Blooming Beauties: How is Home-Based Learning Like Growing Wildflowers?

Blooming Beauties: How is Home-Based Learning Like Growing Wildflowers?

Helping our home-based learning children thrive by living in the real world can be compared to providing the right environment for wildflowers to grow instead of maintaining a sculptured lawn.

By Aline Shaw

As I sit on our kitchen balcony sipping my coffee early this morning, I notice our grass is the greenest it’s been in the decade we’ve lived in this house. As I look out past the line where we stop mowing the grass down toward the swamp, the wildflowers are in full bloom and I smile at the analogy of that sight.

Growing just beyond the mowed grass, outside the perimeter of the contained and maintained, are some of the most vividly colored blossoms. If these weeds dare “contaminate” the maintained lawn, our lawn mower will cut them down, chew them up, and spit them out. Yet these wildflowers are the most beautiful part of the yard.

I question our use of water to maintain lawns – especially in dry years – just to mow the grass down later. I think of the cost, effort, environmental damage, and health dangers of using weed killers to keep all the grass one kind of green.

Of course, everything in life teaches me, and our grass and swamp have lessons for me as well. When mowing the lawn, there are sections I want to avoid cutting. The little purple and yellow “weeds” that bloom quite low to the ground often make their appearance before I get to the next cut.

Neighbors may think me old and out of shape, as I shut off the machine and sit among the blooming weeds, and offer my apology for what I’m about to do. However, I love my husband more than the wildflowers, and he is challenged enough having me as his life partner, so I avoid irritating him by leaving a patch work of “bloomin’ weeds” on our lawn.

So I get up and trudge on mowing. I try not to look back. But inevitably I end up passing right by where I’ve just been, and can clearly see the results of my passing. I vow to learn more about natural yards and gardening that supports native plants.

There is a parenting and home-based learning analogy here and I’m moved by thinking about the times I’ve refused to look back and see the damage I’ve caused by the various philosophies or ideas I’ve taken up in raising our children. How many times have I continued routines we’ve simply adopted as familiar, rather than correct? How many things do I do as their parent that cut off the blooms of learning?

Life can get so busy, just for the sake of doing, that I don’t take enough time to sit among the blooms. My mother-in-law, God rest her soul, was an avid gardener. My own thumbs tend to be quite brown and she often saved dying plants from us, to nurture them back to health, especially beautiful bouquets that were gifts to me from her son.

I simply tend to avoid adopting any plants that require much care, because gardening tends to be at the bottom of my list of priorities. The garden I tend consists of a home of five children and two adults, with one cat and one dog, all of whom need watering and sunshine in their own right. Whether they each produce beautiful blooms is not so much my concern, but merely that they grow healthily.

As I sit with my morning coffee and contemplate the wildflowers, I realize that the most critical thing I have done is to have moved our children off the mowed lawn and into the wildflower area by leaving public school for home-based learning three years ago. It was inevitable that my husband who loves a mowed lawn would hesitate as we placed them in such a precarious position in their lives. To allow our children to evolve and change and develop individually and so uncontrolled by us, that their shapes and hues seem to depart from each other rather than appearing like simply a part of a cohesive whole – now that took a leap of faith.

There is a parenting and home-based learning analogy here and I’m moved by thinking about the times I’ve refused to look back and see the damage I’ve caused by the various philosophies or ideas I’ve taken up in raising our children. How many times have I continued routines we’ve simply adopted as familiar, rather than correct? How many things do I do as their parent that cut off the blooms of learning?

I have to admit that for the first two years the growth of our son Cody, who was 13 when he left school for home-based learning, was painfully latent. At times, there appeared to be absolutely no change in him and the sun rarely shone from his face. The 12-hour nights, sleepy mornings, and hours of literal consumption were eating us out of house and home, with little payback. We were giving him so much space that I often wondered if he realized there were six other people living in our home.

The physical growth was apparent – a whole 5-½ inches in one year – and the slumbering sloth would venture out of his room long enough each morning to walk up to me for a morning hug, while literally measuring himself up to me. Our hugs were lengthy and joyful when his nose hit the bridge of mine and he stood a whole inch above my five-foot three-inch frame.

Anyhow, in the second year the biggest change was that his face did turn to us, for everything and anything. His petals reached out for water and he even took on considerable responsibility for his age.

As his father’s focus in supporting his ailing mother took him from our family, our son eagerly assumed a role as “man of the house” when his father had to be away. I now know that during the years when nothing seemed to happen, he was, in fact, rooting.

The bamboo plant does nothing for five years but extend its roots deeper and deeper into the ground, then it shoots over 20 feet into the air. That’s what the teenage years are about. We need to give them the time to set their roots before they burst into adulthood. When Cody was called on to cover for his father, his ability to deal with the extensive emotions in the home due to the palliative care Grandma needed was much more mature than if he hadn’t had that time.

The very day Grandma died, Cody received a six-week summer scholarship from the Air Cadets to acquire his glider pilot’s license. The cycle of life is such that as one passes the next grows from the lessons. On that high/low day, Cody’s life bloomed in more ways than one.

One weekend in August, we visited him and watched him fly his glider solo. He was half-way through the course, which consisted of days filled with four hours of classes and tests, and four to six hours of flying. They rarely had time to call home, or so he told us. We knew he was simply having too much fun. When we took him on leave, he told us he needed to be home by nine. I asked “home?” and he answered, “The base Mom; it’s my home right now.”

My initial reaction was a twang in my heart, that he could be so easily supplanted to another place in a whole other province, without barely blinking an eye. But then I remembered that the whole purpose of keeping our children home was to ensure they’d have all the skills and desire to make their own homes. His father and I are the great old oak, and the sapling won’t strive in our shade.

I was also reassured that his place in life was within himself. That he felt secure enough to call this new locale “home” was a testimony to his ability to adapt and adjust, not an assault on our home. It wasn’t that he didn’t value us, just that he didn’t need us to survive.

I realized then that Cody may, in fact, not even choose to be an oak. Given that we’ve allowed him to grow among the wildflowers, and that we’ve told him he could be anything he chose to be, how could I even insist that he be an oak? I understood in that instant that we are only responsible for ensuring he had time and love enough to root. What plant he becomes is not of our choosing, and frankly may not really be of his choosing either but will evolve as he discovers it. When rose breeders put together different seeds they don’t always know even what color the flower finally will be.

The fact that Cody’s roots were such that he was actually getting his wings was so blissfully poetic. I chuckled when he landed the glider and made a comment that it wasn’t the best landing. I thought to myself, “Son, you’re on the ground alive and in one piece; it was perfect.” I guess it’s good I’m not grading his attempts or marking his solo flights because I’m way too biased. Alive and well is sufficient for me, but I remained silent because he expects so much more from himself.

So now I’m considering planting perennials and wildflowers, and letting the “weeds” grow in. I’m thinking there may be less harm in doing nothing than continuing to do the same old thing. I’m also thinking this coffee is great, the sun is just right, and cutting the grass can wait until tomorrow. It’ll give the blooming beauties another day to grow roots and blooms.

Aline Shaw is wife to Robert, and mother to four children, who were between the ages of fifteen and nine when this article was written, and all learned at home. The family has also fostered over twelve children since 1996. One foster son with special needs has resided with them since 1998. This article was first published in Life Learning Magazine.

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