piece.  I am told that’s a good thing.

The Boldness of Youth

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My daughter had been looking forward to our sailing trip for a month and was eager to help out with whatever tasks Richard was willing to hand over to her.  She helped hoist the sail, tied knots, and took her turn at the helm for a while when the wind was calm.  She even climbed up onto the prow when it was time to tie the boat to the dock post at sunset.

While Richard steered, my daughter was happy to splash in the salt water, sing songs from Les Miseràbles, take pictures, and watch out for pirate ships.  One racing boat we saw sported a black hull and matching black sails.  She called it “The Black Pearl.”  Guess which movies we’ve been watching together this summer?

The Stillness of Nature

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One of the phenomena that I noticed during our time on the water was the effect of nature on the three of us.  Though we engaged each other with lively chatter in the car on the way to the marina and back home, against the backdrop of an broad mix of music, on the boat we settled into long periods of companionable silence.  Our senses became attuned to the sights, sounds and touch of nature.  We noticed flying cormorants, listened to the lapping of the waves against the hull, and were delighted by the spray of water and play of wind in our hair.  The atmosphere was so enchanting that our attention was fully engaged with how the elements moved in harmony with one another, and how the creatures of that world moved from place to place.

A Fond Farewell

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Our first boating adventure of the summer was also our last, since it happened so late in the season.  My daughter’s school year has begun and it is time for me to return to my writing and gardening.

Perhaps I will find a place to take a sailing class or two before our next adventure together.  In the meantime, I am grateful for the magical afternoon spent with both enchanting nature and charming human company.

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Three Spring Haiku

April Showers of Poetry

My Muse  has been good to me this month.  She has given me lots of inspiration for poems to share.  I am still working on finishing my epic poem, mentioned in my April blog post.  In the meantime, I wrote a few spring haiku and have taken some pictures to share.

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April showers fall.

Colorful new buds appear:

Green, white, yellow, pink.

 

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Bright sun warms the earth.

Time to dig and plant.

Happy gardens dance.

 

 

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Fields are green again.

Kids run around with laughter.

Night critters sing.

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One Epic in April

National Poetry Writing Month

Happy NaPoWriMo everyone! It’s been at least 5 years since I’ve participated in NaPoWriMo, so I am due to return to the side of my muse and rekindle the bonds of friendship between us.  She has taken her love to more attentive mortal humans, but I am sure that I will win back her affections as I take time to spend in nature and still my voice and thoughts. I am all ears for listening to her whispers.   I have my notebook ready to write down the inspirations she will bless me with.

 

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Notebook ready to be filled with poems

 

Calliope

One of my favorite legendary muses is Calliope.  She is the the oldest among sisters and is the mother of Orpheus and Linus. Calliope is the chief among muses.  She played the lyre like her son Orpheus, and enjoyed writing poetry.  She is usually portrayed with a quill and scroll in her hands.

Epic Poetry

Some of my favorite examples of epic poetry are Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Odyssey by Homer, and Beowulf.   I am also intrigued by the Kyrgyz epics around the hero Manas, who unites Kyrgyzstan against their enemies. I must confess that I have not read an epic poem written by a woman, so I will close that gap by April 30th, beginning with Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh.

For many years, one of my dreams has been to write an epic poem.  I have decided to take this month to write one.  On April 30th I will publish a companion post to share with you the results of my efforts. I will write a stanza each day for the next 28 days.  I have written two shorter poems so far, but I am now ready take the plunge into the world of storytelling with a long chain of lyrical verses.

Epic Form

There is a classic structure to writing an epic poem.  Among the elements to include are:

  1. Opens in the midst of dramatic action taking place in the world.
  2.  Setting is vast, including many countries or planets.
  3.  Invokes the aid of a muse, one of the 9 daughters of Zeus.
  4.  States the theme, or cause of the story’s action.
  5.  Uses descriptive epithets for characters, e.g. Alexander the Great, Achilles the Brave, Hercules the Strong, etc.
  6.  Employs long lists of objects, places or people, e.g. the list of demons in Paradise Lost, by John Milton, the genealogy of the featured hero.
  7.  Weaves in long formal speeches.
  8.  Divine intervention in human affairs is prevalent.
  9.  Tragic hero descends into the Underworld, or hell.
  10.  Use of repetition, such as stock phrases, such as “rosy-fingered dawn.”
  11.  Heroes embody the values of the civilization where the epic originated.

The Hero’s Journey

The hero of the story embarks upon a journey or quest in which s/he is besieged by adversaries who want to detain her and cause her to fail in completing her quest.  She returns home transformed when she succeeds.  She exemplifies virtues valued by the people where the story is set and performs mighty deeds.

Invitation

How many of you will try to write an epic poem with me?  Let me know how you fare in your endeavor.

 

 

Finding Enchantment in our Modern World

Enchant

There are two definitions of the work Enchant, v. in the Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary: 1. to cast a spell over;  2. to Charm and delight completely.

Have you every encountered a scene in nature that has enchanted you?  How about a person?  Or a pet?  Perhaps the place or person delights you and you have gathered some lovely memories around that place or person.  If you are enchanted by a pet, you probably love spending lots of time playing with your critter friend. No matter the source of your enchantment, memories of spending time with that source undoubtedly bring you joy and peace.

beautiful elsa eating a blackberry
Our late beloved pet hamster, Elsa, eating a blackberry

Gratitude and Well-Being

What are your sources of enchantment?  Take out a piece of paper and make a list.  How many are they?  Does writing about them and reading over your list lead to feelings of gratitude and well-being?  When you think about them, does time slow down or stop for you?  This happens to me when I write about aspects of my world that bring me a sense of enchantment.  Here are some of the things on my list:

  1. Working in my garden
  2. Reading an enthralling book
  3. Playing with my daughter
  4. Playing with our hamsters
  5. Walking around my neighborhood during an evening snowfall
  6. Spending time by the seashore
  7. Playing my musical instruments
  8. Walking a labyrinth

Please feel free to share some of your items as comments below.  I’d love to know about them.

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My tabletop seashore labyrinth, which I made for myself

Re-Enchanting Our World

I am reading a book by former priest and psychologist Thomas Moore, titled The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.  He is very Jungian in his perspective about how people form relationships with the world and how the modern world distracts us from developing deeper connections with nature, places we visit, animals, other humans, and the food we eat.  The materials of the homes we live in affect our sense of peace when we are there.  There could be too much of one element in a home, such as wood, and not enough of another, such as stone.  There could be too little color or other types of creative stimulation in our work spaces. Such imbalances increase our levels of anxiety and affect our well-being.  They detract from our health.  If we give ourselves a chance to tune into what we need, we can create a more balanced home with a few adjustments, and begin our journey back to a greater sense of wholeness.

Once we can find enchantment daily in our homes, we have the freedom and openness to find enchantment in who we encounter there, such as family and pets.  After that, we will be able to find enchantment in the places we pass through regularly, or visit occasionally, such as parks, schools, farm stands or local shops.  Are there places in your town that you find enchanting?  Are there favorite places that your family loves to visit?  Our family loves to visit North Conway, New Hampshire and Acadia National Park in Mane.  We also love to walk the trails of our local conservation land to our town library.

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My daughter holding a sheep puppet that I knitted for her and she decorated

We Are Enough

When we look around us, do we find an enchanting place that warms our heart?  If not, we can change that and make it more comfortable, more us.  Our homes are meant to reflect what we love most, what makes us feel truly “at home” in the world.  From that place we can have greater energy to meet the challenges that the world hands us, and respond with resilience and hope, perhaps sprinkled with playfulness.  We can be a healing presence to others.  Who we are is enough to light up the world.  May we bless each other with our unique light!

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Heartlights of Hope in the Darkness

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Marshmallows toasted over a roaring bonfire

Where does your glow come from?

We are now engulfed in the heart of winter.  The holiday season is winding down and the coldest days of the season are still before us. No matter where we live, the dark hours of the night still seem much longer than those of daylight.  What makes this season of cold and dark bearable for you?  How do you satisfy your longing for warmth and light?

We need the shadow play of dark and light that winter brings.  Only on the darkest nights do the lights on trees, bushes, yards and porches shine brighter.  The darkness commands us to slow down, bundle up, and face the blustery side of nature.  The time we spend inside gives us the opportunity to think about what we want to make happen in the new calendar year. The longer shadows help us focus our thoughts toward our center.  The light of candles is softer than electric illumination, and fits the reflective mood of the winter months.  One of the first things I do each day in December is to plug in the lights of our Christmas tree. As evening approaches, I light candles on safe surfaces.  The play of shadow and light that they create invites us into a spirit of mystery and anticipation.

Bonfires and Holiday Lights

I am fortunate to live in Central Massachusetts.  I live in an intentional community full of neighbors who love to gather around the hearth.  When the night sky is crisp and clear with starlight, we sometimes stoke bonfires in the bowl pit and roast marshmallows.  Neighbors also string lights on their porches and doors in anticipation of the holiday season.  Those lights bring cheer and inspire me to spend more time walking around outside before I curl up under a pile of blankets inside.

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Neighbor’s door decorated for the holidays

Walking around our co-housing village this time of year is a magical time. My daily goal of 10,000 steps is more easily realized while walking the footpaths close to home.  I often greet neighbors who are also walking about and wave to children playing.  At dusk, the lights strung on porches and in doorways begin to sparkle brightly against the approaching nightfall.  They are beacons of hope and warmth when the wind picks up and the chill begins to freeze my limbs.  Yet, there are also fields nearby to step away into the darkness and appreciate the starlight of the winter constellations.

When I walk, my first destination is usually our community labyrinth on the other end of our village.  It is a wonder-filled place to walk and reflect.  It’s Baltic Wheel design and natural setting inspires moments of stillness and appreciation for nature’s wisdom.  The deep, dark colors of our conifers stand out as snow laces their branches and shrouds the earth around their roots.

snowy-labyrinth

Winter Garden Wonder

Another place quite close to us that we love to visit is Tower Hill Botanical Garden.  It was established in 1986 by the Worcester Horticultural Society and hosts a wide variety of programs for members and guests to forge a deeper kinship with nature.  The garden is a magical place all year round, in all seasons, but especially when it is lit up with many lights during the site’s Winter Re-Imagined festival.  Their outside and inside exhibits delight visitors of all ages.  I spent 2 evenings this month volunteering there and plan to return soon.

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Courtyard lit up during Winter Re-Imagined at Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, MA

Happy New Year

May all of your days in 2017 be filled with love, hope, and cheer.  May the warmth of holiday lights remind you that you are not alone, that no matter where you are you are thought of fondly.  May the spring bring warmer days to accomplish outside tasks and the summer shine on an abundant garden harvest.  May all of your dearest dreams come true!

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