But there are good times along the way, too. Some days we have great discussions about books we've read or about science we're learning; some days I get surprise hugs; some days I'm blown away by the connections the girls make with things they're learning presently and what they've learned in the past. Some days, I discover a wonderful treasure like Pocketful of Pinecones, by Karen Andreola. This book was a wonderful reminder that you don't have to travel far or attempt great things in order to find delight and wonder in the world, or to help our children see it either.
The book is "a teacher's guide to nature study, cleverly disguised as a heartwarming story written in the form of a mother's diary" (set in 1935-36). I didn't feel like I was being taught about different home school techniques; I was simply reading a story... and learning along the way.
Before the great busyness of marriage and motherhood took over my life, I used to constantly be out hiking and camping, looking things up in my nature guides as I went, or just simply sitting in a beautiful wild place. I didn't sketch anything, as this book recommends, but I was always journaling, writing about everything beautiful that caught my eye, or my heart (I called such inspiration "Skya" - and when it fired up my imagination to write stories, I called that inspiration "Akina," a "keen urge to write"). The book reminded me of my own great love of learning about nature through simply being outside in the midst of it, soaking it up, and taking time to observe all the details.
I have missed that stage of my life so much, but immediately after beginning this book I took the morning off from homeschooling, picked up two sketch books and a pack of colored pencils, and drove my girls and I up to the nearby Medicine Bow National Forest. How often have I appreciated that we can be from the city into the wilderness in just a 15 minute drive? Into beautiful places like the beaver ponds off of Happy Jack road, or the amazing rock formations of Vedauwoo. The girls sketched trees, stumps, acorns, birds, and squirrels. I sat on a rock in the center of a tiny creek and watched golden leaves float past me, listened to hawk calls and felt moss under my fingertips and smelled sun-warmed pines. My ten year old asked me to carry some pinecones she’d found in my pocket, as her pockets were already full. That made me smile – a Pocketful of Pinecones, indeed.
We go to Happy Jack and Vedauwoo quite frequently, but it's been a long time since I've slowed down to really soak it in. To take time to notice all the details. For some reason this also reminded me how at the beginning of the school year I taped up a pretty piece of note paper on my cupboard door where I keep my tea cups, so I would remember to look at it every day: it's a simple list of things I want to remember to do. Like remembering to sing a song to my girls when I tuck them in at night. Remembering to share my favorite verses with them. Remembering to be a help-meet to B. Every morning I open that cupboard and get a mug and a teabag, and stand there waiting for the electric kettle to boil. I just stand there... but how often do I remember to look at my note? It's right here in front of me! How easy it is to miss what is right in front of you!
A bit more about the book: the fictional diary of Carol begins in 1935 in New England, as she begins to teach her two children about nature study in city backyards and parks, and transitions to the countryside later in the book. She writes a little about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy and methods of home school, which seem simple and yet wonderfully wise. The diary includes good days and bad days, happy days and sad ones, wash days and canning days, snowshoeing days and sleigh ride days, shopping days and simple stay at home days. Carol writes of many things that would worry a mom in the 1930's and that continue to worry moms in the present.
Some of my favorite parts:
My students have a lifetime ahead of them in which to observe and discover – to become self-educated in their leisure, so to speak. My job is to allow their feet to walk the paths of wonder, to see that they form relations with various things, so that when the habit is formed, they will carry an appreciation for nature with them throughout their lives.
When asked about why she’d taken her children out of school:
I don’t know how to fully explain my desire to teach my children at home myself. The classes in the school are so large and Emily was labeled as “slow” in reading and arithmetic, but it’s more than that. Don was losing his sense of wonder. He was bored. It seemed that his lights were going out, for lack of a better expression. Emily and Dan were losing a spark of curiousity and a love of knowledge that they had when they first started school. I wanted to get it back. And I think I am getting it back by homeschooling....
I wrapped my shawl around my shoulders more tightly and stood in the doorway of the children’s bedroom, brooding over them while they slept. I sometimes do this at home when Michael works late. It gives me comfort and it’s easier to pray for them this way.Ah, thank you Lord for a good book to remind me to simply sit and soak up the beauty you put everywhere: whether in a golden autumn forest, by kitchen cupboard, or outside my children's bedrooms late at night.