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The Role of the Garden

1608910_orig.jpgI know there are a lot of crunchy homeschooling families out there. We were once, and probably still would be, considered crunchy. And, for many of these families, gardening seems to be part of their story’s script. 

I’m not writing this because I think you, or your children, should garden. That’s beside the point I want to make.

I’m not writing this because I think every homeschooling family should garden, or that all education should have a “food producing” component.

I’m just writing this because of what I realized in, um… lessee. 2008. Or maybe 2009, but I think it was 2008.

I have always been interested in growing food. I do not know why; it is not something that was done in my family. In fact, when I was a teen and wanted a garden, my father insisted it be placed on the farthest possible location on the property. Since we lived on 2-1/2 acres, it was definitely not a kitchen garden, in spite of being planted with salad vegetables.  While my family did have a few side dishes from that effort, I wouldn’t consider it a success. 

3529655_orig.jpgLater, when I got my first house, I ripped out all the landscaping (oh yes I did) and put in vegetables. That’s when I discovered that ants in Florida would eat anything except for very hot peppers. I did get to make some amazing barbecue sauce from those, however. In my next house, I started my first experiments with container gardening. It was a good hobby, but not terribly productive. 

Fast forward three years, until the next time I had a place where I could really plant. I put in three raised beds, planted vegetables, and started consistently producing small amounts of food. By this time, my older two children were five and three, plenty big enough to help in lots of ways.

We were in our very earliest days of “officially” schooling. At the time, I was painfully aware of my tendency to let things go (very young children will do that to you) and I was worried about record keeping. I wasn’t legally required to do so, but I knew that someday I’d need a high school transcript, and you never know when (or where) you might have to move, and the laws might require record keeping. I decided this would be a habit best started early.

organizer-295342_640Most of my school-record-keeping-efforts those first few years were experiments: what worked, what didn’t. What worked in my brain might not be the best way to track early childhood learning activities. It didn’t help that so many resources designed for homeschool seemed to combine planning and record keeping; when I taught school, my planbook was always a separate book from my planner. It was just a lot of figuring out I and adapting needed to do. All through those first couple years, I just kept making notes.

At the end of my oldest son’s first “official” year of homeschooling, I was stunned to look at the science tally. By tally, I mean adding up the number of hours we spent on what might be considered narrative science study (from living books) or hands on activities. We read quite a bit from The History of Insects, The Insect Folk, The Burgess Animal Book for Children, and The Burgess Bird Book for Children. And we did a few hands-on experiments, the most notable of which was making “goop” on our back patio as part of a teleconferenced class (ick). 

174617007.jpgBut the bulk of the hours… .came from our time in the garden. We dug. We planted. We watched sprouts. We pulled up carrots. We learned the process and structure of plants. We learned (sometimes the hard way) which plants liked more light, which ones were super tasty. What tomato leaves looked like, and what squash looked like. How you could tell where a squash vine borer entered the plant, what you could do (and just what was a squash vine borer anyway?).

I didn’t set out and plan to have “all this” science study. These were activities we were going about anyway, and I thought to myself, There’s a lot of science here. Might as well count it with the rest.

My point in this post? So much learning goes on that we aren’t planning, and that learning can be of great value when our children are engaged and involved in edifying activity. It doesn’t have to be the garden, and it might even been somewhere you don’t expect.