Happy April, month of Fools! It’s also the month of showers that bring May flowers. I’ve seen as many snow showers as rain showers this month, and this morning a light layer of frost covered our land. Are we fools to think that winter has receded enough for us to sow seeds and expect plants to grow from them? Luckily, there are hardy plants that will blossom and grow despite the frost. Peas, kale and radishes are a few.
Inspired by the warmth of Easter weekend and to welcome the season properly, I made a large garden salad for my family to share last week. With the salad we sipped icy glasses of sun tea brewed on my back deck and garnished with cinnamon, lemon, ginger root and mint leaves.
Our purple crocuses tell us Spring has finally arrived!
Signs of Hope
Despite the daily fluctuations in temperature, the crocuses are finally making their appearance in gardens around our co-housing community, including my daughter’s flower garden. There are also some at the bottom of my hydrangea bush and in my own flower garden. They are not alone. Iris leaves are preparing to grow stems and flowers. The branches of my black currant bush are laced with small green buds. The moss beneath our feet is soft and earthy. We can safely announce that the seasonal wheel has finally reached the end of its slow turn toward Spring!
The Tools are Ready
Now that New England has seen a warm weekend perfect for planting, hoses are present in yards around the neighborhood, and in our community gardens. My trowel, hand rake and kneeling pad now have a new place on my back deck, ready for the work that needs to be done this summer.
My gardens will be busy making delicious organic food to eat, often straight from the plants. I will be busy re-designing my gardens to be beautiful and inviting to visit.
Staking a Claim
My thirteen-year-old daughter has been thriving since our return to home-schooling in February. We have committed to radical unschooling with her and it’s been working well. Her curiosity and love of learning have bounced back as she has satisfied her penchant for reading and spending many hours outside. She walks dogs, climbs rocks and plays games with friends daily.
This year she has adopted one of our raised beds as her own vegetable garden. She weeded it, planted seeds, installed a trellis, and is diligent about watering it all. We look forward to working the the garden together later this week.
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.
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.
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.
Over the past two years we have loved and lost two pet hamsters ~ Chocolate Chip and Elsa. They filled our lives with love and joy while they lived, and when they met the end of their lives our hearts were filled with grief. The average life expectancy for most species of hamsters is 18 months, though we had hoped to keep Elsa living as long as two years. If we continue our habit of adopting hamsters every year and a half, we must learn to approach their impact on our lives as preparation for letting go.
Attachment and Healing from Loss
Zen Buddhism is famous for promoting the concept of non-attachment. In order to be an effective hamster parent, I believe that it is important to form a bond of attachment with our pets, but then readily let it go and heal from our grief when they die. Each time we adopt a pet hamster, it is important for us to form a loving bond with the individual critter that communicates to our pet that he/she is cherished. Such a bond is expressed through showing the animal appropriate measures of respect and affection, including consistent fulfillment of their physical needs: fresh water changed daily; a bowl full of food and chews, and a clean, stimulating cage environment.
When each hamster passed on, it was comforting for us to think about the concept of their little spirits crossing over a “Rainbow Bridge” to a special heavenly home. We buried Chocolate Chip and Lucky (my daughter’s previous pet, a blue beta fish) under the weeping willow tree on our property. We buried Elsa near our community labyrinth, with a little mausoleum of leaves, sticks and flowers built around her resting place.
We learned from the death of Chocolate Chip that in order for our hearts to heal, it was important for us to let go of our attachment to our former pet, then allow another hamster to fill our hearts. It took us a month to adopt Elsa last year. It has taken us five days to adopt Sammy Bear. She is such a merry little hamster that she wrapped her little paws around our hearts as soon as we laid eyes on her.
Each hamster that we have loved has taught us how to care for him or her, and for hamsters in general. We hope that this learning will keep each hamster we adopt strong and healthy for more months than the previous hamster. We heartily thank our furry friends for being such loving, patient teachers and will always hold them dear in our hearts.
Rumi Pippin, the youngest hamster addition to our family
Welcome to The Gardener Dragon’s blog. Step aboard to join me on my maiden voyage. Sail with me to find fresh adventures, both in my home gardens and in gardens tended by fellow wayfarers. Discover fresh ideas, recipes to use with your own garden harvests, and reflections on the way my family engages in home-schooling. Exchange thoughts and information with me. I am looking forward to having your company on my journey. Welcome aboard!